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More on the numbers

June 27, 2007

I was directed to this post on the Meta Metaverse (nice name) blog from New World Notes. It’s posts like this that make me feel like the whole ‘number of users’ debate is actually going somewhere!

If I’m interpreting Meta correctly, he’s saying that we need to think about users in a different way to traditional media, traditional media being measured by ‘eyeballs’, primarily because eyeballs mean ad views and ad views is where the money is made. MMOs/virtual worlds aren’t like TV programs, magazines of even websites, ‘engagement’ is a much more significant factor and is, of course, much more difficult to measure.

For example, a seller in Second Life needn’t log in on a daily basis, but they are still contributing something dynamic to the world. In World of Warcraft there are hardcore raiders who put in tens of hours a week and casual players who put in maybe ten hours a week. Neither of these perspectives even begin to take account of ‘out of world’ activities that relate to the MMO, such as blogging, websites, professional interests, modding etc.

The problem is that numbers are still the metric by which businesses measure success. Stating that Second Life has 7 million residents or that World of Warcraft has 8.5 millions players is old media business language and the MMO genre is still new enough that it needs to be translated into these terms to have relevance.

This problem isn’t restricted to the MMO industry, the advertising industry, one of the great proponents, if not the great proponent of ‘engagement’ struggles internally and externally with the concept of ‘engagement’ because it’s a bit ‘fluffy’ when compared to good hard numbers. I think it’s fair to say that MMOs represent that most engaging form of media to date, so it may be that advertising can learn a lesson from their study, rather than vice versa.

As a starting point I imagine that the mobile phone industry has a more nuanced model for their user-base, that includes ‘oranges’ and ‘cherries’ not to mention hours of talk time, numbers of SMSs sent and numbers of users of more advanced services that could be modified to accomodate a better measurement of MMO users (anyone?).

I just found a great quote on Collaborate Marketing on data overload:

“We don’t really care about all the things falling over Niagra Falls. Maybe we only care about the tree branches, or the fish, or the rocks, or the people in barrels.  If we focus on those things most important to us and track them, we can deal effectively with data overload.”

Good point!

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