Tobold's Blog
Thursday, March 25, 2010
A thought experiment for SWTOR

Dwism and Gordon asked my opinion in the open Sunday thread on how Star Wars: The Old Republic would be doing, as EA just announced they needed over 1 million players to break even, and were hoping for 2 million. I was going to write something eminently thoughtful and combine that with some back of the envelope calculations, but Scott "Lum" Jennings beat me to that. So instead I'll combine my thoughts on SWTOR with some other thoughts I had about WoW and Farmville into one big thought experiment:

In a parallel universe without World of Warcraft, how would all those other MMORPGs that came out in the last years have done?

I have a theory that in this parallel universe all the other MMORPGs would have done exactly as well as in this universe. There is no such thing a predefined market of a predefined size, of which every game gets a certain percentage, so if one game would drop out every other game would get more subscribers. No, every game creates its own market. The 11 million World of Warcraft players would not just have played WAR, or AoC, or Star Trek Online. Even if Blizzard would close down WoW tomorrow, these other games wouldn't see an influx of millions of players. Every game just gets the number of subscribers which is the number of people who really like that game, and that is independant of the number and size of all the other games.

One area where this is obvioulsy true is the much decried Farmville with its 80 million players. These Farmville players are NOT missing somewhere else, how could they? We would have noticed a drop of 80 million MMORPG players, if there are even that many. Thus the whole angst and anger thing which MMORPG players express against Farmville isn't really justified. Facebook games have not the same playerbase, nor the same pool of developers, and how well Farmville does has no influence whatsoever on the subscription numbers of your favorite MMORPG.

Now if you take that theory of independant subscription numbers and think of this parallel world without WoW, where no game has even 1 million subscribers in the western world, how would you react to the announcement that SWTOR needs over 1 million subscribers just to break even? You'd call EA batshit crazy. One just doesn't go and bet $150 million on a game being a spectacular success in this fickle market. Not if all previous attempts of EA to make a MMORPG failed to get even half a million players.

I will surely try to get into the beta, and if that isn't possible buy and play Star Wars: The Old Republic, on the chance that it will really become the next big thing and will actually be fun. But I'm not holding my breath here. What I've seen up to now doesn't look too promising. Polished, yes, and polish is good. But I'm doubtful about how fun the whole cut-scene based story-telling "pillar" is. Given that nobody reads quest texts, I'm not sure people want to watch long explanations before being sent off to kill 10 womp rats. So I wish EA Bioware the best of luck, and them *selling* 1 million boxes is actually pretty likely, but I'm not so sure those million players will still be there after 6 months. Would be nice if I were wrong.
"I'm not sure people want to watch long explanations before being sent off to kill 10 womp rats."

I sure don't. I'll buy the game and I'm hoping it's awesome, but if I can't skip the cut scenes... I won't stay subscribed
I tried reading Quest Text "in character". Makes it more fun.

Since SW:ToR is all voiced, it shouldn't be a problem (or much of one).
Mass Effect 2 sold over 572,000 units in 6 days after its release, and 246,500 in February.

That's over 818,500 units in about 35 days. That's near 1 million units in one month.

I'm just saying....
If the quests are more focused around one story line.. maybe it could work with good voice acting.

Otherwise: WoW did open the market. To say that it had no effect is certainly wrong. But I agree that not all '11 mio' players are always looking for other MMOs.

Besides: How any of the millions of farmville players play on a regular basis? And how many do actually pay?
It seems to me that the long quest texts will be fun the first time you encounter them, as they'll help place you in the world. The third or fourth time, they'll probably just be irritating.

To me, this suggests a game with deliberately low replay value (by the standards of MMOs anyway). Finish TOR in a year, quit.

That means they'll need >650K players to break even (including box sales revenue), which seems perfectly feasible.
Mass Effect 2 sold over 572,000 units in 6 days after its release, and 246,500 in February.

And how many people are still PLAYING Mass Effect 2 in April? I already said that I don't doubt they will sell a million copies, but keeping subscribers is a different kettle of fish.

