The Daily Grind: Should MMO studios be more transparent about population stats?

    
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Some of our staff were idly chatting about Wargaming’s playerbase this week when MOP’s Ben chimed in with a link to the official World of Tanks wiki, where Wargaming publicly presents detailed stats on each of the game’s servers, including where they’re located and how many people play on them.

I just need to take a moment here to point out how incredibly rare and refreshing that is.

I mean, just this week we saw the head of one MMO studio hand-wave over the player stats of the game, claiming to see an upward trend since August, neglecting to mention it had launched in a whole ‘nother country and was recovering from a near-collapse last summer. The day before that, we saw the head of another do that thing where analysts ask about subs and retention in the face of flat active users and basically get useless ambiguous mumbling about “engagement” in return. As MOP’s Eliot summed it up in meme form:

I can’t be alone in finding this exhausting, in being sick of the deception and dissembling. Do they truly think MMO players – or professional analysts, for that matter – are this dumb? Doesn’t Wargaming’s honesty prove that it’s really not necessary to shroud these very basic metrics in secrecy? Should MMO studios be more transparent about population stats?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!

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Ashfyn Ninegold

It isn’t rocket science to figure out that when you log into a game during an event and go to the the main city/quest hub and you’re one of 5 people there that the game is faltering. Or you queue up for a dungeon and an hour later you’re still the only one in your group.

Also, any game on Steam has its player statistics available to anyone.

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Montjoy Onew

Actually, Id rather know active per server average than total number of players.
It is more useful to me to know 10k original accounts play on server X with an average of 4k unique IDs logged daily than 3 Bjillion players play our game.
A game with 1 server thats well played will be more fun for me than near empty 100s of servers.

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Sorenthaz

Honestly I’m gonna lean towards it not really being necessary. WoW only reported its subscriber numbers because it was a huge deal and it was the biggest around. Once they stopped reporting sub numbers, no one really cared after awhile. Same goes for LoL when it touts player numbers or its Worlds viewership numbers – it’s just a giant bloated number that has no meaning other than “yeah this is popular”.

I think if we did end up seeing population numbers/etc. of every MMO it would exacerbate public perception unless adequate context/breakdowns of that info were given.

And I do wish the ones that do report numbers would actually break them down across regions/etc. but of course they’ll never do that. Way better to say ’10 million active users’ than saying ‘8 million are all from China so you’ll never see them and your region maybe makes up 1.2 mill at best’.

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Bruno Brito

Yes.

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Witches

More transparency is always a good thing, but that info is pretty useless without some context, an easy to maintain game with a small population may be doing better than a very expensive to maintain game with a huge population.

Things like revenue predictions and expectations are probably more relevant than the actual population numbers.

CoH ( i’m just talking about the server i play in) has more people than DCUO and CO together, yet CoH is superdead while those other two are doing ok, numbers clearly aren’t the most important thing.

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7thRankedNoob

Giving numbers like this is a double edged sword.

As a player: Nice to know but can have detrimental effects. Might not choose a server based on current population. May not even try a game for same reason.

As a company: Unless the numbers are astronomically good, doling out this info is just bad for business.

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Robert Mann

I think more that it’s just not a good question for the most part. A far more useful question would be “Is there sufficient population for anyone who wants to get involved?” -or- “Is the game keeping afloat and not run by a company that will shutdown over ‘less than desired’ profits?”

In truth, with current design MMOs don’t suffer too much from not having a lot of population outside PvP or instanced content, at least as far as players needing more players around goes.

Now, if we ever get that PvE focused game with more sandbox elements and a big world to explore and live in… that might be more important of a statistic, depending upon design factors. As for PvP games, well, some of them already do and even show the number in areas live (which of course leads to people trying to grief where there’s only a few players).

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Lethality

It’s wholly irrelevant to players, so therefore unnecessary.

The best infrastructures of healthy games demonstrate this.

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Utakata

Ignorance is bliss? o.O

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Malcolm Swoboda

Do you need their code to be open too?

MurderHobo
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MurderHobo

In an ideal world, yes.

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Utakata

Huh? What’s that got to do with blissfulness or ignorance?

….or are we tripping over ourselves in hastily constructing some absurd strawman here? O.o

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Axetwin .

Yes, absolutely. Otherwise we have to settle for anecdotal data when trying to discuss what the current state of the playerbase is. ESPECIALLY when trying to determine if a game is getting ready to be shut off or put in maintenance mode.

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Arktouros

Numbers are great for discussion and arguments perspective but otherwise likely just do more harm than good.

Like I love the ability to throw around Albion Online’s monthly active users and even daily active user numbers as a great example of a market for PvP focused games. While that’s interesting and good for me, there are other scenarios where a game might be doing awfully and it just looks bad which then discourages people from checking it out. Like I see a game like Legends of Aria who has absolutely pathetic steam numbers and even knowing that there’s assuredly some people not on steam it’s hard to get over just how astoundingly bad their steam numbers are.