We've debated how to count game size here and here and elsewhere. Incoming Indiana University grad student Michael Fatten alerts us that Xfire, a cross-game character recording system, is gaining business steam. Thanks, Michael; his analysis below the fold.
"As Dr. Bartle reports in Designing Virtual Worlds (2003), most companies that produce online game products have historically been extremely reticent to publish any consumption metrics that could be useful to statisticians. This is understandable because of the risk that at any point those metrics could conclusively show that the game company’s own product was less popular than its competition; therefore the shared tactic seems to have been that it was better for each of them to be able to claim that they were doing very well than for any of them to try to prove it. They may no longer have that luxury.
Xfire inc. (2006) has produced an Instant Messaging facilitator aimed toward gamers who play one or more online games (www.xfire.com). It appears that the intent was to produce a communication tool where Xfire customers could more easily find their friends, no matter which synthetic world they were currently playing in. The tool is at its core an Instant Messaging service which runs in the background on the client PC. Xfire customers can chat and create friends lists like traditional IM services, but instead of just reporting whether your friends currently have Xfire turned on, Xfire reports to you what game is currently active on your friend’s computer. Ostensibly, this is so that you then may choose to log into that game and meet up with your friend.
That kind of data can be put to other uses however. Xfire maintains profile data on its customers, including how many minutes they have been logged into the various games they play. Right now there is a leader board of the top ten games that the Xfire client reports have been played by their customers in the last 24 hours. For example as of this writing [1 May 2006], among Xfire’s 4.1 million registered users, 2.9 million minutes of World of Warcraft were played in the last 24 hours. Those numbers bring this idea into immediate strategic importance. Xfire is installed on 4.1 million gamers’ computers, happily gathering information about what they are playing, when, and with whom. That data is completely outside the control of the companies that created those games.
On 24 April Viacom purchased Xfire inc. for $102 million USD.
There is of course a significant level of self-selectivity bias if the numbers produced by Xfire were to be extrapolated onto the rest of the gaming population, but nonetheless the days when game company can use savvy marketing to convince their customers that they have the most popular games may literally be numbered."