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DDO jumps to third-most-popular spot in MMO survey

Rubi Bayer, @@rubi_

Market research company NPD has completed its annual survey of online gamers with some fascinating results. They surveyed nearly 19,000 gamers of all ages in January of this year, looking at every aspect from hours played per week to what former WoW fans are currently playing. The results are interesting not only for their variety but because it's such an extensive survey from a company that's been doing this very thing for years.

Several interesting changes have come about in the past year: former World of Warcraft players are turning to different games than they have in the past, the subscription model is a lot less popular these days, and Dungeons and Dragons Online has knocked Guild Wars out of the comfy #3 spot it enjoyed for the two previous years.

Follow along after the jump as we take a closer look at some of the survey results.

We'll start with a quick overview of the participants. Males comprised 68% and females 32%. While MMO gaming is still mostly male, female gamers are no longer a revolutionary new concept in the MMO world. Women currently make up about a third of the gaming population, a figure similar to last year's survey. The largest age group was in the 25-34 range, and the majority of those surveyed played 20+ hours a week.

Now that we know who we're looking at, what are they playing and how? Unsurprisingly, WoW is king: the game has held the top spot in the "MMOs currently playing" section since the January 2008 survey. It's not a small lead either: 30% of the participants are currently playing WoW, with RuneScape holding the number two spot at 10%. The next spot, however, is where the numbers start to get interesting. In 2008 and 2009, Guild Wars held easily to the third position with 7% while DDO languished somewhere below Disney's Toontown Online at 4%. As of this January, Guild Wars held steady with that number, but DDO doubled its numbers and took over the number three spot. An additional question regarding "What former World of Warcraft players are currently playing" gave the same results: 11% turned to DDO in 2009, again knocking GW out of the number two position. RuneScape has been the favored second choice for a long time and still is, but the game's popularity took a sharp drop this year, with 13% of former WoW players turning to it. In 2008 that number was 20%.

So why the big change? The answer is obvious, but a peek at yet another part of the survey confirms it: preferred method of payment. In 2008, the monthly sub model was vastly preferred with 30% of gamers naming it as their preferred method. In the current survey that number has dropped to 18% while the free-to-play with microtransactions model is climbing. The current favored payment model is that of a lifetime subscription -- 22% named that as their favorite. However, Dungeons and Dragons Online moved from a sub to a f2p model at a time when gamers were becoming very interested in options other than the standard, rigid monthly subscription and it worked out very well for them. Keep in mind too that DDO didn't go free-to-play until halfway through 2009, so next year's poll may reflect an even larger jump in numbers.

Much of the MMO culture relies on individual perception. One person, for example, can declare a game a complete failure and waste of time, citing this as an irrefutable fact. At the same time, another person can just as emphatically state that the game is the best thing that's ever happened to the MMO industry. Who's right? It all depends on your perception, so solid numbers about where some of the top games generally stand are always interesting to look at.

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