How any of the millions of farmville players play on a regular basis? And how many do actually pay?

According to Zyngia, 3% to 5% of players pay for their games, the other 95+% play for free.
It seems very odd to me to view every MMO individually. I know I have stopped playing other MMOs whenever I went back to wow - I simply don't have the capacity of playing more than one MMO for real. Every single user with the same issue has to make a choice between playing wow and playing something else - and i know there are those who picked wow. I would have played lotro for much longer, for example, if wow hadn't rekinedled my interest. The same probably goes for WAR.

Thinking about it a bit more, my standards would probably be quite a bit lower as well. I happily played ragnarok online before wow came out - I simply didn't know how much better MMOs could be. Without wow, maybe eq2 would have captured me. Or lotro.

There is definitely a predefined market of mmo gamers. Sure, parts of it may only be interested in one game and not another, but I know from experience that there is an overlap and I would wager it is quite big. Farmville has successfully managed to attract quite a different target audience with little overlap to wow. Moreso, wow and farmville aren't mutually exclusive at all.
About SWtor: You can skip the cutscenes, question is, would you want to?

Reading half a page of story is one thing to do but listening for 15-20 seconds about where to go and what to do, is a different matter altogether.

I do think that people will listen to the questlines, but I also think that this game will be played very differently than wow.
From what I could tell from the playtests so far, you get a much deeper and connected story. You are n't just killing sewer rats so that someone can make an odd kebab, you are doing your little parts everywhere in this big war.
My hopes are, that they will be able to keep that pase up.

About the world without WoW; I think you are dead right. Warhammer would never have gotten 5 million players, but they would never have gotten the founding for making that game if it had not been for wows massive numbers.
Honestly I think that most pc games would have been scrapped a lot sooner, if WoW had not broken that casual wall.
Regarding the second part of the post.

I think one game's number would have changed dramatically if WoW had never launched: EQ2.

They launched almost simultaneously, so there was direct competition between the two. Consequently there was a lot of subscriber crossover between the two. While WoW may have had a built in audience of Blizzard, it also "stole" a fair number of "generic MMO fans" from EQ2.
"No, every game creates its own market."

Supply side economics? :)
I don't think we have data to support the validity or wrongness of that affirmation.
If World of Warcraft didn't created it's own market. Instead it was directed at a segment that was always there but only Blizzard saw it as such.
World of Warcraft is a game directed at the casual gamers which are the vast majority of us. Even I lately have become more and more casual due to not having the time that i had 2 or 3 years ago. So a game that i can just play at my own pace, having fun soloing and not be bound by a strict schedule.
If WoW wasn't around is true that many of the 11mil wouldn't be playing MMO's, but every other game, specially the most forgiving ones, would see much more subscribers. Specially games like LotRO.
I'm one of those players who stopped playing WoW. And no, I'm not playing another mmorpg, just single player games.

As to reading quest texts, the whole point of SW: TOR is that you won't have to read long quest texts. You'll see interactive cutscenes. I always skip the quest texts in WoW. I never skip dialog in Mass Effect or Dragon Age.
Very nicely summed up. They can sell this million boxes, but the game will have to be better than all the other MMORPG done this far, to keep those subscribed ... ambitious :)

Now, come heal my bottom in D&D, tobold :P

Instead it was directed at a segment that was always there but only Blizzard saw it as such.

We're sidetracking the topic here but i like your thoughts. Further i'm sure WoW's release by random was perfect timing. I burned through my hardcore years in EQ. My co-players back then were a very similar demographic. After 3 to 5 years of unimaginable time investments in that single MMO, many of us just did't fit into the mold of your typical hardcore MMO anymore. While EQ continued to require large amounts of time chunks, WoW enters the market and for many players - the majority of former hardcore EQ community - the more advanced and yes more casual WoW was and is the better option.

