The Year In Graphs

Stats about games about stats: what finer way to ring in the new year? GamerDNA and Massively have shoved up some end-of-year research detailing the trending and state of play of the major MMOs, as documented by monitoring X-Fire. Not a perfect sample perhaps, but certainly a reputable one. More importantly, they have graphs! I love a graph, me. Well worth a nose at their detailed and engaging analysis, but some of the more interesting trends are summarised inexpertly below…

– Rather a lot of people are still playing World of Warcraft – and its audience continues to grow. Eve’s also still embiggening.
– WAR’s definitely seeing a slump, but it’s not a disastrous one yet. Its launch impacted a few second-tier fantasy MMOs, i.e. LOTRO & Conan, but they appear to have bounced back since. Fascinatingly, it didn’t seem to leave a noticeable dent in WOW’s userbase.
– LOTRO remains the quiet prince of MMOdom, doing ever so well in spite of the worrying entropy so many of its peers are suffering. The Mines of Moria expansion was a major shot in the arm for it, too. I find LOTRO fascinating, because it almost exists in a separate state to the others – rarely commented upon outside of its own audience.
– Tabula Rasa’s decline isn’t as apocalyptic as one might have expected from an MMO that’s about to be axed by its publishers. An odd one – there’s every chance it wasn’t beyond saving after all.
– Poor, poor Conan. Funcom really should just put the invalid thing out of its misery.


  1. Pags says:

    Will Conan survive the winter? For Conan, there is no spring. Just the wind that smells fresh before the storm.


    That was probably the worst comment I’ve ever made on this site, I’m sorry.

  2. The Poisoned Sponge says:

    I’m hoping that we see a plethora of MMOs in 2009 that break the mold that’s been so prevalent in the genre so far. There’s a lot of them in development that do seem set to do so, but how successful they are is definitely up in the air. APB, Champions, World of Darkness (if it even comes out this year) and the much maligned Huxley all seem to be trying to do something new.

  3. The Hammer says:

    Actually, if Conan himself did the PR of the game, I think I’d buy it, being the shallow sod I am.

  4. Lukasz says:

    Nice to see Eve growing. shame AOC is in a slump. less money for company, less chance of seeing dreamfall 2: even longer journey
    and that’s just sad.

  5. Imperii says:

    LOTRO gets bugger all publicity, and as is pointed out by Alec, people hardly ever talk about it, other than those of us that play it.

    It doesn’t really break any mould, but it is probably the most highly-polished and competent MMO out there. It’s the only MMO with a story worth a damn, and it actually manages to give the impression of a game world that is actually changing (even though it isn’t really changing at all). I suspect that it will survive for a long time because it does have a large number of devoted fans, but I don’t think it will ever get WOW-esque numbers of subscribers. And I really don’t know why!

  6. JonFitt says:

    I’d be interested to find out what’s the minimum number of people needed to keep an MMO going?
    If you pare down to a single server, and only deliver bug fixes and infrequent rebalances, how many people do you really need?

  7. Chaz says:

    I haven’t played an MMO for a couple of years but if I were to try one now then LOTRO would be it. I keep thinking about giving it a go, but I just have far too many other games on the go at the moment to give it anywhere near the amount of time it would need.

  8. jalf says:

    How do you get negative cumulative stats? Do people have negative accounts or something? Or do they use a different definition of the word cumulative? What do the numbers actually mean? Eve has 200% more logins than they did a year ago, and AoC has…. 250% fewer? Or….? How are you supposed to read these charts?

    Anyway, I wouldn’t worry too much about Conan. Funcom has been there before. Looks like they’re just pulling an AO. Crash completely at launch, and then salvage the pieces over the next 2 years, and end up with a relatively successful niche game. (Although I think they ought to consider finding a better business model than that ;))

  9. Nimic says:

    I’m one of the many who quit Age of Conan after a relatively short time (I made it to mid-fifties, I think). I have every intention to try it again, though. There were a lot of things about AoC that I liked more than for example WoW. The areas were nicer, and felt more real, the combat was good, etc. The biggest (and honestly it was pretty damn big) problem was the massive lack of content from 40-50 onwards.

    Obviously Funcom know a thing or two about running an MMO, even one that seems to be doing very poorly, so I’m confident that they’ll work very hard on creating more content for the game. So in a couple of months, if I’m not particularly busy, I’ll give it another go.

  10. Eamo says:

    Jalf, suppose you start out with 1 million subscribers and it drops 20% a month, each month you lose 20% of your current subscribers so at the end of a 12 month period you have a 240% cumulative subscriber loss. If that was evenly spread out over the year the final subscriber base would be 6.8% of the initial subscriber base. So AoC probably is seeing about 6% of the logons it was seeing this time last year.

