Will SW:TOR Get The 500,000 Subscribers It Needs?
Via Massively I read today that BioWare and EA have confirmed that in order to remain “substantially profitable” (i.e. survive) Star Wars: The Old Republic needs at least 500,000 monthly subscribers. They didn’t mention timeframes regarding how long they need to maintain that level in order to make back the initial investment and start earning a buck but my guess would be somewhere in between “indefinitely” and “until the end of time”. To be fair, 500k is a lot smaller than the number people were throwing around a few months ago but it’s still a hefty amount. So I guess the big question is, are they gonna manage to pull it off?
Compared to WoW (even excluding the Chinese player base), 500k seems like a miniscule number but compared to every other MMO out there it’s actually pretty high. I seem to recall Everquest hitting near 500,000 subscribers back in 2003/4 but aside from that I don’t think any other Western subscription based MMO has managed to do it. Not only does that magnify the gap between WoW and the rest of the pack but it also makes SW:TOR’s chances even less likely.
This isn’t to say that some MMOs haven’t kicked off with a lot of promise. Both Warhammer Online and Age of Conan sold a ton when they launched (didn’t AoC sell something like a million boxes?) but then, strangely enough, there was a huge exodus after the initial 30 day period and they were both left with floundering communities. Hanging on to the subscription is what matters, unit sales are just fluff.
Indeed BioWare/EA are setting their sights high, incredibly high in fact when they make statements like “anything north of one million subscribers is a very profitable business”. Well duh, I think that goes for any MMO out there. But I can see where they’re coming from. When you look at the, what, five or six million Western WoW subscribers, getting one million players doesn’t seem like a big slice of the pie. The problem is though that there is absolutely no precedent for even coming close to achieving it.
All of this talk about subscription numbers does make me strongly believe that WoW is more like an anomaly – a freak of nature – rather than a clear indicator of the market place. Too many others have tried and failed to even suggest it’s a possibility and, in fact, one might ponder if it’s a rather dumb move to base your business model on try to compete with it. I mean having Yao Ming in the NBA it doesn’t make the average height of the Chinese any taller.
So will SW:TOR pull it off? I actually reckon they’re in with a better chance than any other MMO I’ve seen recently. The game’s got the Star Wars appeal, polish, a good development company behind it and plenty of wow factor (pun intended). If it doesn’t do it then I don’t think anyone will. Which, in turn, may well create some very interesting waves in the MMO industry as a result.