New World is a bit unique in that it is the only major Western MMORPG that is playable only through Steam. The others are also available through other platforms, such as a developer’s own launcher, or even consoles. This means that we can see what New World‘s population is at any given time with 100% accuracy via Steam Charts, whereas its main competitors’ Steam Charts provide only an incomplete and unreliable picture.
This has led to a lot of focus on New World‘s population, with seemingly every dip triggering a new catastrophizing Reddit thread. Up to a point I can understand the concern, but I think the obsession with New World‘s numbers has become a drag on the game and its community, for ultimately no real purpose.
Much is said about New World‘s massive population drop post-launch, and its much smaller but more recent drop-off following Brimstone Sands. But while these definitely aren’t good things, they aren’t necessarily as bad as they seem, either.
The thing is that every MMO has a big population drop after launch. Without accurate numbers on other MMOs, we can’t say exactly how New World‘s drop compares to others. I suspect it probably is worse than average, but I also suspect that it may not be all that much worse.
Similarly, losing population in the gap between major patches is how basically every MMO works. I don’t think seeing a drop in player numbers once most people have finished the new storyline is particularly shocking or worrisome.
It’s not helped by the fact New World‘s constant server merges help draw bad press. Historically server merges have been major, disruptive events that happen as a result of huge population drops, but that’s not how they work in New World. New World‘s merges are relatively smooth and painless, and because of the way New World‘s game design functions with only very specific population levels on each server, a constant cycle of opening up new servers that then later need a merge is pretty much inevitable.
That is a problem, but it’s the same problem people think of when they think of constant server merges. New World‘s endless merges are a sign not of an endlessly dying population but of quirks of its game design. The game of Musical Servers was always intended to be how New World worked, as evidenced by the fact that Amazon ran tests of the merge tech before the game even launched (although technically it didn’t deploy the system for the live servers until December after the release).
My point is not so much that everything is definitely fine and there’s no cause for concern, but rather that we lack the context to accurately interpret the data we have. Maybe everything is fine. Maybe the sky is falling. Most likely the truth is somewhere in between, but ultimately we just don’t know.
We don’t know exactly how New World‘s population compares to other top MMOs because few of them hand out this kind of metric. We don’t know how much money it’s bringing in, nor how much it needs to be profitable. We don’t know whether Amazon is running it at a loss, or how long it’s willing to keep doing that if so.
Right now, New World consistently puts up higher numbers on Steam Charts than Final Fantasy XIV. Does that mean it’s a more successful game? No, of course not — lots of FFXIV players don’t play through Steam. But that’s an example of how a single data point can bring about a misleading conclusion without greater context.
You can find reasons to have optimism for New World‘s future, as well. The amount of effort the dev team has already put into improving the game shows a dedication for the long term, and we know the devs are actively developing content up to the end of 2023 at least. The official roadmap may have seemed a bit anemic, but subsequent developer comments have confirmed another Brimstone-sized update for autumn, at least one and probably two new weapons in development (a new focus weapon and the oft-hinted at daggers), and plans to complete the leveling revamp before the end of the year. Combined with what’s on the roadmap, that’s a lot to look forward to.
Of course, Elyon launched a new class the same day it announced its western sunset, so upcoming content is never a guarantee of safety for an MMO… which brings us right back to the fact that we simply can’t predict what the future of the game will be.
Most importantly, I don’t think this kind of speculation does anyone any good. It’s a waste of time and energy that serves only to steal the joy of the hobby from us.
To a point, I get it. MMOs need a certain level of population to stay healthy, and it’s normal to worry about a game’s prospects if you see it’s population dropping. It sucks to lose a game you love, so people want to know that these things will be stable in the long term.
That said, I’ve been an MMO player long enough to have lost several games that I’ve played and enjoyed to maintenance mode or outright closure, some of which I still miss on the regular, but I can’t say that I’ve ever found myself regretting putting time and money into them. If I have any regrets, it’s usually that I didn’t spend more time with them when I had the chance.
In that light, the hand-wringing over the future seems self-defeating. It doesn’t make sense to lose the ability to enjoy a game now because you’re worried you won’t be able to enjoy it later.
I don’t think population numbers should be part of your decision process when deciding to invest in an MMO, or at least not in the sense of worrying about sustainability. All that matters is can you enjoy the game as it stands now, and in the case of New World, you definitely can. The servers remain well-populated, with busy zones, active economies, and plenty of people to group with.
I’m not saying that there’s no cause whatsoever to be concerned about New World‘s future. Personally I think it’s going to stick around for a while yet, but I do have a history of being overly optimistic about these things, so feel free to take that with a grain of salt.
My point is only that we’re trying to draw conclusions when we don’t have a complete picture, and in so doing we risk robbing ourselves of the ability to enjoy the game now. And that’s true regardless of whether we’re talking about New World or any other MMORPG.