Every month Raptr publishes their Most Played PC Games list. It's a summary of how many hours during the just past month the average Raptr member played games Raptr can track. This does not take into account all games, as some clients just don't allow Raptr to track them, but it tracks most of the really big ones. And yes, there are some questions of statistical representation, since only those gamers who've elected to create a Raptr account and be tracked are represented in the data.
However, Raptr is the only third-party/neutral tool in town that even comes close to appropriate statistical representation of how many hours gamers devote to their passion. And all in all, I believe it's probably a reasonable representation. There are no indications Raptr members are any different from all gamers in general. That's to say, they aren't all fifty year old losers living in their mom's basement who've got no life other than skewing Raptr's numbers. If you can accept their sample population as representative, then the Raptr rankings become very interesting.
So this month sees The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO) vault into the top five games played during the month. Before anyone starts complaining about this ranking, let's just say it's a given the result is from launch fever. The first month of any big game is almost always a very good showing. Take Titanfall for example. On its launch debut, it came in at number fourteen. It's off the list this month. The same could happen to TESO. Only time will tell.
What I find interesting about this ranking is that it's so high even after all the negative press TESO received throughout April. Sure, it was all wine and roses the first week, but things quickly deteriorated after reports of the duping glitch surfaced and proliferated. From that point on, I'd say negative articles outweighed positive ones by at least a two to one margin. With blood in the water, everyone is eager to see the big huge franchise fail. Why is that? No, don't answer. That question could be a blog post all its own. But can anyone really disagree with the assessment that TESO's press has been overwhelmingly negative?
Just today Kotaku Australia had the headline, "The Elder Scrolls Online Players Are Pissed About Bots." That's a bit much. I'm a TESO player, and though I'm concerned about Bots, I am not pissed about them. They are, unfortunately, as inevitable as rain here in the Pacific Northwest. But I've continued to play despite the Bots and the bad press. Evidently so have many other gamers. Even with "free" game time 1 , if the game were truly as awful and unplayable as the e-zines say, people would play some other game. Yet we kept coming back to TESO.
According to Raptr, the average TESO player racked up 45 in-game hours during April. I racked up 65 hours in TESO myself. Of course, I won't play that much this month. I only played 9 hours my first week in May. Launch fever is over. But assuming my play time drops to 40 hours total, that would put the average Raptr member at about 25 hours - providing the doom and gloom prophesies predicting high subscription loss after the first 35 days of "free" game time aren't fulfilled. We'll just have to wait and see on that, but I'll go on record and say that hasn't happened.
Certainly there will be some who drop the game. But in my experience, those are the players already looking for a reason to move on. No few of them are the same people writing all the negative articles I'll wager. But not everyone who plays TESO is unhappy with it. Going back to Raptr, when I look at the community page, I see 283,192 active members out of 412,170 total (68.7%.) Compare that to League of Legends, a very popular F2P game, at 862,843 and 2,401,613 respectively (35.9%.) Even if we compare TESO to the most popular theme-park MMO of all, World of Warcraft (WoW: 869,717 active of 1,625,533 total or 53.5%,) TESO has a long way to drop before you can really consider its subscriptions to be on the rocks. In fact, most mature big title games (Titanfall, AC4, SC2, etc.) seem to hover in the 35% to 40% range. If TESO follows suit, it'll end up with an active member count around 144,250 players on Raptr. That's better than many other games, and certainly not in any bottom percentile group, but wouldn't one expect the cousin of Skyrim (51.8%) to do better?
The only real question in my mind is, can Zenimax continue to support the game at the levels they've committed to if they don't have WoW level numbers? It's one thing to be Ubisoft with a standalone title like AC4, which I expect to set aside when finished. Or Microsoft with a FPS like Titanfall, which I'd expect to be roughly the same experience session after session; the only real variation being how well I did against all the other gamers. But TESO is an MMORPG, and MMORPG players have come to expect their world will expand as time progresses. The expectation for TESO is far different in the mind of those who play it than for non-MMORPG games. That understood, it is not the rocky first month of TESO that will spell its doom, but where the game is in terms of expansion after the first six to 12 months. With Craglorn coming "soon," I believe Zenimax understands this. But they've already put off console development. Was that a realization on their part they weren't going to get the subscriptions they'd hoped to get? I don't know, but I wouldn't bet against it.
By "free" I mean the 30 days received for buying the game and the truly free 5 days awarded for server down time. ↩