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Past population trends of Halo - an analysis

OP tsassi

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Over the past few years I've gathered all the available Halo population data. The purpose was to gather all that data to one place. In the process I ended up writing a short analysis on the population trends of Halo, which also works on issues such as the incompatibility of the population data of Halo 4 with prior games. Back then I was hoping I could've added Halo 5 population data in the future, but that doesn't seem to be a thing anymore. Anyway, I think it's finally time for me to share the data and hope it'll alleviate some of the uncertainty and misconceptions regarding the population trends of Halo.

Here's the analysis: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B69vf4Yf74CqUE1UemxVdGFfWDg/view

It's an attempt to take an objective look at the historical trends of Halo's popularity and what really happened. It doesn't hold much surprises, but there are some interesting details. It also explains some of the reasons why and how I did this whole project, and where the data came from.

I also made some additional graphs of the populations of the different games and comparisons between them:

Halo 2 24 hour unique user counts
Halo 3 24 hour UU counts
Halo Reach 24 hour UU counts
Halo 4 24 hour UU counts
Comparison of the absolute 24 hour UU values
Comparison of 24 hour UU counts normalized to launch day values
Comparison of 24 hour UU counts normalized to maximum values

Update 2017/8/28

Inspired by this thread asking when did CoD become more popular than Halo, I decided to gather some data from Major Nelson's old Live activity charts to create a graph of Halo's placement on said charts throughout the years, compared to CoD. As this offers insight into the population trends of Halo in relation to other games, I thought it would be a good idea to also include it here.

XBL activity chart placements of Halo games in relation to CoD games
These are very informative. Any explanations for spikes and drop offs?
MAX2107 wrote:
These are very informative. Any explanations for spikes and drop offs?
It depends what you mean. The great drop offs for Halo 2 and 3 at the end coincide with the releases of Halo 3 and Reach respectively. The huge spike of Halo 3 between 700 and 800 days is the release of ODST. The initial drop offs for Halo 3, Reach, and 4 just seem to be how the industry works these days (though the continued nose dive of Halo 4 probably isn't). There are others, and I've discussed all the anomalous events that I noticed in the full analysis.
This is some interesting data you've collected here.
tsassi wrote:
MAX2107 wrote:
These are very informative. Any explanations for spikes and drop offs?
It depends what you mean. The great drop offs for Halo 2 and 3 at the end coincide with the releases of Halo 3 and Reach respectively. The huge spike of Halo 3 between 700 and 800 days is the release of ODST. The initial drop offs for Halo 3, Reach, and 4 just seem to be how the industry works these days (though the continued nose dive of Halo 4 probably isn't). There are others, and I've discussed all the anomalous events that I noticed in the full analysis.
I assumed it was related to other game releases. Any reason for the investigation and analysis or just for fun?
I thought you would just post a graph. That was a lot of good information.
Nice work!
MAX2107 wrote:
tsassi wrote:
MAX2107 wrote:
These are very informative. Any explanations for spikes and drop offs?
It depends what you mean. The great drop offs for Halo 2 and 3 at the end coincide with the releases of Halo 3 and Reach respectively. The huge spike of Halo 3 between 700 and 800 days is the release of ODST. The initial drop offs for Halo 3, Reach, and 4 just seem to be how the industry works these days (though the continued nose dive of Halo 4 probably isn't). There are others, and I've discussed all the anomalous events that I noticed in the full analysis.
I assumed it was related to other game releases. Any reason for the investigation and analysis or just for fun?
I couldn't have carried through the boring parts of the project if it hadn't had its fun parts. So fun was definitely a driving force, but a huge reason why I did it was that the state of population discussion has been just bad. Nobody really has any idea how popular games prior to Halo 4 actually were, people have been comparing apples to oranges, and the only thing resembling a deeper look into population data I've seen was an overly emotional rant with questionable information. Now, I don't personally really care much for how popular Halo is, but I was a bit annoyed with all the misinformation. I like Halo, and I like this sort of analysis, so all that was really needed to set this off was the right amount of frustration to get me do the laborious part of collecting the data.

TL;DR
What an excllent read.

There are probably numerous hypotheses for why newer Halo games don't hold populations as well as their predecessors. I wonder if the saturation of the FPS genre has change how Shooters hold population.
What an excllent read.

