Monday, May 7, 2012

Your Forty-fourth Assignment: 23%

That looks boring, Cipher.

Yes, Kaliyo, the mundane world of finance can be a little intimidating to the uninitiated.

If by intimidating, you mean duller than a rancor's butt, then yes.

Don't you have something to shoot?  I'm trying to work here.

Lock and load, agents!  Well, today wasn't the best day in the world.  But why, Targeter? you ask innocently.  The 1.2 Legacy patch was a smashing success, as was the Rakghoul event.  Why are you so down?

The EA financial call was held today.  And well, let's just get it out of the way ... TOR subscribers dropped from Q4 to Q1 by 23%.  Gonna let that soak in for a while.  Yeah.  Be prepared for the onslaught of 'TOR IS DED' and 'LOL WOWKILLARZ' from the uneducated.  It's going to be going on for a while ... in fact, I recommend you stay away from the official forums for a while.  Actually, any type of forum.  Period.

Now, if you've been a fan of mine for a while (and honestly, who hasn't) you may remember that I sort of bagged on WoW when they showed a 10% quarter over quarter sustained sub loss.  Now, seeing as how I'm a fair guy (when it comes to financial stuff) I'm going to have to do the same evisceration of TOR.  It's only fair and accurate.  You can't drop 23% of your playerbase quarter over quarter and expect anything else.

So, on today's financial call (which I have yet to listen to all the way through), the sub count was listed at 1.3 million active subscribers as of March 31st, the end of the financial quarter.  That's a 400,000 sub drop from the January call.  Ok, any way you cut it, that's a bad number to display, especially for a new MMO.  That represents a 23% loss of subscribers.  Now, to ease the pain of that tidbit BioWare announced that in Q2 (Q1 for their financial records, but we'll just call it Q2 for us since it's simpler) two new 'content packs' will be available ... Legacy and Allies.  So that means Legacy, obviously, has already arrived (along with the free 30 days of playtime for veteran players).  Allies, ostensibly patch 1.3, should be out shortly, as the financial quarter ends on June 30.  It appears that 1.3 will have the long-anticipated (even by me!) arrival of the Group Finder function as well as some quality of life improvements and possible goodies for guilds.  There's not a lot of concrete info out there on it yet, but I expect some in a few days.

23%.  That's a large number.  So, what caused this?  Why did one out of every four TOR players decide to call it quits?  The answers are probably as varied as the players themselves, but realistically, the bugs and lack of content at 50 probably put off most of them.  I mean, hey, I'm having a metric shit-ton of fun at level 50 and really have since I got there.  I'm raiding, I'm exploring, I'm leveling new characters ... but that's not really for everyone and now BioWare is going to pay the piper for their story-first, plot-driven MMO.

I'm not bashing TOR, guys.  I'm really not.  I personally LOVE the story-telling in this MMO.  I think it's a revolution in how MMOs function; they changed the game in so many ways that it's nearly impossible to count them.  They have truly advanced the genre, but in advancing the genre they have bucked some rather old traditions.  You're no longer able to just level one character and stick with him; TOR expects you, no demands that you level more to experience the whole story.  The MMO is about story and your decisions.  You aren't just a cog in a machine, mindlessly clicking 'Accept' to clear some quests out and get to the next hub in some abysmal, low-poly jungle.

In doing this though, TOR may have put off some of the veteran MMO players.  The race to 50 and then the blitz through content just wasn't as important as the storylines of the classes.  This type of paradigm shift will take some time to gain a foothold and TOR's going to suffer for it.  So for now, yes TOR will be the butt of jokes.  It will be derided, called a 'failure.'  You will be mocked if you openly support it (like I will).  But hold fast; better days are ahead.  TOR was never designed to be the "WoW-killer" and it never called itself that ... but that's the title that folks gave it and the reality is that so far, at least financially, TOR is not living up to expectations.

So, what can be done to slow the decline?  Simple answer, really.  Content.  Lots and lots of content.  Cool things like group finder, more raids, more stuff.  The team in Austin needs to keep an eye on quality control, stamp out the bugs, and push progressive, interesting content.  PVP fixes, new battlegrounds, new operations.  New races, new stuff, just new things all around.  Now isn't the time to hold back; when you are punched in the face and knocked down, do you slink back to your corner and come up with a plan to get back at the bully?  No, you come right back up and swing like a madman because right now, TOR's fighting for relevance.

What's your plan, BioWare?  Swinging for the fences or striking out?  It'll be interesting to watch.

Fly safe, shoot straight, get your chins up, and your fists ready.  For the glory of the mother-fuckin' Empire.


  1. I can't help but wonder if the January roll-call was skewed by the fact that in January (depending on when the call was done, of course) many people who had tried the game were still actively subscribed because they were getting their free month. The game came out in late December, so their first set of numbers came from the game being less than a month old.

    23% is a big number. I don't want to hear it; I want SWTOR to succeed. But I do wonder how many of those subscribers never got past the free month, versus how many quit slowly as they got bored of endgame. I don't think the sky is falling, though I agree that BioWare should roll out some goodies and keep 'em coming.

  2. Well, I guess I can be glad that I found out about this from your blog instead of... other places. It's bad news indeed, but at the same time I wouldn't worry too much just yet. To be honest, I think a large chunk of those numbers are just the usual "tourists" - not that I'm claiming that they are a completely homogeneous group, but basically people who try out every new MMO that comes out (and at this point I have no doubt that there are several hundred thousand of them), thinking that it will be the best thing ever, and then decide after a few months that actually (surprise, surprise)... no, it's not. I'm sure we've all seen them in general chat: the type who just keep whining that "this game sucks because of X" and "I'll be going back to WoW once my sub runs out". While I want TOR to be a success, I can't honestly claim that I'm sad to see the last of their complaining.

    I do think it's important that Bioware keeps churning out new content, but I also think that they mustn't panic trying to chase after players who were honestly never going to stay with TOR to begin with. Just keep building on the foundation of what they've got and make it into its own thing.