Primer: Statistics: Lies, Damn Lies & Registered Users

There are no broadly agreed upon metrics for virtual world use. Nor are there any recognized independent bodies that audit figures as is common in industries such as publishing. What’s more, the range of business models (other posts in this Primer go into detail about these business models) used by virtual worlds means it is not possible to compare some figures against others. This causes wide confusion both for advertisers and policy-makers as it is unclear how many people are actively using virtual worlds, hence what their impacts are.

This Primer section seeks to clarify the terms used and outline the methods for approximate comparisons.

At the next level of detail, even accurate numbers often do not give a good indication of how active a virtual world will feel. This is because some spaces like EvE Online and Second Life are single spaces where any user can see all other users on-line at the same time, whereas World of Warcraft is split into servers, so the activity-level of the world is dependent on the population density of any given server. Finally, some virtual worlds, such as those targeted at children, often operate opening hours (either through internal policy or due to local regulation).

Registered users

The figure most often cited by non-subscription virtual worlds is that of Registered Users. The reason this figure is often quoted is that it tends to be both the easiest to calculate and the highest. Its usefulness however is questionable.

Registered Users typically means the number of people that have signed up to a virtual world via their web site and / or downloaded client software and / or create an avatar. Registered Users tends to be a cumulative count over the lifetime of the virtual world hence the figure will go up over time, even if the actual popularity of the world is reducing. A registration also represents a minimal commitment to the virtual world and not necessarily the use of that world, and there can be multiple registrations per individual. Lastly from a commercial point of view registered users may have little or no relation to the profitability of the virtual world as a business.

Subscriptions

Subscribers or Subscriptions typically means the number of users that are paying to use a service. Sometimes the figure is conflated with Registered Users (see above).
While subscriptions tend to be one accurate representation of a revenue source for a virtual world, they might not be an accurate representation of the use of the space since the number of concurrent users or average users over any single month may be significantly lower.

Alternatively, the virtual world may have a mixed business model where the majority of users are non-subscribers – for a brand looking to utilise that world the figure of ‘eyeballs’ may be more significant. Having said this, as subscriptions indicate at least a minimal commitment to a given virtual world, this figure tends to be a more accurate reflection of how active the world is. Commercially subscription numbers give an indication of the top line revenue of a virtual world business.

Concurrent Users

Concurrent Users is a measure of the number of users logged in to a virtual world at any given time. Typically the figure is quoted as a maximum, or maximum over a given period. Some virtual worlds, such as Habbo Hotel and Second Life give the Concurrent Users at any given time by displaying it on the log-in screen.

Concurrent Users typically provides a fairly accurate representation of how active a virtual world is, though given the range of business models it might not provide any indication of the financial status of the virtual world.

Unique Users

Unique Users typically means the number of unique accounts that have logged into a virtual world over a given period. Those worlds that quote this figure typically use 30-day or one-month periods, though some use other periods such as 90 days. Notwithstanding the range of business models and other variables noted above, Unique Users tends to be a good measure of the activity of a virtual world as the period smoothes the Concurrent User figure often quoted.

Unique Users also has the advantage that it is similar to the Unique Users Per Month often quoted by web sites. However, it must be noted that the session time on a web site might typically be in the order of minutes – with brand exposure often being lower than this, virtual world users are typically in a virtual world for tens of hours per week.

Active Users

The notion of Active Users is one that has generated much debate in the industry. The question is – what metric is a fair representation of being a notionally active user of a virtual world? This is difficult to judge as there is no general agreement of what constitutes “active” within a given space let alone across different types of virtual world.

Sample Statistics

The table below contains a range of figures quoted by companies. As can be seen, Registered Users is a popular figure but by no means the only one quoted by current virtual world publishers. As the table also demonstrates companies are inconsistent in the statistics that they quote publicly.

Virtual World Registered Users Subscriptions Concurrent Users Users Per Month
A Tale in the Desert 2k
Club Penguin 12 Million 700K
Habbo Hotel 100 Million+ 6k (UK only)
Maple Story 60 Million+
Second Life 10 Million 50k+ 800k
Stardoll 15 Million 50k+
There.com 1.5 Million
Whyville 3 Million
World of Warcraft
12 Million+
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