Yesterday I took part in a bit of masochism. I argued on Twitter. Quite frankly: Twitter sucks for a debate. Organized thoughts are often truncated and cut into multiple snippets, which are often interrupted and interjected. You have to be insane to try to carry on a meaningful conversation on Twitter, but here we are.
At heart of the lively debate was whether or not X-Fire stats mean anything. Some say they do, but I disagree. Sure, they mean something to the users of X-Fire. More people using X-Fire means just that, and only that: more people using X-Fire. Anything other than that is merely inference.
The crux of that opinion comes from a single word: Representative. In order for you to be able to extrapolate bigger numbers from smaller numbers, the smaller numbers have to be representative.
For example: If you know that 3,800 people using X-Fire play WAR, it is impossible to infer the number of WAR players unless you know what % of WAR players use X-Fire. 3800 = Y * X (where X is the percent of players and Y is the total players). The problem with X-Fire is, you don’t know what X is. X varies from game to game. X varies from month to month. X can even vary from day to day.
The fact that X can change without adding/losing a subscription makes it hard to rely on those numbers as fact. The “Number of X-Fire users playing WAR” simply represents…wait for it…. the “Number of X-Fire users playing WAR”. That’s it. If that number goes up, it may mean more subs. It may not. What if an entire guild is told they should be running X-Fire? They all install it. That number goes up. Does it mean more people are using X-Fire in WAR? Yep. Does that mean more people are playing WAR? Nope. See where I’m going? The same argument can be used for polls conducted on the forums. Do they represent the players on the forum? Yep. Do the represent players overall? Newp. Quite a few developers have outright stated that a majority of players don’t use the forums.
Now let’s get back to the word “representative.” I used the Nielsen ratings yesterday in my argument. They’re a truly representative system, if not a very small subset. What they lack in numbers, they make up for in accuracy. While everyone has different viewing habits, the fact that they proportionately depict the overall makeup of the US and A makes it a meaningful statistic. Sure, you may not like or agree with the results of the Nielsen ratings, but they’ve proven to work in the past, and are overall reliable.
How X-Fire differs though, is that you don’t have equal representation. You have a particular sect of gamers. While albeit 17 million is a beefy subscriber base, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the casual gamers out there. It may, it may not. It may not reflect the players who have crappy machines and don’t want any overhead running. It may…it may not. The only thing X-Fire accurately depicts….is the number of players using X-Fire.