Category Archives: Quantitative Analysis

Gender Perception in MMOs

“I myself merely play female characters sometimes, and many times when I’m on those characters, people assume that I am a woman in real life,” he wrote. I blinked. It was a casual comment in an article that was about something else entirely, but it sparked a thought. You see, Larry Everett’s experience is very different from my own.

“That’s awesome!” I found myself thinking. “Seriously, you are playing a female character and you’re actually addressed as a woman?! People should realize how special this is.” I also thought (because I’m an imperfect human being, like everyone else): “Ha! Now you know what it feels like!”

All my characters are female. However, when typing to strangers in MMOs, 9 out of 10 times they (incorrectly) assume I am male. Now I’m not having sleepless nights over this (which is a good thing, or I’d have developed insomnia), but it does get old pretty fast. I asked other female gamers I know and they reported the same phenomenon.

Player avatars hanging out in the central hub in Star Wars: the Old Republic (SWTOR)

It is striking that Everett’s experience and mine are so different  – especially considering we play the same MMO, Star Wars: the Old Republic (SWTOR). It could be that this is partly due to our perception: we are more likely to remember instances in which other players guessed it wrong than in which they guessed it right. But perhaps there’s more to this.

Game scientists have conducted research on the perception of gender in virtual environments. Although there is no data on how often we address others with a certain gender, there is evidence that certain factors affect how we perceive others.

What we do affects who we appear to be

It is possible that gender perception varies depending on our choice of activities in-game. A study from 2010 shows that game genre influences our perception of other players’ gender (Eden et al. 2010). We are more likely to perceive players as male when they’re playing games that are competitive and aggressive (such as shooters) – traditionally masculine associated traits. On the other hand, players are more likely assumed to be female when playing games that are social in nature. It is interesting to note that no relationship between skill level and perceived gender was found.

Although this research focused on gamers playing different game genres, you could extrapolate that the same goes for in-game activities. Perhaps players are more likely to expect male players when taking part in competitive and more aggressive environments such as PvP MMOs and raiding endgames, while they are more likely to expect female players when taking part in social activities, such as role-play. If this is true, it would explain why I’m often assumed to be male – I spend the majority of my time in-game playing endgame.

What we look like affects who we appear to be

Another study found that the degree of masculinity or femininity of an avatar significantly influences perceptions of avatars (Nowak & Rauh 2005). While this study deals with web avatars rather than avatars within multiplayer games, I don’t think it’s unlikely that the same goes for the latter. Judging by his article, Larry Everett spends a lot of time role-playing on his characters (some of which are female) on the fleet, the central player hub in SWTOR. This could explain why he does get addressed as female from time to time. After all, when role-playing, people will be more attentive to character appearances than when you are rushing through hordes of mobs with a pug. In instances where little to no attention to character looks is given, we might be inclined to go with the male default instead.

A boarding party during a mission in Star Trek: Online

The nature of gameplay may affect assumed player gender. Screenshot from Star Trek Online (STO)

What we expect affects who we appear to be

Historically, gaming has been the realm of men. Indeed, gaming as a pastime is still associated with boys, violence and masculinity (Bryce & Rutter 2002). You could argue that the tendency to address all players as male is a relic of past times, wherein the vast majority of gamers were male. However, speaking from personal experience, most players seem aware that the MMO populace is more varied nowadays. (A heads up: recent research by Quantic Foundry (2017) found that 16-36% of MMO players are female – varying on the MMO’s setting.) When ten years ago I logged into an MMO and strangers found out I was a woman playing endgame, they were flabbergasted. Now it’s more like “Oh, okay.”

So if most MMO players are aware that both genders play, why do we tend to address strangers with “he”? My guess is that it has to do with the persisting perception of the male gender as the default in modern western culture. Let me explain with an example outside of the realm of gaming.

A couple of years ago, I took part in a university course. At one point, a classmate of mine took the stage and gave a fifteen minute presentation about a paper we had read. During, she constantly referred to the author as “he”. This was awkward, because I knew the author was, in fact, female. She had an foreign first name that I did not recognize, so I had googled her the evening before to check. When the student was done, our teacher asked how she would feel if she had published an article in a well known magazine and a reviewer wouldn’t even have looked up who she was.

The incident showed me how disrespectful it is to regard everyone as male, because it radiates disinterest. I realized it could just as well have been me making that mistake if I would not have taken the extra time to research the evening before. For me, this moment was an eye opener and I decided to never assume a gender when addressing someone I don’t know.

Female avatar in Guild Wars 2

Character appearances may influence the assumed gender of players. Screenshot from Guild Wars 2 (GW2).

Referring to strangers in MMOs

What about MMOs, though, where you can’t simply google a player’s gender? The only way to find out (apart from voice chat) would be asking. And asking can be intrusive because not everyone likes sharing their gender for various reasons (Fortim & De Moura Grando 2013).

