ArcheAge Ship

A new report today from SuperData puts numbers to something we always knew: that MMO populations decline significantly after the initial rush right after launch. But if you’re like me, you’re a bit surprised to see how steep that decline is.

According to the report, 6.21% of the players who log into a new free-to-play MMO in the first month after its launch will still be there 12 months later. In fact, only one in five will still be there after just that first month, and just under one in 10 are still there six months down the road:

Graph-1-HD

(A couple of points: SuperData’s definition of “MMO” doesn’t necessarily jive with what we call an “MMO” on this site, as it often includes MOBAs and some shooters, but it’s still an interesting chunk of data. And it’s probably true that non-F2P games experience a similar drop-off — how many people who were there on day one are still playing WildStar or The Elder Scrolls Online? — though likely not as great.)

Grim as that sounds, players who join a game later in its life cycle are even less likely to stick around, as players who log in for the first time 12 months after launch only have a 3% chance of sticking around for a month after that. As a result, SuperData concludes that “a strong initial launch, fueled by an effective marketing campaign, helps establishing a loyal customer base.”

Here’s the point where I’d quibble a bit. I think MMOs, F2P or otherwise, are overmarketed and overhyped at, really, when they’re in their worst possible shape: at launch. That’s when the game will have the maximum number of bugs, imbalances, server instability, and other issues, things that will be better a few months down the road. But by then, when the game is solidly playable, the bulk of the marketing dollars have been spent and the huge number of people you tried to draw with your initial marketing efforts have already moved on. MMOs aren’t one-time affairs, like single-player games or even movies or books, where you need to get as many people in as quickly as possible and then move on to the next product a few months later. But they’re still marketed like that.

Case in point: H1Z1. SOE (back when it was SOE) sent out e-mails saying “Log into Early Access now!” and arranged all sorts of press coverage and a streaming schedule for the day it was supposed to go live. And what happened? The game was largely unplayable by the bulk of people for two days and all of that marketing effort was wasted. Even now, three weeks after the early access launch, they’re still making significant changes to how core systems work. Granted, that’s a part of early access, but maybe “early access + big marketing push” shouldn’t be a thing.

Here’s a thought: Maybe holding back the bulk of one’s marketing dollars a little bit, until things are more stable and the product is generally better overall, might help improve upon that awful 6.2% figure. I know it would piss off shareholders who want to see instant returns nao, if not sooner, but you could probably still engineer things to fit them nicely into the current quarterly earnings.

the author

Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.

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  1. oldgamer on August 30, 2016

    ArcheAge is pretty much like that
    its been a year and i went back and i saw LOTS of beta players are still there strongly
    and “i” and LOTS of players that left actually WARNED the host company ( trion worlds ) repeatedly that if you merge the servers and we lose all the lands and blah blah … were going out
    and they brought someone from i think sony entertainment and she PRACTICALLY made fun of our rage in the forum instead of trying to understand and such , so the game was perfect but many people left just because of the management that company was doing …

    this week i played “riders of icarus” and i finished the game in 4 days and there was literally NOTHING MORE to do and it was terrible after lvl cap so i uninstalled it
    not to mention they were taking money for simplest things like portals were daily based and paid with cash and go on.. just imagine traveling a mmo world with handful portals that are far away and if you want “normal” teleportation you need to pay cash for 7day access and go on..
    that was the simplest thing so im not gonna say about other stuff

    see its true MOST of the games are literally RIDICULOUS but the companies that host them are LARGELY at fault and VERY greedy

    i swear they can still make many other ways to earn money without trampling on gamers like this but no .

    TRULY i feel gamers are the POOREST group of people because not only many NONgamers behave different and such with them BUT EVEN THE gaming companies who owe their lives to these gamers, behave with them with SUCH shameless tactics and such everything from them without giving much in return.

    i seriously have higher hopes from the gwent online game thats coming , than i do for other mmorpgs because a small company like cdpr actually cared , im not saying they cared for gamers but they cared for their own names and didnt ruin it with being greedy like SOME gaming giants!

    • oldgamer on August 30, 2016

      oh btw the screenshot up there is from ArcheAge , a pretty normal event that factions fight on sea and all…

  2. daniel on February 9, 2015

    the f2p games have been straight up shit,i have never played a free to play game longer then a few hours..garbage combat,clunky controls.Horrid all around,even repop sucks.its ugly looks like a 2005 game,clunky as fallen earth if you can even recall that trash. so on etc..all been copy clone,of the elf and orc world of pure borDumb.

  3. Stemar on February 6, 2015

    Well I used to go in and out of TERA after Rising. Last week I started playing it with a Joystick, man, it has fast become one of the best MMo’s I have played. I don’t know why, but, it seems like an Action offline game with many friends to play with. Super fun. I may stick now for really long.

  4. TheNanboMan on February 6, 2015

    Quality = retention. Has nothing to do with F2P. Look at sub games. Elder Scrolls, RIFT, etc. All decline, open F2P, big pop burst, slow decline, then there are the numbers of people that return, then the door is open. You either add good content and watch your title thrive or keep the greed route and watch it fall. look at whos doing good…”SKins for cash only” like inLeague of Legends and it becomes the most played top twitch based game. Get rid of greed, watch your revenue go up, it’s a paradoxal sort off ormula that no invester understands since they are not gamers.

    • ama8o8 on February 10, 2015

      Yeah but league isnt really an mmo but it does fall under f2p ….honestly mmorpgs should just follow suit and just sell cosmetics ….I mean there are exceptions to this but a cosmetic selling only game usually will thrive a lot …

  5. Arieswar on February 6, 2015

    The new generation into moba’s? no sir, i think every link ive seen with a new moba announcement has ended with the spam of people “great another moba” as in huge sarcasm.

    sure many of us await the game that will bind us like everquest and so many other gems did back in the day and some of us are just waiting for something new and out of the box, star citizen hype is one of those games that is thinking outside of the box and with a budget like they have I am hyped to see what he can do with it but.. im a wingcommander fan ever since amiga 500 and so thats why, if the new younger generation is not well who cares.

    Many games today are relased with a free to play sign and easy to access, with big cash shops and big as i call them traps to more or less demand cash from its players there are exceptions in these games and I have only found 2 games that fully try to give the players the Free to play feeling,

    I would say Rift and Neverwinter atm is holding good when it comes to numbers, why overall numbers are low on the market well so many games and so little time.

    • Stemar on February 6, 2015

      I agree, just would add Tera to that list. You can pretty much have tons of fun and don’t spend a dime.

  6. Old Timer on February 5, 2015

    I think bigger problem is the amount of MMOs that are available and that keep coming out along with the pre hype (Star Citizen, Everquest Next, etc…) So people keep waiting for something they think will be THE MMO of MMO’s and they don’t tie themselves to current MMO’s. Also the population of MMO gamers is diluted due to the amount of them available.

    The newer generation is more into MOBAs and similar type games, quick PvP fixes, and this also has an affect.

  7. kestas24 on February 5, 2015

    I agree, but problem its rare to see a gamer in the seats of share holders that has major voice. And as I said in of my comments before its like playing chess while looking only at your side of the board.

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