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 The Old Republic  subscriptions dip to 1.3 million users as casual players drop out
The Old Republic subscriptions dip to 1.3 million users as casual players drop out
May 7, 2012 | By Tom Curtis

May 7, 2012 | By Tom Curtis
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    22 comments
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing



During Electronic Arts' fiscal earnings report on Monday, the major publisher revealed that its major MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently has roughly 1.3 million subscribers -- down significantly from the 1.7 million subscribers it boasted in February.

It's an alarming drop for EA's flagship online game, but during the company's recent financial earnings call, CFO Ken Barker said that the drop reflects the numerous non-paying subscribers who stopped playing after using up the game's 30-days of free game time.

"The substantial portion of the decrease [for The Old Republic] was due to lower numbers of trial players, upping the percentage of paying subscribers," Barker said.

"Some of those casual customers have gone through a billing cycle and have decided not to subscribe to the game," added EA Labels president Frank Gibeau.

When asked about the game's financial significance, EA CEO John Riccitiello said, "Its performance right now is in line with Madden, or The Sims, but it's more important than Tiger Woods PGA Tour."

Late last month, EA's BioWare division denied previous reports that subscriber counts has declined, and BioWare writer Daniel Erickson said the company is doing "anything and everything" to increase concurrent user numbers.

Despite the company's record year, the drop in subs -- as well as the company's reduced financial outlook -- have caused shareholders to offload stocks tonight. As of this writing, shares are down over 7 percent in after hours trading.


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Comments


Alan Rimkeit
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I am not surprised as WOW numbers have been dropping for a while now. SW:TOR being a WOW clone with lots of voice overs does not help much. The action is a bit faster, but the game play is pretty much the same. If I was Bioware and EA I would be trying to change the game to be as different from WOW as it could possibly be. Don't know how but it must be done.

Maybe they should open it up like Ultima On-Line or Star Wars: Galaxies before Sony messed it all up. Open it up for more freedom for the players to make something of the Star Wars universe. Crafting, building, and an open economy might help a lot. It would make me a happier player.

Bioware should have made KOTOR 3. *sighs* I still play, but only because I wish SW:TOR was KOTOR 3. I also wish that someone would go back and truly finish KOTOR 2. That "ending" was dreadful to say the least. Maybe I will go back and play KOTOR some more. This all makes me very sad in a way.

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Alan Rimkeit
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Did Bioware sell it's soul for an MMO? Was making an MMO that important? What with the recent Mass Effect debacle and now SW:TOR dropping like a rock it makes me wonder. No one ever had complaints about Bioware before this. They are(or once were?) in my top 3 favorite devs of all time. It is a damn shame. :( I guess time will tell. Please, if anyone from Bioware reads this please for the love of all things gaming prove me(and all the other devoted fans) wrong.

Simon Ludgate
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Wait what?! 30 day free trial?! Where do I go to download that?

Frank Cifaldi
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Simon, thanks, that was worded oddly. The thirty day trial comes after purchasing the game, and is not "free." We've edited the article.

Simon Ludgate
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Suggestion: "the drop reflects the numerous players who never subscribed after using up the 30-days of access included with the purchase of the game." I don't think the word "trial" should ever be used in this context.

Still, I'd be willing to try this out. Maybe they should do a 30-day free trial?

Garrett Mickley
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There's a 14 day trial but I believe you have to be invited by someone already playing the game.

Maria Jayne
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I canceled my subscription after 6 months of playing, over 500 hours in game and I just did the PvE content. Two days later I got a questionaire that basicly quizzed me on what I wanted for PvP, almost every question was PvP related in some way apart from the first couple.

It was an interesting time filling it out considering any option to give feedback that wasn't about their PvP was impossible. They didn't even have an "I don't like PvP" answer from all the multiple choice ratings.

Ben Rice
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Not to troll or anything, just curious how you cancelled after 6 months of playing when the game has only been out for 5 months and a few weeks?

William Johnson
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EA just doesn't get it. You do not become a market leader by being a market follower.

Ramin Shokrizade
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I really enjoyed SW:TOR as a single player game, but the limited group sizes (a full party can have 2 players and 2 AI) and the weak game economy made its multiplayer potential very limited. For this reason I have been describing this game as "Massively Single Player". MSP games have notoriously low retention and this is what you are observing with the high churn rate.

I did a deathwatch on the game economy on LinkedIn when this title came out, and its virtual currency dropped 97% in 30 days. I don't see the point in including a crafting system and auction house if you are going to make an economy so weak that it collapses in the first month.

Craig Page
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Is SWTOR considered a failure for selling around two million copies at $60 each? That's $120,000,000 right there, plus another $60,000,000 if you assume the average player pays for two months.

