Monday, March 29, 2010

The Xfire Game

Last week, a small group of us had a Twitter-scussion over the validity of Xfire as a tool beyond the mere use as a glorified chat program.

Xfire has the capability to track players time in games of their choice. Though not perfect, it does give a glimpse of these players (people who load Xfire)  favorite games.
As far as MMO's are concerned, I feel it can be used to do more in respect to players and times.We can also track sub numbers for MMO's in a general capacity. This would be more in line of "paying" commercial based games, by either a large distributor or game developer.

So, a while back, I posted an article (2008) which took a noted news story about the current World of Warcraft population in the US and created a formula to help see how many players can be calculated in all other MMO's based on that formula. What happened is a pretty close and accurate picture of players in various MMO's, and since that time I still have been able to use that formula to this day. Check out the article to see a more in depth discussion of that calculation.

This really took flight when last week Cryptic noted just how many people were playing Star Trek Online. When I saw this, I thought it was time again to try the formula. What happened was a pretty scary comparison that was almost completely accurate to their posted numbers. Cryptic noted a 100k player base. I did my formula and got 96k almost 97k. This of course was based on a Wednesday reading. Sunday numbers are usually more accurate as this IS the busiest day for all MMO's. So, I thought, maybe we need to really do an in depth analysis using Sunday numbers.

Now, I never claimed that the numbers are 100%, accurate, They are a pretty close representation though of what has either been discussed by news pundits or forum goers for total subs of some MMO's. And if a company ever announces their numbers, as seen by the Cryptic count for STO, it can garner a pretty darn accurate calculation.
Since a lot of companies do not release this data, the "Xfire Game" has really become a good way to see just how well this works.

Today, I will do a run of the Sunday count for Xfire for several games being discussed lately. I pick these for the very reason we need a tool like Xfire and my calc. These companies have not, or do not release their numbers. If they do, it is rare.
As well, I will add Aion, as eventually we WILL get numbers (NCSoft does their numbers about once or twice a year), and of course STO, since we did get a report recently.

Lets see how they fare.

Star Trek Online
We will start here. As we KNOW how many are playing thanks to Cryptic's recent announcement of over 100k players, it will be a good jumping off point to see how our calc is working.



The calc rate is multiple the number of Xfire users x 120.05. Using the calc system we see - 980 x 120.05 = 117,649 subs. Over 100k. Interesting.

Aion
Next, I want to show a game that we know has a large population based on reports from NCSoft. Now, of course, most forum goers or blog gurus call this game a failure. I would beg to differ, and I believe Xfires data shows this.



Our calc system states...3864 x 120.05 = 463,873 subs. Basically almost as much as Lineage 2 had been stated to have at one point and time (over 600k in 2007). And as always since it's launch, in the top 10 on Xfire. Now, I am sorry, but this does NOT take into account how many of those subs are gold sellers...

Lord of the Rings Online
Over and over it has been stated that LOTRO is a good "200k" sub game. I for one believe it, and Xfire really corroborates this.



Calc says? 1780 x 120.05 = 213,689 subs. Still a good sub rate and steady. Wish Turbine would just come out and tell us. For me, I think a company should be proud of that many players in todays MMO market. Since I have been doing these calcs, LOTRO has consistently done this number of players...except when they release an expansion, then there is a jump.

Age of Conan
A lot of discussion has been traveling the blogosphere as well as the forums that AoC has progressed beyond the old days, and is a more stable game. Some servers look busy according to the forumites, and Funcom has been able to keep it afloat (though financials have said otherwise). How do the Xfire stats look?



677 x 120.05 = 81,274 subs.
If we read the report for Funcom in their financials, they state "stabilization". This Xfire data corroborates that. They continue to hold this area in the Xfire ratings AND have stabilized in subs if Xfire is to be trusted.

Warhammer Online
My new favorite. Recently Bioware has made comments about the Mythic division and how WAR is actually "profitable". How many subs does a profitable game need? What does Xfire say...



621 x 120.05 = 74,551 subs. Could it be possible that with 4 servers and 50k plus players, any MMO could be profitable? Seeing Age of Conan has held to this area and is still afloat, I may not doubt it now. Especially if we watch Age of Conan with the expansion and new financials report. How will these numbers increase? I will watch these two games closely. They are thought to be case studies of failures for their time. Yet, I also feel they are also the most improved games over time, unlike some others on this list.

Dungeons & Dragons Online
This is a unique case, and I want it here to show how Xfire can still help us figure out what is considered a paying customer, compared to a freebie player. Recently Turbine has stated that they have "1 Meeelllion players" (note the pinky held next to my cheek as I say this..). In so many words; Turbine. The leader of misleading statements.
If we read further into the press release this came from, we also see these words..."paid subscriber base has more than doubled"....AHA. DDO at one point...before the "Free to Play" model, was noted as either having 25k or 50k players subbing. What does Xfire say they have now?



