The Newbie Hose Continues to Spurt

Several sources that I read told me today that, during the Activision Blizzard Fourth Quarter Calendar 2009 Results Conference Call (whew!), Mike Morhaime (president of Blizzard) said the following about World of Warcraft:

“Our research shows that trial players who play World Of Warcraft past level 10 are much more likely to stick with the game for a long time. Currently, only about 30% of our trial players make it past this threshold.”

[Quote via Digital Spy. Apparently if you register on the Activision investor site you can listen to it yourself.]

Morhaime went on to talk about how they intend to use the upcoming Cataclysm expansion to improve this number, but at the moment I am more interested in the number itself. Most of the comments I’ve seen today focus on how terrible it is: OMG, 70% of trial players quit before level 10! That’s … that’s … awful! WoW is dying! Blizzard, do something!

Except it’s not terrible. It’s amazing. A five year old game, content that for the most part hasn’t been touched at all in five years, and three out of ten free trial players are putting in the 4+ hours of gameplay to get to level 10? (Remember, a new player will take longer to level than an experienced WoW-hand.) And for many players, that four hours is going to be more than one play session, which means that they have to remember to come back. Amazing.

Do you know what kind of numbers other MMOs have? Here’s a hint: For most games with downloadable trials, less than 30% make it to level 2 — let alone log in a second time. Seriously. Even new AAA boxed games that have no trial mode — which means that you’ve already paid $50 just to play — often fail to keep 30% of their players for 4 or more hours.

I know that if you haven’t seen the numbers yourself, you won’t believe me. But it’s true. Either Blizzard’s newbie game is miraculous or the people joining have other strong incentives to stick around (like friends in the game or the game’s reputation).

This is the first AAA MMO that has avoided dramatic player drop-off for so long. Normally when drop-off happens, all sorts of gameplay flaws are exposed. Eric and I have had the same discussion about World of Warcraft in various forms over the past couple of years. It goes like this:

Me: Game system X in WoW works really well.

Eric: It only works because they have an infinite newbie hose. Once the hose breaks, it will all fall apart.

But it looks like WoW’s newbie hose really is infinite. I shake my head in awe.

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22 Responses to The Newbie Hose Continues to Spurt

  1. Hulan says:

    What the betting that most of the people who don’t take the trila up to level 10 are those annoying level 1 gold sellers?

  2. Ahac says:

    Gold sellers don’t use trial accounts because general/trade chat and whispers (unless the other person whispers you first or has you on their friend list) are blocked.

  3. Stabs says:

    I think WoW has one of the best set of starter areas I have experienced over several MMOs. I also think it’s the most accessible in many ways that don’t relate to game design.

    – everyone has heard of it

    – if you ask veteran MMO players who prefer other games which MMO game a newbie should start with a high proportion will say WOW as will nearly all veteran WOW players.

    – high profile TV advertising

    – it’s one of the few games you can play without a credit card. You can still walk into a retail shop and buy a box and buy game cards. I think here in London it’s just about the only MMO for which this is true.

    – peer approval is easily gained. It’s very easy to get max level in WoW or get a fully epic geared character and casual or non-players are still impressed with this. By contrast in Eve it’s quite hard to do anything that would sound impressive to outsiders like fly a Titan or FC a serious battle.

    Two things that may impact the newbie hose over the next year or two

    – a high profile free to play game that doesn’t require a credit card. I expect to see cards for microtransaction games in shops soon where you can buy a card for cash that gives you a certain amount of cash shop points.

    – a high profile, everyone has heard of it, rival with an excellent soloable new player experience. Possibly SWTOR. Admittedly Age of Conan had this but couldn’t sustain. I think the target market is school age children but not with a “kid’s game”. Games that mainly appeal to 25+ players don’t get the newbie hose (as generally people over 25 will check it out and make their mind up relatively soon after release).

  4. Centuri says:

    “This is the first AAA MMO that has avoided dramatic player drop-off for so long.”


  5. Genda says:

    I think another factor in the relatively high retention from trial accounts is the refer-a-friend factor. Those are either people opening additional accounts for themselves or actually shepherding new friends in the game, and so these numbers are a little skewed by that.

    It fits in the overall phenomenon that is WoW that this would be the case, because who else has done any of the things they have done, numbers-wise?

    @Centuri – Eve online is a great story, but I bet that their newbie retention past 4 hours is miniscule. That has to be the worst newbie experience in MMO gaming. You REALLY have to want to push forward.

  6. Sandra says:

    Centuri: Eve is exactly the reason that that sentence includes the modifier “AAA”. :>

    Stabs: You’ll illustrated a lot of those ‘other strong incentives’ I hand-waved around quite nicely. Thanks!

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  8. Tesh says:

    Characters over level 10 don’t necessarily correlate to paying customers (subbing past the 30 days that come with the box) or even trial conversion rates. Either of those would be more valuable data.

  9. Draken says:

    It makes you wonder how many of the old games had the same problem, spend $50 just to uninstall it the next day.

    I have long wondered about EvEs slow climb in subs, I have to wonder if they have the same base number of new subs its just that they are able to add enough new content every year that they get the new guys to stick around longer, or if they are going after the 1% that they get every month who are defacto lifers

  10. Stabs says:

    @ Sandra Thanks, it’s an excellent blog post which I enjoyed reading and with which I whole-heartedly agree even though I’m now playing Eve and DDO mainly.

