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:
(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.