Estimating GW2’s Population

About two weeks ago, I was browsing the Guild Wars 2 subreddit and came across this post that estimates GW2’s “active population” to be 3.3 million players. That number seems so impossibly absurd, that I almost did a spit-take. Even if you define “active population” as someone who logs into the game once a month, it still seems way too many.

The methodology behind the estimation involves the following very difficult math:

From /r/GuildWars2 subscriber counts: 165,105 * 20 = 3,302,100
From GW2Efficiency account numbers: 169,052 * 20 = 3,381,040

No, really, that’s it. The estimate hinges on a game developer(s?) on Tumblr, who says 80% of a given playerbase doesn’t ever engage with the community outside the game, 20% of them do, and 5% provide content/posts. And Reddit subs are the 5%. Ergo, just multiply whatever by 20 and you’re good to go, QED.

Incidentally, the /r/wow subreddit has 511,692 subs, which means WoW’s current population is 10,233,840. And /r/FFXIV’s turns into 3.3 million active subscriptions. So there you g…

in fact, you don’t need any kind of rule to estimate subscription game player numbers: you just count the number of subscribers.

this rule, in fact, is only useful for estimating the population of games like GW2.

Of course. That’s not what the Tumblr dude stated, but whatever.

Well, applying the math to /r/PUBG means there are 2.2 million people playing per month… of which a little over half are playing right now, simultaneously, as I type this at 2pm. The reality is PUBG hit a peak concurrent userbase of 3.2 million last month – and the weekly playercount is 20 million (!) – which requires some rather vigorous hand-waving to salvage the Pareto Principle-esque methodology.

In the interests of science though, let’s explore some alternative facts.

One way is revenue. Luckily for us, NCSoft reports quarterly numbers…. quarterly. And they happen to break out how much revenue GW2 specifically brings to the financial table. Here it is, going back to GW2’s release:


The number there is revenue in millions of Korean Won. Google tells me the exchange rate is about 1072 Won / $1 USD, so last quarter GW2 had $18.8m in revenue, $12.6m in the previous quarter, and so on. You will notice that the spike there at 4Q15 and 1Q16 corresponds with the Heart of Thorns expansion release (October 2015) and the transition to F2P. The present “bump” in 3Q17 is similarly explained by the fact that Path of Fire was released in September 2017, which sort of straddles the quarters a bit. The question of the hour will be the 4Q17 results, which will likely come out in the next week or two.

Incidentally, Wilhem has posted SuperData’s latest report, which includes the 2017 revenue figure for GW2: $87 million. I’m not sure if SuperData has some sort of insider access to revenue figures before they go public, but… we can work with that. The first three quarters of 2017 add up to 47,928m Won, or just shy of $44m. If SuperData’s number is accurate, that means 4Q17 brought in $43m. That pretty much lines up with the prior expansion: the two quarters HoT released in added up to $62m, and PoF’s two expansion quarters will hit just shy of $62m as well ($43m + $18.8m).

Here is another point of information:

“Guild Wars 2 has proven pretty resilient historically, with about 1.5 million monthly actives,” SuperData Research CEO Joost van Dreunen says. “Since it switched to free-to-play in late August, Guild Wars 2’s monthly active user base has doubled to 3.1 million (October 2015).

Yes, it’s SuperData again, whatever. What is tricky and/or pure conjecture at this point is how to incorporate the above quote into the revenue graph. Can we correlate 4Q15’s revenue and purported monthly active playerbase? Because six months after the expansion, one or both dropped by 46%. Even without the expansion though, revenue stayed in a 19k-22k range for six quarters pre-HoT and that was with “1.5 million actives.” In the five quarters since HoT, revenue hasn’t broke 16k. Is that because the playerbase is declining? Or is the playerbase steady, but filled with more non-paying players now?

Here’s my gut check: GW2 probably has ~1.5 million monthly “players,” and many times less people who actually log on when there isn’t a holiday event/Living Story taking place.

Look, the numbers and the quotes can be massaged to basically say whatever you want. What is considerably more objective is what ArenaNet does. And what they did extremely recently is the following:

Even though world linking has brought world populations closer together, it is impossible for us to get populations and coverage any closer because the current worlds do not give us the granularity needed to do that. For example in NA, Blackgate has decent coverage across all time zones whereas worlds like Crystal Desert have higher peak times and lower off-hour times. Because world linking isn’t granular enough, we don’t have the ideal link that allows Crystal Desert to have coverage that is similar to Blackgate.

