Subscriptions for Massively Multiplayer Online Games are on the rise. Estimates for 2005 put worldwide subscription sales at over a billion dollars. MMOG Analyst Bruce Sterling Woodcock says, “Different organizations have different estimates, but it’s somewhere in the $1-$2B range.”
Online games like EverQuest, World of Warcraft and Dark Age of Camelot require a player to pay for a retail box, and a monthly subscription fee of about $10-$15. The first month is usually free. After that, a player must be a subscriber to reenter their fantasy world of choice.
Woodcock runs a website called MMOGCHART.com, where he tracks MMOG subscription numbers. He lists the ‘Total Active Subscriptions’ at about 3.5 million accounts. Woodcock obtains his data through various means, such as press releases, corporate documents and word of mouth. He says, “I soon became the de facto industry reference, simply because I was the only one collecting and reporting those numbers in one place, at least for free.”
While not as consistent as Moore’s Law, total MMOG subscription numbers have been growing exponentially. In July 1998, there were 125,000 MMOG subscribers. That number jumped to 250,000 in July 1999. Subscriptions continued to double, reaching 2 million subscribers by July 2003. The doubling is slowing down, but MMOG subscriptions will likely hit 4 million subscribers before the end of the year.
“I would caution reading too much into the MMOG growth numbers (such as at MMOGChart.com) given that the subscription numbers for older games probably aren’t accurate,” says Nick Yee, graduate student at Stanford University studying the psychology of online games. Yee adds, “I have a hard time believing that EQ still has 450k players given that EQ servers are being merged because of low server populations.”
Not all MMOG developers are willing to divulge their subscription numbers, nor is it clear how trustworthy the released numbers are. Woodcock explains, “I think most companies are ethical and risk getting in trouble if they actually lie about their numbers.”
President and CEO of Mythic Entertainment Mark Jacob says, “We’re very ‘old school’ and we view our subscriber numbers as a point of pride, not something to be hidden or disguised. Even if our numbers go down, we simply look at that decline as an incentive to work even harder to bring players back. We have always wondered why most other companies feel the need to hide their numbers.”