Tobold's Blog
Friday, June 15, 2012
So how is SWTOR doing?

When EA Bioware last announced subscription numbers for Star Wars: The Old Republic, there was some suspicion that those numbers were artificially inflated by them just having given out free months to every player having reached legacy level 6. Now they are offering "free server transfers" with a system that reminds many people of a server merge. Of course "free server transfers" sounds a lot better, because "server merge" has come to be considered indicative of a game in trouble.

Green Armadillo writes: "The thing that has surprised me is how aggressive Bioware-Mythic is being. By my count of US servers as of this evening, there are 10 servers that Bioware intends to save (destinations), 23 servers with unknown fates (neither origin nor destination as of yet), and a whopping 90 servers that Bioware appears to be writing off (origins)."

While all this sounds a bit fishy, it is very hard to get an accurate picture of the health of SWTOR. The blogosphere only offers the usual mix of "the game is fine, because I'm still playing" and "the game is dying, because I stopped playing". And as I have stopped playing, I can't look for myself at the state of the server my characters are on.

So I'd love to hear from you what your impressions on the state of health of Star Wars: The Old Republic are. Is there an active community on your server? Is the auction house brimming with goods? Or is there tumbleweed blowing through the republic / imperial fleet?

I'm not playing right now. I liked the beta but i won't pay a monthly fee for this game. I'm the potential TOR customer, who is puzzled by how awfully EA/LucasArts are failing.

Why is this thing not F2P yet? It's the perfect timing. By the time EA pushes the F2P button, Pandaria will be here and all of your potential TOR players will be hooked to WoW again.

I'm taking bets, that the original EQ will outlast TOR. I mean they do not have years to recover. The project should still bleed money and from the looks, revenue did not even hit rock bottom yet.
Still playing, population is good on my Asia Pacific server and I just moved my US West Coast character onto a more populated server. Took 5 mins.

Currently just logging in sporadically for 30 mins sessions to do the class stories for my myriad of alts, but looking forward to LFG.
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I played only the first month. It isn't a bad game I am just not a sci fi fan. I am a fan of sword and board and currently I am playing lotro.

I have spent in lotro more money than 12 months subscription and I have played 4 months until now. It is a free to play game but it is an awesome game and so it made me to give my money.

I guess star wars might do the same. If you have 500k fans you will make more money if you go free to play and provide a store. Those 500k people will pay much more per month. Also in this way you can design your game for your fan base and close your ears to the cry-babies passing from the game for a month or two and want to change everything because it is not like wow.

"...but I challenge anyone to point out a game that has none (and back it up in an objective way)."

They call that Stockholm Syndrome.

TOR's issues stem from the executive and communication. The game, as a casual friendly alt game, is a success. That game domain has traditionally been kept by the F2P market as it's dependent on content packages that target specific demographics.

How many subscription fantasy games are there left now? WoW, Rift, TERA and UO?

The game is good, just marketed to the wrong demographic.
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They are seriously looking at F2P.
I am have been on ] one of the Target servers since launch and things have been generally good, and getting better with the influx of new players. The alts I played on a different server, however, tend to be awfully lonely!

The general population before the "merges" was definitely down since the launch peak, but that is normal with any MMO.

Bioware tried hard to balance the "too many/login queues" vs. "robust enough population," and probably went too far towards the first one. That, coupled with the difficulty (to "modern" gamers) in getting groups is probably a bit part of why they have probably taken a bigger hit than they would have liked.
Healthwise I think they have major issues.

I took a stab at the analytics that goes behind numbers and subscriptions a month ago for instance. Shameless plug:

Basically I looked solely at the indexes to use a regulation based on server populations that relate to an index. Ultimately this process is inaccurate but not offbase. Issue being the index can't tell the difference between a very lightly populated server and a dead one.
With 123 server in NA, and only 6 of which are capable of not being light, this inflates the index poorly.

