Preview for 2007

The year of 2007 will be an interesting year for online FPS players.

Now, to say something a bit less cliché, we will see a few important releases, including new multiplayer-based iterations for two of the longest running FPS series (Quake and Unreal), a legend that makes a comeback (Team Fortress 2) and a few other surprises. How will they fair online against the new Battlefield generation?

Without further ado, these are the events to look out for on this new year.

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The Christmas effect, 2006

It’s a known fact that most FPS developers try to release games during the last few months of the year – in what’s called the holiday season. The rationality is that this date is specially popular for new games, as parents rush to buy games to their kids. This year (as always) many games failed to make their initially intended holiday release date – like Unreal Tournament 2007, Enemy Territory:Quake Wars and Half-life 2: Episode 2 (including Portal and Team Fortress 2), to name a few – and gamers’ parents had to choose between a few major titles that were released on this season. How did it turn out, then?

Numbers of players online for in the last 70 days, in thousands (lower 100,000)

Numbers of players online for in the last 70 days, in thousands (lower 20,000)

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The day Steam stopped

On the 15th of December, the unthinkable happened when a storm hit the Seattle area, knocking the power out for one million people and putting Valve’s Steam servers out of commission. With the authentication system for Steam unavailable, helped by the fact that Steam’s Offline Mode only works under certain very specific circumstances, Steam users weren’t able to login and run Steam-based games or applications anymore. The authentication blackout lasted for about 20 hours, according to Valve; how did this translate in the number of online players for Steam-based games?

Numbers of players online for Steam games, in thousands, with no weekly average

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Game additions and other happenings

I’ve added the Battlefield 2142 mod graphic to the mods by game page. You can see how the new mode (Titan) fares against the default, classic Battlefield flag-capturing mode (Conquest).

There’s a lot happening recently with the online FPS crowd too, specially Red Orchestra‘s recent free trial weekend and, last but not least, Steam’s recent day off. While changes to the online player base changes due to these two events can be observed right now on the graphics, analysis of them on separate posts will take some time as I have to wait a bit to see if there’s any significant residual change to the numbers.

Steam introduces guest passes

Valve has just announced that their Steam system will start allowing guest passes later this week, still in a closed beta basis. Guest passes work a bit like the free trial weekends, the difference being that an user who owns a game can send a guest pass to a friend at anytime so he can try that game out with the original user.

Later this week, new menu options will appear within Steam as we initiate the closed beta for Guest Passes, a new feature that will allow owners of certain Steam-enabled games (purchased either via Steam or at retail) to send a friend limited-time trials for those games.

Tom Edwards had the scoop on this feature almost two months ago, and it seems the feature is finally ready for prime time now. We can’t predict now how this will work out for a game’s penetration on the market (it will also largely depend on the limits set by the guest pass once it becomes live), but I think it’s a given that word-of-mouth will become quite a bit stronger now.

Small updates and fixes

By unleashing the powers of the MySQL, I’ve been finally been able to optimize the script that generates the graphics (it’s now taking about half the time it used to take), so hopefully the daily generation won’t fail again because of execution timeouts. As such, the all mods page has been updated (graphics were about one week old).

I’ve also added a few more games to the mods by game page: Quake 3:Arena, Unreal Tournament 2004, and Wolfenstein:Enemy Territory. I would have added more, but there isn’t much reason to add mod/gametype statistics now for games that have only one major gametype taking 99.9% of the player base. I’ll probably do so in the future if I feel there’s CPU to spare.

Time for some database cleanup

I’ve just deleted over a thousand mods from the database (which used to contain a bit more than three thousand mods).

Listing mods...
1470 mods, where 1042 are trash.
Deleting mods...
Completed everything in 59.991328001022 seconds.
2085 queries.

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Do free game trials work?

One of the interesting new features that online distribution (and activation) of games bring to players is the ability to fully test a retail game before buying it. By having access to the full game, the player can not only test its complete feature set, but also have contact with the same online community he’d meet when purchasing it.

The catch, however, is that the player is only allowed to play the game for a certain number of days – the test version ceases to work after the trial date has passed. From what I know, Steam was the first major distribution channel that tried something like this, and now, making certain games available for free during a few days is becoming increasingly usual on that system. What impact does the free trial period have on the online presence of certain games? Valve’s World War 2 game Day of Defeat:Source has already been through two such trials, and here’s how it has worked for them.

Day of Defeat:Source - Average number of online players, in thousands - From Nov 2005 to December 2006

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New “mods by game” page

As can be seen on the menu at the top of all pages, a new area called “mods by game” was added to the website just now. This area contains game-specific graphics, showing how the mods for certain specific games perform against each other. That way, it’s easy to follow the post-release success of certain mods, or see how certain mods where abandoned in favor of another, for example. Right now the number of games being covered is quite small (only Half-life and Half-life 2), but will increase in the future.

Quake 4: What went wrong?

October 2005 marked the release of another title in the long-running Quake series. Both a singleplayer game (a sequel to Quake 2) and as a multiplayer game (heavily inspired by Quake 3:Arena), Quake 4 was supposed to put the deathmatch crown back in id Software’s head, by way of Raven Software. Things didn’t turn out so well, though.

Quake 3 and Quake 4 - Average number of online players, in thousands - From Oct 2005 to November 2006

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This website gathers data for various First Person Shooter games for PCs, and then build graphics with those numbers. This brings no answers, just questions. Where do we go from here?