Thursday, March 18, 2010

Will SW:TOR Lose Money Until 1 Million Subs?

We've known for a while that EA/Bioware's upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic would be expansive to produce. Via Joystiq is a comment from EA of exactly how staggeringly expensive the project is:

"a little over 1 million subscribers is needed to reach the break-even point"

That's right, this game could be the second most popular in the history of the genre and still LOSE MONEY for its publisher.

It's hard to tell exactly what they're projecting to arrive at this estimate - EA does not get 100% of the $50 box sale, and some portion of the subscription fee (which may or may not be higher than $15) goes to upkeep of the game. We also don't know how long they're figuring the average subscriber will stick around, or how much they expect the average consumer to spend in any hypothetical item shop.

Even so, this sounds frighteningly like what CATS would call the path to destruction. The current sales figures say that Bioware's Dragon Age has sold roughly 2.25 million copies on PS3 and XBox 360, with some additional number on the PC. That game is regarded as a pretty big success. In order for SWTOR to turn a profit, they need it to equal those numbers WITH an added fee attached.

If you're worried about whether the bar for making a new MMORPG has gotten too high, this is not reassuring.


  1. If they really do need a million players to sub for a few months to break even, it sounds to me like the game is already in trouble. Particularly if it's PC only.

  2. I was already concerned as I heard of Bioware's "fully voiced" "story" approach for SW:TOR.

    What makes Dragon Age and Mass Effect great is not necessarily a good thing for a MMO. And I am really in doubt if it will work.

    1 million subscribers is very ambitious. Which western MMO besides WoW came ever close? EQ 1+2 + Ultima Online + Dark Age of Camelot at their best times did not have so many subscribers together.

    To put it bluntly, after Lucas himself made me hate Star Wars with these totally underwhelming three new movies and tainted my fond childhood memories of the first trilogy, I am not too enthusiast about a Star Wars MMO.

    Bioware has shown with KOTOR that they can make RPGs.

    I would hate it if their foray into the nowadays supposedly more dangerous than profitable MMO business ruins the company that created and hopefully creates in future more such wonderful RPGs like Baldur's Gate, Dragon Age and Mass Effect.

  3. I see it this way, if SW:ToR fails, then we have proof that it will never work (since they are top dog at this type of story telling).

    If it DOES succeed, then we're seeing a genre where the bar to entry is over $5 million dollars of investment, and all we'll ever really have as successful MMOs is WoW and SWToR, which isn't too bad, but everything else will be considered crappy or a clone.

  4. Hrm. I await holodecks. I imagine they'll be expensive too.

  5. This is such a very risky project for them. I'm really quite amazed that they are doing it.

    I'd love to see it succeed but ... that's a lot of people.

  6. I think they'll do it.

    In some ways it's a brilliant piece of design - the non-persistent MMO. This whole "we ain't got much except amazing storylines". You buy the game, sub for 3-6 months while you go through the storylines that appeal to you then leave.

    In a year's time they release an expansion for which everyone floods back for a month or two.

    Instead of having a business model that will be crippled by tourism it seems a business model that actively seeks tourists.

    And there's no shortage of them.

  7. WoW is so entrenched that you either have to go big and try to compete with them, or go small and hope to pick up some of their burnouts. You can't really do anything in between.


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