Nathaniel Marlow
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Obviously the 180,000,000 figure is a pretty big oversimplification, but regardless, I assume the operating costs to keep the game afloat (including ongoing development and the like) really puts a dent in the money pile.

Justin Benoit
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Lowball estimates put the game's budget at $200,000,000 (over 6 years), and go as high as $300,000,000

Now we factor in that EA isn't receiving that full $60. Retailers probably got to buy the game wholesale, so they paid EA outright, and for less than $60 a copy. Then no doubt a fair chuck of that goes straight to Lucas, as is standard with all star wars licensing deals. I'd be surprised if EA was getting even $30 out of that $60 at this point.

So that $120,000,000 just turned into $60,000,000.

Then we factor in subscription sales. No doubt a lot of people who bought it never paid past the first month, and the only firm number we had before today was 1.7 million in March.

So again, let's just say 1.7 million have been paying each month since launch, not counting the first month you get for free.

so Launch December 20th > Free month till January 20th > 1.7 * $15/month into February and march.

about $50,000,000

Now two months later, we're down to 1.3. let's just average it out and say 1.5 million paid from march to may:

about $45,000,000

So that brings us to a lowball (and realistic) estimate of $160,000,000 as of right now.

And of course as Nathaniel said, ongoing operating costs are going to add to that initial $200,000,000 budget. And considering they didn't sell all 2 million copies on launch day means a lot of those people only started playing around February or March (which means only started paying around March to April).

Simplified? Yes. Probably wrong? No doubt. But when it takes EA over 6 months to a year just to break even on a game that appears to be slowing down? I consider that a failure.

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Craig Page
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I didn't realize they had spent so much time and money making this...

J Z
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Anyone who keeps tabs on the MMO market or SWTOR in general this should not have been "alarming" at all. EA inflated subscriber numbers with additional free playtime, giving vague numbers instead of concrete PAYING subscriber numbers, all while they scramble to add content to avoid being judged too early.

All too obvious trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the investors, and deserve full well to be slammed in the markets.

Dan Porter
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IMHO mobility within the gamespace was also a pretty big problem. People tend to overlook this, but a huge portion of the time a player spends in an MMORPG is spent getting from Point A to Point B. Where "Point B" is and how the player gets there is a huge portion of MMORPGs. SWTOR made it frustrating to get around, and had a nasty habit of dragging the player around by the nose ("Go HERE next!").

If you take a look at something like WoW, you're dealing with:

1) Massive, interconnected open world (WoW is effectively four huge continents, rather than dozens of tiny instances. Yes, there's phasing, but the player doesn't feel that while flying around.)
2) Non-linear level design (at least outside instances.) In WoW you can literally walk from one ocean to another. Generally speaking, continents in WoW have some sort of open boundary: an ocean or -- in the case of outlands -- an endless void. Very rarely will you encounter a giant wall that implies "there is something behind this wall, but you aren't allowed to see it."
3) Level design that doesn't discourage exploration (there are many places you can "get on top of" that might not have a mechanical reward, but you can still get there -- just to see the view).

Compare to SWTOR:
1) Lots of tiny, sectional areas connected by loading screens or flight paths
2) Linear level design in many areas (for instance Coruscant, where most players spend 5-10 levels -- possibly several days of gameplay). The layout is designed to funnel the player into the next objective, and no amount of clever wall climbing will allow the player to bypass or even explore outside the intended path.
3) "Tight" levels. If you aren't intended to get somewhere for a mechanical purpose (such as a quest, resource, or datacron) you simply CANNOT GET THERE. SWTOR is full of hundred foot tall walls barring the player from leaving the designated play area. You don't feel like a hero on a world, you feel like a rat in a maze.
4) Limited fast travel. The "hearthstone" mechanic of SWTOR is limited to the current planet, forcing the player to physically travel to a docking bay, sit through several loading screens, and select a destination planet before they even have the option of teleporting to a location -- even if they have already been there. Getting places in SWTOR is tedious at best, even if you have a "mount."

Honestly after playing the game for a few weeks, I found that the combat mechanics were almost identical (if not less interesting) than WoW. Couple this with the frustration of movement and a total lack of exploration, it felt like SWTOR was bringing a lot less to the table in terms of the "Massive" and "Game" aspects of "MMORPG." They have the roleplaying down great, but aside from the "choose your own ending" story, the feel of the game falls flat after a few weeks.

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Esa Karjalainen
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Well, I hope they keep the game around 'til I get to enjoying the single player experience :). There's always the free-to-play card, which, I hear, skyrocketed DDO's player numbers, at least.


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