Subscriptions level in WoW, and Ensidia have their eyes on The Old Republic

Earlier this week Activision-Blizzard reported their financial results for 2009, a business related press release in which gaming companies traditionally discuss how their recent offerings have fared in the market, and what’s due to be released in the next year.

Blizzard related points of interest:

  • Cataclysm is on track for a 2010 release
  • So is Starcraft 2
  • Current subscription numbers for World of Warcraft are holding steady at 11.5 million – the same number they mentioned in July last year
  • And apparently only 30% of new WoW players make it past level 10

The subscriber numbers is an interesting one, and underlines even further why Cataclysm is being targeted at new players and returners. The game just isn’t growing any more. On the other hand, there are many subscription MMOs which would have been thrilled to have maintained subscriber numbers from year on year. Could it be that many of the people who might have previously tried WoW have been lured away from MMOs altogether by the casual gaming sector?

Also, every player who has made it past level 10 may now feel like part of an elite force. You are the 3/10 who stuck with it. I think the 30% is misleading only because it implies that other MMOs are stickier; I suspect similar figures would be true of most free trials. In fact, I’ve always wondered how many of EVE’s increasing subscriber numbers is actually due to new players as opposed to old ones with multiple accounts (just picking on EVE because it’s notoriously unfriendly to newbies, especially if most of them can’t handle WoW!)

It won’t surprise anyone who has ever tried to help a friend who is a genuine newbie, but MMOs can be complex and overwhelming to new players. Even one that seems simple to experienced players. Gordon@We Fly Spitfires has written a few blog posts about his experience of playing with his brother, who is a genuine noob.

Mike Morhaine even commented that one of the aims of Cataclysm was to make the low level experience more compelling, to lure more of those newbies into staying. This makes me even more curious to see what they have in mind for levels 1-10. Can it be a good tutorial for genuine newbies and still fun for the old time players?

My big question though is if players who try a new MMO for a month and then go back to Warcraft are WoW tourists, what do you call a player who tries WoW and then goes back to … I dunno what really … Farmville? Should we call them Farmville tourists?

Ensidia eye up the dark side

Peace is a lie; there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.
—The Sith Code

This was one of the more unexpected links in my RSS reader this morning. Darth Hater, one of the big SWTOR blogs, scored an interview with a couple of the Ensidia officers who chat about raiding, difficulty in games, and why they are looking forwards to Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Now, nothing I have read about that game pegs it as a game designed to appeal to the WoW hardcore raiders. But everyone is entitled to live in hope.

In fact, SWTOR fans will have to live in hope, because EA announced in their own financial report that the game won’t be out before Q2 2011.

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16 thoughts on “Subscriptions level in WoW, and Ensidia have their eyes on The Old Republic

  1. It is indeed interesting how much people project their wishes into SWTOR.

    The new MMO messias is apparently the more interesting the less we know about it. :)

  2. I’d be very curious to hear how they’re defining “new” WoW players. If that’s trial accounts and it includes gold spammers, I’d be surprised that the number is even that high.

    As to SWTOR, well, best of luck to anyone who thinks it’s going to ride in on a white tauntaun and save the genre. That hasn’t worked out so well for the last few would-be saviours.

    • If it does include trial accounts, then I think that’s a pretty high retention rate. Of course, he doesn’t mention how many of those new players pay for a first month after the trial.

      • Yeah, that’s my thinking – the spammers alone probably represent 90% of trial accounts, and there’s always going to be some people who leave the game almost immediately because they actually find that they dislike the game.

        Perhaps they mean 30% of accounts that paid to get out of trial status, but that too is weird – why would someone pay before capping out the free trial? (Unless, of course, there are a non-trivial number of people registering new accounts for the sole purpose of obtaining the RAF mount. But, again, 70%?)

      • I’d be most curious to see what those numbers are compared to the retention numbers in a solid subscriptionless game. Also, I’m curious as to whether there’s a difference in retention rate between those who buy a boxed version and play for the month and those who are just there via a free trial. I suspect that those who even play for just the boxed game’s month are getting over level 10, even if they then drop out before picking up the recurring sub fee. It’s easier to get further than level 10 when you have three times as long with the game.

        Also, is it just me or is the “level 10″ metric a bit odd? That’s not really measuring conversion or retention, just character level, which doesn’t really correlate.

        …I just don’t see a lot of reason to get excited about that number since it’s not really measuring what interests me. It’s great for feeling special if I’m over level 10, but that’s just fluffy social feelgood gibberish.

  3. Hullo fellow AD’er! I’ve been meaning to comment for quite a while now. :)

    WoW had to hit the roof eventually and I suspect that from now on Blizzard will have to focus more on keeping the subscription numbers steady rather than trying to get more playing. Blizzard might prove me wrong though, no one believed a MMO would get much more than a million subscribers.

    About the 3/10 only makes it past thing must be included trial accounts? Who pays for a game then plays for less than the 2-3 hours it takes to get to level 10? If the numbers are high or not also depends if Blizzard are able to weed out the spam-bots or not.

    As you I’m probably going to try out SWTOR (try saying that three times fast). But I don’t dare getting my hopes up. I played both LOTRO and WAR for 2-3 months but eventually stopped. Leveling felt like a chore in both of them and I never got that “wow-feeling” when exploring. The people I play with will probably keep me playing WoW as well. LOTRO and WAR just felt lonely.