Let's theorize if WoW really created it's own market or tapped into what was just there. Again i'm convinced timing was critical for its success. Broadband connections and online gaming in general reached mainstream when WoW launched. Mainstream knew about this "MMO thing" but they never actually tried a fine example of it.

Moneywise i think WoW just sucked out private gaming budgets from other games. I spend way less money since playing MMOs. Instead of buying 3 to 4 games a month, you spend the same amount of money or even less. My personal experience is that your non-MMO gaming for many former hardcore MMO players nowadays happens on console gaming. To determine if WoW created or just transformed the market, we would need more accurate data about the demographic of its players. What is the average WoW player? Did he played games before? How much money did he spend before and after WoW? To turn around to the topic of the entry, i bet Bioware and EA just collected that data before investing 150 million into the project.

Summing up the current trend of the market, i only see games becoming even more casual. No matter if you want to expand the market or bet on current costumers, both target groups will look for less intense experiences. I bet the times of 8 hour rare spawn games really is gone forever but i don't want to miss those experiences actually. It makes you appreciate the changes of the genre even more.

That right there is a blog post about facebook. What follows is perhaps one of the most baffling and schadenfreudengly enjoyable comments section I have ever seen on the internet.

If you can't tell after a few, these people came to this blog post through googling "facebook login", thought that facebook had changed their layout to this poor blog's layout, and was exceedingly difficult to log into (what with not being facebook and all).

As long as THOSE are the people playing farmville, the idea that they somehow have anything to do with the MMO community is funny.
I'd like some clarification, does SWTOR need 1 million SUBSCRIBERS or 1 million BOX SALES ?

Subscribers are a murky thing to say, since next you need to ask is "FOR HOW LONG?" Is 1 month of 1 million subscribers enough?

If so, even Warhammer/AoC got close to that last i checked...both games tanked soon afterwards.

So this is not exactly a massive requirement.

Now if they said "we need to RETAIN 1 million subscribers FOR AT LEAST A YEAR" ....another story.
I probably wouldn't have started playing MMOs at all if my then boyfriend hadn't got me playing WoW, I'm sure I'm not the only one in that boat.
I still think you're underestimating TOR Tobold.

You have to remember that one of the biggest factors to WoW's succuss was the massive fanbase the brand and company had leading up to it's release. Thats something just about every other mmo that has been released has not been able to match.

TOR will be bringing with it a huge influx of people who probably have never played an mmo before, but are fans of either KOtOR specifically, Bioware RPGs, and generally anything Star Wars related.

I can easily see TOR coming out and selling 1-2 million copies within the first month; following in the footsteps of Mass Effect and Dragon Age. You'll also have an influx of mmo players looking for something new (like me).

Whether that translates to suscribers 6 months down the line is anyones guess right now, but I say TOR has the best chance of being a "success" since World of Warcraft. It has the financial backing of EA (150 million poured into it so far), the best western RPG developer at it's helm, a huge amount of brand awareness, and of course a large brand fanbase.

Now say they make an exact clone of WoW except that they add in voice dialogue, their choice system, and whatever other little tweaks they want to add. Even if that bores off people who are used to playing WoW, it has a very good chance of catching those new mmo players, much like WoW itself did. It will also catch people who wouldn't exactly be against World of Warcraft: Star Wars Edition. I know that if took WoW's mechanics and inner workings and wrapped that into a neat Star Wars package, I'd certainly play it over WoW simply because I like that universe more.
"And how many people are still PLAYING Mass Effect 2 in April?"

If actually numbers were availible I'd think you'd be surprised to see just how much time people put into single player RPGS. I've already dumped more then 200 hours into Mass Effect 2 and still continue playing the game. Dragon Age saw a similar thing before ME 2 came out. If you want to talk about days of time devoted to a single player RPG, I'd point you to KOtOR. I've actually devoted more time to that game over the last 7 or so years then I have to WoW.

