Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Digital Dozen: 2014 Final Rankings And Final Post

In the final post of this column, I look back on 2014 and the popularity of MMORPGs as played by the Xfire community.  As Xfire switched its business model to focus on eSports, the time Xfire members spent playing the twelve most popular MMORPGs each week dropped by 41.4% from 29 December 2013 to 28 December 2014.  While 2014 wasn't a great year for the genre, one fact became clear in 2014: Xfire is on its last legs, at least in its current format.

However, while the platform slipped tremendously, the membership still provided a large enough sample of gamers to detect general trends in MMORPGs in 2014.  One was that much ballyhooed games like Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar failed to meet expectations while others like ArcheAge stumbled.  Second, some older games showed some surprising strength, with three games on the list launching in 2004 or before.

Finally, new IPs are just not gaining any traction in this market, so expect developers to pull out older IPs in order to attract financing.  We witnessed that this year with the launch of Elite: Dangerous and the continued fundraising success of Star Citizen in the space-flight simulation genre.  Expect to see more games like SOE's Landmark and EverQuest Next (Everquest) and crowd-funded games like Richard Garriot's Shroud of the Avatar (Ultima) and Mark Jacobs' Camelot Unchained (Dark Age of Camelot).  Just like movies are turning to tried and true formats, expect to see a lot of the same going forward in the MMORPG genre.

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: 46.2
2013 Score: 40.7
2013 Rank: 1
2014 Weeks Ranked: 52
Year Released: 2004
Developer: Activision/Blizzard
Publisher: Activision/Blizzard
What can one say about the dominant game in the MMORPG genre that's new?  WoW was the top ranked game for all of 2014.  In fact, WoW reattained the number 1 rank on The Digital Dozen with the launch of Mists of Panderia 118 weeks ago and never let go.  Amazingly enough, despite a year-long content drought, the game exceeded the 10 million subscriber mark again with the launch of the Warlords of Draenor expansion in November.  Apparently, the only thing that could keep WoW from remaining on top of the genre for years to come is Blizzard itself.  That won't happen, as Blizzard cancelled its planned next-gen MMORPG, Project Titan, and rolled the best parts into a planned new FPS game, Overwatch.

2.  Guild Wars 2: 12.7
2013 Score: 17.0
2013 Rank: 2
2014 Weeks Ranked: 52
Year Released: 2012
Developer: ArenaNet
Publisher: NCSoft
After a solid 2013, GW2 showed signs of weakness in 2014, first falling to the #3 spot behind Wildstar for four weeks in June before fighting for the #2 spot with Star Wars: The Old Republic in October and then the past few weeks in December.  While Guild Wars 2 is the second rank game for the year, GW2 finished the year 3rd on the final Digital Dozen list.  The weakness seems reflected in the latest NCSoft financial statement released for the 3rd quarter, which showed that GW2's revenues fell by 8.5% over the quarter.  While I predicted yesterday that GW2 would not receive an expansion in 2015, the Xfire numbers might indicate otherwise.  Could NCSoft require an expansion due to lower profits?  An interesting question to ponder for the coming year.

3.  Star Wars: The Old Republic: 9.4
2013 Score: 10.1
2013 Rank: 3
2014 Weeks Ranked: 52
Year Released: 2011
Developer: Bioware
Publisher: Electronic Arts
The strength of the Star Wars IP was on display in 2014 as SW:TOR's Digital Dozen score did not drop as much as rival Guild Wars 2's did during the year.  SW:TOR showed surprising strength, even managing to wrest the #2 spot away from GW2 when Bioware released new content like Galactic Starfighters and the Shadow of Revan expansion.  But like GW2, SW:TOR showed financial weakness in the latest quarter.  In November, EA identified SW:TOR as one of the games that had decreased in revenue in the second quarter of its 2015 financial year.  Unlike ArenaNet, which has the option of creating expansions to grow revenues, Bioware is already running full out trying to earn money, even going so far as to charge players for the ability to hide their headgear.  Yes, a new Star Wars movie is in the works, but with a scheduled December 2015 release, can the game make it another year to enjoy the bump in popularity a new film will bring?  And if so, what state will the game find itself in?

4.  Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn: 5.3
2013 Score: 3.6
2013 Rank: 7
2014 Weeks Ranked: 52
Year Released: 2013
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
FFXIV is an unusual game in many respects.  Square Enix concentrates on its Japanese player-base, which helps explain why the game launched with a subscription model instead of the free-to-play or buy-to-play models.  FFXIV is also unique as the game is the only one on the list that has both PC and console gamers playing on the same servers with each other.  Xfire only counts PC gamers, which means that FFXIV potentially is more popular than SW:TOR and possibly even Guild Wars 2.  Square Enix released three major patches for the game in 2014, Through the Maelstrom, Defenders of Eorzea, and Dreams of Ice.  With a loyal fan base for the Final Fantasy IP, if Square Enix can keep up that delivery schedule, expect FFXIV to remain one of the top MMORPGs for years to come.

5.  EVE Online: 4.6
2013 Score: 4.7
2013 Rank: 5
2014 Weeks Ranked: 52
Year Released: 2003
Developer: CCP
Publisher: CCP
Despite a lot of turmoil surrounding CCP in 2014, including layoffs, the departure of well-respected developers and a dropping average concurrent user number, EVE Online continued its steady pace in the Xfire community, losing practically no market share.  The drop from the number 4 position to fifth this year is due more to what Square Enix did right than anything CCP did wrong.  In June, CCP changed its development cycle from a major release twice a year to 10 releases a year.  But will revamps of major systems continue to satisfy existing players at the same time drawing new players in?  CCP's strategy is aimed at convincing former players to return while increasing the retention rate of those players who try the game based on the player shenanigans reported in both the gaming and mainstream media.  The strategy worked, at least for the Xfire community, in 2014.  Will CCP manage to steady the ship in 2015?