Ever since the awkward class room experience, I’ve been more aware of prejudices regarding gender perception. Sometimes I notice I assume someone to have a certain gender because of the way they talk or behave in game. But then I remember my decision. When I write a blog post in reaction to somebody else’s and their blog doesn’t state their gender, I refer to them as “they”. And the same goes for MMOs, really. Chances are that when I use “they” when talking about someone else, somebody will correct me and then I know how to address them. And if they don’t and want to keep their gender private, that’s fine, too.

Some dislike the use of “they”. For them (har har), going by the character’s gender is a great alternative. It will mean that they’ll get it wrong from time to time, but hey, it might prompt gamers think about gender perception in MMOs for a bit.

Do other players generally assume you’re male or female in MMOs? How do you address strangers online yourself?

 

References

Bryce, J. and J. Rutter, 2002: Killing Like a Girl: Gendered Gaming and Girl Gamers’ Visibility, in F. Mäyrä (ed.): Proceedings of Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference, 243-255.

Eden, A., E. Malony and N. D. Bowman, 2010: Gender Attribution in Online Video Games, in: Journal of Media Psychology 22, 114-1124.

Fortim, I. and C. de Moura Grando, 2013: Attention whore! Perception of female players who identify themselves as women in the communities of MMOs. Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) conference publication.

Williams, D., M. Consalvo, S. Caplan and N. Yee, 2009: Looking for Gender: Gender Roles and Behaviors Among Online Gamers, in: Journal of Communication 59, 700–725.

Yee, N., 2017: Beyond 50/50: Breaking Down The Percentage of Female Gamers by Genre, on Quantic Foundry website (https://quanticfoundry.com/2017/01/19/female-gamers-by-genre on 3 November 2017).


Why You Should Invest in Video Games, Like Now

I love video games. You probably do too or you wouldn’t be reading this (but hey, everyone is welcome).

So what if I told you that your passion could make you rich? No, I’m not suggesting you enter the competitive streaming market, sell virtual gold, or start an e-sports career. What I’m suggesting is much simpler – investing. I know reading about money isn’t as exciting as playing a new MMO game, but reading about money could lead to buying more MMOs. So in a way, this post is about playing more MMORPGs and games of all kinds!

World of Warcraft stocks

Want Proof?

If you had invested the cost of a $14.99 World of Warcraft monthly subscription into Activision Blizzard on an annual basis between November 2004 to November 2007, your $539.64 (yes, that’s how much we all spent) would now be worth $5,972. It literally would have paid for itself ten times over. And while Activision Blizzard technically existed as only Activision before 2008, the point isn’t any less valid.

For those unfamiliar with stock investments, they are a great way to grow your wealth. The easiest and most common recommendation for investors is to purchase index funds. There’s no doubt that strategy pays off in the long term. For example, $100 invested into the S&P 500 in 1977 would be worth approximately $2,500 today. By contrast, a savings account at today’s interest rates wouldn’t even earn you $100 in 40 years.

There is a small optimization problem with the index fund strategy. Not only is buying and holding index funds not very exciting, but video game related stocks vastly outperform index funds. Fair warning: prepare yourself for some math below.

Be aware that I am not a professional financial advisor in any capacity and the following information should not be construed as financially sound or professional advice. So don’t blame me if this article blows up your retirement fund, but do feel free to PayPal me some money if this information gives you the means to ‘pay to win’.

Baseline Investment

To really assess the performance of video game stocks, we need to set a few baseline values. For that, I’ll follow the performance details of three major index funds. The S&P 500 is the most common index fund to invest in and provides consistently strong returns. NASDAQ tracks technology stocks and thus is particularly relevant to compare against video games. Finally, Asia is a huge player in the video game industry so I’ll also be analyzing the Japanese index, Nikkei 225. So how have these indices performed over the years?

Let’s take a look at percentage gains from four points in time: one year ago, five years ago, ten years ago, and in January 2000, right before the dot-com bubble burst. Later, we’ll measure these indices against key video game stocks.

S&P 500

1Y: +13.72%
5Y: +75.52%
10Y: +67.5%
January, 2000: +68.04%

NASDAQ

1Y: +23.1%
5Y: +109.25%
10Y: +147.18%
January, 2000: +57.71%

Nikkei 225

1Y: +20.08%
5Y: +122.24%
10Y: +18.57%
January, 2000: +5.71%

Unsurprisingly, the best gains have been over the past five years as the market has only ticked upwards since the United States housing crash bottomed out in 2009. More importantly, it’s a positive sign to see that even investing at the peak of a stock market bubble will lead to long term gains. Even the best investors can’t time the stock market so consistent investments is the best route to leveling up your bank account.

bears-bulls-vs-madden-mario

Bears & Bulls vs. Madden & Mario

Plenty of companies sell video games so it would be pretty impractical to research them all. Instead, I’ll focus on those where their primary business is video games (which excludes publishers like Tencent Holdings) with at least some stake in the MMO market. Without further ado, I present our contenders who represent evidence for fiscally sound investment in video games.