At the end of the day though isn't that a bit of an unfair comparison to make though Tobold? You can't really look at WoW and then look at a single player RPG and say that just because people play WoW a year later and not the single player game, that WoW is somehow "better". (I don't think thats what you were trying to say but I couldn't find a better word to fit there)

The very nature of the game being single player and having a finite amount of content is why someone moves on from a single player game eventually.
For three years WoW turned me into a MMO player from a single person game player. I'm only now starting to play single player games again.

I'm not playing WoW any more but I am playing LotRO because I have found out I like MMOs. I have tried and paid for City of Heroes, Champions Online, and Aion all because WoW turned me into an MMO player.

If WoW shut down today not every player would jump to another MMO, but I bet a significant portion would. And the total number of MMO players would be greater than if WoW never existed.
You have to remember that one of the biggest factors to WoW's succuss was the massive fanbase the brand and company had leading up to it's release.

By that logic Warhammer online should have reached 20mio subscribers by now and Age of Conan could not have sold more than 10k boxes...
I have to disagree somewhat. WoW does have people who would have otherwise played another game. While $15 a month isn't all that much, and double it not much more, I somehow cannot bring myself to pay another $15 for another game. If not for WoW I might be playing lotro or SWG. So in the alternate universe, those games would have done better.
I'd have to disagree. My wife played WOW for awhile even raided some but she was just there for the chat function. turns out Once all her friends and CoWorkers went to farmville she was just as happy there workign her farma s playing wow. She got her chat and none of the stress of dealing with LFG or raids.

NOw as far as those who came to wow for a game your dead on.

Others have said it before. A lot of people just play wow because thier friends are there not because they are still having fun.

I've talked to many a burned out player who wouldn't quit because of their in-game friends
"By that logic Warhammer online should have reached 20mio subscribers by now and Age of Conan could not have sold more than 10k boxes..."

I really don't believe Warhammer or Age of Conan have/had anywhere near the fanbase that Warcraft did. Warcraft was immensely popular and very well known to anyone in gaming and frankly you could have slapped the Wacraft name on anything atfer WC3 and it would have sold like hotcakes. Warhammer and AoC? Not so much. You'd be hard pressed to try and say either one of those brands has a fanbase larger then Warcraft or Star Wars.

And yes it was just one factor to WoW's success, I know there were many others.
Bleh commenting giving anyone problems today?

Anyways before I got cut off for whatever reason just wanted to finish my thought and say that yes I know that those aren't the only factors to a game being successful, but having a large following and a big franchise name sure as hell will help any game out the gate.
I might be concerned if someone other then BioWare was developing this game but they have built a Brand name for themselves over the last decade with constant hit games year after year.
They currently have over 3.8 million registered users on there official sight and gamers flock to there Brand of story telling and RPG games. Tack on the Star Wars IP and its hard to imagine this game not being a huge hit with their fan base.
I think this game is going to expand the MMO market again not unlike how Blizzard did by bringing there Fans to the MMO genera.
Don’t underestimate the strength that the BioWare Brand brings with it, 2 million in my opinion is setting the bar low. I hope they have the servers on stand by if they end up with twice that many.

Some BioWare history

2010 - MASS EFFECT 2: Publisher EA has confirmed that, according to internal estimates, Mass Effect 2 in its first week after release has already sold over 2 million copies worldwide.

2009 - Dragon Age(TM): Origins has sold over 3.2 million units worldwide. The "RPG of the Year" as named by Game Informer, G4, SpikeTV,, and PC Gamer, Dragon Age: Origins has been hailed by Seth Schiesel of The New York Times as, "...perhaps the best electronic game made yet." Dragon Age: Origins has won over 30 "Best of 2009" awards

2008 - BioWare's online community surpasses over 3.8 million registered users as of January, 2008

2007 - MASS EFFECT 1:According to updated figures from Microsoft, in the six weeks after the game was released, it had sold 1.6 million copies.

