Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Battle For the 70%

Much digital ink was spilled last week over the revelation that only 30% of WoW's free trial accounts reach level 10. Like Elder Game, I find that number remarkable only in that it is surprisingly high. Even if you presume that security lockdowns have made the accounts unpalatable to spammers, and ignore the occasional throwaway account for non-newbies (I once made a trial account just to invite my alts to my bank alt guild) there has to be some portion of potential players who just aren't as interested in a 3rd person MMORPG.

More interesting, though, is the apparent belief amongst the major games that this number can be improved. Blizzard's Cataclysm expansion will deliver less new solo content for max level solo characters, to free up dev time for that old world revamp. Turbine has Orion steadily working away at revising the game's entire array of launch content. SOE made a new starting area - the game's sixth - and revisions from 20-70 a priority on its expansion plate, though the new area ultimately failed to make the expansion launch.

None of these measures are purely for the benefit of newbies - veterans who choose to make a new alt pay the same monthly fee that brand new accounts do. Likewise, a steady stream of new players may be necessary to keep endgame group content viable. Even so, none of these measures are without cost - specifically the opportunity cost of working on older areas over new content for existing characters.

Setting a revamp of old leveling content as a priority ultimately represents a bet that this will be the best use of the studio's limited time, even though many of them pointedly have NOT been focusing on early game content over the years until now. I don't know whether it will ultimately work out, but this battle over the 70% of players who wander off sooner rather than later is rapidly shaping up to be the major trend of 2010.


Brian Inman said...

Is it really the content? I am not sure that is why myself.

I think as the days go by fewer, and fewer newer players want to grind out levels to reach a point in a game to actually do stuff.

If it is anything like my son they just want money handed over. They laugh at a weekly allowance for doing chores. They don't want to earn it.

Inquisitor said...

What proportion of that 70% are in fact being used by gold sellers?

I wonder if it's significant. Instinct says probably.

Yeebo said...

Look at a game like EQ, where the great bulk of the existing players are within a few levels of the cap and there are hundreds of hours of incredibly grindy content between you and the bulk of the playerbase when you start as a new player. That is certainly not a situation you want to be in.

We are starting to see the first batch of "new wave" MMOs hit the five+ year mark, it will be interesting to see if they age better than their grindy unsoloable ancestors did.

Daria said...

I think it is brilliant what Blizzard is doing with Cataclysm. They may be trying to entice new subscribers but I feel they are also doing this for the current and returning players. WoW is aging, and you can only keep tacking on levels and resetting the gear so many times. If they change the game drastically as I am hoping, it will be like a brand new WoW launch. We will see how it works out!

Tesh said...

The "characters past level 10" says absolutely nothing about trial-to-paying conversion or player retention past the thirty days that come with the box. Those are the key numbers that make businesscritters swoon.

I'm far more interested in how many players play the trial and find the early levels boring or confusing, and how many box sales never actually subscribe to the game. Figuring out how to change those numbers is far more important than counting characters past level 10.