Going back to October 2010 (and through to March 2011) I detailed five reasons why Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWOR) was a high risk MMO. Those reasons where:
- EA was funding SWOR for the wrong reasons – they weren’t looking to develop a profitable title, but instead create a WoW-level success with a financial break even point of
1m playersat least 500k players. BioWare was going to deliver that to them if they gave it enough money.
- SWOR’s development was going to cost too much – original speculation suggested that SWOR might cost between US$150m to US300m to develop; the most official source available puts the development cost at US$200m. That’s a huge amount to pay back.
- The subscription fee payment model for MMOs wasn’t as effective as it used to be – with the amount of free-to-play (F2P) / hybrid payment systems currently available among MMOs, along with the indication that players aren’t as willing to pay $15 a month to keep playing a title as was the case in 2004, made a pure sub-payment model precarious.
- A narrative story in a MMO may not be good enough to keep players – BioWare likes to trumpet the strength of their stories and how by adding “the fourth pillar” they would finally create a point to playing a MMO. However, stories end while MMOs are meant to keep people playing.
- BioWare doesn’t create great game mechanics – in a single player title if the story is good enough you can forgive weaker mechanics (planet scanning in Mass Effect 2, anyone?). But a MMO requires pretty much all of its main game mechanics to fire and keep players coming back. BioWare has always relied on its narrative strengths to paper over its mechanical weaknesses.
The announcement came today that about seven months after launch SWOR is going to move to a F2P hybrid model, having dropped from 1.7m subscribers to somewhere between 500k to 1m in that time. I didn’t predict this – I actually thought they’d go a cash shop first, since EA’s Warhammer Online has proved so resistant to going F2P – but it’s in line with my original thoughts about how much risk SWOR carried for EA.
The thing is that SWOR is still likely the second or third largest MMO in the Western market. It just cost too much. Now BioWare has to walk back its comments about F2P, such as:
“The free-to-play people can’t invest to the level we can invest, and can’t create something of the size and scale of something we can create.”
Now that BioWare is joining the ranks of the F2P people, it will be interesting to see what they keep investing in SWOR.