Quick synopsis:

I assume based on April 1st, 2012 that there 1.3M subs (on Free or Not) with an overall wordwild index of 234.50. This would indicate a each server should hold 5.5K of the subscriptions on average.
As of May 18th, the index heavily dropped to 171.0 following the release of D3. Based on the same number of servers and the inactivity, I was certain that 1.066M was probably all they had in subs if the same level of active vs. subscribed were still playing.

As of my last look on July 8th before the merges, the index was down to 139.07, by my estimates indicating only 781K in subs left.

As someone that used to play more. Just the feeling from the servers in general, this doesn't feel off base. 2 months ago, my at the time thoguht to be dead server had 50 on fleet. It couldn't hold more than 7 last week. An active server we rerolled to for a bit, had 210 on fleet 2 months ago. Last week this dropped to 75.

Two months ago, the assumption was many players were migrating. Based on the index showing only downward population cycles in almost every server, this meant that assumption was not true in May and June.

I don't want to say my analytics are sound. It's simply looking at index focus based on server loads to try and assume populations, and then take a prediction at subs (which are different).

But I have no doubt that the 1.3M number is far from gone. I would call scrupples or bullshit if EA tries to report anything other than <800K by their Qtr 1 report. I assume they will avoid mentioning the number at all in the report and just talk bottom line operation expenses versus revenue.

The problem with many defenders of the MMO, and to this point they are little bit too defensive, is they don't seem to realize the magnitude of this approach.

123 NA servers merging to 10. This is beyond ridiculous. How can a studio mis-manage population for so long so poorly that you are consolidating to that degree.

I think SWTOR legacy to lessons learned for the future boils down to multiple degrees:

1) How many games have to ignore and the end game PVP and lose heavy populations before the industry realizes that this is a make or break?

2) Failed to have a consolidation plan of servers from the start. This very slow to react migration of servers comes months over due. The first small set should ahve taken place in March. 123 to 80 to 50 to 25 to 10 would have made a ton of sense and would have save probably literally hundreds of thousands of subs. It's countless how many were willing to wait for other fixes. No one can wait on a game that no one is playing with.

I find it hard to believe that BW was that stubborn. It became clearer and clearer that they just didn't know how to do server merges. And I find it hard to beleive that experience MMO designers didn't bring this up before launch.

3) They released free content far too spread out. You now have games like RIFT, who's IP is terrible, yet holds and gains customers everyday due to the fact you have studio constantly updating. You cannot release a themepark and not have content release that slow. Especially when you made all the content for 1.1 and 1.5 patches at launch. Everyone already knows the content of these patches:

Reason being is that is was in our game when we downloaded it in decemeber. We can see the content already there.

So you made 5 patches at launch ready to go. You were 5 patches ahead. Awesome. Yet, you roll these out in 3 month intervals?

I think SWTOR is a sad story. Great game, well made, very decent game play.

Yet they didn't have a merge plan, didn't think of PVP the least yet were a studio composed of most of Mythic the kings of RVR, and then rolled out content in a what they made a PVE game at sluggish speed.

It's really sad that it all was incredible easy to avoid. It's hard to watch someone light themselves of fire. But what can you do?
I still have an active subscription, and I'm playing the game most every night.

I'm in an active raiding guild that currently fields 2 to 3 raid teams per week. Of course, we were fine before transfers.

Our server, Grand Master Zym, was selected as an origin and our guild moved last night. There are more people in the fleet (think Ironforge or Orgrimmar), and more people in the zones. People are able to get groups again for the heroic quests (like the old Elite quests in WoW).

Queues pop nearly instantly and the Warzones are more balanced.

So I would say, based upon my observations of last night, that post transfers, the game and the community are healthy.
I'm playing on a destination server, saw fleet pop go from 40 to 120 an hour past prime time.

Unfortunately, planet pop's are still low.