930 x 120.05 = 111,647 subs. So, 1 million players, yes, but I still say 100k plus subscribers paying a monthly fee. Now, this also does not take into account how many people pay for extras (and are not subbed). I still will say it. This hybrid model that DDO has is truly the way other games with low subs should go. We are guaranteed that Turbine is turning some very nice profits right now.

Everquest 2
I always wish to throw this one in there. This game is hard to pigeon hole, because we hardly see or hear about this game, and I always wonder what SOE needs to keep a game afloat. I always want to include Vanguard also (to show what a real failure looks like)...but, for now, EQ2 is good, as we know they have a dedicated playerbase, but not a huge sub lot (at least based on what we know and see).



293 x 120.05 = 35,175 subs. Now, is this really profitable? Has the game been out long enough to make back it's money? I guess it does help that they force players to repurchase EVERY expansion every time they launch a new one (almost 40 bucks a box every 6-8 months). Maybe all along EQ2 has made it's money off of the two-boxers and those who purchase new expansions at launch. For now, low player rates, but dedicated players keep EQ2 afloat.

The argument I keep hearing is Xfire cannot be used as a valid tool for these numbers. I will continue to disagree, as these numbers clearly show a lot of matching data with what we know about these games. We can never be 100% sure, but if I need to know how well a game is doing, I can look at Xfire and get a rough guesstimate.
The Calc I have continues to show some interesting data to this day, and as long as we have this tool, I will continue to try and use it to help me see how well these games are doing.

If you are ever worried about if you should play a game depending on if there are enough players to group with, etc, then try Xfire and see if it is doing well there.

Cheers

13 comments:

Scott said...

If your calculations for DDO are fairly accurate, no wonder Turbine is so happy with their freemium model! Didn't the court documents on the Turbine vs. Atari case state that the highest subscriber rate they had prior to that was 66K? When I played more actively, I would have guestimated around 30K back then, so those numbers are incredible.

EQ2 at 35K? That's DDO numbers from a year or two ago. I mean, I can't stand the game but damn... I thought for sure it would be doing better than that.

AoC, yeah I can believe those numbers. The population is better on Wiccana that I thought I'd be dealing with, after all the continuing launch/Failcom/etc. trolls constantly bashing the game. But, while content seems to be slower coming than is the norm in this genre, it's obviously doing well enough for them to build a whole new boxed expansion in addition to the constant work on the existing game. I still have a few niggling issues, and they're probably more personal preference than anything, but I've been having a blast the past few weeks and plan to continue the game until I'm no longer having a blast. :) It's come a long way since those first few weeks I got to play free at launch!

Longasc said...

Thanks for taking the time and effort to double check numbers and method used, your results are very interesting.

I think you are right, I also smell an upcoming trend of pay for content instead of subscription models, which is a good thing. I hope it turns out more along the Guild Wars 1 ("chapters") lines than the more common F2P models. I think it would also end this WoW tourism. People would no longer have to decide between sub games, or ending up with the rather unsatisfying decision to pay two or more subscriptions.

By the way, I dunno if Xfire still lists Ultima Online, but this game is, like EverQuest 1, still running today. 12-13 years. Wow...

Scott said...

I doubt it would end MMO Tourism at all; in fact, I'd say alternate payment models make it even easier to be a tourist since it removes the hassles of account management.

I've kept my DDO sub active for the past year even though I haven't played any PC games because I had that $10/month deal and I lose it if I cancel. That was before the freemium thing though. At this point, I play so casually (no static group or friends that I'm aware of) that it would probably be in my best interest to downgrade myself to a Free player and just buy content in the shop.

Openedge1 said...

In regards to the "free" deal. If it was NOT for the free to level 10 thing for WAR, I would not now be a subscriber.
Same for Age of Conan and my wife. She went back into the game on the free Tortage and stayed.
I think for MMO's to have any major successes...they need some type of trial immediately, or a way to play parts of the game free until they are ready.
Also, tempt the player..for example, the only way to play WAR free is to use the "Stream" client, which causes major lag, but get a sub, no stream. I had two blue bags in my backpack I could not open, got my sub and had some great armor waiting for me.
Temptation...we all fall for it, so use it to your advantage, and get the player support you need.

Bhagpuss said...

How do you reconcile the low subscriber numbers for EQ2 with the recent EQ2 expansion going to #1 on the US games sales chart for two weeks in a row?

30K sounds very low but I was reading a recent discussion in an EQ2 cross-server channel where people from several servers reckoned that peak population on their server was around 600. The rule of thumb used to be 2 subs offline for every one online. EQ2 has about two dozen servers, so that would come to under 50k subs.

Vanguard has four servers. Xeth, which I play on, has maybe 300 online at peak. That would give Vanguard barely 4k subscribers.

