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World Of Warcraft Audience Grows In The Face Of Increased Competition
by Edward Hunter on 09/24/09 10:21:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

As we move towards 2010, there are a lot of factors in play that one might think could drive audiences of chart topping MMO World of Warcraft away.  Increased entries into the marketplace, compelling new free to play alternatives, even newly styled MMO's that look to tap into niche demographics of the broad, global player base Blizzard's MMO enjoys.

With the economic downturn is affecting not only U.S. but global economies one can't help but wonder which if any subscription based games will fall as a result.  With decreased consumer spending, reductions in offline retail game sales and overall consumer angst, people are very simply holding on to the dollars they have, we're becoming the ant to the proverbial grasshopper.  

One might think, with the release (or rerelease in some cases) of so many new massively multiplayer experiences, that this might begin to chip away at the veritable mountain of World of Warcraft players across the globe.

As always, I like to back my posts with hard data, so thanks again to comScore MediaMetrix, let's take a look at what the numbers have to say.

I'm using a simple look at unique visitor traffic to the World of Warcraft application, based on the comScore consumer panel of roughly 2 million consumers worldwide who have agreed to anonymously share application activity with us.

World wide, here is how the August 08 to August 09 trend looks for WoW, based on about 37 or so countries.

World of Warcraft Global Trend, Aug 08 to Aug 09

Wait a second.  Is that....

Yeah, it is.  WoW has actually increased it's audience size to 13.1 million unique users as of August.  It's like that Star Trek creature, the one that got bigger every time they fired a phaser at it?

I'm infrequently suprised these days, and not because I'm some Nostradamus, I just have good data backing me up and I keep the trends close at hand.  But even I thought that with the increased competition and decreased discrectionary income that WoW might be tapering a bit - I mean, the next expansion is a ways off yet so shouldn't we at least be seeing some MMO hiatusing? (yes, not a word or term but it is now and its mine, deal with it. ;) )

It begs the question; if decreased consumer confidence and spending, copious quantities of new competion (some of which is free) and aging content can't slow the Irvine based juggernaut, can anything?

I'm interested in deeper analytics here, but I'd like that to be a comment driven dive - so I turn it to you, the audience - what should we look at next in MMO audience measurements?


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Comments


Thomas Whitfield
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Without the values for all the other games it is hard to tell, but I'd put my money on "returning users" more than "new users."



Most people I know used to keep 2-3 subscriptions open (or 2 and a free trial) in a rotation (otherwise know as expansion hopping). They (and sometimes I) will move from game to game, finish up a new expansion and then cancel/move on until that game expanded again. We often do this with new games as well. Usually one subscription is always open for some base game (for my friends it is WoW, or EQ2 mostly).



With the rise of the Massively Single Player model of MMO, small groups of people can "finish" a new MMO designed for solo play at incredible speeds. Tabula Rasa and Conan lasted roughly 1-2 months each.



With the contraction of the economy, and vast chunks of unemployment hitting all over, most of us have cut back to 1 game, and that is usually that core game (the one we have the most time/effort invested into)... again, in our case it is WoW or EQ2 (Mine is WoW, even though I have more time in EQ2).



We've cut back on our console games something awful because of lack of money (10 hours of solo play, plus random amounts of DM and CTF vs. random people isn't worth $65 every 2 months fro a new version of FPS with different hats).



However, Dollar per game hour, MMOs are still massive bargains (especially compared to today's Console games [FPS even more so]).



Maybe we are elitist snobs, but none of us ever play free MMOs, considering them fly-by night, third rate, or actually well-made micropayment traps that will suck more than $15/month to play at the levels we play subscription games. More and more it is the third option.



It is the new games that will suffer more from the economy. Players will flock back to whatever game they have the most time/ advancement in. They'll hunker down and wait for something really stunning before they venture out to pay for other games. (This will be true of console games as well, expect people to sit on/in GoW2, CoD MW2, Halo 3/ODST for a long long time. A lot of good games without massive weight behind them may not do so well. (Cheap DLC and map packs for those 3 will sell sell sell though)



Any MMO game that wants to get people to switch will need a robust free-trial to get people in. Gone are the days where many people will blow $50 on a MMO to try it out for a month (somehow not paying 10-$15 for that first month of any MMO made it OK to buy the box for $50-$65 to play for a month then walk out on... I never understood that.).



Cheap or free downloads of the main clients may help a lot too. Charging less than "box costs" for a Digital Download can draw people in, but usually doesn't happen until a year + into a game.





