There’s some logic, then, to the games that deal with huge population losses and get written off by many players, only to continue onward with aims to retain that core of loyal players until a more natural growth point happens again. I’ve talked about the multiple options and costs that lead us to probably not value the place of our MMOs as centrally as they might have once been to our entertainment lives. Yet, just think about it from a studio’s point of view - retaining the players you already have a relationship with, whether they’re paying customers or not, is difficult, but builds the backbone of the game.
There have been many shifts surrounding MMOs, including a broadening of the term, but the players clearly remain important. In fact, the report concludes that the first 30 days post-launch are critical in judging a game’s long-term potential. Given the data here, the recent spikes in activity in games like Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2, although operating on different models (hybrid free to play versus buy to play), are both benefiting from the release or upcoming release of significant expansions, several years after initial release. The Elder Scrolls Online will also be a case to watch, given its shift to a buy to play hybrid model. Though for that game, the lack of official player numbers as well as only being able to guess now if subscriptions will plummet, leave that for another day’s analysis.
Still, while this only covers free to play games, it lends something to arguments both positive and negative about the free to play model. Those who feel that free to play equals a throwaway game that isn’t worth much will point to low retention and see justification. Those who see the numbers about decay slowing down and players discovering good games eventually will see justification too. So, ultimately, has this info just brought us into a big circle of the same arguments? Maybe, but the MMO community hasn’t had such info before, and even with its flaws, it can help us with some understanding of how we play.