Player Churn

It’s been about two weeks since this Gamasutra interview with Jeremy Gaffney, but I think it’s still worth a read. Or just have your mind blown with this thought experiment:

“Even a good game churns 5 percent of its users out every month,” says Gaffney. “That means every 20 months you’ve churned out your whole user base.” If you have one friend who still plays an MMO, that means you might have 10 friends who used to play that MMO.

That 5% monthly figure has been pretty consistent over the years, as WoW had an apparent 4-5% churn rate even during the heights of vanilla/TBC. That means each expansion could basically have an entirely new playerbase. Obviously, some stick around for the long-haul, so there’s some continuity.

Nevertheless, I feel like this more succinctly highlights the design pressures on MMO developers. Does an MMO ever get more hardcore over time? It’s hard to see how it could, given how one needs to entertain an entirely new audience every (at best!) two years.

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Posted on June 16, 2014, in Miscellany, Wildstar and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I think WoW’s churn includes a significant number who come back. So I don’t think WoW permanently loses all of that 5%. I might go so far as to say WoW is designed for some of its players to play intermittently, and the devs are probably ok with that. Better occasional play than to lose them forever.

    I suspect the permanent loss rate is higher in the lesser MMOs.

  2. Is that anything more than a thought experiment, though?. Just because an MMO has a churn rate of 5% per month it doesn’t follow that it changes 100% of its playerbase over 20 months. 5% of each month’s current playerbase might leave but that doesn’t give you any information about who DIDN’T leave, does it? After 20 months you could still have 50% of the same players you had 20 months ago. Or 90%.

    Our experience as players tells us that

    a) some people stick with one MMO for far longer than 20 months
    b) people who leave also return, often many times

    Unless Jeremy Gaffney (or preferably someone in a position to see the data for MMOs that have run for years not weeks) is going to give us some hard data on average lengths of subscriptions/hours played/sessions logged per account per month/year etc it doesn’t really tell us anything, does it?

    • Perhaps I was doing a disservice by not quoting the rest of his thought, which concludes with him starting they care about the 10 people that left, and not the 1 that stayed. Although, that in itself seemed weird to say – “we don’t care about the people that still play or game.”

      But, yes, it doesn’t necessarily mean 100% turnover. It just means a MMO has to grow 5% per month just to stand still (Red Queen, as it were), and every two years there are twice as many ex-players than current ones.

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