Early Star Wars success points to healthy MMO market

Impact on rival World of Warcraft is "minimal" say analysts, as Bioware title gets off to steady start

The early success of Bioware and EA's Star Wars: The Old Republic is an indication of a healthy market for subscription based MMOs, according to analysts monitoring the high-profile release.

Electronic Arts said over the Christmas period that more than one million users had registered for the game, which officially went live on December 20, although it had steadily rolled out early access to the game beginning two weeks before that.

"We view the early success of Star Wars as an indication of a healthy MMO market," said Baird Equity Research's Colin Sebastian. "While there is likely some shifting of usage from Activision's World of Warcraft, we see a viable market for multiple million-user MMOs in the US and Europe."

Baird Equity estimates that the game has peak concurrent users of roughly 350,000 players.

According to analysts at Cowen and Company the uptake of The Old Republic has had "minimal apparent impact" on Blizzard and Activision's market-leading World of Warcraft.

But it also noted that it expects a decline in WoW subscriptions the fourth quarter to be higher than 2.5 per cent, following recent trends in the game which have seen players leave the game.

As of December 31, EA has a total of 215 operational Star Wars servers, with 124 in the US and 91 in Europe. That compares to 491 European and US servers for World of Warcraft combined.

Early critical response for The Old Republic has been generally positive, although many outlets are still in the process of reviewing the game. It currently boasts a Metacritic score of 88, but the game has not been without its launch controversies, including gold-farming and bans for players that some have seen as unfair.

All eyes are now on the game to see if it can maintain its subscription business model, with many expecting a shift to free-to-play, as has been the case with multiple MMOs over the past 18 months.

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Latest comments (13)

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 7 years ago
A lot of MMOs in the last two years hit that one million mark shortly after release, such as Rift, Aion, DC Universe, Age of Conan. It will be interesting to see, if Star Wars can keep them subscribed, or if this is just the assault of the typical MMO tourists playing the game for a short while and moving on before it gets grindy.
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Tom Keresztes Programmer 7 years ago
Its worth noting that only the professional critics gave it 87, the user rating is at 6.1.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 7 years ago
For games as a service many consumers are moving over to their smartphones. Could the best days of PC MMORPGs be behind us?
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Neil Alphonso Lead Designer, Splash Damage Ltd7 years ago
I'd love to know the definition of "minimal apparent impact," as more than 50% of the people I used to play WoW with have switched to SWOTOR. The bigger question is whether it'll stay that way.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 7 years ago

Please define "switched". Do they just play SW because it is some new content to experience, or did they really realize all their treasures in WoW are useless timewasters and the only way to show their gaming prowess was to flash their SW character level to other people.

I bet once they are done with the content and enter the stage of the game where it only becomes about raising numbers and comparing them to the numbers of your friends, they will revert back to WoW, because it is the standard currency for showing off.
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I think, a MMO with a few hundred thousand dedicates is quite a nice intimate feel. Anything more can be too congested and less intimate. I seriously doubt if smartphones/tablets can remove the interface limitations that can be had with a console/PC.

This doesnt mean there will not be hybrid MMOs for the portable market. eg. Monster Hunter lite

However the next step will probably VR or AR of sorts!
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Gregore Candalez Journalist and Account Manager, FD Com.7 years ago
In my opinion, a good MMO is a combination of several factors. By definition, online games are infinite and, as such, they require repetitive tasks and grinding. It is virtually impossible to have exclusive and new content every week to satisfity all player base.

Having said that, a good MMO will satisfiy their players in two fronts:

1. the process of leveling up, which is the novelty of the entire gameplay. I played WoW for 5 years, quit 10 months ago, and I'm now playing Star Wars. And I gotta say, the leveling is far from boring. But leveling wasn't boring on WoW either, until the third character, when you pretty much realized that everything, with every character, was going to be the same. So, SW having unique storylines to each one of the 10 classes is an amazing good start.

2. the end game. This is what decides the lifespan of a good online game. City of Heroes was fun to play, until I reached max level and realized that, without exaggeration, there was absolutely NOTHING to do. Then I quit. WoW had very fun raids at first, but the mechanics were simplified to a frustrating level it became impossible to continue killing piles of bosses to collect piles of gear. WoW got old. Blizzard developed a very successful formula and repeated it to exhaustion, just changing minor things here and there to refresh the novelty of the game. I am yet to beging raiding on Star Wars. But, if I can judge by the dungeons so far (Flashpoints) they ought to be VERY, very fun. Especially because you need less people to do them - 8 or 16 - which makes things much more fun.

If you read this until here, may the Force be with you.
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Neil Alphonso Lead Designer, Splash Damage Ltd7 years ago
Klaus, all of them are content-seekers. They're adults, and essentially consider MMOs a cost-effective hobby.

I'm curious about whether they'll revert back to WoW more because of the many services improvements and technical features Blizzard has had the time to construct around the game (mobile functionality, character services, streaming patch content, cross-realm instances and battlegrounds, etc). I'll admit I'm not sure where SWOTOR stands on a lot of those features, but I was under the impression that many wouldn't exist on launch.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 7 years ago

then I suppose they will play SW until the content runs dry, or the access requirements for new quests are too high to be time efficient. Eventually you always run into the point where the character levels within your guild become way too scattered and new content appeals to fewer and fewer members because it is stacked on top of the entire game's progression.

I have seen that happen to a group of friends hopping from MMO to MMO. As soon as a new game, or expansion, comes along which has vastly more content which is more readily available, the switch happens. Makes me wonder if expansions are really the way to go, or whether low-level forks (or adjustable enemy levels) aren't better.

In any event, the content hoppers do not bode well for consistent subscription numbers.
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Geir Aaslid Producer, Virtual Game Worlds As7 years ago
I do not see any possibility of deep game immersion on a smartphone. The interesting question is, how can your smartphone communicate with SWTOR when you're away from your PC or laptop?

As for the future of subscription based MMOs in the Western market, I suspect only market leaders and those dominating their own niche will prosper with subscriptions. Time will show, and we might see a move to hybrid models.
In a years time we'll see which percentage of the launch customers will stay with SWTOR and how it develops after launch. Conan managed to lose roughly 90% of their initial customers within 7 months of their launch, but SWTOR is a stronger IP and they seem to have avoided most of the disasters associated with the CONAN launch.
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Mihai Cozma Indie Games Developer 7 years ago
I've tried all major MMORPGs out there and I will try this one too, but only after a few months of being online. It is a good rule not to rush in and wait a bit for such games to ensure most of the issues are solved and you will get the best experience it can provide.

1 million subscribers are mostly the StarWars fans that got the game right away and they got one month free subscription or something. The truth about how many will stay subscribed will be seen in 6+ months time.
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Nicholas Russell writer 7 years ago
I think we're all forgetting that we're gauging the health of an entire genre based on the financial success of a game that's only been out for a little over two weeks. Don't get me wrong, SWTOR is a credit to the genre, but ask me again in Summer when the game's had a few months behind it whether this title indicates anything even remotely useful in regards to our industry's financial stability.
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Would like to point out that Activision has nothing to do with World of Warcraft. The analyst quoted could maybe do more research on the company structure of Blizzard.

To stay relevant to the post: Really hope that SWTOR has staying power past the initial 30 days that people are currently still playing. Guess only time will tell.
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