How many people really play Evony? The questions we’d like answered

If you go by its website, Evony has 18m or 20m players; if you believe its representatives, 16m. But if you do some calculation, you get a very much lower number

Hype is a wonderful thing: it can keep campaigns of all sorts afloat. But sometimes it just yearns to be punctured. One claim that looks very suspiciously like raw hype is that on the front of the MMORPG game Evony’s front page, where it claimed – a few months ago – that “Evony: Age II is played by 20 million players in over 167 countries.”

Besides the fact that Evony: Age II was only launched in April, so that would be some helluva lot of growth, you’ve got to love that “over 167 countries”, give that there are reckoned to be 195 countries on earth. So we asked Triple Point PR, Evony’s PR company in the US, and Benjamin Gifford, the “vice development director” (Evony’s description) of Evony’s legal and intellectual property strategic division, based in Australia, a simple question:

In which countries is Evony [in whatever version] not played?

That was back in April. No reply.

We also asked about that fabulous “20 million players” number. The strange thing is that since April, the number of players seems to have gone down: our screenshot taken today (main picture, above) shows that it’s claiming only 18m players (though still in “over 167″ countries). Look at the screenshots – we fortuitously took one on 12 April, and you can clearly see the difference. (Interesting that if you look at the notifications – the hyperlinks on the light brown part of the screen – there doesn’t seem to have been anything much since April.)

Here’s the screenshot we took on 12 April. (Click here for larger version.) (Note that the dates on the brown panel are in American MM-DD-YYYY format – not UK DD-MM-YYYY format.)

Even so, this is still contradictory, because in an email to the Guardian on 8 April, Gifford told the Guardian “both Evony, LLC and Regan Mercantile, LLC hope attention will turn to the game that 16 million people have enjoyed.”

So that’s a sudden addition of 4m players in the course of four days, followed by a dropoff of 2m. What on earth is going on? Where have all the “players” gone? More to the point, were they ever there?

Bruce Everiss, who was the victor when Evony tried to sue him for libel – except that Gifford’s testimony was torn apart in the court in a way that would make Perry Mason whistle appreciatively – is quite clear that the 18m (or 20m or 16m) number is just a bit of inflation:

“The Evony figure for players is for all the people who have ever registered for the game,” he told us by email. “The overwhelming majority register, see that it has no breasts, then leave.” (A reference to Evony’s infamous web advertising campaign of mid-2009.) “Very many players have multiple registrations which confer great advantage when playing the game,” Everiss notes. “Evony have regular purges and kick large numbers of people off the game for “cheating”. ie using bots, scripts etc.”

‘Twas ever thus on server-based MMORPGs, of course. Another former Evony player – who we’ll call “Thor” because, well, why not? – told us how he came up with an estimate for the number of players:

“In my estimation, Evony has probably has a maximum of a half-million to million active players. They have approximately 200 “worlds” [aka servers], and each world has between 8000 to 25000 accounts. Of those, only 300-500 show any activity on a regular basis (daily or weekly change in prestige totals – prestige increases anytime you make troops or build something in the game).”

Thor explained that Evony cleans out “inactive” accounts every so often, which is why the number of players on the servers can fall: “An inactive is defined as someone who hasn’t logged on for 30+ days and has never paid Evony money to buy game coins.”

But there’s inactive and there’s “inactive”: “If you paid, ever, your account is never wiped, even if you haven’t logged in for 6 or more months,” Thor explains.

Thor made an estimate of the number of active players by logging into the servers then operated (around 200 – except some were merged servers, because there were too few players on an individual server to get any, you know, war action/payment going: “the reason Evony merges servers is the player rate on servers starts to drop so low it is virtually impossible to support active gameplay with players attacking back and forth. Prior to themerge of our server, it wasn’t uncommon for me to go weeks without someone attacking me (or vice-versa) and I’d either have to ‘port a war-city around the grid to find targets, or have insanely huge army march distances measured in hundreds of miles to an active target”) and counting the clearly active players.

So any number of servers for the game that Evony claims to have should be taken with a pinch of salt, because old server numbers aren’t retired.

Thor gave it up when Evony began cracking down on bots: “I actively botted to support the insanely huge army sizes necessary to compete. As a professional with a mortgage, kids, a dog and a cat, I didn’t have time to sit there and manually ‘farm’ for food.”

Everiss suggested to us independently that Evony has up to a million players – some way short of that “16m/18m/20m” figure, and if there were a web Advertising Standards Authority, you could probably take Evony to them over that “played by” quote. Though you’d likely have already taken them there for the adverts’ unfounded implication that there was somehow something errr, sexy in the game, whereas in reality it’s a grind where you’re required to pay money which gets passed to a Hong Kong company connected with one in the tax and corporate secrecy haven of the Marshall Islands.

Probably not a problem for younger players, but the question is whether the rewards are really there – and whether Evony can get out of what looks awfully like a corporate habit of inaccuracy in its claims.

For the record, we put these questions to Gifford and Triple Point PR in April but received no response:1) given that Evony:Age II has only just been launched, is this simply carrying over players from the previous version of Evony?

2) what does “played by 20m players” actually mean? Does that mean -there are 20m human players actively playing the game? or -there have been 20m accounts registered in the lifetime of Evony? or-Evony has made up a nice big-sounding number to put on its website? or-some other explanation (we’d love to hear it)?

3) How many humans (different accounts, different people – as I take it that a single person can have more than one account) actively played Evony in the course of the past month?

4) How does Evony prevent bots from playing? I understand that there was a sweep which removed bot accounts last year. How many accounts were removed in that way?

5) I understand that Evony removes inactive accounts which have never spent any money in the game. How many accounts have been removed for that reason in the life of the game?

6) I understand that Evony retains accounts that have spent money, even if they remain inactive. How many such accounts which have spent money have not been active for three months (90 days) or more?

7) What is the largest number of humans (not bots) who simultaneously played Evony at any time? When was that?

8) The website says Evony is played in “over 167 countries”. As there are generally agreed to be 195 countries on Earth, in which countries is Evony [in whatever version] not played?

Obviously, if anyone from Evony or Triple Point PR wants to answer, the comments are open.



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