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A meta-analysis of academic and commercial public research pertaining to MMOs


A virtual world is a genre of online community that often takes the form of a computer-based simulated environment, through which users can interact with one another and use and create objects[1]. Also: MMO (massively multiplayer online)

Second Life, etc.

Aion, City of Heroes, Star Trek Online, World of Warcraft, etc.

Massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) is a genre of computer roleplaying games in which a very large number of players interact with one another within a virtual game world. MMORPGs are played throughout the world.[2] Worldwide revenues for MMORPGs exceeded half a billion dollars in 2005,[3] and Western revenues exceeded US$1 billion in 2006.[4] In 2008, Western consumer spending on subscription MMOGs grew to $1.4 billion.[5] World of Warcraft, a popular MMORPG, had over 12 million subscribers as of October 2010.

Some History


1st graphical MMOs


Modern MMOs


Popular Games (1997-2008)

9,500,000 9,000,000 8,500,000 8,000,000 7,500,000 7,000,000 Total Current Subscriptions 6,500,000 6,000,000 5,500,000 5,000,000 4,500,000 4,000,000
Ultima Online Lineage EverQuest Dark Age of Camelot RuneScape Final Fantasy XI EVE Online Star Wars Galaxies Lineage II Dofus EverQuest II World of Warcraft The Lord of the Rings Online

MMOG Active Subscriptions 200,000+

3,000,000 2,500,000 2,000,000 1,500,000 1,000,000 500,000 0 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008

Market share

Research approaches

Academic/scholarly research

Sociology Psychology Anthropology Law Economics Qualitative and quantitative

Commercial research

Market research Usability testing Analysis of subscription/play data Surveys Benchmarking Competitive research

Research Themes
About gamers/market
Age Gender Marital status/kids Games played Locations Occupations Education/Income Purchase data/trends Usability Attrition

Play behaviors
Player lifecycle

Player lifecycle Preferred business models Advertising/marketing venues Buying habits

Play styles Effects, violence, addiction


Research findings

MMO Demographics

City of Heroes/Villains Study

10000 8000 6000 4000 2000 0 CoX Study: Gender Count CoX Study: Gender Percentage Axis Title


No answer 168 1.69%

Female (F) 1183 11.88%

Male (M) 8594 86.29%

55 or older (6) 40-54 (5) 25-39 (4)

19-24 (3) 14-18 (2)

Under 13 (1) No answer 0 No answer CoX Study: Age Count CoX Study: Age Percentage 1000 Under 13 (1) 2000 14-18 (2) 3000 19-24 (3) 4000 25-39 (4) 5000 40-54 (5) 6000 55 or older (6) 74 0.74%

104 1.04%

88 0.88%

1189 11.94%

2077 20.85%

5288 53.09%

1125 11.30%

City of Heroes/Villains Study

Skills: Patience
Not important (3) Somewhat important (2) Extremely important (1) No answer 0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000 7000 8000 No answer 33. What skills do you think are necessary to be successful in a multi-player game like City of Villains or City of Villains? [Patience] Percentage 33. What skills do you think are necessary to be successful in a multi-player game like City of Villains or City of Villains? [Patience] Count Extremely Somewhat Not important (1) important (2) important (3)









Location specifics: Europe

Categorizing players/personas

Bartles Types

Achiever Socializer Explorer Killer

Yees Facets (why they play)

In the beginning it was just for fun, but now it's is more because I want to progress, wanna be the best in in the class, be able to make the best items, be highest lvl. In others words I guess it's that I want the other people to look up at me like that guy is good. [M, 19]

Other motivations

Aesthetic Transmedia storytelling Social/organization management


MMO Play

Maslows Hierarchy of Needs

Player priorities
CoX Study: Desired Features
Added content for level 50 characters (9) Individual Player housing (8)

Social gathering areas (5) In-game auctions (4) Crafting/skills system (3) New powers (2) New archetypes (1) 0 500 1000 1500 2000 2500 3000 3500

New Crafting/sk In-game New archetype ills system auctions powers (2) s (1) (3) (4)

More ingame Expanded Added events / Improved Individual Social content for (such as Player-vs- Player gathering level 50 holiday housing player areas (5) characters and gameplay (8) (9) (7) Valentine events) (6) 1.32% 9.13% 2.47% 5.61% 14.69%

