A few weeks back, there was a flurry of panic on Reddit over the realization that Final Fantasy XIV’s Steam counts had fallen 70% in the aftermath of Endwalker. Naturally, the ensuing discussion pointed to the fact that Steam counts are only a fraction of the game’s global population and indeed skew toward less-invested players, so these numbers aren’t really the whole picture. But the more interesting discussion came from folks arguing that even if these numbers were the whole picture, that’d still be OK because the game is intentionally designed around a casual playerbase that ebbs and flows with content and isn’t hanging around fruitlessly for grind or FOMO.
This is a good thing, and it appears to work for FFXIV, which continues to grow year-over-year and is one of Square’s best-performing products even between expansions. But does it work for every MMORPG? That I’m less sure of. Free-to-play and buy-to-play need butts in chairs to increase the preponderance of whales and whale-spending in the cash shops, and there’s a certain sub game in our genre that has lost so many subs in the last few years that I’m concerned because its sub revenue during droughts between content drops is weak.
Then again, the rationale I just gave is less about population and more about revenue, which we get from investor reports – not from SteamCharts. But still, they are directly connected. No people, no money. How much does an MMO’s population influence your perception of its success?