Blizzard, very few MMO development houses release real numbers relating to their playerbases, and forum jousters are thus relegated to citing guesstimates and, in most cases, pure supposition sprung from the likes of wildly inaccurate measuring tools such as Xfire or the late MMOGchart.
Funcom executive producer and Age of Conan game director Craig Morrison weighs in on the perplexing state of MMO number-crunching on his personal blog, offering a bit of insight as to why hard data is, well, hard to come by. He cites a lack of context for the near-universal reticence of developers when it comes to publicizing their community sizes. "Without standard definitions everything ends up in that vague, murky and entirely subjective middle ground... and a middle ground that very few could reasonably be expected to accept as being worthwhile exploring in a business sense," he writes.
So what's his solution? In broad terms, he mentions a rating system, citing television's Nielsen metrics as well as cinema box office figures as semi-comparable standards. While such a system probably wouldn't stop the endless fan bickering, it might at least provide an answer to the question of how each individual company defines success.