EA-owned BioWare Mythic has said that its MMO, Warhammer Online, is a profitable enterprise, despite speculation following dwindling subscriber numbers and the recent introduction of a free-to-play endless trial model.
Eugene Evans was unwilling to discuss the current number of subscribers, but touted the endless trial model as a success, claiming that "tens of thousands of players" are joining up via the scheme each month. The endless trial limits the players' experience of the MMO to the early stages, including imposing a level cap, but allows them to do so with no time restrictions.
"We're still running it. The game is profitable. We have a team that's engaged in it. We're seeing a great response from the community as they rediscover the game," Evans told our sister site Eurogamer.net.
"We're far from giving up on the game. Here we are two years later, and despite all the naysayers we continue to improve... These games are not defined by the product you have at launch. They're defined by what you do with the game and how you respond to the community."
Expectations were high at Mythic about the numbers which Warhammer Online would attract, with the company aiming for one million sign-ups during the game's beta phase.
It was reported that the game had topped 800,000 "current players" during its peak in 2008, but this number dropped sharply to over 300,000 two months later. EA reported a figure of 300,000 subscribers in May 2009. This announcement was followed by a reduction in server numbers to consolidate player population.
Current trends in MMOs are leaning toward a microtransaction model, with EverQuest 2, Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online currently operating as free-to-play games subsidised by an in-game store which allows players to buy items with real money.
The success of Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited's adoption of the system led Turbine and Warner Bros to extend the model to LOTRO. Borderline MMOs such as Farmville have also seen huge success via microtransactions.
Warhammer Online seems unlikely to follow that trend, however, with Eugene Evans telling Eurogamer that "The free-to-play model has huge advantages but my opinion is you either have to design a game from scratch to drive that free-to-play experience, or there is a significant amount of work to re-engineer your game to deliver something that can drive the same amount of revenue."
Warhammer Online developer Mythic was merged with BioWare by EA in June 2009, a move which resulted in Mark Jacobs, co-founder and general manager of Mythic, as well as lead designer on Warhammer Online, leaving the company. BioWare co-founder Ray Muzyka is now the general manager of the BioWare RPG and MMO group of studios.