New MMOs are gonna have to bring in some serious awesomeness to pry people out of their safe little max-level holes. No offense to anyone, but I don't see that level of "must have" cool out there on the horizon.

Edward Hunter
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Well said Thomas.

Simon Ludgate
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It's difficult to draw any conclusions about a one-month increase in subscriptions. There could be many extraneous reasons for this increase that go beyond anything that has to do with the market or the economy. For example, July -> August also represents the end of summer and the start of school, along with moving into dorms or college towns and collecting some back-to-school allowances, presumably for school supplies, but perhaps WoW counts as one of those?



It's a shame your graph starts at September, it would be nice to compare the July -> August with last five July -> August periods, to see if a similar spike is a regular annual trend.

Jonathon Walsh
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Is not one going to mention Wrath of the Lich King? The first raise (in Oct '08) corresponds pretty well to the 3.0 patch for warcraft that brings in much of the functionality of the WotLK expansion. The 2nd raise (Nov 08) is the actual release.



It also goes beyond that. The March -> April raise in use corresponds to the build up and release of patch 3.1 and the July -> August 3.2 raise in use corresponds both to the build up and release of the 3.2 patch and the announcement of Cataclysm.



I think the relationship of usage and big WoW events shows that most of the increase are from returning users or 'sleepers' who are waiting for new content to play again. Not that it invalidates our points or anything but I thought it was worth pointing out.

Enrique Dryere
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I could be wrong, but I believe that most of the recent increase has come from players outside of the United States, particularly from China. Over the summer, there was a lot of friction between WoW and the Chinese government, forcing Blizzard to temporarily shut down the entire game for long periods of time. Only recently has it come back up, seemingly for good. This, in addition to the reasons listed above could account for the rise and recent spike.



Keep in mind that while there are millions of Chinese players, there are over a billion potential players in China alone. As India and China continue to develop as nations, they are going to become increasingly important to the game industry, which will see an influx of hundreds of millions of players in that area alone.

Andre Gagne
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@Enrique



The question is: did those chinese/indian players sign up for comScore? The question of "where did this data come from?" is somewhat important, no?



Though I do agree that your point, in general, is important.

Edward Hunter
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@Andre comScore tracks the digital behavior of consumers in 38 countries including yes, India and China. The application usage data always comes within a small percentage accuracy of WoW's stated audience.

Walter Lippmann
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In the face of increased competition? I should've thought Conan and Warhammer were the last wave of competition. SWTOR will be the last, after which we'll realize this mythical 'WoW killer' doesn't exist. It will continue to grow, and will die out on its own terms.

Tom Kammerer
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I believe WoW is starting to have the same effect on new MMO titles as Opera effects new businesses. I would like to call it the WoW effect. :)



All of this talk of a WoW Killer gazes more peoples eyes to new titles on the horizon, now everyone is talking about SWTOR and FF14. In some way's where the hardcore MMO players say WoW has killed the industry It seems WoW is helping Titles and companies all over with its WoW effect.

zero lin
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Grows

zero lin
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WoW Ratings lets you rate anything in Azeroth



I had an idea like this one -- a site that would allow you to rate anything at all (from a new movie to the casserole your aunt makes), and then let other people share their own opinions about whatever you rated. My idea never got off the ground (standard operating procedure for the idea mill I call my mind), but reader Antoine apparently had the same idea, and built it specifically for the WoW universe. WoW Ratings is kind of a silly site with some interesting outcomes: basically it's a database of everything in the game, from bosses to zones to game features or what have you, and you can come along and rate whatever you want on a scale of 1 to 5. The ratings don't actually mean anything (though Antoine has them listed as qualities from Uncommon up to Legendary), so it's really just a broad temperature-taking of the World (of Warcraft) at large.

The most interesting screen is probably the "Best and Worst" screen (which you can reach by clicking on the toolbar at the top of the homepage -- note to Antoine: permalinks are your friend, scale back on the javascript), where, as of this writing, Hakkar the Soulflayer is sitting on top of the heap, and the Voice Chat patch and Darnassus are sitting in the bottom 10. No Fandral Staghelm yet, strangely, but I'm sure things will get shaken up after all you readers head over there (and if the site's a little shaky under the flood of our link, give it time to get back on its feet). Sure, it's a little silly, and it's not so much a "resource" as it is just a free-for-all of player opinions, but it is interesting to see kind of a meta-overview of what players do and don't like. Useless features for the loss, old school raid bosses for the win.

This passage is excerpted from www.wowgoldhotel.com


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