What happened if you started a (Star) war and nobody came? It's a big beautiful mmorpg for 5 years ago. Back in the day it was fun to wait an hour to get a ST group going in WoW, or waiting 45 minutes for one of those epic hour long AV's.

I don't think anybody has that kind of time anymore. I can rarely game in more than 30 minute chunks, and TOR won't even let you kill a single mob with that time commitment.
I started with the "Republic Mercy Corps" bloggers guild on Sanctum of The Exalted. In spite of starting in early release in a decent-sized guild, when a friend started playing on a different server a few months later, I had no problems at all saying goodbye to my level 41, 2 level 29's, and a level 22 character that I had on SotE, nor that guild.

The server I rolled to was smaller, but since I had 2 friends playing there and we were able to get a person to join us while we made our own small guild, then boot the 4th. That was fun for several months, but then they both got bored and logged in less and now they've both unsubbed. Due to them logging in less I focused on a toon in the other faction and joined a nice-sized and active guild there. I'm currently active in it.

Both of those servers were named "origin" and I've transferred my characters off now. I haven't played much on the new servers yet, but I was on for a moment this morning at 7am and there were easily 5x as many people on the fleet as I'd ever seen at that hour before, so I call that good, at least. But with that said. . . I don't think there's actually all that much total population left, so they really *had* to consolidate us down to give the illusion to the players that the game isn't dying.
"I can rarely game in more than 30 minute chunks, and TOR won't even let you kill a single mob with that"

That's a fairly large exaggeration.

When I left WoW DPS queue times for heroics were about 30 minutes (sometimes longer).

There were over 300 on the fleet on Shadowlands last night. As for the planets, there were plenty of people on Nar Shaddaa and heroic groups were forming. This is a low level zone, and most max level people are probably on Corellia, Belsavis, or Ilum doing dailes.

There are still problems with getting groups for flashpoints, no doubt of that. The next big improvement is group finder (which is coming in a matter of weeks with the next patch).

It still boggles my mind that the developers didn't put a higher priority on getting group finder in the game sooner.
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It's hard to say. The destination servers are certainly doing well. It seems as if the population caps must be higher on the destination servers than they were at launch, I've never seen so many players in most of the places I go (even when I played on servers that were "full.".

The origin servers, however, are and have been ghost towns. Bioware waited way way too long to deal with population issues, and likely lost a lot of players because of it. When you hit the level cap, almost everything available to do requires decent populations to work unless you happen to be in a large guild.

My guess would be that the game probably has somewhere between 600K and 1 million players still. Above EAs 500K target, but in the same order of magnitude as Rift rather than WoW.
I think their model has proven that P2P doesn't work. It's the F2P models that will grow more active communities. I had a friend quit the game altogether. He enjoyed it, but he just felt that he didn't have enough time to play while in college. On the other hand, he still has Guild Wars installed because there is no feeling of obligation to play. People that like the game but don't have time to play will eventually quit it altogether.
At release I predicted less than 500k subs one year later. I feel like I might have been right, maybe even too optimistic.
I took a couple of weeks out to play d3 and came right back. My server was fairly empty (although I had a couple of good discussions on hoth general so it wasn't completely barren) but the transfer has completely solved that so overall I'm happy
mmeh, I do not believe is accurate.

I rerolled in march from a nearly dead server to an active one. I still logged in the former from time to time. The active one gotten less active slowly but surely, and also right after Diablo 3 launch was desolate. My original server wasn't completely dead but far less populated. Yet according to these servers have the very same activity and server population (I suppose, called "light"). An old guild member of my WoW guild rolled on a different server than I started and from what I heard he was often the only person on fleet. He was playing solo. Yet his server has same activity as the two I mentioned earlier. I understand one can say "almost nothing is the same as nothing" but seems something isn't right here.

At this point we also must take into account bots. Space botting is very lucrative and profitable yet you will not get banned for doing it. Those are not really players though, they're not humans who are playing the game. Certainly not in MMO way.