There are probably numerous hypotheses for why newer Halo games don't hold populations as well as their predecessors. I wonder if the saturation of the FPS genre has change how Shooters hold population.
Oh, there definitely are plenty of hypotheses, the problem is that none of them are really testable with the information we have. Take the changing player behavior hypothesis for example: if it were true, you'd expect to see old online games to have similar population trends as Halo 2 with a gentle descent, whereas new games would have sharp drops in the months following release. It's simple in theory, but the data just isn't there for enough games to check whether it's true.

That's kind of the reason why the whole population debate is such a dead end. The general trend of Halo's popularity is clear, but the data says nothing in favor or against most hypotheses. Mind you, any hypothesis should also really be able to explain why Halo 2 retained players better than Halo 3. It's an interesting thing that nobody has ever taken into account because no one could've possibly known about it. I mean, it was a big surprise to me that the active online population of Halo 2 actually rose over the first few months.
*mindblown*

That must've taken a lot of time..
What do you think Halo 5 will look like? There's definitely been a decline over the past week for whatever reason. You would think that the release of cartographer's gift would have caused it to spike considering all the content that people wanted.
What do you think Halo 5 will look like? There's definitely been a decline over the past week for whatever reason. You would think that the release of cartographer's gift would have caused it to spike considering all the content that people wanted.
My guess would be: lower initial population than Halo 4 because of the generally small amount of players on Xbox One still. Beyond that, though, I don't have much guesses. It could drop faster than Halo 4, it could drop slower than Halo 4. I have no idea.

Though I can say that based on observations from the population data for prior games, DLC doesn't actually give much of a spike to the population. The only events that consistently have a population boosting effect are holiday seasons and upcoming sequels. If we had a graph of Halo 5 population, Cartographer's gift could be difficult to distinguish from the noise.
Nice job! Although I disagree with your opinion on the summation that the PvP experience will always have an edge on the PvE experience. Only because very few games have put the effort into the PvE side versus the time and effort put into the PvP side of the games. I can't exactly quote because I don't remember the article I read but it was an interview about Halo 2 and the person had said the campaign was basically thrown together in a very short amount of time, and in my opinion it shows considering it's my least favorite campaign of all the Halo games. Not to mention until Halo 3 it was only 2 player co-op which drastically limits a group of friends choices when there are 3 or more players in a group. Now if we were to look at Destiny that is a great example of a game that has a PvE experience far richer than it's PvP experience, many players who like the games PvE will actually play other games for a PvP experience. Yet still bungie is constantly balancing weapons and creating events trying their best to support their multiplayer. In fact in the beginning the way the game was designed almost forced players to play the PvP to accomplish certain quests or to aquire certain weapons and armor. But in the end for those players lucky enough to get a group of friends together to raid with I am willing to bet that those experiences far exceeded what the crucible offered them.

Basically my point is that once games put the same effort into providing a PvE experience that has been given the same or even more time and dedication as the PvP then perhaps PvE will have that edge?
Nice job! Although I disagree with your opinion on the summation that the PvP experience will always have an edge on the PvE experience. Only because very few games have put the effort into the PvE side versus the time and effort put into the PvP side of the games. I can't exactly quote because I don't remember the article I read but it was an interview about Halo 2 and the person had said the campaign was basically thrown together in a very short amount of time, and in my opinion it shows considering it's my least favorite campaign of all the Halo games. Not to mention until Halo 3 it was only 2 player co-op which drastically limits a group of friends choices when there are 3 or more players in a group. Now if we were to look at Destiny that is a great example of a game that has a PvE experience far richer than it's PvP experience, many players who like the games PvE will actually play other games for a PvP experience. Yet still bungie is constantly balancing weapons and creating events trying their best to support their multiplayer. In fact in the beginning the way the game was designed almost forced players to play the PvP to accomplish certain quests or to aquire certain weapons and armor. But in the end for those players lucky enough to get a group of friends together to raid with I am willing to bet that those experiences far exceeded what the crucible offered them.

Basically my point is that once games put the same effort into providing a PvE experience that has been given the same or even more time and dedication as the PvP then perhaps PvE will have that edge?
There are games that put more effort into PvE as opposed to PvP. You don't typically see them being played as eSports, and I personally don't play them very long.