  4. I’m not surprised at all by that 30% statistic. Most bloggers and commentators are experienced gamers and we forget what it’s like to approach a MMORPG – even WoW – from a totally blank slate background. It’s actually a harder and more overwhelming than we think and there’s surprisingly little in-game aid to help and teach new players.

  5. One thing that always strikes me, is that people always consider the game mechanics as the thing, that keeps people from playing.

    When I started playing WoW, it took a while until I got into the game, because at the beginning it was just like any other Single Player, until I discovered the social aspects.
    My main concern at day one was: Why paying monthly, when I can have the same experience with Diablo for free. And I was in a guild from day one, of people I knew and who explained me a lot.

    At the start, WoW does not feel different from a Single Player game.

    Another thing is the horrible reputation of the game.
    We occasionally visit other friends who play WoW, many of them couples. And we all agree, that none of us tells their colleagues, friends and families about WoW, without running into risk of being considered of some sort addicted.

    We even have a community meeting every year in another city, and granted none of our members, looks like the typical WoW Victim they present in the media. But when we get asked where we know each other from, we usually change the topic.

    I know many, many couples, who usually had the typical discussion about him playing to much video games, and who found their peace in WoW. In contrary to most Shooter or Action games, the game was very pleasant for women, so their wife and girlfriends started playing. Many of them simply left, because they felt “addicted”. Not that they were actually playing more WoW than the average Joe watches TV, but they were afraid of becoming what media showed them.

    I have stopped watching reports about WoW, the last one I saw, was about some Blizzard Con in the USA, showing just Fat people and the second one, claimed that WoW players wear diapers during Raids.
    Both in national television.

  6. Why choose level 10 as a cutoff? Is it game mechanics? Hunters don’t get their pets (their “real game” starts) until then, most casters play pretty much the same in the early levels, and so on. By level 10, players have probably seen their capital cities, and managed to get lost a couple of times. They get their first talent point (and how many people actually know *that* and use it… then of those, how many look at the rest of the talent grid and mentally give up on it thanks to the looming grind?).

    …in short, I’m just not sure why Blizzard would cite level 10 as a relevant cutoff point. They aren’t actually saying anything about retention or conversion there, it’s just a curious gamist statistic. I can’t help but wonder about the business model and what is going on with the real money numbers; that’s way more interesting to me than a level cutoff.

    That said, from a game design standpoint, I actually am curious as to why people do quit the game. If I were starting today with a Hunter, delirious “a boy and his dog” visions in my mind, I’d be more than ticked that I don’t even get a pet for ten levels. In fact, when I fired up a Hunter for the first time on a free trial, I almost gave up on him around level 7, when the grind had stepped up but I still didn’t have a pet. I wanted a pet from the outset, not after I’d qualified to play a non-gimped version of the class by playing half the time in melee *which I’d likely never do again once I had a pet*. That’s bad design, teaching a player a totally different playstyle from what they will get to play if they stick with it. (Another complaint about the “game starts at 80″ raiding switch, as it happens.) It very literally felt like a chore, playing a melee Hunter until I could play a “real” Hunter. Bear Form for Druids is similar, I’d guess. (I’m not sure on the other classes. Totems for Shamans?)

    Sometimes I wonder if MMOs could benefit from the Metroid Prime design mentality; give the player a lot of toys to start with, hinting at what the future could be, and only then punt the player back a bit and let them work back up to the really interesting stuff. (Though that would make the grind even more psychologically annoying…) Impress them in the first fifteen minutes; a flyby, a couple of conversations and a “kill ten rats” quest don’t do it any more.

    • Though, answering myself, there are the true “noob” players who might look at a full action bar and get totally lost. The paltry two or three abilities that characters start with are trivial to master for me, and I get bored *very* quickly, but I’ve played games for two decades. Someone who is new to games or MMOs in particular might already be overwhelmed with two abilities and the rest of the concepts of the game.

      Such is the trouble with designing a mass market game, perhaps.

      So… let advanced players start with a different sort of character? Give players the chance to choose how they enter the world? Some will always want to jump right into the deep end, others will want to wade and simmer for a while. Why make either do what they don’t want to do?

    • I think the early stages of the game do show their age. It’s really pretty bad that you have to play a class to fairly high level these days before getting some of the current signature skills. Druids have always been the worst, because you have to start as a caster whether you want to or not.

      I don’t know about anyone else, but if I’m trying classes out in a new game, I expect to get a ‘feel’ for them fairly early on. I’ll be curious if their redesign for Cataclysm goes deep enough to rework the level/skill progression.

      My guess is for F2P games, the majority of new trials don’t last more than an hour at most. People download the new shiny, load it up, say ooo, and then get bored in about 10 mins and go. But then again, I have a sinking feeling that a lot of people don’t play their full price boxed games for more than an hour or two before getting bored and putting it away either. Not just MMOs, ALL boxed computer games.

      It would be really interesting to know.

      • I share your suspicions. It’s unfortunate, then, that downloading or installing one of these things may well take longer than the evaluation period. Then again, I *did* take forever to download a trial of Cogs, and all of five minutes to decide I wanted to buy the full version.

        This, then, may be another reason to argue for a streaming client. The faster people can get up and running with interesting play mechanics, the easier it is to *not* burn up the attention span.

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