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Summary:

Probably not, as it turns out; certainly not in the Western hemisphere, anyway. Working with publicly-known figures, veteran MMO developer Raph Koster recently made this observation on his blog: [I]t may be possible that World of Warcraft is actually sitting around #4 or #5 in the […]

Probably not, as it turns out; certainly not in the Western hemisphere, anyway. Working with publicly-known figures, veteran MMO developer Raph Koster recently made this observation on his blog:

[I]t may be possible that World of Warcraft is actually sitting around #4 or #5 in the top MMOs in North America and Europe.

This is because while Blizzard claims 8.5 million subscribers (as of January 2007) only 3.5 million are based in the West. Let’s be generous and assume the game’s recent expansion pack boosted that to 4 million– even then, WoW would be trailing far behind the top Western MMO.

So which virtual world rules this region? The name will surprise you – but here is a clue: it is based in Finland, and doesn’t involve bashing Orcs in the head.
Habbo.comHabbo Hotel from Sulake boasts 7.5 million unique active users a month, according to a spokeswoman. Primarily for teens, the web-based social game is extraordinarily popular in Europe, and is beginning to promote a US version in earnest.

But that means WoW is still the most popular worldwide, right? Even that’s not certain. Blizzard’s own definition of subscriber [bottom of the link] includes everybody who “purchased the game and are within their free month of access.” However, if you assume a churn rate of folks who try the game but give up before the month ends, and others who stop playing but don’t get around to canceling their monthly subscription, that would put WoW neck-and-neck with Habbo.

None of this is meant to take anything away from WoW’s success, of course; it indisputably remains the most popular subscriber-based, traditional fantasy MMORPG that runs on a non-Web client. The thing is, that just means Warcraft rules but a small segment of the virtual world space.

It’s important to make these distinctions, because for too long, the game industry has been defining what counts as an MMO. As I recently argued, it only includes the fairly narrow conception of fantasy RPG games that its Lost Boy constituency are personally interested in.

It also confuses matters to count WoW’s Asian subscribers with their Western counterparts, because in Asia, Warcraft is primarily played in Internet cafes on a by-the-hour basis; in China, some 4 million players pay about 4 cents an hour. (People often assume all 8.5 million are paying a monthly subscription.) In the end, investors and analysts come away with a mistaken perspective on a virtual world market that is, when you take a broader view, forecast to claim 80% of active Internet users by 2011. But most of them won’t be acting like elves.

So what are the other MMOs giving WoW a run for its gold coins? Stay tuned, we are working on compiling a top ten, set to run next week. The results, as they say, may surprise you.

Image credit: Habbo.com.

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  1. John Thacker Sunday, June 10, 2007

    It’s important to make these distinctions, because for too long, the game industry has been defining what counts as an MMO.

    Well, considering that you keep switching between different terms like “MMORPG” and “MMO,” of course it makes sense to try to define the terms. Habbo Hotel is not an RPG, so it’s not an MMORPG. It is a virtual world, and it certainly can be considered a massively multiplayer online game. Habbo Hotel falls in the same category as Second Life, for instance.

    MMORPGs are the oldest form of MMOs, so it’s not surprising that many people think of them when they think of MMOs. It’s perfectly natural to think of the others types as something different. You seem to be complaining that MMOs which are not primarily games are being made by people who specialize in things other than games, and that the games industry concentrates on thinking about, competing, and making MMOs which are games.

    The virtual world MMOs, which are all tremendously popular, are made by companies that are programming companies, even if they don’t make pure games. It seems that you’re claiming that the companies aren’t part of the game industry because they concentrate on these type of games (or have only one big product), therefore self-justifying your claim that none of these MMOs are made by the games industry.

    It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. You read out of the games industry any company that makes these social worlds, and then proclaim that the games industry isn’t interested in them. Perhaps companies just specialize.

  2. Trip Hop Clan » Blog Archive » WoW is not the king of the MMO Sphere Sunday, June 10, 2007

    [...] Is World of Warcraft really the most popular MMO? – GigaOM Probably not, as it turns out; certainly not in the Western hemisphere, anyway. Working with publicly-known figures, veteran MMO developer Raph Koster recently made this observation on his blog: It may be possible that World of Warcraft is actually sitting around #4 or #5 in the top MMOs in North America and Europe. [...]

  3. Stan Schroeder Sunday, June 10, 2007

    MMORPG = Massively Multiplayer Online RolePlaying Game.
    MMO = Massively Multiplayer Online

    See the problem? Massively multiplayer online…what? If you ask me, Second Life is not a MMORPG and it’s not a MMOG, and it doesn’t really compete with WoW. And same probably goes for Habbo Hotel (which I admittedly haven’t tried out).

  4. habbo hotel is a nice user interface for chatting. WoW is a game. They both fall under entertainment but they have nothing to do to each other. Habbo has more things in common with myspace facebook etc.

    what is not addressed in the article is the cash machine that wow is compared to habbo and its growth in the chinese region

  5. Top Posts « WordPress.com Sunday, June 10, 2007

    [...] Is World of Warcraft really the most popular MMO? [image]Probably not, as it turns out; certainly not in the Western hemisphere, anyway. Working with publicly-known […] [...]

  6. Yeah, I’d have to agree with Rodolfo that comparing Habbo and WOW isn’t really that meaningful. You might as well compare Madden and ICQ. Club Penguin, Puzzle Pirates, and Runescape are all better candidates than Habbo if you’re looking for Western comparables. But, you need to account for business model differences.

  7. Disappointing (but not unexpected) that you didn’t take anything on board from the responses to your previous article along these lines.

  8. Er… First of all “purchased the game and are within their free month of access” means that they are paying even more than the monthly fee.
    Actual monthly fee for WoW is around 12 Euro per month (depending on various factors). That means that the nearly 4 million active players are paying smt like 45-50 million Euro per month. Ok… Eastern customers pay on a hour basis but they usually play more than westerns and 6-8 hours per day is not uncommon… But just making the hypothesis of only a medium of 4 hours per day at 4 EuroCent it gives 10-15 more million Euro per month. On the overall the approximate income of WoW is smt around 50-60 million Euro per month or 600-700 million Euro per year.
    Maybe the users of WoW in the western world are not so many but I don’t think any other MMOwhatever can beat his income by now. Even the 7.5 million users of Habbo will have to buy really many furni to reach just the half of that sum. :-)

  9. Wagner James Au Monday, June 11, 2007

    The question of how much revenue WoW is making is a different issue than popularity, though.

    “MMORPGs are the oldest form of MMOs”– that’s not clear at all. The first commercial MMORPG seems to be Island of Kesmai, while the first commercial MMO was Habitat (more similar to Habbo), and both were launched roughly around 1985. As a medium, MMORPGs are clearly a sub-genre of MMOs.

  10. If you insist on mixing chat/communications tools with games, please settle on a set of metrics that are meaningful for comparing the two. “Popularity” while sounding nice is not a universally measurable quantity. Are you popular if you have lots of hits? Long sessions? Big revenues? Lots of registered users? What?

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