Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Digital Dozen: 17 April 2012

The rankings of the top twelve MMORPGs as determined by the players of the Xfire community from play on Sunday, 15 April 2012.  For more details about the methodology, click here.  Historical data can be found here.

Rank Prev Week Game ScoreHours Played
11World of Warcraft 55.9 82,020
22Star Wars: The Old Republic17.125,028
44Eve Online 3.45,035
55Lord of the Rings Online2.84,104
66Guild Wars2.53,682
77Metin 22.33,358
910Star Trek Online1.62,358
119Need For Speed World1.52,211
1211Maple Story1.42,122
Total MMORPG hours played Sunday:190,301

As expected, the technical glitch I saw with the Xfire numbers was fixed and the total hours played in MMORPGs declined by 21.5%, or close to my estimate of 20%.   As such I'll be doing any comparisons to 1 April instead of to last week's numbers.

Expansions Rule - If you want to see the number of hours played jump, just publish an expansion for your MMO.  The two games with major gains in the Xfire charts, Star Wars: The Old Republic (16.6%) and Aion (10.5%) both launched expansions this week.  Aion: Ascension brings along with free-to-play a level cap increase from 55 to 60, siege warfare that occurs 3 times a day, player housing and mounts.  SW:TOR Update 1.2: Legacy brings a new planet, a new PvP  war zone, UI updates and a pet.  Bioware also did something controversial in awarding 30 days free playtime to those with a level 50 character on their accounts.

The reason for the controversy is that called those with max level characters its "most valued players".  Yipes!  Bioware eventually had to revise its offer from just those who had level 50 characters on 12 April to having either a level 50 character or have a legacy level 6 account by 22 April.  With a month's free game time on the line, the average Xfire member who logged into SW:TOR on Sunday averaged 5.7 hours in the game.

Follow The Money - Why did Bioware decide to give out 30 days of playtime to those with level 50s on their accounts?  If only 10% of the 1.7 million accounts reported on the Electronic Arts Q3 FY 2012 Earnings Call met the qualification, that is over $2.5 million in game time.  With rumors swirling of impending layoffs and a loss of nearly 40% of its stock price since November, why give up millions of dollars in revenues?

The first is that ranked war zones are not included in the patch.  This disappointed a lot of players who were eager to see this feature implemented.  The offer is designed to help mitigate the disappointment and keep players from leaving the game.  The second is to make the subscription numbers look as good as possible before the upcoming conference call discussing EA's Q4 2012 results.  Although EA's fiscal year ended on 31 March, the call is not just about the past quarter but what the game company expects to happen in the coming quarter and year as well.  If the Xfire numbers are reflective at all about the number of players who left SW:TOR, one of Bioware's major products, then the numbers may come as a shock to investors.

One way to lessen the shock could be to make update 1.2 appear more successful than it really is.  If all the accounts are given 30 days of playtime, that means those accounts will still count toward the subscription numbers when the earnings call occurs.  If EA can say that the decline in subscriptions is normal for MMORPGs but that Legacy is bringing in new players and that Bioware's planned content update schedule will help ensure a rising player base, then perhaps the stock price won't take too big of a hit.  If I didn't know about the funny business with the free time giveaway, I would think that a perfectly reasonable analysis.

Daily Hours Played - Xfire
The weird thing is that I actually thought based on the Xfire numbers that SW:TOR had finally reached a plateau and was stabilizing around 15,000 - 17,000 hours played on weeknights and people were just less excited about playing on the weekend.  SW:TOR had since the beginning seen a higher number of hours played per person than the average game.  I just saw the hours on the weekends finally getting down to MMORPG norms.  I planned to write an analysis similar to this last week but then Xfire had the issue where it added one hour to everyone's playtime and I decided to wait one more week to see better numbers.  Or, in other words, I chickened out.

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