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New World Newsfeed: Second Life Rises To 6th Most Popular PC Game/MMO for April (But Slips to 2nd Most Played)

Nielsen April Reports

Nielsen Games recently posted its April ratings for PC games/MMOs run from client installs, and as with their March numbers, they make for enlightening reading. Second Life increased its total audience share by about 63%, pushing its ranking from eight to six among the top ten. Curiously, this meant it substantially leaped ahead of Half-Life 2 in popularity. I believe Nielsen counts any Valve game running the HL2 engine in this category, including Team-Fortress 2 and CounterStrike: Source, though I'm not certain. In any case, Second Life's concurrency rates are competitive with Valve's top games. Total average minutes played also leaped, from 760 in March to 842 in April. Mysteriously, however, the much less popular Lord of the Rings Online was played even more hours than Second Life that month. And one key point for hardcore gamers to understand: an online chess game is almost as popular as World of Warcraft. Anyway, side-by-side comparison of March and April figues after the break.

March to April Comparison

(Background and methodology from an interview with Nielsen's Brad Rackza here.)

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Nexii Malthus

The reason we have to thank for SLs' relatively high position is that it breaks many country boundaries with a client that can still run on slightly older computers.

Still, I feel quite a buzz as a hardcore gamer to see my favourite virtual world leading a head to head competitive stake in concurrency.

Arcadia Codesmith

I still think the headline is relying on a very specific and somewhat misleading definition of "popular". The list is ranked on TMP% (a metric derived by combining total minutes played with raw audience share) rather than just audience share. If we could see the full list (for which I presume we would have to pay a healthy sum), ranking by share would see Second Life much, much lower on the list. In other words, I suspect there are dozens of games with higher audience share but whose average minutes played didn't make the cut.

In other words, Second Life is indisputably popular with Second Life players, but I'd like to see more raw data on audience share before I'd declare it top ten anything (outside of the narrow category of social virtual worlds).

Looking at average server concurrency figures, I'm standing by my original assessment that active usage of Second Life is on roughly the same scale as Eve Online, a solid and profitable MMORPG that is nonetheless a niche title compared to the top ranks of MMOs.

Geek Barbie sez: Shopping is hard. Let's go to the math lab!

Hamlet Au

Arcadia, the "Share" category is the absolute percentage of US computer owners who are playing that given game/MMO. That's how SL is number 2 in total minutes, but number 6 in total users.

But WTF with LOTRO all of a sudden? Was there a free giveaway or something?

Arcadia Codesmith

I haven't been following LOTRO, but I'd speculate that they had a "return to Middle Earth" promotion and/or released a major content update in April. I think the big Mines of Moria expansion was during the holiday season, so I'm not sure what they've done since. Whatever it was, apparently it worked.

Iggy O

@Arcadia, I've a friend who is BIG into LOTRO, and he told me that lots of players are just now getting to Moria--this could explain the upsurge. It's a tough part of the game, and it takes many hours to get through the mines and survive: hence any uptick in hours online per week.

Henri Beauchamp

Making comparisons between a game such as WOW or Half Life and a virtual world such as SL is like comparing a Porsche (or Ferrari: I'm not partial to a given brand) with a commercial vehicle that your boss provides you with for free:

- Not everyone can afford playing on paying online games sites, while everyone can register and log in SL for free. It means that, for a start, only SL users with "Payment info on file" (i.e. paying customers) should be counted.

- Also, you don't use a Porsche to transport stuff, but only to transport yourself (and possibly your girl friend) when you use the commercial vehicle to transport anything and anyone. Wow is a purely role-playing game. SL is anything you want it to be (from a role-playing platform to a meeting place for corporate users)... You just can't compare.

Should you want to make a sensible comparison, you should count only the role-players among the SL *Premium account* owning residents.
The figures would then be *much* less favourable to SL...

Arcadia Codesmith

Along the lines of what Henri is saying, I'd say the most direct competetors to SL in the gaming category are free-to-play browser-based games like Runescape, Puzzle Pirates and Free Realms... which are specifically excluded from the list along with social networking apps and sites.

In terms of metrics, it's a muddle. Nielsen measures actual usage, but they exclude some categories, measure only American usage, and only publish the top ten as a teaser for the meaty data, which isn't free. I don't know if we have an accurate, fair and consistant metric to compare game and non-game, free and subscription virtual worlds.

I think Nielsen's audience share is probably closest, but I couldn't say for sure unless they dumped me in the raw data and let me wade around for awhile :)

Hamlet Au

It's definitely valuable to also count paying users versus non-paying users, but IMO it's even more important to count total active users. Because then you're tracking where the total audience is going, and what they're doing. For a long long time, game publishers sort of dismissed freemium virtual worlds out of hand, because they didn't have as many paying subscribers. Then they started noticing that those worlds were *huge*, tens of millions of kids who were playing these free games, and not paying to play theirs.

Somewhat related to that, this Nielsen chart tracks a lot of other games that are also free to play online -- all of them except LOTRO and WoW, I think. Plus most of these games are so old, they can be bought at a nominal cost to begin with. You can get a new copy of Warcraft III for $20 on Amazon, for example.

Tonatiuh

If categories doesn't matter, why not including that very popular puzzle like title called AutoCAD from Autodesk? A bit expensive, though so engaging that even IT departments install it for their workers!

And there is also this very successful game title called Skype, a bit boring at the beginning when compared with WoW but it really is massive? And it's free!

alexis bonte

Unfortunately Nielsen is quite famous for how inaccurate their stats are.
I've never been in a company where their stats were remotely similar to the real ones. Also it all depends on what number you pick, for example eRepublik just reached 1 million monthly visitors according to google analytics and that according to latest studies I've seen on second life is a little more (with all due respect to second life who have an impressive product)

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