    @Draken Eve is definitely growing more popular although its numbers are distorted by the fact that as the game ages more and more players branch out with multiple alts. In other words the number of accounts is growing faster than the number of users but both are growing.

    New content doesn’t really matter to Eve numbers. While stuff the developers add in is nice what draws people to Eve is lurid tales of meta game drama and epic space battles and what pushes people out is losing usually or occasionally boredom.

  11. Masaq says:

    CCP spend a lot on customer acquisition, I saw a ton of Eve ads over Christmas on many websites, and anecdotal evidence suggests I’m far from alone there. Contrast that to the number of Everquest 2, SWG, Age of Conan, etc ads you saw. None, right?

    But personally I believe a lot of Eve’s growth comes from multiboxing. Not botting (although there’s a lot of that), but players running two or three pilots at once. Growth is growth though, much credit to CCP.

  12. Gx1080 says:

    If anything, the newbie EvE experience actually got WORST when they removed the Aura computer voice and make it last twice as long for combat characters (which are picked by almost all the new players).

  13. Wolfshead says:

    Nice article! Looks like it’s all about churn — ensuring that more people start playing your MMO then quit playing your MMO.

    I can appreciate that much of this growth comes from: 1) every year there are more potential new WoW players coming of age and 2) the video game culture is becoming more pervasive in our culture.

    Still, who has not hear of WoW yet that still hasn’t tried it? Where will these new subscribers come from?

    The answer is that they’re going to have to come from the people who aren’t currently interested in MMOs or video games. If that happens what will that do to the caliber of the community? Seems to me that WoW is slouching toward a future where it’s going to be all about appealing to the lowest common denominator of people.

    Interesting times are ahead.

  14. Pingback: Blizzard and SOE Agree: Improving the Newbie Experience Equals Success and Growth | Wolfshead Online

  15. Sandra says:

    The answer is that they’re going to have to come from the people who aren’t currently interested in MMOs or video games. If that happens what will that do to the caliber of the community?

    I’m pretty sure it will improve the caliber of the community immensely. :>

  16. Dave Rickey says:

    Why is the newbie hose infinite? Because no *credible* contender has appeared. Nothing else has “captured” the mantle of being the “new hotness”. Over and over, we’ve seen contenders get over 1M beta signups, even move the better part of a million boxes, but fail to have legs. We saw the same thing with EQ1, until Camelot appeared. Main difference is that EQ1 didn’t hold it quite as long (3 years rather than 5 and counting), and the flow of that hose was a lot smaller back then.

    If Eve isn’t AAA, neither was anything else that came out before WoW (it was squarely in the budget range of pre-WoW MMO’s). “WoW, but better” has proven to not be the best strategy, but nothing else has been tried since. Eve is growing an entirely different market, and has had it to itself since killing off Jumpgate1 and Earth and Beyond. We’ll see if Jumpgate2 can take that away from it (Eve does have a truly horrible newbie experience, and cruft plus design drift is hampering its incomparable PvP sandbox).


  17. BryanM says:

    Guild Wars 2 will do pretty well for itself.

    Cataclysm really did kind of surprise me – decades of those nightmarish night elf spider quests that no sane person ever would do more than once, and instead of just fixing the zone up a little, they go and refurnish the entire world.

    It’s kind of nice to know that when Blizzard decides to do something, they won’t half-ass it. Gives me a sliver of hope for their less profitable properties, like Diablo 2…

  18. Harcon says:

    Eve Online is a decent game but you have to remember that this is how eve works.

    Start with 1 account. Then as you progress you relise that having 1 account is seriously limiting. Its very difficult to generate income and pvp in a game with permanent loss, so most people buy a second account (one account to make money, another to have fun with etc). Some people even make a seperate miner account etc etc.

    Any capital ship pilot NEEDS a second account due to how the cyno system works. Its just not feasable to have a single account and be a capital ship pilot.

    Titan pilots need at least 4 accounts due to the nature of safe handeling of a titan.

    In fact, its very common to see people with 3-4 accounts in eve. In wow, 1 account is more than enough for almost everyone. But eve lets you train skils afk though.

  19. Grand says:

    Game devs need to grow some balls imo. It’s just horrible at the moments. They’re all out to beat WoW by being more WoW, which is ridiculous. We need more games like AO, EVE, AC, EQ etc. where the world is actually their own. Those games never felt like a copy of anything else. They made THEIR game and found a certain % of the market that liked their game.
    Today it seems like people look at WoW and go “Whoa, we need to get those 10 mill (or whatever) subs!” and that’s just wrong. People don’t want a more WoW-er WoW. They’ve already played that game.. They want something new, something interesting.

    If a game is good, has plenty of content and doesn’t try to suit every person on the planet and the launch isn’t rushed / screwed up, people will play it. You may not get 10 million subscribers but other games have done perfectly fine with a lot less. Setting the success-bar at WoW-numbers is ridiculous.

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  22. multiboxing says:

    I don’t suppose the blogger here has ever thought about dualboxing before?