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News & Features Discussion  » General: Great Expectations - SW:TOR

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Managing Editor

Joined: 7/08/05
Posts: 6729

OP  3/24/10 9:20:05 AM#1 columnist Scott Jennings takes this week's column inches to look at why Bioware's Star Wars: The Old Republic has the potential to be a disaster for the MMO industry as a whole.

Scott Jennings

Something I've been harping on, probably annoyingly, is how the MMO industry needs more independence - specifically independent developers, free to experiment with innovative designs, veer from the path of cranking out more of the same, and avoid a lot of the misery involved in the codependent relationship that much of the gaming industry suffers through with publishers and associated developers.

Electronic Arts has a different idea. Unsurprising, since EA isn't exactly a scrappy indy! Electronic Arts' different idea, apparently, is to spend every other MMO developer into the ground. Or maybe just spend themselves into the ground. Because, as industry analyst Arvind Bhatia reported from an EA investor's conference:

Although "earnings are somewhat depressed due to ongoing expenses of the Star Wars MMO, management has high hopes for this and believes 2M+ subs is possible." He added that a little over 1 million subscribers is needed to reach the break-even point, but the ultimate goal is to get several million subscribers.

Check out Great Expectations - SW:TOR.

Jon Wood
Managing Editor


Apprentice Member

Joined: 4/11/06
Posts: 524

3/24/10 9:34:34 AM#2

I understand it's a column .... but to my taste there are to many "if's" and "assume" in the calculations ...


Also keep in mind that as MMORPG's have become much more popular and the old-school MMO-ers have "seen it all" ... expectations have gone up .. a LOT. I think the enormous budgets are needed to be able to produce products that can rise up to the expectations of the 1 million players they need :)


The Repopulation - Scfi Fi Sandbox.


Novice Member

Joined: 9/05/07
Posts: 1012

3/24/10 9:37:02 AM#3

Interesting article, but I'm not sure I agree with the conclusion.   I think it's perfectly fine for some few companies to try to be massive, to be the Walmart of MMOs.   But it doesn't mean the 'little guy' will always be drowned out because of it.   The little guys just need to produce something that the big guys don't offer.   It might be open PvP, a la Eve, or a completely different setting, like CoX.  

One thing that Wow does very well is that it makes it easy for the non MMOer to get their feet wet in an MMO.   Once they get used to the general mechanics of MMOs, they can choose to move on or not.

While I can see a few short-minded investors being gun-shy after looking at those kind of bucks, I don't think it's setting a bad precedent or a DOOM for the MMO industry.    There are many gamers who have found their niche game and will stay with it til they shut the servers off.    You don't need to be as successful as a Walmart or a McDonalds to be in business and still turn a profit.


Novice Member

Joined: 7/25/08
Posts: 55

3/24/10 9:48:24 AM#4

What's horrible is that this is classic EA mentality.  They have yet to produce a successful MMO so they figure the problem is finances. Unfortunately I agree with Scott's findings here, 1 million subcribers is the holy grail of MMO's in a post WoW era.  Even Blizzard didn't calculate or expect their numbers to get that high, neither did Blizzard expect to make th eir money back in 1 year.    EA can't run projects with a long tail, it's not in their blood.  If they can't ship a game that makes it's money back in 1 year they consider it a failure, hence why they have failed at MMO's.

However the realy crime here is that they are spending so much money on SW:TOR and from what has been shown so far, there is nothing about the game that indicates it is twice as good in gameplay as say, WoW was (and I'm not a WoW fan).  Sure their budget is huge, their team is massive and I bet their production values, such as full voice, are quite high.  But none of that fluff has ever made past MMO's successful.  Remember, Everquest 2 had full voice narration too and that feature was so... not cared for by the players that it has slowly worked its way out of the game.  Voice acting makes for interesting story telling but it doesn't make your gameplay any better and it doesn't retain customers.

The real question becomes, what about SW:TOR makes it the second coming? What makes it the next holy grail? The Star Wars IP?  History h as already proven that's not enough.  Sure the market is different now, they'll get over a million in box sales in the first month easy.  It's retention that matters and there's been very little I've seen in the released gameplay shots that show it's got the kind of chops to retain those kinds of numbers.