  11. Larington says:

    Yeah, sadly LOTRO is proof that being best doesn’t always = being most successful. A shame.
    I think they’ve mass IP banned the nations prone to supporting gold selling as well so its relatively peaceful spam wise.
    Its a pity that I have high priorities (Uni) that mean I’m restricting myself from playing MMOs for the next year and a half.

  12. El_MUERkO says:

    Conan had/has bags of potential but despite it’s polished appearance it’s a game so unfinished it doesn’t know how it’s meant to be played.

    WAR on the other had is an excellent game hampered by the breakdown between the games races along the lines of ‘Cool’ and ‘Uncool’ and the tendency of gamers to want to be on the winning team at all costs.

    Eve will probably be here long after we’re all dead.

  13. DigitalSignalX says:

    LOTRO is probably the best story driven MMO out there, where as the combat it in falls rather short.

    I rejoined Tabula Rasa recently to take advantage of their free offer, and still after a year there are some big bugs with main quests (some unable to finish) and some real flaws in design still plague it (crafting is pointless), yet the combat still remains very fun and challenging.

  14. Psychopomp says:

    Fucking EVE has eaten up the last 2 weeks of my life.

  15. unwise says:

    Some reasons why LotRO may be happily ploughing its own modest furrow:

    – Lifetime subscriptions allow players to jump in an out without worrying too much about wasted subs. Also, it’s an easy game to take a break from and come back to, lifetime sub or no.

    – Many players become greater fans of Tolkien through LotRO, and fans can’t help but anticipate the next step of the journey. Leavers are always likely to be tempted back to witness the ongoing actualisation of Middle-Earth.

    – Turbine’s world building is exceptional and is improving all the time. What was a high range spec at launch is now mid to low range, so more and more people are seeing just how beautiful the game can be.

    – The community is great and the official forums are actually quite a pleasant place to visit. The lack of raiding treadmill or highly competitive PvP endgame helps to keep the elitism and whining at a tolerable level.

    – Regular free updates (at least quarterly), adding content at all levels of the game, and for all playstyles, keep the majority of players in a state of anticipation for what is coming next.

    In some ways I think that WoW’s ongoing success is both a blessing and a curse for LotRO. On the one hand, it greatly increases the potential audience for fantasy MMOs, and many LotRO players are indeed just disenfranchised WoW players. On the other hand, many WoW players are so strongly invested in their characters, not to mention the strong social ties they’ve made there, that they simply lack the inclination to give a superficially similar game like LotRO a fair go.

    Despite this however, I would go so far as to suggest that the dialling down of the raiding difficulty in WotLK may well be Blizzard’s acknowledgement that they consider LotRO a growing threat with regards to their mostly casual playerbase. Looking ahead to 2009, Turbine have already promised new regions, new instances, at least one big raid, and most importantly, another paid expansion in time for Christmas (probably Rohan). Does anyone seriously expect Blizzard to get another expansion out of the door before well into 2010? And to offer anything but an extension of raiding and PvP treadmills in the meantime?

  16. EyeMessiah says:

    Personally I’m looking forward to Hentai Barbarians Online.

  17. BrokenSymmetry says:

    The shame about LOTRO is that it makes its best feature (the storyline, or “epic” quests) so inaccessible. Almost all epic quest books contain several fellowship (group) quests, for which it can be very hard to find other players, causing many players to skip the epic quests altogether, resulting in a vicicous cycle. I spammed the LFF (Looking For Fellowship) channel for 2 weeks to find anyone for the last quest in book 2, only to find just a single other player. We only completed the quest-line because that player had a high-level kin-member help out, but at the same time that trivialised the experience. For many later books (parts of the storyline) in the original (non-expansion) game, finding other players is completely hopeless.

  18. BooleanBob says:

    What, no City of Heroes/Villains love? Humbug!

  19. Butler` says:

    I always bring up LOTRO when people start talking about MMO subs, and I tend to get some very strange responses.

    It’s incredibly successful, contrary to popular belief. Just because Turbine don’t shout about it doesn’t mean it isn’t doing well – and consistently so.

  20. Gorgeras says:

    I’d give LoTRO a look if only the incredibly irritating subscriber-base would stop crashing polls in the misguided Americanised belief that if you’re not absolutely screaming about something it means you don’t think much of it.

    I’ve recently rejoined WoW to be with a friend, plus to stand in awe at how the Death Knight is practically every good idea mentioned on the Shaman forum rolled into one class. WAR was my last-best hope for a proper accessible PvP open-world game, but Mythic seem to have horribly betrayed their stated mission just as Blizz did. If I want to play self-contained mini-games, I’ll play Team Fortress 2.

  21. Arathain says:

    As far as I know, City of Heroes is doing what it’s been doing for a while now- holding steady, subscriber-wise. Little jumps every time significant new content is realeased or for double-XP weekends, but otherwise it has a nice niche. Certainly the US servers and forums are pleasantly populated.

