observed not too long ago, it's been obvious for some time that Warlords of Draenor was generating a lot more, and a lot more positive, interest than the previous couple of WoW expansions managed. Even so, the revelation that WoD fever had tipped WoW's subscription pile back over the 10,000,000 mark was a surprise.
The pull of that vortex is now so strong it's moved on from consolidating the faithful to sucking in even the furthest outliers but no, I am not here to announce that I have joined the merry band of pod-people. I'm just here to compare that number, ten million, with the very much smaller number that Feldon of EQ2Wire has been dropping into conversation of late.
The number in question is 50,000. Apparently that's the the current "active" population of EQ2. Here's a quote "Otherwise, a game with some 50,000 active players gets unfairly tagged as a “ghost town”." I have no idea what the provenance of this 50k figure is but it sounds exceedingly low, not just by comparison to WoW's 10m, but even to Everquest's heyday of 500k.
So, what does constitute a viable population for an MMO from a large operator these days? If Feldon's figure is there or thereabouts accurate then it would seem fifty thousand customers gets you regular content additions up to and including an annual expansion (and one of pretty darn high quality at that, as these gorgeous screenshots attest). I believe Mark Jacobs suggested 50k would be sufficient to keep Camelot Unchained in business. Meanwhile Carbine's WildStar is widely perceived to be struggling with "hundreds of thousands of active players" (source).
No-one seems to like giving out detailed population figures any more but companies do seem happy to show vague traffic-lights on their server status page. As I write this late on Friday evening GMT, ten of EQ2's sixteen "Live" servers are showing "medium" and one "high". We are still some hours off of US prime-time. For that matter, a dozen of Everquest's eighteen servers are at "medium" too.
What "Medium" means in the context I have no idea. Could be a couple of hundred players, could be a couple of thousand. About all you can say is it must be better than "Low", which is the status for every one of Landmark's nine servers (and both of Dragon Prophet's but no one really cares about that).
In the end, as a player, I guess not much matters beyond enough people playing and paying to keep the lights on and the updates flowing. Then, too, the numbers playing very much do not seem to convert directly into quantity or quality of content provided. It's probably a fair bet that GW2 has ten times, if not twenty or thirty times, the players EQ2 does but the Altar of Malice expansion feels at least as substantial and satisfying (and considerably more coherent) than the sporadic, stuttering scattershot entertainment doled out this year in The Living Story.
It does rather feel as though one of these MMOs is over-performing while the other slides by on a bare minimum. Of course not everyone has to play by the exact same rules. As J3w3l points out, WoW seems to have special dispensation when it comes to keeping their vast horde of active players from wandering off: "How in the hell after over a year of absolutely no new content can they
gain subscribers. Any other mmo doing that would be shutting down its
servers about now yet they are thriving."
WoW loyalists, and there seem to be an inordinate number of them, are fortunate. They exist in a safe, certain world alien to almost all other MMO players. There is simply no prospect for them of waking up one morning to learn that their favorite MMO has gone dark. They certainly don't need to subscribe or play to feel secure that their game of choice will be there when and if they need it. Not for current or ex-WoW players the angst and uncertainty that LotRO players most likely feel gnawing at the back of their minds every day these days. No chance of Blizzard doing as NCSoft did with City of Heroes and closing down WoW because it's making money, just not enough.
I'm happy WoW's doing well. Much better that than for it to be slipping slowly into oblivion. A high tide lifts all boats as they say. I just hope some of the leaky vessels the rest of us prefer to sail in can keep bailing long enough to make it to their own safe harbors.
Nameless: All the Way up Here
2 hours ago