6.  Aion: 3.6
2013 Score: 4.4
2013 Rank: 6
2014 Weeks Ranked: 52
Year Released: 2009
Developer: NCSoft
Publisher: NCSoft
Aion is the first Korean MMORPG on the list and probably belongs higher on the list.  However, I believe that the Xfire community is heavily weighted toward the western audience, so the game actually sits at number 6 in the year end list.  However, according to the same report that showed Guild Wars 2's sales declining, Aion, along with Lineage 1, are NCSoft's big money-making games.  In the last quarter, Aion's sales were actually 67% greater than Guild Wars 2's.  Then again, Lineage 1's sales were double those of Aion, and Lineage 1 has never appeared on The Digital Dozen.

7.  Tera: 3.6
2013 Score: 4.5
2013 Rank: 5
2014 Weeks Ranked: 52
Year Released: 2012
Developer: Bluehole Studio
Publisher: En Masse
Another Korean import, Aion and Tera have always seemed linked together, and not just because NCSoft sued Bulehole for theft of trade secrets.  The games finished the year 1 point apart in the final list, as a late rush of Xfire members to Tera in response to the launch of the Fate of Arun expansion fell just short.  Tera is the last game on the year end list that appeared every week in The Digital Dozen.

8.  Wildstar: 2.4
2013 Score: N/A
2013 Rank: N/A
2014 Weeks Ranked: 16
Year Released: 2014
Developer: Carbine
Publisher: NCSoft
The last of the three NCSoft games on the year-end edition of The Digital Dozen, Wildstar was the definition of "the three-month-er".  The game appeared 16 weeks, 3 while the game was in beta, and 13 weeks after launch.  Or three months.  The game was plagued by hacks, bots, and exploits at launch, although not as badly as ArcheAge.  High profile developers and community members left ahead of lay-offs and Halloween and Christmas content was scratched as the dev team attempted to fix more pressing issues.  In the latest quarter, sales for Wildstar were down 42%.  As a sign of the depths the game fell within the Xfire community, of the 31 games that made at least one appearance on The Digital Dozen, Wildstar ranked 27th on Sunday.  The Carbine product was far behind games such as the original Guild Wars, The Secret World, Firefall, and Star Trek Online.

9.  Runescape: 2.2
2013 Score: 0.7
2013 Rank: Not Ranked
2014 Weeks Ranked: 46
Year Released: 2001
Developer: Jagex
Publisher: Jagex
From the newest to the oldest game on the list, Runescape was the surprise game of 2014.  The only browser-based game on the list, Runescape very possibly owes its place on the year-end list due to Jagex' anti-botting and anti-RMT efforts.  In addition to anti-bot measures that banned millions of botting accounts, Jagex introduced bonds, a PLEX-type object good for purchasing premium game time and in-game goods.  With real players not having to fight the bots, the game apparently became more popular among the Xfire community, appearing for the final 22 weeks of the year.

10.  Elder Scrolls Online: 1.9
2013 Score: N/A
2013 Rank: N/A
2014 Weeks Ranked: 25
Year Released: 2014
Developer: Zenimax
Publisher: Bethesda
The other big release of 2014 that made the year-end list, ESO, like Wildstar, was plagued by hacks, bots, and exploits at launch.  However, at least not as badly as ArcheAge.  While the game managed to stay on the Digital Dozen longer than Wildstar, ESO didn't arrive with the big hype train that the Carbine game did.  As a result, the game finished in the tenth position.  The game has shown flashes of promise, and perhaps a move to a free-to-play or buy-to-play model when the console version of ESO launches will revive interest in the title.

11.  Neverwinter: 1.8
2013 Score: 2.3
2013 Rank: 10
2014 Weeks Ranked: 40
Year Released: 2013
Developer: Cryptic
Publisher: Perfect World
The game based on the 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons rules once again managed to make the year-end list.  However, Perfect World saw its profits fall in the latest quarter, with management blaming the American operations for the drop.  I'm not sure what that means for Neverwinter, although Perfect World is looking to localize the game for the Chinese market.

12.  Lord of the Rings Online: 1.7
2013 Score: 2.8
2013 Rank: 8
2014 Weeks Ranked: 40
Year Released: 2007
Developer: Turbine
Publisher: Turbine
Lord of the Rings Online is the last of the games that has appeared on all three year end lists.  The others are World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, EVE Online, and Aion.  The game hit a rough patch from March to July, but recovered to appear on The Digital Dozen the final 25 weeks of the year.  While the game was scheduled to not receive an expansion in 2014, Turbine did add the Beorning class in Update 15 in November.  But with Turbine going through layoffs in October with another round possible in early 2015, the future is looking cloudy.  But Turbine did announce in January that they had renewed the license for the IP through the end of 2017.

That concludes my look at the top 12 MMORPGs as determined by the Xfire community using the scores from The Digital Dozen for 2014.  This also concludes this column.  I hope you've found it as interesting to read as I've found it interesting to write.    The numbers for Sunday, 29 December, are below.  As you can see by the wild percentage changes, the numbers are getting a little too small to reflect reality.  So I'll end the series now.

I have updated the Google spreadsheet with the last of the information so that you can review the data for all three years here.

RankPrev WeekGameScoreHours Played+/- %
11World of Warcraft59.810,611-15.5
23Star Wars: The Old Republic8.61,519-1.2
32Guild Wars 28.11,444-10.0
54Final Fantasy XIV3.5623-36.7
66EVE Online3.4603-11.7
811Lord of the Rings Online2.3404+35.1
Total Digital Dozen Hours: 17,751

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