Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Digital Dozen: 2013 Final Rankings

This week I look back on 2013 and the popularity of MMORPG's as played by the Xfire community.  One striking figure is 60.7%.  That is the drop in the time recorded by the Xfire community in playing the twelve most popular MMORPGs each week from 30 December 2012 to 22 December 2013.  I would argue that is a factor of the increase in competition for Xfire (see Steam and Raptr) as well as a weak year for MMORPGs in general.

Games have a tendency to see players drift away as they grow older.  2013 stood out as the year of the free-to-play conversion.  While the dropping of subscriptions helped the popularity of many games, I wonder how long that popularity will last. Will new games like Elder Scrolls Online, Wildstar, and EverQuest Next Landmark produce a rise in the numbers in 2014?  Possibly.  But one thing I think we will see is a shake-up of the Digital Dozen.  One thing I do know is that gamers like new things to play.

The ranking for the year was calculated by taking the Digital Dozen score for each week and taking the average.  If a game was not among the top 12 games played for a week it received a score of 0.  The average score is listed after the name of the game.  Those looking for the normal weekly rankings for Sunday can find them at the bottom of the post.

1.  World of Warcraft:  40.7
2012 Score: 48.4
2012 Rank: 1
2013 Weeks Ranked: 52
Year Released: 2004
Developer: Activision/Blizzard
Publisher: Activision/Blizzard
Sure, World of Warcraft lost 25% of its subscribers in 2013, but the king of western MMORPGs is not dead yet.  Unlike 2012, the Blizzard product stayed at the top of the Digital Dozen the entire year.  And with Vivendi no longer able to drain the company of funds, the company's financial situation is much improved.  While the Warlords of Draenor expansion will probably not restore the subscriber base over 10 million again, WoW should remain the most popular western MMORPG by a comfortable margin in 2014.

2.  Guild Wars 2:  17.0
Year Released: 2012
2012 Score: 13.6
2012 Rank: 2
2013 Weeks Ranked: 52
Year Released: 2012
Developer: ArenaNet
Publisher: NCSoft
Guild Wars 2 solidified its hold on the #2 position on the Digital Dozen in 2013 with some original thinking.  April proved a big month for GW2 fans and not just because of the Super Adventure Box.  The end of April also saw the beginning of a bi-weekly release cycle for new content that lasted up through the December holiday season.  The Living Story was ArenaNet's answer to complaints of the lack of new content from those who rush through the game and the Xfire numbers showed that the strategy worked for most of the year.

How will the game fare in 2014?  If ArenaNet were to launch an expansion, I would predict a return to the #2 spot for a third straight year.  But with the Living Story approach I wonder if the game will slowly bleed out players.  Even without an expansion I see GW2 remaining as one of the top 3 games in 2014.

3.  Star Wars: The Old Republic:  10.1
2012 Score: 10.8
2012 Rank: 3
2013 Weeks Ranked: 52
Year Released: 2011
Developer: Bioware
Publisher: Electronic Arts
BioWare's decision to make Star Wars: The Old Republic a F2P game in November 2012 paid dividends in 2013 as the game ended its free-fall and finished the year as the #3 game.  While the game is probably not as profitable as first hoped, April's Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion and the upcoming Galactic Starfighter expansion show that BioWare is still working hard on the game.

The question for 2014 is whether Disney's plans will harm SWTORGalactic Starfighter will compete directly with another game about Star Wars space combat, Star Wars: Attack Squadrons from Area 52, that announced its beta in December.  Also, EA and Disney are working on another game, Star Wars: Battlefront, that will apparently release in conjunction with the next Star Wars movie in 2015.  While the Star Wars brand is strong, I don't know if the brand alone will save the game from falling into the middle of the Digital Dozen in 2014.

4.  EVE Online:   4.7
2012 Score: 3.8
2012 Rank: 5
2013 Weeks Ranked: 52
Year Released: 2003
Developer: CCP
Publisher: CCP
CCP led off 2013 basking in the glow of the highly successful Retribution expansion.  On top of that a very successful 10-year anniversary celebration combined with a flow of new players via the link to DUST 514 had EVE Online riding to new heights in the Xfire community.  But then competition in the form of Final Fantasy XIV made EVE's share of the pie smaller. 

What does 2014 have in store for EVE?  The Rubicon expansion so far looks disappointing and with the poor showing of DUST 514 an extra source of people interested in playing EVE has dried up.  Unless CCP has some tricks up its sleeve I see EVE not only slipping down into the middle of the Digital Dozen but actually suffering falling subscription numbers as well.

5.  Tera: Rising:  4.5
2012 Score: 1.2
2012 Rank: Unranked
2013 Weeks Ranked: 51
Year Released: 2012
Developer: Bluehole Studio
Publisher: En Masse
After barely missing the year-end Digital Dozen list in 2012, Tera makes the list in 2013 after a strong showing following its conversion to a F2P game in February.   But the introduction of F2P is not the only reason for the game's popularity.  In addition to adding a PvP battleground when the game became F2P, players saw a month long celebration of the game's first anniversary in May, another battleground added in July and four new dungeons introduced in September.

Can Tera maintain its current position?  I don't think so.  Even with the addition of more PvE content and a new class, I think the new games coming out in 2014 will drive Tera down to the bottom of the Digital Dozen in 2014.

6.  Aion:  4.4
2012 Score: 5.0
2012 Rank: 4
2013 Weeks Ranked: 51
Year Released: 2009
Developer: NCSoft
Publisher: NCSoft
Last year I wondered if the switch to F2P would help the game's popularity throughout 2013.  The answer, at least according to the Xfire community, was yes.  The highlight was the Dark Betrayal expansion that brought two new classes, the Gunslinger and the Songweaver, as well as three new zones and 6 PvE instances.

