We love subscription numbers.
Nothing validates the legitimacy of any MMO more than big subscription numbers.
Unless we hate that MMO, in which case it is a sign of sheep following the herd. Suddenly, McDonald’s will be the analogy to describe that game.
Unfortunately, World of Warcraft has ruined the subscription number market for us MMO bloggers. (All those damn sheep following the herd!)
There was a time when most MMO companies would announce subscription numbers in one form or another, which lead to some general feeling about where game populations stood in relation to one another.
But when Blizzard was putting out press releases announcing millions of players in Azeroth, coming out with 300K subscribers (a figure once considered a huge win) started to seem more like an admission of failure.
And so subscription numbers became very low-key. You might find them in a public company’s yearly statements if you looked closely.
But marketing has to talk about something. Milestones must be celebrated.
Some MMO companies began trotting out more impressive sounding alternate metrics. We might hear about total accounts created for one game, while another would put out a press release with the total number of characters rolled up in their world, and a third would point at how many boxes they had sold.
We ended up comparing apples and oranges while going bananas.
Meanwhile, some MMO bloggers would try to tease real subscription numbers out of these and other dubious sources.
One fine example was the Xfire calculation. If the subscriber base of WoW (x) racked up a given number of hours clocked by Xfire (n), that gave a ratio of players to hours played. You could then take the player hours for another MMO, get the number of hours played for the same period of time, and derive a population estimate.
And thus it was “proven” that games like Warhammer Online or Lord of the Rings Online or Star Wars Galaxies had somewhere between 10K and a million subscribers each.
But what it in fact proved was that some of us really want subscription numbers for these games. Only through such numbers can we quantify the success or failure of any given game.
Unless of course, it is a game we like, in which case the numbers couldn’t possibly tell the whole story.