What can Steam tell us about MMORPGs in general?

So I decided to drop by the Steam Charts website today, to see if a theory of mine was actually supported by hard numbers, and what I found was both intriguing and validating. You see,my theory is this: That the MMORPG genre has basically weathered the storm, and while many games may not be exactly what one would consider healthy, they are surviving,and the genre as a whole has entered a state of stasis at this point.

In short, the genre isn’t dying.

But what was interesting was the concurrency numbers themselves on certain MMORPGs. First off, I know not everyone plays MMORPGs over Steam. In fact, relatively few actually do play their MMOs through Steam, as opposed to launching through the game’s base software. But that doesn’t make the numbers on Steam any less valid, it simply shows a subset of the community, rather than the community as a whole. We can still use these numbers to show trends in the playerbase, and overall, they show one thing:

The playerbase numbers on MMOs that are listed on Steam are not quite what one might think. For example, many people think of “Lord of the Rings Online” as a failed game, the same for “Rift”. But “Everquest II” is sometimes cited as a game with a good community, that might not be sporting population numbers like “World of Warcraft”, but is certainly holding their own.

If I told you one of those games is averaging around 900 players per day, one was averaging around 500 per day, and one only around 150/day, which numbers would you assign to each of the three games I mentioned? If you assigned them in the order I listed them in, you’d be right, but I suspect many of you did not.

Why? Because EQ2 has an excellent marketing machine behind them, and neither LOTRO nor “Rift” can say the same.

Meanwhile, you have games like “Fallen Earth” and “APB: Reloaded”, which are both generally accepted to be barely hanging on, and clearly in the realm of “Failed Games”, right? You may not have thought about either of them in years, I know I rarely have, and I have been actively covering MMORPGs in a blog and podcast for over a decade!

Well, you’d be right about FE. They are averaging around 50 players a day the last few months, and have been slowly declining for the last few years. Unless things turn around soon, I don’t expect to see “Fallen Earth” last much longer. But, that said, someone really likes “APB”, because it is holding on rather well, at over a thousand players per day, on average, for the last few years. It is also in a slow decline, but not nearly as bad as FE is, and is doing rather well, compared to many other games on the market.

In the end though, through all of the MMORPGs I was able to study over Steam Charts, one thing held true for most of the genre: The numbers weren’t erratic. Some may not have been as high as others, and some may have shown a declining trend, but none were displaying massive spikes and valleys in their concurrency charts. While there will always be some fluctuation in the numbers here or there, the MMORPGs I studied did not show display any erratic behavior, which might indicate a transient community, that doesn’t care about a given game.

You see, that’s what really matters here. Whether a game is seeing 100 players log in on Steam per day, or they are seeing thousands, if the concurrency numbers hold relatively steady over time, it shows a community that is willing to stick it out for the long haul. And if a game can boast a loyal community, as a general rule, it isn’t shutting down anytime soon.

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