Do I think that Aion will fall due to the new games debuting in 2014?  Not really.  NCSoft announced the Steel Cavalry expansion will launch in the first quarter, before the new games come online.  The expansion will feature a new class, which should keep interest amongst the player base high.  Expect Aion to remain in the middle of the Digital Dozen in 2014.

7.  Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn:  3.6
2012 Score: N/A
2012 Rank: N/A
2013 Weeks Ranked: 18
Year Released: 2013
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Not every game company is eager to jump on the F2P bandwagon.  The Japanese game company Square Enix eschewed converting the original Final Fantasy XIV into a free-to-play game, instead closing the servers down in November 2012, redesigning and relaunching the game in August 2013. With some extremely hard raid content and a guild housing system that requires a lot of cooperation to afford, FFXIV is aimed at a little more of a hardcore audience than the traditional themepark MMORPG.  Throw in that PC and console gamers can play on the same worlds and FFXIV definitely earned the title of best new game of 2013.

How will the game fair in 2014?  With an IP that dates back to 1987 and a dedicated fan base, I see FFXIV moving ranking higher on the year end list at the end of next year.  How high really depends on how well the new games of 2014 do.  I see FFXIV finishing anywhere between 4 and 6.

8.  Lord of the Rings Online:  2.8
2012 Score: 2.3
2012 Rank: 8
2013 Weeks Ranked: 51
Year Released: 2007
Developer: Turbine
Publisher: Turbine
Speaking of old IPs, July marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of The Fellowship of the RingLord of the Rings Online benefits from the fans of Tolkien's world who kept LotRO in the number 8 slot in the Digital Dozen year-end list for the second year.  Of course, the Helm's Deep expansion and the 100% XP boost in the month leading up to the expansion's launch didn't hurt.

What's the outlook for 2014?  I think the game will drop down on the list but not completely out.  I expect Turbine to try to capitalize on the 60th anniversary celebration in lieu of publishing another expansion.

9.  Planetside 2:  2.6
2012 Score: 0.8
2012 Rank: Unranked
2013 Weeks Ranked: 49
Year Released: 2012
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Planetside 2 released too late in 2012 to make last year's list, but ranks #9 for 2013.  The MMOFPS is the highest ranked game built as a F2P game from the ground up this year.  Following a very successful launch, aim-bot and optimization issues marred the game play throughout most of the year.  However, PS2 has seen a comeback of sorts as a major optimization effort is making a difference.

Don't be surprised if Planetside 2 fails to rank in the top 12 games of 2014.  SOE plans to launch the game on the PlayStation 4, which means decreased numbers for the PC-only Xfire community.  With the launch of three games in 2014 that should make a big impact on the Digital Dozen rankings, I expect Planetside 2 to drop off the list in the second half of 2014.

10.  Neverwinter:  2.3
2012 Score: N/A
2012 Rank: N/A
2013 Weeks Ranked: 30
Year Released: 2013
Developer: Cryptic
Publisher: Perfect World
But for the surprise performance of FFXIVNeverwinter would have topped the new releases of 2013.  Based on a modified version of the Dungeons and Dragon's 4th edition rules set, the game allows for player-created content (The Foundary) as well as sells modules in addition to an in-game currency called Astral Diamonds.  However, an auction house exploit in May led to a 7-hour server rollback which only rolled back to when the economy crashed, not when the exploit began.  Not a very auspicious start for the game.  The game was fading near the end of the year but the introduction of the ranger class in a new module brought the game back into the Digital Dozen.

Predicting the future of Neverwinter is tricky as Cryptic should produce new modules in 2014 in addition to all of the player created content.  I'll predict the same should remain a fixture in the bottom half of the Digital Dozen throughout 2014 and appear someplace in the 10-12 positions at the end of the year.

11.  RIFT:  1.7
2012 Score: 0.5
2012 Rank: Unranked
2013 Weeks Ranked: 30
Year Released: 2011
Developer: Trion
Publisher: Trion
RIFT became a fixture in the Digital Dozen with its conversion to the F2P model in June.  One move by Trion that probably improved the Xfire numbers was an end to the reliance on Raptr to publicize the game.  But all is not well with the game as October witnessed server merges.  Also, the game closed down its Chinese, Korean and Russian servers in 2013.

How will the game do going forward?  If I had to bet, I would wager that the upcoming 3.0 expansion will fail to keep RIFT from falling out of the Digital Dozen again in 2014.

12.  APB: Reloaded:  1.2
2012 Score: 2.5
2012 Rank: 7
2013 Weeks Ranked: 31
Year Released: 2011
Developer: Reloaded Productions
Publisher: GamersFirst
After a very respectable showing in 2012, APB: Reloaded fell on hard times in 2013, at least where its popularity with the Xfire community is concerned.  Despite only making four appearances on the list in the last four months, the game did well enough in the first half of 2013 to grab the last spot in the year-end rankings.  But I don't expect to see the game ranked at all in the second half of 2014.

Games ranked in 2012 but not 2013:
Metin 2 (6), Guild Wars (9), Need for Speed World (10), Star Trek Online (11), Maple Story (12)

This Week's Rankings:  The rankings of the top twelve MMORPGs as determined by the players of the Xfire community from play on Sunday, 29 December 2013.  For more details about the methodology, click here.  Historical data can be found here.

Rank Prev Week Game ScoreHours Played +/- %
11World of Warcraft 44.8 13,588-0.6
22Guild Wars 212.03,630-5.9
33Star Wars: The Old Republic8.92,710+2.6
44Final Fantasy XIV7.22,184+2.0
66EVE Online4.11,251+8.9
810Lord of the Rings Online3.41,033+10.4
10--Need For Speed World2.7804+42.3
128Planetside 22.6775-23.7
Total Digital Dozen Hours: 30,306

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