Everquest actually seems busier than EQ2 these days. I play on several EQ servers and off-peak all of them have 500 or so people online. I'm never up late enough to see the peak load there.

On the XFire thing, though, I am pretty certain from my years playing EQ2 that the majority of EQ2 players wouldn't even have heard of it, much less know what it is. EQ2 players seem to have an average age well above 30 and there a lot of non-gamers.

Openedge1 said...

@Bhagpuss
Interesting. Can you point me to your findings for EQ2 hitting number one for two weeks?
All I found (as NPD does not release weekly results anymore) is a listing for February, where EQ2's new expansion hit #6 for the month. That is not a lot of copies.
Sales Chart
Now, to do a comparison, look at the NON-PC games chart. At #6 is COD: Modern Warfare 2 at 200k copies.
Right now estimates place PC sales of product at about 10-20% of Console games. So, if we look at it in this way, EQ2 sold no more than 20-30k+ boxes...i.e: the number of people actually playing right now...lol.

No, I still think it is holding about right at where Xfire says it is...

Jayedub said...

I found this to be very interesting. I was surprised by a few games, in particular the numbers for EQ2. They have far more servers when compared to the other games on the list.

Do you plan on doing another post such as this but for other MMO's out there?

Thanks for the great read.

Bhagpuss said...

It was widely reported. I saw it both on Massively

http://www.massively.com/2010/02/26/sentinels-fate-rises-to-the-top-of-the-charts/

and it was on SoE's own website later.

Openedge1 said...

@Jayedub
Yes, I do plan to do this again, with some other games. I do not cover too many titles, so it will be limited to certain games though.

@Bhagpuss
I followed your link, which then links to another site
Gamasutra
That chart is strictly for Amazon...
So, I wonder just how many sales total took place. I would question anything larger than 10k total boxes.
And to give you a bigger picture...the following week.
March 5th
The game disappeared from the list totally.

No, I still believe the number of boxes sold equals the number of people dedicated to the game. I would even venture to say 50k boxes total. But, still only 30k+ subs.

Bhagpuss said...

I can't say I looked into the provenence of the Massively report at the time. I saw they'd picked it up from Gamasutra but what the chart actually represented I took on face value from the report.

SoE themselves seemed pretty pleased. This is from the official website.

http://eq2players.station.sony.com/news/read/current/3479

I reckon 50k for EQ2 might be about right. Goes to show you never really recover from a poor launch. If EQ2 or Vanguard had had the gameplay at launch they had a year afterwards, both would still have a couple of hundred thousand subs, in my opinion.

As a dedicated Everquest player (and Vanguard is EQ2.5 for sure) I admit to being concerned for the future. I hope they have an EQ3 up their sleeves.

Lomax said...

I've not heard of XFire either, I guess its a console thing?

On subs, the most current guess at subscribers for EQ2 has been 200k, with a team of 64 developers (artists+programmers+support) that sounds right, putting the low guess at ~100k.

Otherwise with 35,000 subs we have roughly 120 dollars per a sub so $65625 per a dev, that excludes any server support or profits, while some devs would be cheaper some would be this cost.

Hence I think these figures are wrong, my guess would be due to the age of the userbase and not using XFire (and probably sticking to one/two games, especially SOE only rather then flitting around).

I've be interested to see how Eve correlates here, its in a similar position to EQ2 as its got a more mature user base. My guess is the lower age user bases are more into things like XFire, while the 30 year+ users don't use it.

Just my guess.

Lomax said...

@Openedge1

I'd have to turn that number around, while there are multi-boxers/multi-accounters (new word :D) in EQ2 they're still a small minority at max 10%.

From playing recently too not everyone has their new copy of EQ2 too, so whatever the box sales were I'd say there were a large number more of subscribers yet to upgrade.

As for the two weeks at the top of the chart, that would make sense if they had the pre-orders one week and the digital downloads the following week, although I think the digital downloads do not count.

In which case two weeks in a row at the top is quite impressive as the second week was just current demand rather then preorder pent up demand.

Openedge1 said...

@Lomax

Xfire is PC software that allows a user to either chat while in game (some), voice chat, video record a game and of course, track playing time.
To find out more, click the link near the top of my page that shows game time. That will take you to Xfires page.

As to EQ2, we must take into account other games on their list. I also believe that a lot of players may use Station Pass, thus what we may be seeing is just a fraction of who is playing what game at each time.
So yes, ANY SOE game will be difficult to track here.

As to EvE, that is another story. It tracks quite well on Xfire, and has shown their growth.
2700 Xfire players x 120.05 = 325k players.
Now, looking at Wikipedia, there is a quote there (Wikilink)

"As of May 6, 2009, Eve Online claimed to have more than 300,000 active subscriptions"

So, I would not throw Xfire out as useless based on such corroborating data.

Cheers and welcome!