Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
SWTOR bigger than WoW?

I don't want to blame them for being ambitious, but the announcement by EA and LucasArts that Star Wars: The Old Republic targets a bigger userbase than World of Warcraft rightfully evoked mostly ridicule. Especially since it was often reported a them wanting 11 million subscribers (a number Blizzard then declared to just have passed). So lets put things a bit into perspective.

As far as I know neither EA nor LucasArts ever said "11 million", they just said "larger userbase than WoW". I think what they meant was "larger userbase than WoW in the US and Europe". So suddenly we are talking 5 million, not 11. I don't think Star Wars is such a huge brand in Asia (except for Japan), and it is hard to imagine how they could get 11 million players without Asia. While the 6 million Chinese players add a lot to the fancy marketing announcements of Blizzard on subscription numbers, they don't add all that much to Blizzard's revenue. Chinese players pay 5 cents per hour, are apparently limited to 3 hours per day, and of that money a large part goes into the pockets of the Chinese distributor The9, not Blizzard.

I would like SWTOR to achieve several million subscribers. I also hope WAR is passing the 1 million mark soon. Because the one thing this announcement from EA shows is that Blizzard has lost their aura of invincibility. Other companies now think they can beat them, or at least get rich trying. Because if you "fail" and get just one or two million players, you still get a huge return on investment, even if you spent over $50 million on making that game. Of course you can also fail totally, like Hellgate London, which is shutting down for good in February. But as long as there are several games out there raking in the money, somebody else will always want to have a piece of the pie. And that competition can only be good for us players. Even if it just would make Blizzard at bit less complacent, that would already be a good thing.
I just wish they would try a new business model. I've waxed philosophical about such over on my blog, but in a nutshell, since they are talking about SWTOR being the rough equivalent of several traditional Bioware single player RPGs, I wish they would market it that way. More Guild Wars rather than WoW, in other words. That's partially because I despise the sub model, but also out of concern that they might need the GW type of instancing for strong narratives.
Well, this is to be expected. I don't know if I'd want to play an MMORPG that says, "We're aiming for 500 customers!"
Isn't he just answering the question now that EVERY SINGLE INTERVIEWER is going to be asking him over the next few years?

The WAR devs were bombarded constantly with questions about how they felt they were going to stack up against WoW. This way there is an official tagline to point to and then they can move on to the next question.
I think a lot of MMO developers are going to compare themselves directly or indirectly to WoW. Because right now, WoW is the leading MMO on the market by far, and many other development companies want to do as well if not better.

I think the developers behind SWTOR (Bioware) are making that MMO a bit more WoW-like in some aspects, perhaps to cater to those playing WoW so it would be an easy switchover.
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