    I know NCSoft are doing a lot of marketing for the game right now, and the forums are seeing a lot of questions from new players, so the game might see a bit of a jump. I anticipate the release of the Mission Architect in a month or two will bring in a good few folk.

  22. Dan says:

    What about FFXI? I just started playing again. My friends still play after 5 years.

  23. Rook says:

    People really ought to talk about Guild Wars more. It really has been one of the few MMOs (or quasi MMO) that’s done something different to WoW, and managed to be wildly successful. It has a lot of smart ideas that other MMOs really need to copy, not least the idea that splintered worlds on different servers isn’t necessarily a good idea, especially when your population is going to rise and fall very quickly. I can’t help but think that once servers start turning into ghost towns, a lot of people will quit a game they might otherwise have carried on playing if the condensing and expansion of the userbase was a lot more streamlined.

  24. chesh says:

    not that I don’t know what it’s current state is, as we have been holding steady since we lost half our playerbase to WoW.
    Interesting stuff.

  25. Erlam says:

    My friend and I tried LOTRO, but the combat just bothered us something fierce. We both had a similar problem with Warhammer, where, to us, PvP was Class (archetype) X beats Y, which beats Z, which beats X. I once, as a ‘tank’ archetype, attacked a Healer in Open PvP. He was fighting two equal level mobs, and I was a level above him. He proceeded to run away from all of us, while I spammed my ‘snare’ on him, and did as much damage as possible. He pulled THREE more mobs on the way, before meeting another of his side. At that point I had about 95% health, no AP, had used AP potions, and he had 100% health and 90% AP.

    At that point, I quit. Literally, right there. If I cannot, under any circumstances, beat another class/archetype/whatever one on one, I refuse to play that. I’d rather not be playing chess as a Pawn.

  26. clive dunn says:

    APB used to be my super fave arcade game when i was a nipper. Many a 10p piece was swallowed up by that masterpiece. But an APB MMO? I’d just be happy with a port of the original. Saying that, it is looking quite promising. Anyone else remember the arcade game?

  27. theleif says:

    I want a white trash, trailer park, horror/sci-fi mmo.
    Imagine to be able to choose between classes such as:
    MILF, Dealer, Hustler, Scavenger, Alcoholic Supervisor, Brute and Tramp!
    Expand your secret hemp-farm!
    Raid the local mall!
    Protect your family from Alien Abduction!
    Challenge you neighbours in a drinking contest!
    Upgrade you trailer with CABLE TV!
    Fight the zombies at the nearby Secret Military Base!
    Watch Jerry Springer on your TV In-Game!

  28. Xercies says:

    Lotro is really good, but I do wish the population was a bit more. Because if I ever tried an alt now it would nearly be impossible to do any of the group quests because everyone is at moria. Which is what I predicted before it came out.

  29. Larington says:

    I must admit, much as a I like LOTRO, its moment to moment combat is its weakest trait. I too have experienced the problem of the EPIC quests at lower levels being extremely difficult to find players for and these were the main reasons for my most recent drift away from the game.

  30. Greg Wild says:

    WoW is pretty much how I assume it would be – a steady leviathan with no sign of any change. Interestingly enough, the release of WOTWK didn’t really affect logins much. Though I suppose the packs are there more to keep people playing.

    AOC is the most interesting though. I played it at launch, and it was clear to me it wasn’t in a truly playable state then. The massive drop in the playerbase is reflected in those stats. But they’re going up nicely now – and not by a small margin by any means, even if they’re significantly lower than during release. Perhaps they’ve finally patched it out into a player state? I’d be interested in seeing some reports on the state of affairs in it these days. I don’t think the final 6 months of my degree or my wallet can afford for me to try it out again myself :D

    More importantly, what are the RPS viewership stat graphs like? :D

  31. the affront says:

    I have no idea what servers you people who moan about finding no groups for quests are on in LOTRO.
    I just returned to it about 2 weeks ago (although on a German server, and it doesn’t even seem to be the most popular one, at least compared to the RP server) and started a new character together with a friend, and the longest time we ever had to wait to find (more like fill, because we usually build our own groups unless there already is one looking right that moment, which might have something to do with our very different experience) a group was about 20 minutes, if that. On occasion it went like this: /LFF 2/6 with warden+bard quest xyz – 30 seconds of frantic typing of invites later and we were good to go.

    And we’ve finished all the epic book questlines up to and including book 4, and probably all the other group quests bar the ones in Dol Dinen – Which we didn’t bother with because it’s already too low for us by now. Hooray for new zones with gazillions of quests in them so by now you don’t even need to do every quest there is any more.

    But then again, playing a very needed class combo (tank+healer) so we could just invite whatever and be fine probably has something to do with it – although by no means were ours the only groups we saw.