Activision Blizzard is responsible for World of Warcraft. Electronic Arts is best known for their sports titles, but don’t forget that this giant owns Bioware and thus, Star Wars: The Old Republic. NEXON is one of the world’s largest free-to-play MMORPG publishers.  Ubisoft merely dabbles in the MMO market, but everyone has heard of game series like Assassin’s Creed. Square Enix owns and operates the beloved Final Fantasy franchise, which now includes two MMORPGs. NCSoft Corp’s ownership of Guild Wars, Lineage, and more has long made them a major player in the MMO space. Finally, if I’m looking at video games, I’d be hard pressed not to include Nintendo even if they’ve avoided MMOizing any of their IPs (come on, let’s get a real Pokemon MMORPG).

Activision Blizzard, Inc.

1Y: +58.39%
5Y: +457.19%
10Y: +572.74%
January, 2000: +5,027.15%

Electronic Arts Inc.

1Y: +49.92%
5Y: +813.58%
10Y: +130.03%
January, 2000: +479.9%

NEXON Co Ltd

1Y: +105.93%
5Y: +142.96%
10Y *: +149.36%
January, 2000 *: +149.36%

Ubisoft Entertainment SA

1Y: +59.07%
5Y: +831.11%
10Y: +145.65%
January, 2000: +459.6%

Square Enix Holdings Co Ltd

1Y: +23.68%
5Y: +194.59%
10Y: +7.66%
January, 2000: -64.08%

NCSoft Corp

1Y: +44.01%
5Y: +52.28%
10Y: +392.95%
January, 2000 *: +1,047.76%

Nintendo Co., Ltd

1Y: +68.93%
5Y: +320.18%
10Y: -31.64%
January, 2000: +130.44%

(* – Some companies have not been publicly traded for 17 or even 10 years. In these cases, the percentage gains relate to to their IPO date which stands for initial public offering. This will greatly skew the January, 2000 numbers in particular due to the company avoiding the market crash.)

What Does it Mean?

what does it mean double rainbow

These percentages tell us something important, but they’re also hard to wrap one’s head around. For that, we need to illustrate real world cash gains over time. Below you’ll see what gains one would earn investing $1,000 evenly across the three example funds compared to distributing $1,000 evenly over five to seven of the video game stocks (discounting companies that did not exist for the time period).

1-Year Gains:

Funds: +$189.66
Video Games: +$585

5-Year Gains:

Funds: +$1,023.66
Video Games: +$4,016.98

10-Year Gains:

Funds: +$777.50
Video Games: +$2,028.98

Gains since January, 2000:

Funds: +$438.20
Video Games: +$12,066.02 (+$2,514.65 without Activision Blizzard’s massive 50x gain)

In short, investing in video games at any of these four points in time would have netted you gains of 3x compared to recommended index funds. To put it another way, someone who had invested in video games at the turn of the century could today afford 193 more $60 AAA titles than someone who had invested in index funds.

That said, it’s important to note the only period points with losses belong to the video game stocks. While individual stocks can produce greater rewards, they are also inherently more risky. Even while I laud the performance of the video game industry, I would still suggest a heavy mixture of index funds to offset the risk.

Gross Assets to Win (GA2W)

Sadly, paying money to ‘win’ online games is never going to vanish from the industry. But with some smart investing you could be the whale everyone hates. And how poetic would it be to make that money from the very games you play? (Of course investing takes time so until then, here are a few good free MMOs that aren’t pay-to-win.)

This is as far from a get rich quick scheme as you can get. The foundation of investing is built on bankrolling good companies over a period of several years. And at some point in the next ten years, the market will likely crash again. However, given time and smart investments you will see your real world money grow to levels that make virtual currency such as Elder Scrolls Online crowns, Guild Wars 2 gems, and SW:TOR cartel coins a drop in the bucket.

You should do your own research before investing in anything, but hopefully this has opened your eyes a bit (and if so, I highly recommend Scottrade for individual stocks and Vanguard for index funds). And if you’re a teenager who thinks you don’t have enough money for any of this to matter, think again. The sooner you start investing, the more money you’ll end up when you hit “adulthood”, the faster you’ll retire, and the more MMORPGs and video games you can spend playing guilt-free during that retirement.


BlizzCon 2016 Predictions

BlizzCon 2016 is now just a few weeks away. It’s bound to bring some exciting reveals, but the interesting thing about this year’s BlizzCon is that we don’t have any clear idea what those reveals will be.

BlizzCon 2016 celebrates all things Blizzard Entertainment

While the exact details may be a mystery, we can usually make some ballpark guesses on what the big news at a BlizzCon will be. We might, for example, suspect that a World of Warcraft expansion is being announced, even if we don’t know what specific features it offers.

This year it’s a lot harder to predict.

What we can expect:

There are a few things that are probably a given for BlizzCon 2016, or any BlizzCon these days.

For Heroes of the Storm, we’ll probably hear about some new heroes, and maybe a new map or two. The rumor mill has been floating Warcraft’s King Varian as a likely addition in the near future, so be on the lookout for that.