2003 - STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC: The game has sold over 2.5 million copies to date (Xbox and PC) and spawned a successful sequel which was launched in Xmas 2004

2002 NEVERWINTER NIGHTS SERIES: Thus far the BioWare Aurora Neverwinter toolset has been used by the BioWare Community of users (which has nearly 2.6 million registered user accounts as of July 2005) to create nearly 5000 Neverwinter Nights modules since its release

1998 - BALDUR'S GATE SERIES: The Baldur's Gate series: Baldur's Gate I, Baldur's Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast, Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, and Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal have sold approximately 5 million units world-wide
Baldur's Gate, released in 1998 has sold over 2 million units for PC and has won many industry awards
Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, was released in Sept. 2000 and continued the award winning story line of the Baldur's Gate series, selling over 2 million units.
Have to disagree with you on this one. You don't take into account the amount of time WoW players spend playing WoW. If WoW shut down the person that plays 10 hours a week would probably just play console games or watch TV but the gamer who plays 20+ hours a week will go to another MMO. No other style of game could satisfy him and I find it very unlikely that he would pick up another hobby with those 20+ hours.

WoW has the vast majority of MMO players playing their game and any MMO that wants a piece of the market will have to take it from somebody else, the few new players SWtOR pulls will not be nearly enough to support the game.
In this parallel universe, I wouldn't be playing MMO's. Me and a bunch of friends were actually introduced to the MMO genre (we were all FPS players) by WoW, and we stuck around because WoW made a very good first impression.
I haven't seen one MMO after WoW, and I tried all the "big" ones, which did the same; it's all rubbish in my opinion.
If Blizzard would close down WoW right now, I'd probably stop playing games alltogether.
the question is, how many of the big-brand "themepark" MMO players (WoW, LoTR, etc.) would be willing to switch to SW:TOR?

You have to assume a certain segment of its market will be the star wars-obsessives, and hell that may be enough for 2 million subscribers right there. But in terms of its long-term success, it has to carve into the big-brand pie to some extent; as SW:TOR will be designed to cater towards that MMO crowd, as opposed to the EVE players or whatever.
I'm gonna have to disagree...if WoW was shut down, 11-12 million MMO players will be without their They would have to be displaced somewhere. There are simply too many people who thoroughly enjoy not just WoW, but the whole process, community, and type of game. All a game would have to do is be SIMILAR to WoW and it would gain a massive influx. I do NOT think said game will suddenly have 12 million more players. I do, however, think that several million would not be unexpected.

The same would apply to if WoW had never come out. EQ had been gaining ground, then Sony shot themselves in the foot with EQ2. EQ2 and and WoW were debuted and hyped around the same time...again, I don't think 12 million players would be expected, but you can't tell me that a healthy number of early WoW adopters(many of which quit EQ for it), wouldn't have gone to EQ2.

p.s. your blog is self-hosted wordpress unfriendly.
I have the same impression of SWTOR. I sure it will sell well, but if the game's as described, I think people will just play through the main story (or part of it) and then quit. It sounds like Bioware is assuming people will play through the story line multiple times with alts, and I'm not sure people will be willing to pay a subscription fee to do that. The question is (1) whether single-player gamers are willing to pay a ongoing subscription fee, and (2) whether the game will include more traditional MMO features that will give it long-term appeal.

One question about WoW: My understanding is that the average length of a WoW subscription is a year or less. If that's true, there must be many millions of people rotating through WoW every year. Where do all of those people go? Since other MMOs subscription numbers are mostly stagnant, presumably most WoW players do not go on to play other MMOs, right?
First of all, if there was a way to skip dialog options in Knights of the Old Republic I don't think many would do it as it would defeat the one thing bioware is best at.

"And how many people are still PLAYING Mass Effect 2 in April?"

If ME2 were being updated with a huge patch in April, then yeah, people would be playing ME2 in April.
I tend to agree with your theory. WoW is the first and only MMORPG I've ever played. I haven't found another that comes even close to it so in the absence of WoW, personally I'd just engage in another hobby not involving online games. At least until something really worthy comes along.
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