Btw, EU got merged into 3 big servers. THREE! That is less than 33% of NA. Apparently the game is unpopular in EU?

"I think SWTOR is a sad story. Great game, well made, very decent game play."

Come on, the game has many flaws. The graphics aren't much better than WoW. The game requires high-end gaming system (including lots of RAM). Resolve system is far from perfect with roots not counting. I got myself burned in WoW from an ability delay of 0,06 seconds. This game is worse with people teleporting through fire in 2 seconds flat. It also features a big fat grind for both PvE and PvP. I'd rather see people play a game because it is fun and/or competitive.

For me SWTOR has 3 strong aspects I enjoy: the class story line, 8 of them, fully featured with voice acting. It is like playing your own movie. But before you complete it you're busy for a while and you need to do lots of boring quests you already did, or you do the second strong aspect of the game: the WZs (multiplayer PvP). While not perfectly balanced and various design flaws including bugs and class imbalance it is still a lot of fun because some things are working well, and are well balanced. The 3rd strong point is that it is a Star Wars MMO, a space MMO, instead of fantasy, and well, it is Star Wars with its lore and such. Ironically I am more of a fantasy person though, don't care much about SW lore, and unfortunately you cannot play the WZ PvP competitive if you play the game casually (you'll be outgeared by no lifers and their vchat-powered, streaming premades). I still enjoy these aspects, but they're not worth enough for me to pay for the sub.

Therefore, even tho our server merge have been succesful, /unsub. I may retry during patch 1.3 for a month because server merge allows me to actually play this MM in MMO. Thing is, do I really need that group finder to play PvE which is.. well, lets keep it civil.. not very competitive, fun, nor challenging? No. If you've played it once you've seen the instance, the story, and that is enough IMO. So what remains? The PvP.
Other than having to change my name on my main I'm very happy with transfers. Went from 30 on fleet to around 800 at primetime. Most planets have multiple instances now, I have had no issues getting groups for the daily heroics. AH is full of stuff again. Wish we had the group finder already but it's not too far away now.

The community on my server seems very positive now. I think everyone is happy to just be able to play the game with others who enjoy it. I don't see them losing many more subs at this point, who ever has stuck with it this long through all these shananigans is probably here to stay.

Actually I pointed out flaw:

"Ultimately this process is inaccurate but not offbase. Issue being the index can't tell the difference between a very lightly populated server and a dead one. "

The problem with the index is it can't tell the difference in light population servers. So 100 in fleet looks the same as a server that has 10. The statistics are an issue based on this.

But ... considering 3 months ago we only had 20 odd servers in light population, this does show quite a bit of statistical drop.

So while you can't predict the actual percise number, the gander can't be too far off. Meaning that based on the numbers and server scales we can tell that as of before the transfers, there is no possible way SWTOR had more than 1M in subscriptions active. Short of an influx of "sleeper" subs. Meaning subscriptions just sitting there but not being used in any activity.

I don't agree in any sort of fashion that the graphics aren't too far off WoW's. Granted the SWTOR graphics aren't great, but compared to WOW's they are revolutionary. But, that's also 9 years of developement difference. It's expected.

And yes to the PVP. Hence the greif. Dungeon grinding is a lost market to compete in. It's sad that they didn't forsee the PVP in the long run. They really dropped the ball.
Someone was tracking activity on, and says SWTOR activity is down 90% from the release peak. Subs don't correspond to activity precisely, but if they want to maintain server loads some such drastic shrinkage was needed.

I know the WoW/SWTOR activity ratio was around 70% at its peak, and is now down around 15% -- and WoW activity is down too.
Forgive the late comment! I (and my fiance) both have active SWTOR subs and took advantage of the free transfers. Our guild moved as well, and just from my limited experience, people seem happy with the transfers and happy with having a populated server for once. (Our old server was -really- dead.) I have to agree with TrippinNinja's comment: The people who are still playing are pretty happy, take that for whatever it's worth.
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