There have also been some teases about a very “crazy” new hero soon. Fan speculation points at either StarCraft’s Arcturus Mengsk or Warcraft’s Gelbin Mekkatorque for this role, both of those being characters that have been mentioned by Blizzard or found in datamining in the past.

I also wouldn’t be shocked if another Overwatch hero made the jump to Heroes. There’s been rumors of datamined dialogue pointing to D.Va as a possibility.

Heroes just got a couple new maps with the Machines of War event, so more coming soon isn’t too likely, but I wouldn’t entirely rule out some early concepts being announced at BlizzCon. I would have expected the new version of arena mode to be announced at BlizzCon, but that’s already been announced as Heroes Brawl.

The Li-Ming character in Heroes of the Storm

Similar to Heroes, I would expect Overwatch to unveil a few new heroes and/or maps. There’s been a lot of teases for a hacker character named Sombra lately; I expect that she’ll be announced before BlizzCon at the current rate, but if not, expect her then. Even if Sombra’s reveal is at BlizzCon 2016, I would expect to see other reveals, be they heroes, maps, or both.

Personally I would like to see an announcement of some PvE content for Overwatch — maybe even a story mode — but for now Blizzard seems content to remain incredibly unambitious with Overwatch, so I wouldn’t bet on it.

I think another expansion for Hearthstone at BlizzCon 2016 is a very strong possibility. It gets new expansions pretty regularly, so that would hardly be a shocker.

We’re still pretty early into World of Warcraft’s latest expansion, so I wouldn’t expect any terribly big news for it. Expect some previews of upcoming patches — maybe a glimpse of what the next raid might be, though given that all of the launch raids haven’t even been enabled yet, even that’s in question.

There’s a slender chance we might hear about a sequel to the Warcraft film, but it’s probably too soon for that.

So that leaves Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone, and Overwatch as franchises likely to have announcements, but also unlikely to have any earth-shattering news. BlizzCon is an expensive convention to run, though, so they wouldn’t run it without something big to announce.

So just what are they up to?

The Black Rook Hold dungeon in World of Warcraft: Legion

Where the guesswork begins:

By process of elimination, it seems StarCraft and Diablo are the only franchises for which there could be major announcements. I very much doubt they’ll be announcing another new franchise.

The hardest evidence — and that’s not saying much — is for a StarCraft announcement. StarCraft’s in-game rewards for those who purchase a BlizzCon 2016 virtual ticket are being kept a mystery until the convention, and they only do that when rewards are relating to a new announcement that they don’t want to spoil beforehand.

My initial thought was the announcement would be a new mission pack DLC. The timing makes sense, since the final installment of the Nova DLC should be out pretty soon.

However, there’s now word that Blizzard may not be doing any more story DLC, so that idea is out the window.

I think some announcements for co-op may be a good possibility, but that would hardly justify the cloak and dagger attitude around the virtual ticket rewards. The StarCraft II trilogy has wrapped up, so another full expansion being announced is unlikely, and I think it’s far too soon for StarCraft III to be a possibility.

But there is one other option.

There have been fairly credible rumors for a while that Blizzard is planning to announce a remastered version of the original StarCraft. Without a lot of other strong options, that seems the most likely bet… though it is worth noting the virtual ticket page specifically mentions StarCraft II content.

A screenshot from the Mass Recall mod for StarCraft II

The Mass Recall mod already allow players to experience the original campaigns in StarCraft II’s engine.

If a remastered original StarCraft is what’s coming, it will be welcome news for anyone who misses the original StarCraft’s multiplayer scene, but the original campaign was already playable with modern graphics and mechanics via the fan-made Mass Recall mod, so it’s not quite as exciting as it might otherwise be for single-player fans. Personally, I’d be more interested in remastered versions of the old Warcraft games, or maybe even the first two Diablo titles.

Speaking of Diablo, that’s another franchise around which much speculation has been floating. BlizzCon 2016 will also celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Diablo franchise, so it would be a good time for a major announcement.

The obvious option would be another expansion pack for Diablo III. Even before the base game released rumors swirled that Diablo III was slated to receive two expansion packs, and given the huge financial success of both the base game and the Reaper of Souls expansion, a second expansion would seem to make good sense.

However, recent events have thrown that possibility into doubt. It’s been so long now since Reaper of Souls was released that people have begun to despair of ever seeing another expansion, and the fact is we have no evidence to support an expansion announcement beyond the fact that the timing seems right.

It’s also true that Diablo III is the only game in Blizzard’s portfolio with no monetization beyond box sales, so that might discourage them from further development on it.

Further complicating matters is the fact that a number of high profile Diablo-related job postings have appeared on Blizzard’s career page in recent months. They could be for positions working on Diablo III, but it seems more likely they’re for a new game in the franchise, presumably Diablo IV.