47. Of the following features, which would be the most important to you to have added to City of Villains and/or City of Villains?[Ranking 1] Percentage 47. Of the following features, which would be the most important to you to have added to City of Villains and/or City of Villains?[Ranking 1] Count














PvP vs PvE
PvP Preferences
No, I tend to avoid PvP. (3) I don't mind being in a PvP environment, but I don't attack other players (2) Very much! Where's the fun in whacking NPCs? (1) No answer 0 500 1000 1500 2000 2500 3000 3500 4000

PvP has been my greatest surprise. By far my preferred style of multi-player action is co-operative play against a computer opponent, but I've learned to appreciate the adrenaline rush associated with playing against a human opponent, perhaps because every situation is difficult to grasp, and unpredictable compared to encounters with scripted resistance. [WoW, M, 21]

No answer

I don't mind Very much! being in a PvP Where's the fun environment, in whacking but I don't attack other NPCs? (1) players (2) 28.69% 28.45%

No, I tend to avoid PvP. (3)

17. Do you enjoy player vs. player game environments? Percentage 17. Do you enjoy player vs. player game environments? Count







Stickiness of Social Experiences

3rd spaces Feeling needed Some player groups move from VW to VW together Org leadership

I was a fairly casual player for quite some time, until I discovered raiding. I became extremely passionate and competitive about raiding. I would tell myself it was just because I wanted to see the content ... but if I'm going to be honest, it was more for the feeling of importance that I was getting from the game, from being in a leadership position, from being in a top guild. I was addicted to that feeling. [WoW, F, 26]

I started to play World of Warcraft because my boyfriend got me a Beta account and got me interested in it. We were searching for an activity we could do together over the internet since we have to overcome a large distance and don't see another often in real time due to this. We got my brother and a friend of us interested in the game as well and played together since that time. So the main motivation at the beginning was to do something together, spend time with another and have fun. [WoW, F, 23]

When I started playing, I was only interested in exploring, figuring out how things worked. I hardly ever talked to anyone. Over time I started to talk to people around me, until eventually I did little *besides* talking to people, running a tavern nearly day-to-day for several months. [PlaneShift, M, 26]

I now play because of the social aspect. The guild I ended up in led to these changes, as I play with a couple real life friends. Over time I developed some very close relationships with people in my guild and my motivations for playing have now remained very constant. [WoW,

Player skills/benefits

Communication Leadership Collaboration Sense of humor Patience Second language development Digital literacy More social More organizationally and politically active Happiness Diversity/acceptance Merit-based system
I have learned that praise in a team environment is incredibly important. [CoX, male, 14-18]

At first it was just to play a game, meet new people, and learn more about myself. Now my motivations have changed a lot, as I am a two-time guild leader. I have realized thru kalonline, that I am an idealist, and will stick to my core values of honor, kindness and integrity. Those 3 words that are the purpose of any guild I lead. That is my motivation, to not only be an example of honor, but to be a good man, friend, father figure to others, so that they have a model of what kind of person they can be. [KalonOnline, M, 44]

Other Insights

Women are the hardest core of MMO players; a bigger percentage of women run guilds Many players play MMOs solo; they want the experience of having players around, but dont wish to interact with them Gender swapping is common, but typically male to female Younger players often lie about their age to bypass restrictions, or to experiment socially with being older Character customization is a big draw for all players, but particularly younger, female players

I first started playing WoW because my husband wanted me to try it out. To my surprise, I actually liked it. I quickly learned that I was very good at making money and I really liked loot. I also started out as a solo player. Now we play together and are always grouped. I used to never do dungeons and now we have a group that does one every Friday night. [WoW, F, 30]

In a watershed discovery last year, researchers at Nottingham Trent University in the UK found that threequarters of online role-players form close relationships with those they meet in their online worlds, with one in 10 of those connections culminating in real-world coitus.
"Gender Swapping and Socializing in Cyberspace: An Exploratory Study," the study was conducted by Zaheer Hussain and Mark Griffiths

Player lifecycles
1) Starting: The player has just started playing the game and everything is new and exciting. In the beginning, I was excited to discover new things and was mostly playing solo and loving it. Later I was more drawn to instances and having a fun guild. Now I have come to a point where what I want is to be in a 'serious' guild in order to do high end instances and raids, as well as hone my PvP skills and participate in PvP competitively. [WoW, M, 25]

2) Ramping Up: The player has learned the basics and is now busy progressing through the content (whether leveling or crafting). They have a sense of where they want to be and are heading for that goal.

