In the interests of delving into a point made by Openedge in the comments for the last post, let me say firstly that I am deeply reluctant to take Xfire statistics at face value. They only reflect the activity of Xfire users, for one thing, and not even all of those – like myself, sometimes, when I forget to turn Xfire on before playing (I don’t have it set to autostart when I load Windows, since I’m running Vista and have never bothered to work around the OS stopping it from running on startup.)
Also, the pool of Xfire users leans most heavily in the direction of strategy (RTS, mostly) and shooter players, or so it seems to me. For example, it comes bundled with Supreme Commander, which I don’t think has at all the same kind of audience as a typical MMO. Bread-and-butter FPSes like the Call of Duty series and CounterStrike peform very well there.
Nevertheless, for the sake of furthering the discussion, let’s assume that Xfire’s statistcal sample is a represenative one, and where it does not reflect the totality of activity in a given game, it subsumes a reasonable sample of said activity. So where we cannot extract hard numbers from the Xfire data, and shouldn’t try to calculate anything very far removed from them, regardless of how reliable these numbers are, they are unquestionably the best publicly available data, and one can probably take the order in which games rank on their list as fairly solid. So let’s look at what Xfire says about 16 select subscription titles today. I’m including all of the SOE StationPass titles because of the origin of the discussion, but I’m excluding WoW as an obviously aberrant example, Guild Wars and Runes of Magic for not being subscription titles, and Lineage II for having much of its player base in Asia, where people probably play by the hour rather than paying a flat monthly fee.
|Title||Xfire Rank||Minutes Played||Users/Day||Minutes/User|
|The Lord of the Rings Online||18||823,793||2,996||275|
|Age of Conan||37||474,280||1,695||280|
|CoH/CoV (Combined)||~84.5 (Est.)||181,877||3,031||244|
|Star Wars Galaxies||87||172,048||559||308|
|Dark Age of Camelot||168||54,657||182||300|
|Pirates of the Burning Sea||282||20,823||70||297|
|The Matrix Online||426||6,330||48||132|
I have made one simple calculation from Xfire’s raw data – the average number of minutes eacxh Xfire users spends in-game. Looking at all this, we can see where the doomed Matrix Online falls – dead last, and I made no effort to cut the list off at that point. (I cut it off where I judged the list of ‘proper’ western subscription MMOs to end.) Furthermore, in terms of the number of people logging in per day, and in the average number of minutes played per user, Matrix Online also comes dead last. Probably the ‘users per day’ figure most accurately reflects subscription levels, even though Xfire doesn’t rank games that way. Only 48 Xfire users were logging on to Matrix each day – I’ve run D&D games that big (or at least helped run games that big.)
The First Tier: The Strong
This figure (minutes played, actually) determines the overall Xfire ranking of a game. We can see here that EVE Online is performing very strongly, a very solid 31% higher than the lext-highest totle, LotRO, which in turn pulls 25% higher than the third-ranked MMO, Warhammer Online. Number four is, sursprisingly, Age of Conan.
Now, three of these titles (WAR being the exception) have run promotions on Xfire, which has almost certainly helped increase the percentage of active players who use the Xfire service. I think this is probably not an incredibly significant increase, and thus while it may have increased those games’ overall ranking, it probably hasn’t affected the placement among the captured titles (subscription, non-Asian MMOs.) All four of these titles have in the neighborhood of 500K minutes played in the designated period, or higher.
Age of Conan’s numbers look very solid overall – not as spectacular as one might hope, surely, but extremely solid – falling in the top third of the pack in overall ranking (hours/day) and users/day, with a somewhat lower value for hours/user – but I judge this last to be the least important statistic. I judge AoC and the rest of this bunch to be “Safe for the duration, barring an unlikely and catastrophic collapse.”