A Nephalim Rift in Diablo III

It seems supremely unlikely that a new Diablo game would be ready to be shown at BlizzCon, so if Blizzard’s decided to abandon D3 for a new game, the odds of a major Diablo announcement this year are virtually zero.

That said, it’s also possible that Blizzard is working on both a new game and a new expansion. The severe content drought Diablo III has experienced over the past few months has been interpreted by many as a sign the game is being put on maintenance mode, but it could also be a sign that the team has decided to put all their efforts toward a new expansion.

This would be consistent with Blizzard’s behavior elsewhere. World of Warcraft frequently suffers lengthy content gaps in the lead-up to a new expansion.

Finally, there are also those speculating that BlizzCon 2016 might see the announcement of remastered versions of one or more earlier Diablo games, but there’s no hard evidence to back this up.

For my part, I hope for an expansion announcement. The ending to Reaper of Souls left the story obviously unfinished, and the core gameplay of Diablo III remains strong. I don’t think we need a new game yet.

If we do see an expansion announcement, I’m expecting druid — or something similar to a druid — as a new class. It’s the only archetype from Diablo II that isn’t represented in any way by the D3 class line-up.

There would also undoubtedly be at least one new act of story content, though its setting is anyone’s guess. My hope would be for the northern isle of Xiansai to bring in a nice Eastern flair, but it could be anything, really.

All hopes aside, there remains a strong chance we may see nothing at all significant for Diablo at BlizzCon 2016. Our only real evidence that there might be something is a single tweet by the official Diablo Twitter account saying that BlizzCon will be “cool” this year.

On the whole, BlizzCon 2016 remains shrouded in mystery.


What Top Korean MMOs Say About The West

lineage 2: a top korean mmo

American and Korean made MMORPGs dominate the market, as demonstrated by an earlier infographic on Which Country Makes the Best MMOs. Yet their paths to prominence have led to unique deviations. It’s easy for nationalists to say one is better than the other, but that’s largely subjective. It’s clear though that developers from these countries exhibit very different design decisions.

What appeals to one audience may not appeal to another. In the context of two countries on opposite sides of the world, most of that appeal has to do with the culture itself. This Google translated page of top Korean MMOs tells a different story than does our list of top MMOs or MMORPG.com‘s ratings. Americans and Europeans seem to share similar opinions so I’ll be lumping the transatlantic partners into one “Western” group. The differences between Westerners and Koreans create talking points that can lead to some interesting conclusions.

The five Korean MMOs where we see the largest disparity are Lineage, Lineage II, Dungeon Fighter Online, Mabinogi, and Hero Online. Some of these aren’t even available in the West. It’s not that publishers haven’t tried porting them. They just haven’t succeeded. So what do these titles share in common? Not a lot, at least first glance. Lineage is a war-centric PvP MMO. Mabinogi is a free form, cooperative, life skills heavy MMORPG. Dungeon Fighter Online is a side scroller and Hero Online a fairly generic post World of Warcraft MMORPG. That’s not to say there aren’t commonalities though.

The easiest similarity to point out is that all of these Korean MMOs involve significant amounts of grinding. In the West, we typically think of grinding as killing creatures over and over to level up. While that’s one type of grinding, it’s not the only kind. Lineage is heavy with the creature grinding, but for Dungeon Fighter it’s running the same missions. Characters advance in Hero Online via kill quests and Mabinogi via using skills. Maxing out characters in all of these titles takes a long time (especially when counting rebirths). For Koreans that’s more gameplay. For Americans and Europeans, that’s more bland repetition. There’s more to these games than just advancement though.

mabinogi, one of korea's top mmos

Pets are everywhere in Korea’s top MMOs. This has made it’s way over to the West but largely as more of a cosmetic addition. In Korea, pets are heavily integrated into the gameplay itself. Hell, in Lineage II you can ride a freaking wyvern into battle! Graphics obviously aren’t a big deal either. Most of these Korean MMORPGs didn’t look advanced on release so by today’s standards, ugly may be too generous. Mabinogi is the only visually impressive title with its artistic cel-shading. Conversely, Western audiences show difficulty not praising (or criticizing) a game’s appearance.

Where we see the most prominent differences between the two audiences though is in monetization. Mainly, Koreans seem unfazed by pay to win cash shops. Westerns froth at the mouth at the very mention. I would guess this stems from most of Korean gaming occurring in gaming cafes with an hourly rate. From that perspective, it makes a lot of sense. If every hour costs money, why not spend some extra cash to speed up advancement? It’s probably more cost efficient to pay the publisher than pay the gaming center. By contrast, Western play time is typically free so non p2w MMOs find more mainstream success.

Perhaps though, what is missing from this list of Korean MMOs is more telling than what can be found. Inspired questing is a huge component of successful MMORPGs in the West. World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Elder Scrolls Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, and Final Fantasy XIV are all successful MMORPGs. They’re also quest heavy games, but other titles have gained support with a sandbox approach. Eve Online, RuneScape, and ArcheAge are successful sandbox MMORPGs without a huge quest emphasis, so it’s not a prerequisite for success in the US. Interestingly, almost all of the best quest-driven MMORPGs come from well recognized IPs in the West. That leads me to two takeaways. One, themepark MMORPGs are better served by an existing IP. Two, sandbox MMORPGs might be the path to success for Korean MMOs.

