While playing Overwatch with guildies the other night, my husband turned to me with a hypothetical. The guys were speculating on World of Warcraft’s current playerbase size and wanted to know whether all the other sub MMOs combined could touch WoW’s sub numbers.
I did my best to answer them — with at least a hundred caveats. Blizzard doesn’t give sub numbers anymore. Do we go by last count? Do we go by pre-expansion peak extrapolation? Do we count western monthly subs and eastern microsubs equally? How do you estimate the subs of hugely successful sub games like Elder Scrolls Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Final Fantasy XIV for the purposes of this calculation? How much weight do you give stats from the likes of Raptr, Steam, and Superdata? In the end, I told them sure — it’s completely possible that WoW’s western sub base is now lower than the western sub bases of just those three games combined, and that’s without factoring in RuneScape or EVE Online (and so on through the list of hybrid F2Ps and classic games).
But it’s an educated guess. With increasing frequency, studios refuse us the information to figure it out, and that’s frustrating to me as both a player and a journalist. We’re left with picking apart revenue numbers and endless streams of registered user bragging. To a degree, I can understand not wanting to tip your hand when the community would panic over a sub dip or similar, but the status quo borders on deception.
Commenters have suggested that active monthly logins and peak concurrent numbers would be helpful in lieu of outright sub numbers, and I’m inclined to agree. What metrics do you want to see online gaming studios report? Or does this even matter at all? How important are MMORPG playerbase metrics to you?