Halo 3: ODST vs Halo 3 is a rare example of pure PvP populations comparable to pure PvE populations. The numbers then show that PvP holds better then PvE, and it would be a sound prediction of the hypotheses that PvP games are more popular then PvE games today. Although the line gets blurry when games like gears of war and destiny include both.
Nice job! Although I disagree with your opinion on the summation that the PvP experience will always have an edge on the PvE experience. Only because very few games have put the effort into the PvE side versus the time and effort put into the PvP side of the games. I can't exactly quote because I don't remember the article I read but it was an interview about Halo 2 and the person had said the campaign was basically thrown together in a very short amount of time, and in my opinion it shows considering it's my least favorite campaign of all the Halo games. Not to mention until Halo 3 it was only 2 player co-op which drastically limits a group of friends choices when there are 3 or more players in a group. Now if we were to look at Destiny that is a great example of a game that has a PvE experience far richer than it's PvP experience, many players who like the games PvE will actually play other games for a PvP experience. Yet still bungie is constantly balancing weapons and creating events trying their best to support their multiplayer. In fact in the beginning the way the game was designed almost forced players to play the PvP to accomplish certain quests or to aquire certain weapons and armor. But in the end for those players lucky enough to get a group of friends together to raid with I am willing to bet that those experiences far exceeded what the crucible offered them.

Basically my point is that once games put the same effort into providing a PvE experience that has been given the same or even more time and dedication as the PvP then perhaps PvE will have that edge?
There are games that put more effort into PvE as opposed to PvP. You don't typically see them being played as eSports, and I personally don't play them very long.

Halo 3: ODST vs Halo 3 is a rare example of pure PvP populations comparable to pure PvE populations. The numbers then show that PvP holds better then PvE, and it would be a sound prediction of the hypotheses that PvP games are more popular then PvE games today. Although the line gets blurry when games like gears of war and destiny include both.
The original remark was kind of a "by the way", and not something I thought about deeply. But I have thought about the differences between PvP and PvE games many times. I'd say that PvP games are generally more popular in the long term because it's just easier to build replay value into a PvP game than a PvE game. From purely a combat perspective: fighting against other people just is more interesting and engaging than fighting against bots. I don't believe anyone could disagree with that. PvE games always compensate this with something else, like world exploration, or complex character building.

I feel like PvE games largely have to rely on quantity of content to maintain player interest. Playing with old content, like playing through an old mission, just can't hold interest, because the experience is the same every time. In a PvP game, on the other hand, even playing the same game type on the same map over and over again is still engaging after many times, because the opponents always react differently. The extreme example is CS where De Dust 2, for example, just gets played over and over again all these years. You could never expect a single level in a PvE game to hold interest for such a long time.

There are definitely PvE games that remain popular better than some PvP games, but I doubt that it's possible for the average PvE game to ever retain players better than the average PvP game. I also doubt we will ever see a situation when the market is dominated by PvE games, rather than PvP games. It's solely because a PvP experience is easier to make engaging, and in this sense, I think, PvP will always have an edge over PvE.
If your college or university won't give you a Ph.D for that then I will: the illustrious College of Recon now grants you the honorary title "Doctor of Halo." Very good work, sir, and thanks for the number crunching.
tsassi wrote:
Nice job! Although I disagree with your opinion on the summation that the PvP experience will always have an edge on the PvE experience. Only because very few games have put the effort into the PvE side versus the time and effort put into the PvP side of the games. I can't exactly quote because I don't remember the article I read but it was an interview about Halo 2 and the person had said the campaign was basically thrown together in a very short amount of time, and in my opinion it shows considering it's my least favorite campaign of all the Halo games. Not to mention until Halo 3 it was only 2 player co-op which drastically limits a group of friends choices when there are 3 or more players in a group. Now if we were to look at Destiny that is a great example of a game that has a PvE experience far richer than it's PvP experience, many players who like the games PvE will actually play other games for a PvP experience. Yet still bungie is constantly balancing weapons and creating events trying their best to support their multiplayer. In fact in the beginning the way the game was designed almost forced players to play the PvP to accomplish certain quests or to aquire certain weapons and armor. But in the end for those players lucky enough to get a group of friends together to raid with I am willing to bet that those experiences far exceeded what the crucible offered them.

Basically my point is that once games put the same effort into providing a PvE experience that has been given the same or even more time and dedication as the PvP then perhaps PvE will have that edge?
There are games that put more effort into PvE as opposed to PvP. You don't typically see them being played as eSports, and I personally don't play them very long.

