"Players were growing more interested in [Tabula Rasa], and logins were on the rise ... this title could have been left alone to find its legs and found some small measure of success in a long tail environment akin to the Sony Station Pass. "
Of concern to EA, the number of logins to Warhammer Online are trending in the wrong direction despite a successful launch. Exact subscriber numbers are unknown (the press releases have described registered users, which counts players on their thirty day trial, and not paying subscribers), but estimates are consistently under a half million and falling. It is too soon to determine a genuine trend, and the situation bears close examination in the coming year. The team behind the title is famous for agile patching, and any game so dependent on PvP balance needs time to find its stride. Considering how good the launch of WAR was for the entire genre, proving beyond a doubt that a rising tide lifts all boats (well, except for the boats with giant holes in the hull), everyone should be hoping for long term success.
"Warhammer Online are trending in the wrong direction despite a successful launch ... It is too soon to determine a genuine trend, and the situation bears close examination in the coming year."
WAR's companion in the PVP fantasy niche, Age of Conan, was trending downwards before WAR's launch. Logins dropped dramatically during that event, and then resumed the slower bleed. However, AoC can't be counted out of the game in 2009. Its developer doesn't give up easily. Anarchy Online, which I included just for this paragraph's comparison, put up raw numbers close to Dungeons and Dragons Online and EverQuest 2 – and had a much more consistent year than either of those two products – and had an even worse starting year. The numbers for December were very encouraging – players had already played more in the first half of the month than they had in November.
The smoothest, most inexorable trend line on the whole chart is WoW. If you squint, you can see a faint disturbance in the force during the WAR launch, but the infamous juggernaut shrugged it off and kept marching. To me, the big story is how smooth that line is, and Blizzard shouldn't necessarily be pleased. Remember how I said that some degree of upward trending on this chart is a reflection of GamerDNA's growth, not the titles? I suspect that is what's going on here. If you look at the data in this analysis, you can see that WoW was actually very faintly losing ground before the launch of Lich King. It's incredibly minor, but it's there.
"Age of Conan, was trending downwards before WAR's launch. Logins dropped dramatically during that event, and then resumed the slower bleed. However, AoC can't be counted out of the game in 2009."
Turbine in general must be pleased. In addition to the solid performance of LotRO, DDO has staged a bit of a comeback. It's not on my line chart, because DDO fell off the top 100 chart in the middle of the summer... but it came back two months ago. Its login numbers have tripled since the summer, and if the trend continues, the game will be a solid performer in 2009.
DDO would probably be even more successful if Turbine offered something similar to Sony's Station Pass. SWG and EQ2 are living proof. Like DDO, EQ2 fell off the top 100 chart in the middle of 2008, but came roaring back with yet another successful expansion pack (The Shadow Odyssey). It was so successful that EQ2 is now posting the best login numbers out of all of the older/smaller MMOs. SWG is hardly having a bad year – they have stabilized with their core user base, and their numbers remained remarkably consistent.
EVE was tremendously successful in the second half of 2008. Their gains were proportionally more significant than any of the other examined titles, and trended upwards on an exponential line. Their community communication has always been solid, and their content enjoys regular infusions of new material. As resistance to PVP fades (and the fact that player versus player design and balance has been improving steadily in the last five years is probably not a coincidence), and as the market gorges itself on Yet Another Batch Of Naked Elves, a solid Sci-Fi PVP title is in a great spot to take advantage of users looking for something more.
Let's check out the last chart, for a look at the big picture.
"Lord of the Rings Online is performing slightly ahead of WoW ... Their loss rate was a little bigger than WoW's before the launch of their expansion pack, Mines of Moria. Their growth rate since then has been slightly ahead of the industry leader."
Declining or not, WoW is still hands down the place where the most time is being spent.
If we had been able to show a full year of data, AoC's initial numbers would look much like WAR's – and might suggest to some that the premise of a PVP centric game is too niche to support a multiyear development process and triple A budget. For what it's worth, I don't think that suggestion would be fair – we have not yet seen an MMO PVP game launch with the balance, the systems, and the technology right out of the gate. When that happens, hold on to your hats.
You can see that EVE and LotRO are equally successful in terms of the time that people are spending there.
Guild Wars is hard to judge, given their early adoption of GamerDNA and disproportionate presence in our community skews the results. Their lack of subscription fee is also a factor that may be affecting the numbers – when it costs nothing to log in and check out how things are going... why not do so as long as the game is installed on your computer?
Finally, my eye is on Shaiya, and other titles like it. Their costs are lower. Their maintenance is less intensive and expensive. Customer service expectations are lower, as opposed to traditional subscription titles where the customer feels that his fifteen bucks a month entitles him to fast, personal service from a live human.
And while it's no WoW when it comes to sheer market share, getting a Shaiya out the door isn't the gamble that getting a WoW, a WAR, or an AoC out the door can be. It's no wonder that many similar games are in development right now – especially as the larger studios are collapsing or tightening their belts.
So that was the year! What do you think we're going to see in 2009?