Much media coverage praising League of Legends is the most played online game in North America, over the past year. The stats are not exact, as they’re extrapolated from a small percentage of players, but it’s a good starting point for debate. Note that this is for the past year, from July 1, 2011 – June 30, 2012, so it’s far from even, since Diablo III only existed for 6 out of those 52 weeks. You could also point out that it’s unfair to compare paid subscription titles, paid purchase titles, and f2p.

    That said, here are the stats with Xfire’s estimations for total hours spent online gaming over the past year, for North American gamers:

    League of Legends: 1,292,502,456
    World of Warcraft: 622,378,909
    Minecraft: 371,635,651
    Heroes of Newerth: 184,520,156
    Diablo III: 172,907,605
    Battlefield 3: 171,852,550
    MapleStory: 165,503,651
    StarCraft II: 163,980,293
    World Of Tanks: 145,702,931
    Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3: 126,754,082

    Related info comes from an interview on the Forbes gaming blog of the CEO of Xfire. He talks about online gaming trends and answers a few questions about D3 and the typical drop in player hours for any new mega-launch title.

    Forbes: There’s a corresponding decline in gamers playing other games when Diablo III released, followed by a steady rise for those games and a pretty steep fall for Diablo III. Is this similar to trends for other major releases?
    David Cole: What we are seeing happen with Diablo III is typical of post-launch periods for many highly anticipated games. However, there is a difference between big retail releases such as Diablo III and free-to-play games such as League of Legends. Diablo III went after a big launch, whereas League of Legends is about building an ongoing user base over time. Diablo III was extremely successful at attracting huge usage from the start, which set it up for a fairly rapid decline.

    Malcolm CasSelle: A launch like Diablo III’s is significant because it impacts the usage of other major products. Many games that depend on ongoing usage for a revenue stream were negatively impacted by Diablo III. The games that experienced the steepest decline when Diablo III was at its peak still haven’t fully recovered yet – League of Legends is making the most headway towards its original numbers, but other top titles such as World of Warcraft are slower in their recovery.

    Do games tend to stabilize after the first few months? Is what we’re seeing with Diablo III in any way unique?
    DC: All games undergo a contraction of their user base, but you see a big difference with games that focus on online play. Many games provide users with only 10 or 20 hours of total gameplay, and are designed that way so that users will come back for more products. Other games, including World of Warcraft and Starcraft II, provide hundreds of hours of game play and can maintain a user base for years. What is currently unclear about Diablo III is whether it is the type of game that will fall in the latter category, or just a short-term phenomenon. I think with features like Blizzard’s first-ever “Real Money Auction House,” the developers are clearly counting on having a product that users play for the long haul. However, I think the jury is still out on whether that will be the case.

    We’ve seen a lot of rage and QQ about D3’s end game and early support, and obviously the game isn’t perfect at this point, but I continue to be surprised at how impatient a lot of the haters seem to be. Today is the 2 month anniversary of D3’s launch. We’ve yet to see any big content patches (one is coming soon in v1.0.4), the PvP system isn’t yet live (coming soon to redefine the end game), they haven’t yet patched in improved and reworked uniques and sets (coming soon), etc.

    League of Legends was released in October 2009, and it’s been patched dozens of times and had a steady influx of new content and improvements over the past 2.5 years. How balanced was it in December 2009? How many of its current features were in place then?

    Jinx the Immortal.

    Diablo III was (rightly) held to a higher standard upon release as there was a huge and eager player base and it had been in development for longer than the life span of the average housepet. (Except for my Jinxie she’ll live forever!) And that greater fan anticipation is a double-edged sword, as it spurred the biggest launch ever, and yet led directly to one of the biggest fan backlash “the game isn’t perfect yet!” backlashes ever.

    As the Xfire guys say in that interview, it’ll be interesting to see how the Diablo III player base changes over time, if the upcoming patches can retain or build on the player population we’re seeing now. I personally think we’ll see a huge change come the Arena patch, since every knowledgeable fan I know absolutely loved the PvP demo at Blizzcon 2009 and 2010, but the clock is definitely ticking on Blizzard’s baby.

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