That’s a number of differences between MMOs popular in the West vs. Korea. But what does it mean?


it means that us Westerns dislike grinding, or at least need to have it obfuscated. We’re more interested in the destination vs. the journey. Lengthy leveling hasn’t been in vogue here for over a decade. Reaching endgame seems to be all that anyone talks about. Meanwhile, lengthy leveling is still going strong in Korea. An affinity for pets in Korean MMOs speaks of a greater attachment to their avatars. A willingness to spend money to “win” or advance that avatar reinforces the idea.

Westerners also appear to be more brand loyal. The most well known MMORPGs here almost all result from some popular, preexisting IP. Branding plays its part in Korea too but is in a completely different league. It’s unclear whether Americans and Europeans love questing or if questing centric gameplay is the easiest path to delivering existing IPs to customers. My guess is that it’s a little bit of both.

It’s fun to see how different cultures view their virtual worlds when their physical worlds are separated by more than just miles.


Which Countries Make the Best MMOs?

I’m on a kick lately of segmenting out MMOs by uncommonly explored attributes and analyzing numbers. In June, I ranked the best MMORPG by year for the past twenty years (including honorable mentions for each year). In July,  I estimated the most played free MMORPGs, sorted by peak player counts. This month, I’m looking at which countries produce the best MMOs.

First, this requires a ranking of the best MMOs. As opposed to June’s best MMORPG blog post, I decided to use an impartial judge to assess the cream of the MMO crop. I selected mmorpg.com’s user ratings as my source due to their ratings’ age and breadth. From there, I chose the top 50 MMOs as a cutoff. This provided a strong sample set without severely diminished quality between the top and bottom of the list. I don’t necessarily agree with the order (Defiance is ahead of World of Warcraft, seriously?), but the list looks solid overall. The result? MMOBro’s first infographic!

which countries make the best mmos infographic

The United States and South Korea were the first countries to begin developing MMORPGs in the 90s. Seeing them as #1 and #2 on the list is to be expected. Thus, I find the data more fun than surprising. It is noteworthy that South America is unrepresented, despite what is actually a strong MMO userbase.

It is important to note that mmorpg.com caters to a Western audience which does skew the list. I researched Korean MMO rankings by popularity (as opposed to ratings), but over 90% of their most popular MMOs are developed in South Korea. It then seemed to me that focusing on a single, large audience would make for a more compelling and relevant read. MMOBro also targets a Western audience (by virtue of the whole site being written in English). Thus, I hope (and believe) for our readers, the validity is not lessened.

Feel free to download the infographic and share it. I only ask you drop a link to us in the process.

And for those fact checkers out there, here’s the complete 1-50 list (which may be different now compared to current ratings). Feel free to ask any questions or point out any inconsistencies.

  1. Black Desert Online (Pearl Abyss – South Korea)
  2. Guild Wars 2 (ArenaNet – USA)
  3. Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward (Square Enix – Japan)
  4. The Secret World (FunCom – Norway)
  5. Elder Scrolls Online (ZeniMax Online Studios – USA)
  6. AD2460 (Fifth Season – Norway)
  7. Warframe (Digital Extremes – Canada)
  8. Rift (Trion Worlds – USA)
  9. Darkfall: Unholy Wars (Aventure S.A. – Greece)
  10. Blade & Soul (Team Bloodlust – South Korea)
  11. Marvel Heroes 2016 (Gazillion Entertainment – USA)
  12. Path of Exile (Grinding Gear Games – New Zealand)
  13. Destiny (Bungie – USA)
  14. Eve Online (CCP Games – Iceland)
  15. Lord of the Rings Online (Turbine, Inc. – USA)
  16. EverQuest II (Daybreak Games – USA)
  17. Guild Wars (ArenaNet – USA)
  18. Final Fantasy XI (Square Enix – Japan)
  19. Dark Age of Camelot (Mythic/Broadsword Online Games – USA)
  20. Ryzom (Nevrax/Winch Gate Property Limited – France/Cyprus)
  21. TERA (Bluehole Studio – South Korea)
  22. Perpetuum (Avatar Creations – Hungary)
  23. Aika (JoyImpact – South Korea)
  24. Atlantica Online (NDOORSGAMES – South Korea)
  25. WildStar (Carbine Studios – USA)
  26. Neverwinter (Cryptic Studios – USA)
  27. PlanetSide 2 (Daybreak Games – USA)
  28. Fallen Earth (Reloaded Productions – USA)
  29. Elite: Dangerous (Frontier Developments – England)
  30. Wizard101 (KingsIsle Entertainment – USA)
  31. Dungeons & Dragons Online (Turbine, Inc. – USA)
  32. Ultima Online (Origin Systems/Broadsword Online Games – USA)
  33. DC Universe Online (Daybreak Games – USA)
  34. Lineage 2 (NCSoft – South Korea)
  35. EverQuest (Daybreak Games – USA)
  36. Anarchy Online (FunCom – Norway)
  37. Defiance (Trion Worlds – USA)
  38. Vindictus (devCAT – South Korea)
  39. World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment – USA)
  40. Asheron’s Call (Turbine, Inc. – USA)
  41. Age of Conan: Unchained (FunCom – Norway)
  42. Firefall (Red 5 Studios – USA)
  43. Eldevin (Hunted Cow Studios – Scotland)
  44. PlanetSide (Daybreak Games – USA)
  45. Xsyon: Prelude (Notorious Games – USA)
  46. Global Agenda (Hi-Rez Studios – USA)
  47. Wurm Online (Code Club AB – Sweden)
  48. Dragon Nest (Eyedentity Games – South Korea)
  49. Trove (Trion Worlds – USA)
  50. Aion (NCSoft – South Korea)

