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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:

GW2_Chart

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.

 

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Stubborn (PvP) Principles

I have not been playing Wildstar for months, but I try and keep abreast of its various developments. The most recent was a disabling of the free realm transfers ahead of the incoming megaserver merge. It was later clarified on Reddit that the free realm transfers would be coming back once everything is stabilized… but only for PvP –> PvE transfers. Some player, clearly new to the MMO scene [Edit: or used to WoW] , asked the bright-eyed question of “Why?” InRustTrust helpfully explained the hitherto ironclad logic:

The restriction is, and always has been, purely because the people on PvP servers don’t want you to just level up your character in complete peace, obtain all the gear they competed over and free of the ganking they had to endure, and merely transfer past all that. I don’t know why this is ever shocking to anyone. It’s like this in practically every MMO and the reason is always the same.

I say “hitherto” because A) I like fancy words, and B) does that explanation strike anyone else as increasingly asinine?

It is certainly true that such a rule strikes a chord of fairness. But what are we really saying here? What are the developers committing to? There are precisely two megaservers in North America, with a one-way funnel between them; any server transfer is basically a permanent loss for the PvP megaserver. So anyone who originally joined their friends on a PvE server only to lose them, now has to sate their frustrated bloodthirst in battleground queues. Or anyone who wasn’t sure whether they could stand it, or anyone who didn’t originally know the difference, or anyone looking for a change in scenery, or for any number of reasons. Including, I’m sure, X amount who wanted to level in peace but are itching to gank lowbies.

Would it be unfair? I ask… who cares?

No, seriously, just think about it. Are we really regarding leveling up on a PvP server as some kind of rite of passage? That you cannot gank lowbies unless you yourself were a lowbie to be ganked? It spawns all sorts of interesting questions. For example, I leveled up on the PvP no-pop server of Auchindoun in WoW. There were a few ganks along the way, sure, but my experience had to be night-and-day different from someone who leveled up on a High-pop PvP server. Am I “worthy” of the same “respect” as those who had it worse?

I mean, principles are great and all, and I recommend everyone having a few. But on occasion I also recommend examining them and seeing if they are still relevant to your interests. Having a PvE –> PvP server restriction is 100% arbitrary and I can’t see what real benefit it brings, especially when PvP servers are historically the most empty to begin with. Can Wildstar really afford to turn away geared endgame players from possibly generating endgame shenanigans on PvP servers? “It’s not fair!” So add an achievement: Leveled On A PvP Server [+10].

It’s a PvP server, people, everyone should be falling over themselves getting more (carebear) targets to transfer. Right? The sanctity of the hazing ritual that is leveling on these servers is not sacrosanct. The PvP person who would quit over this clearly was not interested in a world PvP endgame. The only people you have to watch out for would be the lowbies who might see an increase in getting ganked… but then again that is precisely what they signed up for in the first place. Arguably those masochists would like it even more.

So come on, Carbine, be the first (?) next to put this sacred cow out to pasture.

Wildstar Megaservers

The big announcement by Carbine on Tuesday was: server merges megaservers!

In the near future, we will be implementing Megaservers for WildStar.

Going the Megaserver route means that we vastly increase server capacity allowing for greater critical mass of our player base, resulting in more people, more groups, more activity and more raids… more of everything that makes WildStar so fun. The Megaservers and their increased player capacity will give fans more options to group up and enjoy WildStar with friends and other players for a long time to come.

Of course, when they say “more people,” they really mean “putting the few people who are left all in the same box.”

Perhaps that is a bit uncharitable, considering I have no metrics to point to in regards to the health of the game. All that I know is that I haven’t played since June despite having paid for July’s subscription cost via in-game money. My interest really waned around the mid-30s when I discovered DPSing on the Medic was borderline masochism whereas other classes breezed (and continue to breeze) through. Then there were all the trips at the end of July/beginning of August, then the guildies that came over on Day 1 unsubscribed, and it turns out I never set up a recurring payment anyhow.

