Experts expect the upcoming MMO to require subscriptions even following SWTOR and The Secret World’s troubles. Marcus Mac Dhonnagáin reports
The traditional MMO market is in trouble. Not even a year after its release, Star Wars: The Old Republic has been forced to adopt the increasingly popular free-to-play financial model.
SWTOR should have been, by all accounts, a roaring success. It had it all – it was based on one of the biggest, most beloved, most internationally recognized cultural brands of the 20th century. Not only that, but it was also extensively marketed by one of the largest gaming publishers, EA, and developed by BioWare – a developer known for its rich catalogue of story-driven RPGs.
Yet even with all that power behind it, it wasn’t enough to build a large enough subscriber base. Now the only way for BioWare and EA to prevent it from becoming a total failure is to adopt a financial model that they had vehemently opposed before and after its launch.
When speaking about the SWTOR’s dramatic loss of subscribers, BioWare Austin general manager Matthew Bromberg explained the problems posed by the traditional subscription-based financial model.
He said, “We looked at it and thought, ‘What is the size of opportunity for your brand?’ There are tens of millions of Star Wars fans, how many have tried our game? How many would like to try it? Clearly the awareness of the brand is really high so what’s standing in the way? We did a lot of research and found that people who gave it a try but left found the subscription to be the biggest barrier. So it was a pretty straightforward decision for us.”
Sean Knight has already explored other factors that led to SWTOR’s downfall, including the fact that it had chosen to adopt a subscription model that has only ever succeeded for a single MMO – World of Warcraft. SWTOR is not even the most recent example of a MMO struggling with a traditional payment option, however. The Secret World is the latest example of a traditional subscription-based MMO that has turned out to be a financial disappointment to its creators. Already developer Funcom has had to revise its goals due to The Secret World’s poor sales and has had to lay off staff. The MMO market has moved on.
What will this mean for The Elder Scrolls: Online – the next MMO due to launch from a major franchise. Publisher Bethesda and developer Zenimax have stated that the game will be a traditional MMO experience, and industry experts seem convinced it will only be playable with a subscription. Is this really viable, however? If BioWare and EA have failed to maintain a subscriber base with a brand as renowned as Star Wars, will there be any real hope for The Elder Scrolls: Online? All signs point to Zenimax’s MMO failing to implement the subscriber-based model in the same way SWTOR has.
The traditional MMO payment model’s failure to retain subscribers is clearly a sign of the changing industry. With the impact of the worldwide recession to be felt everywhere, it’s little wonder that fewer gamers can afford to pay a monthly subscription. With the free-to-play model, however, users can pay as much as they want and not be punished for it.
Yet there are also bigger questions to be asked. With so many games now adopting a free-to-play model, will everyone be able to enjoy the same amount of success that companies have seen so far? More and more free-to-play games, whether it be League of Legends to Star Trek: Online, by their nature usually require a user to become incredibly invested with the game – whether it be from the money they might spend on microtransactions, to the amount of time that they sink into it. With so much competition now in the market, will games like The Elder Scrolls: Online be destined to be a disappointment – no matter what model they adopt?
Follow Marcus on Twitter: @M_M_DH