Most Played Free MMORPG of 2016

MMORPGs are constantly evolving due to the very nature of the genre. Developers release updates, players come and go, and some thrive while many struggle to survive. This leads to frequent dynamic population shifts. It begs the question which MMORPG is doing the best now? The answer is almost certainly still World of Warcraft, so I decided to shift the question to “what is the most played free MMORPG?” as of July 2016.

Calculating Most Played

Unfortunately, very few MMORPGs release public details to help us figure out which MMORPG has the biggest population. At best we get total account registrations, which is pretty meaningless compared to active players. To determine average player counts involves a lot of digging and a lot more estimating. In determining the most played free MMORPG, I’ll be using reddit, Facebook, YouTube, Google, and Twitter to compare relative values of MMORPG popularity. Relative popularity is great to simply rank what’s likely the most played MMORPGs, but I’ll go a step further and include estimates for peak player counts.

With numbers that are so secretively guarded that would seem like a difficult undertaking. Luckily, two MMORPGs are very public about their concurrent users counts. Eve Online and RuneScape both offer easily accessible concurrent player count details. I’ll be using the social and search presence of these games to create index values. From there, I will average these values and use them to gauge other MMORPGs’ peak player counts by multiplying by RuneScape and Eve Online’s peak player counts.

Most played free MMORPG chart

Chart depicting estimates of peak player counts for most played free MMORPGs.

More details about the methodology are the bottom of this blog post. The important thing you need to know is that using these methods, I was able to estimate peak player counts of Eve Online and Runescape to within 5% of each other. Granted, two games do not make a statistically significant sample set but it does make an enjoyably significant sample set!

Top 6 Most Played Free MMORPGs

I researched a number of MMORPG to determine the most played between all of them. Instead of throwing away all of that data and leaving only the winner, I thought a top six list of MMORPG populations would make for a better read. Games are ordered by estimated peak player counts.

6. TERA

tera 6th most played free mmorpg

TERA is a title that most people only respect because of the combat system. However, that combat system creates opportunities in PvE dungeons and PvP combat that are impossible with traditional MMO combat. It can be a bit grindy, but there is more than just one reason why TERA is still doing well years after release in a crowded market.

Facebook:  315k likes
RI: 0.29
EI: 1.06

Google Trends: 3
RI: 0.43
EI: 1.00

Tweets: 493
RI: 0.31
EI: 1.57

YouTube Views: 74,302
RI: 0.22
EI: 0.57

Subreddit:  18,700 subscribers
RI: 0.29
EI: 0.29

Average Runescape Index of 0.31 and Eve Index of 0.898.

Interested in playing TERA? Click here.

Estimated peak player counts for TERA: 28,016 – 29,849

5. MapleStory

MapleStory: 5th most played MMORPG

MapleStory is the Korean MMORPG that keeps running strong. Over a decade old at this point, the developers continue to find new content to entice players to stick around. It’s main unique calling is the 2D platformer anime art style. No other online game has successfully emulated the style well enough to take away from MapleStory’s amazingly high population count.

Facebook: 945k likes
RI: 0.88
EI: 3.17

Google Trends: 3
RI: 0.43
EI: 1.00

Tweets: 306
RI: 0.19
EI: 0.98

YouTube Views: 139,000
RI: 0.41
EI: 1.07

Subreddit: 17,470 subscribers
RI: 0.27
EI: 0.27

Average Runescape Index of 0.44 and Eve Index of 1.30.

Estimated peak player counts for MapleStory: 40,558 – 42,367

4. Blade and Soul

Blade and Soul 4th most played free mmorpg

Blade and Soul is the latest big MMORPG to launch as fully free to play. The action based combat serves as the primary draw, but it’s unclear whether the other features will be enough to keep the game’s current position. My guess is that by 2017, Blade and Soul will no longer be in the top 5 most played free MMORPGs. For now though, let’s enjoy 4th place!