  32. Larington says:

    Hurmm, for the first 20-30 levels it isn’t too bad, but when I got to the epic group quests in the Lone-Lands (Oddly north downs was ok), thats when I started to see myself and 1 or two others having issues. I was going around helping slightly lower level folks (The ones who were 10+ levels below me I just couldn’t take seriously) with assorted group quests in the west low lands and, not a peep. Eventually I gave up. I wonder if maybe its just the particular server my characters are on. I’ll probably head back to LOTRO in the summer during the games drought between uni year 2 & 3.

    In other, loosely related news: link to
    Note: URL is misleading, the teen gets taken away in a cop car for the suicide threat, not the blizz rep.

  33. the affront says:

    You probably mean the Garth Agarwen quests, then, Larington.. and yeah, those can be a problem, but I think it’s because they’re so damn tedious and long-winded (the ones in the actual instance, not the last part of the book), so that people these days just skip them or get a high level kinmate to shuttle them – with all the quests in Evendim now you really don’t need to do them to progress.
    Even only a few months after release there were comparably fewer groups for those as there were for nearly everything else, if I remember correctly – but that could just be me hating the shit out of that particular instance :P

    But: there were still groups for these going on my server, even if as you say fewer than elsewhere.

  34. Larington says:

    Thats what I suspected, makes me wonder if Turbine/Codies should revisit that quest chain and refurbish it, since they can apply lessons since learned to its design.

  35. FP says:

    FWIW the book quest in western lone-lands was where my character got stuck. After spending hours trying to find a grp I kind of gave-up, got distracted by another game and never went back to LotRO (maybe Turbine need to do some Valve-style profiling to find these spots).

  36. Paul B says:

    I tried the free 2-week LoTRO trial that’s available and, while it was in some ways better then WoW, I also found the server population left a bit to be desired.

    If I recall, there was no way to tell whether a server was empty, half empty or full from the start-up browser. I’ve also got to say that I found LoTRO one of the friendliest MMOs around, once there were a few other players on the server.

  37. the affront says:

    Paul B: Once you get out of the newb zones and reach Bree it gets a lot better (in case you didn’t).
    The first zone can really feel empty because every race has their own.. and considering that many people just hang around in Moria at the moment, I found Bree (and other such hubs like the Esteldin craft hall) to be more populated than I thought they would be.
    Probably around 50 players in Bree during peak hours on my server, including those in the auction/crafting house, which feels quite alright – not too crowded and not a ghost town.

    The world also feels far from empty, I run across a lot of people just questing even in the mid levels, I’d guess at 50+ there are a lot more atm due to people still leveling up to 60 and/or farming legendary items/etc.
    Splitting up the starter zones might not have been the best decision in hindsight, as new players really get the impression that there aren’t many people around, when in truth they only see a quarter of those that are in between level 5 and 14 (give or take), and those levels are over really fast if it’s not your first time.

    Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised that there were still so many people playing, as I had feared otherwise (tried Vanguard again a few months ago and that really felt like a ghost town, not really a fair comparison because its launch sucked donkey balls, but still).

    And yeah, the community is mostly really helpful.

  38. Feet says:

    LOTRO is the only MMO I would play right now. A very good and beautiful MMO, but Mainly because of the exceptionally friendly and helpful userbase but it helps that it’s the best MMO out there. I fully expect to start playing it again in Feb once I get back from my hols.

  39. shon says:

    @thelief Then you want the short story collection, Bubbas of the Apocalypse edited by Selina Rosen. I think they actually have a couple of books now in their franchise. I know I have read stories covering at least 3 of the points you mentioned.

  40. Sam says:

    LOTRO is awesome, but my god, couldn’t they make it easier to level a minstrel up 50-60? Combat hurts.

  41. Caiman says:

    These things are cute, but pretty worthless overall except for very obvious trends. Nobody seems to do any actual statistical analysis on these kinds of data. Commenting on minor kinks in a line does not equal “analysis” so there’s no more insight going on that I can’t see myself. Hell, they haven’t even labelled the x-axes of the graphs! I hate that.

  42. Xercies says:

    @the affront

    I find it the other way around on my server, the lower level areas are packed(especially the dwarf/elf starting area) but when you get to about middle 20s up to middle 40s most of the areas become ghost towns.

    @Paul B

    I find this as well, when I picked a server ages ago I had no idea what would be populated and what wouldn’t and it was only by trial and error that I found quite a good one. Though I’m still regretting a bit the choice I made because it isn’t that heavily populated. Though I won’t move since I got a lot friends on the server. So maybe Codemasters/Turbine should put a health meter beside each of their servers. It will be easy to implement since AOC does it.

  43. Bidermaier says:

    stop saying LOTRO LOTRO. I hate how it sounds.
    EVE on the other hand…

  44. qrter says:

    .. are you reading comments out loud..?