But back to Wildstar, I do believe this is another indication that servers, in general, are an anachronism of a bygone age. And good riddance – I have been calling for their removal since 2011. Every thing that people traditionally enjoy about servers (getting to know people, server pride, etc) are all actually symptomatic of artificial social barriers. Yes, megaservers mean that player interactions tend towards the LFD default of asocial behavior, but is that price worth paying when you intentionally divide and hinder real-world relationships? Amongst my gaming group, two of the six people who bought Wildstar ended up on a specific PvP server. I rallied the others to a RP-PvE server, because A) I can’t be bothered with PvP servers anymore, and B) I knew some bloggers were going to be on it.

Maybe we would have all quit playing anyway, but it nevertheless feels like a pretty stupid problem to have in 2014.

Along with the general megaserver news, Carbine also hid a few other interesting changes. For example, the FAQ mentions the introductions of last names:

What happens if two characters from different realms have the same name?

Along with the Megaservers, we will introduce character last names. Each characters will have a unique name comprised of a first name (this is your existing character name) and a last name separated by a space. In the character select screen, you will have to choose a last name before entering the game. You will be limited to a total 30 characters including the space.

I am still pretty sure that Guild Wars 2 has the best naming system in any MMO I have played, insofar as it simply allows you to use spaces. Don’t want a last name? Don’t make one. Or make a goofy phrase name. Or not. Unfortunately for Wildstar players, it certainly appears as though you will need to enter something in the last name field whether or not you wanted one.

By the way:

Although we’re far enough in the process to begin talking about it, we are still some ways away from the Megaservers going live. One of the things we’re doing to make the wait easier is that as of this post going live, we have put free realm transfers in the game for all players.

I am not entirely sure whether this will mean that you can realm transfer from PvE to PvP or vice versa (I am pretty sure there was a restriction at some point), but it is worth noting.

Also of note: you will be able to roll both Dominion and Exile characters on the same server.

So there it is. Megaservers. I sort of dislike the “3-monther” pejorative, but Wildstar has been out… for three months this week.

Megaserver

In the recent The Elder Scrolls Online preview video, the part that piqued my interest was when they started talking about the “megaserver,” e.g. going serverless. Incidentally, this topic was something I wrote about just over a year ago:

  • Eliminate named, permanent servers entirely.

Essentially, set up the servers like an ice-cube tray and as each server fills up, it spills over into the next server, and divide it all into game regions. One huge benefit of this would be to allow there to always be a steady population of people leveling in every zone for group questing, etc.

Example: if I went to Borean Tundra right now, there may be 1 person questing there on Auchindoun, and maybe 5 on Maeiv, and 50 on Tichondrius. Under this methodology, there would be 56, up until an arbitrary cut-off. And if the cut-off is 100, I would have it start transferring people to a second zone instance at around ~70 so the 101st guy isn’t off by himself. The key would be to make it subtle, with no load-screen or anything. With phasing technology it should not be a problem.

Obviously, my Nostradamus-like predicting skills failed to account for the very real structural problems WoW has with Cross-Realm Zones (people = competition, etc). But as is demonstrated with games like Guild Wars 2, it is quite possible to foster a more-is-merrier environment with a few tweaks to the formula. And, indeed, the TESO video goes on to say a lot of GW2-esque things in terms of everyone getting equal credit for kills, no competition between players, and so on.

With the formula issue settled, and provided there are methods available to get into the same “instance” as your friends, are there really any good arguments against going serverless?

Keen’s soft criticism of TESO likely being all “instancing and lobbying” falls a bit flat to me when he graded GW2’s “Presentation of a MMORPG World” a B+; not only is GW2 pretty heavily instanced already (plus Overflow servers), there is literally an in-game PvP lobby as well. As long as the frequency of load screens is kept to a minimum, I don’t think many people will be able to tell any difference. And, hell, if the TESO programmers can engineer some WoW-level seamless map transitions instead, it will be a major design coup.

In any case, the Megaserver deal was the only actual thing that piqued my interest with the TESO gamble thus far. Some people are flogging the “real game begins at endgame” statement, but that is arguably true in any MMO with finite levels.¹ Design musings aside, I am much more concerned about whether it would be fun to play, which is something we will not be able to see until the inevitable beta buy-in.

¹ Yes, including GW2. Unless you managed to complete your Story or jump to Orr straightaway, content was gated by your level. To say nothing about how one’s behavior² likely changes at the cap in regards to farming explorable dungeons, legendaries, and vanity gear in general.

² Bhagpuss notwithstanding, of course.