The Second Tier: The Solid
The next block of games falls into the range of 100K-200K minutes played, and includes (in order) City of Heroes and Villains, Star Wars Galaxies, EverQuest II and Darkfall. I combine the (strong) numbers for City of Heroes with the (weak) numbers from City of Villains. Most players of the CoX titles are probably using CoH as their portal, regardless of what faction they play, and Paragon Studios now considers the two to be one single product. Flatly combining the numbers is a questionable statistical practice, but I don’t think I haver enough data to feather the CoV numbers in properly. I calculate that the consolidated title would fall between Xfire ranks 84 and 85, so CoV-exclusive play is enough to kick the aggregate up a full ten places.
The surprise here is Star Wars Galaxies. It comes in 13% higher than EQ2, which I find shocking, given that it seems to be held in general disregard post-NGE and is surounded by negligible buzz. EQ2 performs strongly, I think. All three games pull in the neighborhood of 500 users per day or better (the top 4 titles studied pull over 1,500 per day.)
I am both surpised (in a good way) and pleased at where EQ2 falls. It’s numbers look nice and solid. Not as high as I feel it deserves, but it’s also several years old and while it gets reliable talk, it lacks buzz and it perhaps an unexciting title at this point, depsite being a very good game.
Darkfall’s performance is also pretty good, consiering that it’s still not officially launched in North America (although a lot of NA players are playing it anyway,) and that it requires significant effort just to buy the thing. Also, its “hardcoritude” number, the minutes each user put in on average, is really high, second overall next to EQ.
The Third Tier: The Weak But Safe
We come next to a cluster of titles between about 20K-50K minutes played, and 100-200 users per day: Dark Age of Camelot, EverQuest, D&D Online and Vanguard. I’d call these titles “Safe unless they slip significantly.” Two of the oldest extant titles in the hobby fall here: DAoC and EQ. The latter’s numbers are the most interesting: far below EQ2, whereas I’d always assumed (based mostly on the MMOGChart data, which I am now willing to discard entirely as both out-of-date and generally innaccurate,) EQ to retain some number of subscribers roughly in parity with EQ2. From this data, that’s pretty clearly not the case, even if we assume that Xfire skews the number very low: EQ brings in less than one-third the minutes played of EQ2, and less than one-fifth the users per day. That’s very weak. But on the other hand, in terms of minutes players per user, EverQuest ranks first. But this should not be a surprise: EQ’s remaining population must be (it seems to me) mercliessly hardcore.
D&D Online falls about where I expected it, but probably higher than others might have guessed, and lower than it deserves.
Vanguard’s numbers are weak, but nowhere near as bad as Matrix Online’s are. Vanguard users clocked almost 5 times as many minutes as Matrix players, and close to five times as many users logged in per day. If we assume (a chancy assumption) that the same factor applies to subscriptions, and if we further assume Matrix has 15,000 subscriptions (which seems a reasonable guess to me, plus or minus 5K,) that puts Vanguard somewhere just north of 50K, which is lean but certainly viable, and about what I would have guessed. Vanguard looks weakest in the minutes per user statistic – but I can believe it given fairly unforgiving (compared to WoW or even EQ2) gameplay in a great-looking world, with people coming in to sightsee for a while, but not getting much play in. While I don’t think it’s in imminent danger of cancellation, it has little ground to lose – but I also judge that Vanguard has always (barring the immediate post-launch period when subscribers didn’t know what they were in for,) been in danger of going on life support. So I’m not sure that this data shows us anything new.
The Fourth Tier: Next Against the Wall
The next titles down, Pirates of the Burning Sea and Planetside, are pretty clearly in trouble. Pirates comes in well under Vanguard across the board, and worse in the users per day statistic, which is why I put it here instead of in the next highest category: It may be safe but it has no ground to give. But it, like Vanguard, can offer a promotion or content update and get a little spike, drawing numbers upward, if only briefly.
I doubt very much that this is possible for Planetside. If it were anywhere other than in the StationPass program, I’m guessing it would already be dead, and when The Agency Draws near, I think it will be, if not before.
Then, of course, we have Matrix Online. Dead last. The only reason people weren’t loudly predicting its cancellation is because nobody cares. Deservedly or not, nobody was playing it.
EDITED: to clean up some typos, add a link, make some clarifications and additional obsevations, and reorganize the whole thing. There’s some buzz about this one, and I want to be as clear as possible.