This is why, in the new World Restructuring system, we will remove all players from their current worlds, and make new worlds every eight weeks. This will create more granular pieces, which allow us to avoid situations like the Crystal Desert example.

What the above does is make “World vs World” the biggest misnomer since… well, “Guild Wars.” Originally, WvW was Server vs Server. Then there were megaservers in 2014, which are server merges with lipstick on. Then there was world-linking, which was Cluster vs Cluster. With the above change, it’s now pretty much Warm Body vs Warm Body.

Combined the number of times I have been bribed to transfer to more populated map channels in general PvE, makes me extremely skeptical there are millions of people kicking about.

Ultimately though, I think Guild Wars 2 is actually uniquely well-positioned to survive regardless of whether it consists of a million actives or three million tourists. For one, there is no monthly fee, so people cycle in and out all the time. More importantly though, the game is structured to funnel people into zergs no matter the map. This gives the “illusion” of a populated, lively community even if everyone is transient strangers you literally cannot even Inspect. But you know, that’s worlds better than my experience in other MMOs with higher monthly populations that were sequestered away in private realms.


Posted on February 5, 2018, in Guild Wars 2 and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. WvW was always a minority interest in GW2 even right after launch and since HoT almost destroyed it altogether it’s been a very small minority. Given a map capacity of around 300, reset tends to pull queues on multiple maps on most servers, so with 12 teams and 4 maps that’s going to be something of the order of 10,000. For the rest of the week you could probably halve or even quarter that. There are also regional peaks, of course, and WvW is a global game. Plus I’m using NA servers so you could double it again with EU…

    Any way you look at it, though, WvW is a very small part of the GW2 playerbase.


    • It’s a small portion, sure, but unless we postulate that it doesn’t represent a microcosm of the population as a whole, we can use it as a sort of depth gauge. 1% of 1 million is 10,000, for example. More than that plays WvW as you have pointed out, but less than the number that played in prior years, for whatever reason (as evidenced by the need to merge).


  2. For what it’s worth I’m subscribed to the GW2 reddit and I’ve never even played the game… I just use reddit as a sort of MMO news site and check several subs about major games there.


  3. Using revenue to derive active population is just as meaningless, given the fact that GW’s profit model is a confused mishmash split across buying ‘box’ copies (digital or otherwise) of core and expansions, gem store microtransactions, lockboxes and straight up buying gold.

    The more hardcore active players who play things like fractals daily, or simply raid weekly, may never need to spend a real world dime given the in-game gold they earn; or conversely may spend additional $ due to their game commitment and desire for nonessential fluff in the gem store.

    New or returning players plough in revenue through buying boxes/content, or even buying gold if they’re the shortcut type. Or they may not bother and simply play the core game free to play.

    People in between may be too casual or find no need to spend any additional cash; or they could be crazy cosmetic collectors who blow stacks of cash (which they can afford since they’re presumably spending time outside of the game to earn said cash) to go after looks or gamble for fun.

    Not much correlation either way.

    GW2efficiency’s stats on playtime per day are quite interesting, although it’s an overall average and won’t tell you a thing about current active players. (e.g. my online time for GW2 has dropped significantly in the past few months and I wouldn’t consider myself active any longer but my average is still higher than 89% of the accounts there.)

    Apparently if one considers an average of an hour per day as an active player, then around 51% of the 180,000 odd accounts there are active. Bring that down to half an hour per day playtime as average, and we’re at 72.5% of 180,000 making that threshold.

    But what proportion of players play GW2 and don’t have a GW2efficiency account though, that’s anyone’s guess. 4 in 5? 9 in 10? Who knows. Would you even be able to consider them ‘active’ enough to matter then?


    • Yeah, there is still too many missing variables. Outside of a straight count of the population, we could reverse engineer a figure if we knew the Average Revenue Per User (ARUP) or similar metrics.


  4. Hmm what about guessing the number of PoFs sold? I’m not sure I would count as “active” someone who doesn’t end up buying the latest expansion, since any endgame (= level 80) activity more or less requires it.
    Is there any guesswork to be done by using the height of the spikes?


    • PoF sales would certainly give us something… provided we can get a count in the first place. After all, even with the revenue spikes, we have to be cognizant of all the other different revenue streams GW2 has – selling gold, skins, account upgrades, etc.

      4Q17 results will really be the leading indicator here for overall health. SuperData’s numbers lead me to believe PoF and HoT had a comparable boost in revenue for those two quarters near the expansion release, which means there are either A) similar numbers of paying customers, or B) revenue per user has increased even if total people have decreased. A) is probably better than B), but both are good.


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