Halo 3: ODST vs Halo 3 is a rare example of pure PvP populations comparable to pure PvE populations. The numbers then show that PvP holds better then PvE, and it would be a sound prediction of the hypotheses that PvP games are more popular then PvE games today. Although the line gets blurry when games like gears of war and destiny include both.
The original remark was kind of a "by the way", and not something I thought about deeply. But I have thought about the differences between PvP and PvE games many times. I'd say that PvP games are generally more popular in the long term because it's just easier to build replay value into a PvP game than a PvE game. From purely a combat perspective: fighting against other people just is more interesting and engaging than fighting against bots. I don't believe anyone could disagree with that. PvE games always compensate this with something else, like world exploration, or complex character building.

I feel like PvE games largely have to rely on quantity of content to maintain player interest. Playing with old content, like playing through an old mission, just can't hold interest, because the experience is the same every time. In a PvP game, on the other hand, even playing the same game type on the same map over and over again is still engaging after many times, because the opponents always react differently. The extreme example is CS where De Dust 2, for example, just gets played over and over again all these years. You could never expect a single level in a PvE game to hold interest for such a long time.

There are definitely PvE games that remain popular better than some PvP games, but I doubt that it's possible for the average PvE game to ever retain players better than the average PvP game. I also doubt we will ever see a situation when the market is dominated by PvE games, rather than PvP games. It's solely because a PvP experience is easier to make engaging, and in this sense, I think, PvP will always have an edge over PvE.
No doubt I agree with your statement that the uniqueness of a Human player gives more variation to a game than that of an AI bot.

But let's not forget that my whole generation of gamers, only played AI for around 15 years of gaming. There was very little PvP at all until around the mid to late 90's and even then was limited and the AI part of the game (the story, or campaign) was what you bought the game for. Also players constantly go back to play games like Zelda, Oblivion, Mario Brothers, ect. But very few people ever care about going back to play COD multi from 4 years ago (unless of course the newest iteration is unbearable) for one the servers do stop for most games when they get old enough and the population of gamers in older games isn't great and most players won't wait 30 minutes to find a game. Which brings it back to my original point that over the past decade most games have focused on the PvP aspect of their game. I forget the article but one of the guys who worked on the Halo 2 story had commented on how quickly it was thrown together since most of the effort of that game went to the multiplayer aspect of the game. We are in a cycle of PvP that started with the explosion of online gaming, but maybe you should explain to me the edge ANY PvP game will have over the Legend of Zelda, which I have been playing for the past 30 years and can play any time I like for the next 30 years yet the lifetime of any PvP game is dependant on it's servers and gamer population.
No doubt I agree with your statement that the uniqueness of a Human player gives more variation to a game than that of an AI bot.

But let's not forget that my whole generation of gamers, only played AI for around 15 years of gaming. There was very little PvP at all until around the mid to late 90's and even then was limited and the AI part of the game (the story, or campaign) was what you bought the game for. Also players constantly go back to play games like Zelda, Oblivion, Mario Brothers, ect. But very few people ever care about going back to play COD multi from 4 years ago (unless of course the newest iteration is unbearable) for one the servers do stop for most games when they get old enough and the population of gamers in older games isn't great and most players won't wait 30 minutes to find a game. Which brings it back to my original point that over the past decade most games have focused on the PvP aspect of their game. I forget the article but one of the guys who worked on the Halo 2 story had commented on how quickly it was thrown together since most of the effort of that game went to the multiplayer aspect of the game. We are in a cycle of PvP that started with the explosion of online gaming, but maybe you should explain to me the edge ANY PvP game will have over the Legend of Zelda, which I have been playing for the past 30 years and can play any time I like for the next 30 years yet the lifetime of any PvP game is dependant on it's servers and gamer population.
If PvE games offered similar levels of engagement as PvP games, you would expect to see much more activity in them. But if you look at the top games of any service that provides that information, the top is always dominated by PvP games. For example, on Steam both DotA 2 and CS:GO, both purely PvP games, have more players than the following eight compared. Fourth on the list is Fallout 4, a very new PvE game, with only a fifth of the population of CS:GO, despite GO being over four years old at this point. Speaking of long term playability, the oldest game on that list is TF 2 from 2007 at sixth place, beating the second purely PvE game, Skyrim, on the list by a bit under 50%. Going still further down the list, we find the original Counter-Strike from fifteen years ago holding the 21st place above games like The Witcher 3.

I don't doubt at all that you could play Zelda all day, but I'm not arguing about your preferences, because I'm sure you know better what you want to play. All I'm saying is that PvP games are undoubtedly more popular than PvE games by any reasonable measure. That is the edge I'm speaking of.
It would be nice if H5 data was made available so that it could be added to your study. It certainly seems like there is a trend in decline from release to release.
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