3) Mastery: The player is at the higher-end of the game and is either wellsituated in a guild and doing raids, or happily soloing high level quests, or competing in PvP content.

4) Burn Out: The player feels like theyve done everything they can do in the game, or they are beginning to feel burned out from all the raid and social obligations from their guild. They wonder where all the fun went.

5) Casual / Recovery: The player has figured out a way to play the game without burning out. They may be doing intermittent raids, logging in casually to play with friends, casually leveling alts, etc.

Buying preferences
Market research firm Parks Associate has released a study claiming subscription-based MMOs aren't dropping enough loot for its players. According to the group's Electronic Gaming in the Digital Home II study, only the hardcore gamers were into the subscription model, whereas the casual gamer showed "significant interest" in the free-to-play, microtransaction model. Another part of the study found that, of the non-MMO players polled, 14% would be interested to play if they could play for free, whereas only 2% of that group was interested in subscription-based MMOs. As we always caution, studies generally aren't worth more than the pixels they're displayed on (unless it's a nice monitor, then they're probably worth less). In a recent polling at Joystiq HQ, games that are "free to play" were also seven times more likely to grab our attention than games that weren't free.


Waste? Abuse? Violence?

Gold farming/sweat shops Media effects of violence Addiction/problematic usage/time suck Ongoing costs (subscriptions, items)

In basic terms, gold-farming is a sizeable phenomenon. The rather wobbly-legged best guesses for 2008 are that 400,000 gold farmers earning an average US$145 per month produced a global market worth US$500m; but we could easily more than double the latter to over US$1bn. There are probably 5-10m consumers of gold farming services. The main uncertainty of estimation relates to the gold-farming market in East Asia, which appears much larger than that in the US/EU. That uncertainty in part arises because gold farming operates at four levels local, national, regional and global. We should encompass all four but, to date, the focus has been almost entirely on the global trade. tions/wp/di/documents/di_wp32.pdf

The myth of the girl gamer


The Myth of the Gamer Girl: True Demographic or Anthropological Hooha?

Pop Culture Influences

Leroy Jenkins Toyota Tacoma: WoW commercial South Park: Make love not Warcraft China Coke

Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Henry Jenkins /03/transmedia_generation. html

(Images are links)

In summary

What does it all mean?

The market opportunity is much bigger than many anticipate

Forays into alternative lore/fictional universes could be beneficial (WoW was based on an existing game universe)

New console hardware and a rich gadget ecosystem might affect player attention and expectations

The industry is still codifying game conventions, user interfaces, etc. Some aspects (like the compass or character sliders) have become somewhat ubiquitous and players tend to understand how they work

Experienced players are tiring of the grind, and prefer games that allow for rich social interactions

The industry is still young and the future ripe with possibilities: augmented reality, alternate reality games, transmedia storytelling, etc.

We know what we are, but know not what we may be.

Shakespeare, William



The Daedalus Project (Nick Yee)

Terra Nova blog

Constance Steinkuehler (Lineage) Richard Bartle: Designing Virtual Worlds TL Taylor When the Sopranos Met Everquest Galarneau and Zibit: Online Games for 21st Century Skills Videogame Theory Reader DiGRA papers

MMOGChart Data

Total MMOG Active Subscriptions - Absolute Contribution

17,000,000 16,000,000 15,000,000 14,000,000 13,000,000 12,000,000 Total Current Subscriptions 11,000,000 10,000,000 9,000,000 8,000,000 7,000,000 6,000,000 5,000,000 4,000,000 3,000,000

Pirates of the Burning Sea Tabula Rasa Pirates of the Caribbean Online The Lord of the Rings Online Vanguard: Saga of Heroes Auto Assault Dungeons & Dragons Online The Matrix Online World of Warcraft EverQuest II Neocron 2 Dofus City of Heroes / Villains Era of Eidolon Horizons Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates Sphere Lineage II Star Wars Galaxies Second Life Toontown Online PlanetSide EVE Online Mankind Shadowbane EverQuest Online Adventures A Tale in the Desert There The Sims Online Asheron's Call 2 Neocron Earth & Beyond Final Fantasy XI RuneScape Tibia Motor City Online Dark Age of Camelot

1,000,000 0 1997

Majestic World War II Online Anarchy Online Asheron's Call EverQuest Lineage












Ultima Online The Realm Online