Adam Martin, late of NCsoft Europe and currently thinking deep thoughts, in the midst of writing an article about the potential size of the online industry (hint: it’s pretty damned big) postulates an interesting theory: it’s not in the interests of MMO developers to know the size of their own player base.
On average, each of you reading this probably has something like 200-300 separate online identities. On average, each of you reading this probably BELIEVES you have something like 2-3 separate online identities. Factor of 100 difference (have fun counting them…).
Those virtual identities are the lifeblood of online services. They are countable, they are serviceable – and they are uniquely and individually chargeable (even when several of these identities may represent just one real-world human: if the identities are separate, then you can charge multiple times, and many people really do willingly pay several times over!)
One of the most popular digs on Mythic when I was there was that “buff bots” were never properly dealt with due to the financial incentive towards keeping them around. This wasn’t entirely true, but the bottom line does have a certain seductive allure, and it’s in the interest of an effective game designer to champion the long term view (rampant botting pisses your players off and shrinks your market) over the short term view (bots pay money just like the rest of us!)