Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hey, you got your Virtual Chocolate in my Sculptey Peanut Butter! or, how to rank MMOs / Metaverses?

What a fascinating conversation has arisen from GigaOm's Top 10 MMO post. The ranking discussion has focused around reported figures of "active users" and I have a few comments on this ranking.

1. Apples (Registered Users) != Cherries (Active Users) : Most MMO systems report their userbase as Registered Users, which correlates to our public Residents metric. This includes Second Life users who registered on the website but have never logged in, for lots of reasons including "didn't want to download a client", "don't have fast enough video card to run", "don't have broadband", etc. Clay's well publicized criticism on valleywag calls this out - for us. What about the rest of the lot? For MMO Games that "never logged in" number would be much lower, as generally their login process includes a shrinkwrapped box with Minimum System Requirements printed clearly on the wrapper, and the product is marketed clearly at the Computer Gamer demographic- as opposed to the Metaverse target user, which is "everyone- who wants a Second Life", but that number of "never logged in" still exists for them- who reports it, besides us? It also includes users who logged in previously but have not logged on recently. There are lots of comments here, here, here, and here about how the reported numbers for other systems include inactive users. Personally, Registered users is one of the most irrelevant and distracting metrics you can discuss, as it is subject to the whelms of public attention, and will swell and shrink dramatically weekly in unexpected ways, based on Media focus. Try to relate Registered Users to the metrics of early-90s websites, and their long-term retention to get a sense of relevance.

2. Logged in Users (Oranges) != Active users (Cherries): Total hits of users on any social online system will be divided between those browsing it, and those contributing to it. Those contributing will invest more time and attention, and make the system more valuable. We report Logged in users overall for the month, and break it down by Gender. Active users we go much further and break down by Country and by Age Band. This is a more interesting set of data, on who is building our Better Life, in my humble opinion.

3. Hours spent inworld == more pertinent metric.
Counts of Users, like Hitcounts, can always be gamed. Real attention is measured in real time invested. Second Life is much more than a website, it is a fully engaging Application with lots of Resources available. Residents who find the resources valuable will spend time here, and expand them. Browsers who don't find what they're looking for will look elsewhere. There are other online worlds experiencing this disparity. 

4. Active Users (Cherries) == "fully engaged users". This is always a grey area, as there is a gradient at play here on who contributes more, but there are obvious trends. I declare Active users as someone who spends more than a cumulative Hour on the system in a Month. These are our "sweet spot" users where the system meets their needs and they are investing their time and creativity to make the system better. They are contributing their communications, content, and social networks. They're Building, and Scripting, and creating groups. Active Users will include our community of blogging residents, designers, and otherwise Business Owners- whether through inworld products, services, or connectivity/marketing to outer web presences. Most are spending a lot more than 1 hour a month, once they break that barrier.

5. Metaverse != MMO Game: This topic has been flogged ceaselessly, but it's important to point out in this discusion. An MMPORG will have different demographics from a Metaverse. That is not to say that overall comparison isn't valuable, let's just make sure we're taking at least Oranges to Oranges. I don't expect every MMO worldwide to start disclosing their ratios of Cherries, but indeed, let's discard the Bad Apples from the conversation.


slhamlet said...

I helped Blake put that list together, actually, and insisted on counting MMOs like Habbo and Gaia and yes, Second Life, together with traditional MMORPGs like WoW. While the content and audience for each is somewhat or greatly different, the fact remains that they all feature a real time, graphically simulated world where users interact as avatars. Doing this illustrates how large the audience for MMOs/virtual worlds really is. (A point occluded by the general fixation on D&D-style MMOs to the near exclusion of nearly all other varieties.)

Meta said...

Thanks for the first comment, Hamlet! Yes, I definitely see the value in comparing the MMPORGs along with Virtual Worlds, there really are some serious similarities that make the comparisons interesting and valuable. I guess my thought is that it'll be a little challenging ensuring that we're comparing the same numbers, given that we all have different subscription models, usage models, and different definitions for our metrics. My hope is that public discussion of these will make this easier. I look forward to meeting more of the publishers of other figures to discuss.

rikomatic said...

My take on measuring VW engagement.

Shava said...

There's something to consider here, too, which is that today there is an obvious and broad difference between social networking communities (livejournal, myspace,,...) and MMOs (WOW, Lord of the Rings Online, EQII), and Second Life or There or what have you in the metaverse space.

However, my prediction is that in 3-5 years there will be a convergence that will make these communities similar in tech, if not in purpose and demographic.

A good example of convergence today might be an MMO such as Eve Online, which has strong cooperation and community, a complex economy -- and is almost entirely user created content.

Such a game is much closer to a metaverse than to a "finite state" MMO such as WOW.

Eventually (one might hope!) SL will have a stable, well performing, and tool rich environment such that SpellFire and other game systems will give rise to more graceful gaming opportunities in SL.

And at some point, the network of blogs on the "outside" of SL will evolve into a 'verse of blogs more closely accessible through RSS in world or some other future mechanisms, such that when you log in, you will sit down and read your SL feed with a virtual cup of coffee, to catch up on what's important to your second life.

Almost certainly this last is going to require a full redefinition of groups or some second mechanism to track levels of affinity within the community.

Shava Nerad
Shava Suntzu in SL (hi, Meta! :)