Facebook: 184k likes
RI: 0.17
EI: 0.62

Google Trends: 5
RI: 0.71
EI: 1.66

Tweets: 295
RI: 0.18
EI: 0.94

YouTube Views: 519,178
RI: 1.53
EI: 4.01

Subreddit: 27,206 subscribers
RI: 0.42
EI: 0.21

Average Runescape Index of 0.60 and Eve Index of 1.49.

Interested in playing Blade and Soul? Click here.

Estimated peak player counts for Blade and Soul: 46,486 – 57,773

3. Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 3rd most played free mmorpg

This a weird hybrid of free to play and buy to play, but since a free to play version of Guild Wars 2 does exist, I felt that it was fair game to include. Heart of Thorns wasn’t particularly well received (mainly due to price), but I’m confident that ArenaNet will redeem themselves. And things aren’t all bad if these estimated player counts are anywhere near accurate.

Facebook: 1.115m likes
RI: 1.04
EI: 3.74

Google Trends: 5
RI: 0.71
EI: 2.5

Tweets: 999
RI: 0.62
EI: 3.19

YouTube Views: 165,846
RI: 0.48
EI: 1.28

Subreddit: 129,024 subscribers
RI: 1.98
EI: 2.00

Average Runescape Index of 0.97 and Eve Index of 2.54.

Interested in playing Guild Wars 2? Click here.

Estimated peak player counts for Guild Wars 2: 79,245 – 93,400

2. RuneScape

RuneScape 2nd most played free mmorpg

RuneScape actually provides player counts, it’s technically free to play, and by my calculations it is definitely one of the most played free MMOs out there. It’s also the oldest of the games on this list, beating out MapleStory by two years. RuneScape is continuously updated, accessible, and traditional yet progressive enough to capture old and new fans alike.

Actual peak player counts for RuneScape: 96,289

1. Star Wars: The Old Republic

SWTOR: most played free mmorpg

Like a lot of free MMORPGs, SWTOR also includes a premium subscription model. It was also originally released as a paid title but has since followed the freemium path. These numbers seem to suggest that it was a wise decision to transition to free to play. I don’t see any game on the horizon that will knock SWTOR off it’s pedestal.

Facebook: 2.497m likes
RI: 2.33
EI: 8.38

Google Trends: 6 (Star Wars The Old Republic + SWTOR)
RI: 0.86
EI: 2.00

Tweets: 2,259
RI: 1.4
EI: 7.22

YouTube Views: 199,860
RI: 0.59
EI: 1.55

Subreddit:  58,903 subscribers
RI: 0.90
EI: 0.91

Average Runescape Index of 1.22 and Eve Index of 4.01.

Interested in playing Star Wars: The Old Republic? Click here.

Estimated peak player counts for Star Wars: The Old Republic: 117,472 – 125,107

Do these results surprise you? How accurate do you think I am? Do these quantitative analytical posts appeal to you?

And if a publisher wants to spill their player count secrets to indulge an internet stranger in their prideful player estimates, feel free to reach out!

Methodology

All right, so the post is technically is “over” but my simple explanation of the numbers didn’t do it for you? Read on for the finer details…

For both RuneScape and Eve Online, I used peak player counts from 7/12 – 7/18. RuneScape gave a count of 96,289 and Eve Online a count of 31,199. These are the numbers that are multiplied by the average RuneScape and Eve Indices. To explain in more detail, I’ve included an example: Let’s say “Example MMORPG A” has half the reddit, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google numbers as RuneScape. That would make for an average RuneScape Index (RI) value of 0.5. Let’s say those same numbers give us a 1.25 on the Eve Index (EI). I would then estimate peak player population at 38,998 (from EI) to 48,144 (from RI).

I combined reddit, Facebook, YouTube, Google trends, and Tweets to get a search and social media picture across more stable elements (reddit/Facebook) and trending recent elements (Trends, Tweets) with YouTube somewhere in the middle. Subreddit subscribers and Facebook page likes do change over time but are relatively slow. For tweets, I used hashtags related to the game for a period of a week between 7/12 – 7/18. With Google Trends, I looked at 2016 numbers using 2004 – present as the time range to keep an easily consistent index. Finally, for YouTube I ranked videos in the past year by views and selected the 10th ranked video. This seemed to be a sweet spot for where the game itself was heavily responsible for the views as opposed to one off success videos.

I did not use SteamCharts because not every game is on Steam. It’s also unclear what percentage of players use Steam vs. the client directly for any given MMORPG. I did not use Twitch because viewers are heavily skewed by the streamers themselves.

With Blade and Soul, I used the Google Trend numbers two months after release instead of the month of release. I believe this is a more accurate representation of the current population and if anything is still too high.

I did not include the more broad spectrum of the genre such as general free to play MMOs like Warframe or MOBAs like League of Legends. Only “true” MMORPGs were considered and researched. These stats are perhaps a bit west leaning, but I would consider these worldwide player peak estimates. Obviously high levels of estimation negatively impact precision, but I will say that I feel pretty good about the rankings of the games.