There are a lot of great things afoot for FFXIV fans. In the last month or so, we have seen the release of the beta roadmap, we have had the release of the Live Producer letter #V, and we have seen the FFXIV benchmark released. Along the way, FFXIV benefited from an extensive media tour. All things considered, FFXIV has generated a lot of buzz recently.
So, the question which arises is whether or not all the publicity is paying off? One way of looking at it is here at MMORPG.com where we can see that the average user score for FFXIV has risen a bit and it’s currently one of the most anticipated upgoming titles. While that is promising, it’s only an overview of our MMORPG readers and not necessarily reflective of the game’s overall interest level.
Introducing Google Trends
For gauging larger interest in a topic, I really like Google Trends. Google trends is an open access tool that provides a global, time specific pathway for all Google searches related to a topic or term. The Trends analysis is set to index, so the 100 listing represents the highest volume of searches in the time period you look at. For our first graphic, we’re looking at searches for FFXIV over the lifespan of the title. Since FFXIV launched in 2010, I am starting our index in August, 2010 and running it through February, 2013.
FFXIV searches hit their peak at the 1.0 launch window. From there, search traffic plummeted rapidly and flatlined through the end of 2012. It’s worth noting that this isn’t a sign of how bad 1.0 was, most MMO’s exhibit this pattern, a spike at launch and a decline afterwards. I suspect a lot of that is because people stop Google searching for the game after launch and just go directly to game websites either through bookmarks or through game launchers.
However, February, 2013 begins an uptick for FFXIV. While the search traffic in February is only 20% of its 2010 peak, it does look like something is happening. Should the trend continue, A Realm Reborn might just be becoming A Realm Rising.
Recently Released MMOs
Another way to look at the Trends is to compare FFXIV to recently launched MMOs. As I prepared the data for this column, it’s apparent that MMO trend traffic peaks around the launch window and then drops off precipitously in the following months. For instance, Guild Wars 2 is currently running less than 10% of its launch traffic. The Secret World, similarly, is running about 10% of its launch traffic, although it enjoyed a jump up to about 30% when it went Buy to Play. Star Wars: the Old Republic is hanging in at roughly 15% of its launch traffic. RIFT, similarly, is running about 10% of it’s spring, 2011 traffic.
Guild Wars 2 is clearly the beast in the room, although the beast appears to be weakening. RIFT, the oldest MMO in the bunch, remains reasonably active in web searches. Here, though, we see a reason for concern with FFXIV. It hasn’t stacked up well to the released titles. While this doesn’t look good, it may be understandable. For some time during this window, FFXIV was unavailable to prospective customers. An End of an Era had occurred and A Realm Reborn alpha had yet to begin, the game was completely offline. The real test of “A Realm Rising” might well be how FFXIV compares to these games over the next few months.
Games in Development
Perhaps a better question is how is ARR doing against the MMO’s in development today? Well, we can turn to Google Trends again for the answer. For this, I ran an analysis, looking at FFXIV, Neverwinter, the Elder Scrolls Online, ArcheAge and Marvel Heroes. These are five of the anticipated MMO’s on MMORPG that also had Google search activity when I pulled this data. For this examination, I only looked at 2013. The Trends report is for the period from 1-Jan, 2013 to 26-Feb, 2013.
The Elder Scrolls Online has the highest peak interest, coupled around a series of news releases in late January, 2013. Neverwinter has the next best peak surrounding its first beta weekend in early February. Across much of the time frame FFXIV looks fairly bleak, running dead last alongside ArcheAge. However in the last week, things have changed. FFXIV is rising at the same time TESO and Neverwinter are ebbing. At the close of February, FFXIV is enjoying the same general interest level as TESO, Neverwinter and Marvel Heroes.
Remember, Google Trends indexes all search activity to the peak activity within the window you are examining. Thus, the peak in the second figure does not mean the same amount of Internet traffic occurred as the peak in the first figure. Indeed, I compared TESO’s peak against the FFXIV peak in 2010. TESO, at present, hit about 40% of the interest that the FFXIV launch did. That’s not a knock against TESO, I suspect their traffic will trend up as they approach launch.
Ending on a Bright Note
The information above doesn't exactly paint a rosy picture for Final Fantasy XIV. The game clearly took a beating at launch, from which it has not remotely recovered. Further, compared to other games released in the last few years, FFXIV isn’t carrying comparable search traffic. Some of that is the length of time since its release, some of that is the downtime between the End of an Era and the Realm Reborn. FFXIV is comparing acceptably well to other MMO’s in development, but it has yet to enjoy the media spikes that Neverwinter or The Elder Scrolls online has enjoyed.
So, what reasons are there for cautious optimism? One way is to look at this as the low of the lows. The game will continue to get press as it closes in on release and that press should translate into better search traffic. Second, there is definitely an uptick starting to manifest, which may well indicate that a buzz is starting. There have been a number of beautiful videos released and, if the game play holds up to the imagery, FFXIV should garner many first and second looks. Third, games hit a peak in search traffic around their launch window and FFXIV will actually be getting a new launch with the PS3 release. But, the largest reason for hope is the IP itself.
Final Fantasy is one of the most strongest brand IP’s available in gaming. Over the last twelve months, only Star Wars exceeds Final Fantasy for overall brand strength. Final Fantasy enjoys a strong, consistent second place alongside Star Trek. Indeed, the only other fantasy IP of heft is a certain World of Warcraft, which you may have heard of.
Warcraft, as a brand, is no stronger than Final Fantasy! For reference, I didn’t include Warcraft in my initial data pull, but it runs neck and neck with Final Fantasy and Star Trek. Chew on that for a moment. Final Fantasy is an IP that came out decades ago, hasn’t had a stellar hit in years, and it’s still right up there with the 1000lb gorilla in the industry.
Now, search trends aren’t sales, certainly. However, it’s worth noting that search trend patterns for a title tend to reflect the sales level of the title at release. Higher spiking searches (GW2 as an example) outsell lower spiking searches. In that regard, if FFXIV merely recovers some of its initial sales traffic, it would turn into one of the stronger games in the industry.
Ultimately, though, search traffic is a reasonable indicator of the buzz a game’s marketing is generating. There’s no reason to pop the cork of the champagne at Square Enix offices just yet, but A Realm Reborn might just turn out to be A Realm Rising after all!
What do you think? Are there any points in the figures above that surprised you? Are there any observations I made you disagree with? Should we just toss the whole set of figures and wait for Nate Silver to release his launch projections? Join in the discussion below and share your thoughts.
Ryahl / Ryahl is a columnist for MMORPG.Com. He is also the host and primary author for Eorzea Reborn and TSWGuides. He has been playing MMO’s since 1999 and remembers when the holy trinity didn’t involve DPS. You can follow him on Twitter @EorzeaReborn or just argue with him in comments anywhere he posts.