Right now it looks like a heavily instance,d story driven MMO that will be  mostly a single player experience with some grouping options.  It'll be another MMO on rails, moreso than even WoW was at launch. And right now those kinds of MMO's just aren't doing well when it comes to breaking the 1 million barrier.  They are all successful, even the much hated Star Trek Online has over 200k subs making it profitable for what Cryptic spent on it.  But then, cryptic spent less than one sixth what Bioware/EA are spending.

EA should've learned their lesson by watching Warhammer ship with similar crazy wow-killer expectations.  I certainly hope they succeed, I'd like to see SW:TOR be a sustainable game, the kind you play for years like WoW.  But nothing about its currently released information indicates it has those kinds of legs.


Novice Member

Joined: 1/20/05
Posts: 3317

3/24/10 9:54:15 AM#5

Good thoughts as always from Scott. I agree for the most part. EA put to many eggs in this basket. Yes it will be popular but where is all this money going. From what we have seen there just doesnt seem to be that much there. Its a solo game and will be regardless of the other 10 percent of the game that isnt. People will rush due to wow mentality to max level then complain there is nothing left to do and quit. Will be interesting to watch since people also said STO would be the next big thing.



Joined: 7/25/09
Posts: 179

3/24/10 9:59:48 AM#6

Yes, it's always a risk and a toss of the dice, a high one too if your rough estimates are close. However, if you weigh the odds and consider what they're doing and with whom, it's definitely a well calculated risk.

You have:

- One of the most popular, well recognized, and highest grossing IP's/Franchises in history: Star Wars

- One of the biggest rising stars in game development, well respected and renowned for quality games: Bioware. I think it's
   safe to say that Bioware's reputation and following are on par with Blizzards, and I see Bioware taking more and more of
   the spotlight.

- One of the most well recieved "eras" of the SW universe: The Old Republic. The games and the lore behind this era have
  been well recieved, some even like it better than the Luke/Darth Vader era.

- The backing of EA and Lucasarts ( for whatever that's worth to some )

- Some new, never-before seen features in an MMORPG, like fully voiced NPC's/dialouge for the WHOLE game, choice & consequence system for quests, etc.

Yes, I have high hopes for SWTOR, as I am a fan of both the IP and the developer. But, all games have a chance of failure, I just think SWTOR has a fairly good shot at coming out succesfully.



Joined: 11/22/05
Posts: 17133

"what a boring life, HATING everything" -Gorilla Biscuits

3/24/10 10:00:51 AM#7

I have a strong feeling, they have at least one contingency plan on the back burner, incase they do not reach that 1 million subscriber milestone. Most likely tied to MT or something similar. I would think a company spending that much would have multiple plans in place to sustain revenue. Just in case something goes wrong.

I can definitely see EA spending so much in an attempt to corner the market, that sounds like EA sure enough.

I agree if anyone can reach one million, it is a combination of EA and Bioware as well as Lucas Arts (another part of the partnership you left out). Which may even be the most important factor in growing and sustaining a player base.

There's a lot of factors building up here that could spell wild popularity for this game. Not the least of which is this being a star wars game.

What ever happens here, It will most definitely be interesting to watch.


For every minute you are angry , you lose 60 seconds of happiness."-Emerson

It is a sign of a defeated man, to attack at ones character in the face of logic and reason- Me


Advanced Member

Joined: 9/15/08
Posts: 37

3/24/10 10:03:08 AM#8

Figures sounds right. And EA can afford them.

Compared to other MMO-only companies (Turbine, Cryptic, CCP, ...), EA produces, develops and sells so many products, ranging from PC to consoles, that those budget, those INSANE budgets can be surely allocated for such projects. Sadly EA requires also break-even faster than other companies, as short timed break-even also bring back high revenues that can be used to fund more ambitious projects.

MMO studies, as long as they don't have other streams of revenues, can allocate smaller budgets resulting in lower break-even points and sustainability with lower number of subscribers.

I agree that EA's expectations are really great, and that could be a problem as they could produce the most succesful MMO closing ever (Tabula Rasa has probably suffered the same fate before, but with lower numbers): they could close SW:TOR after a year or two because it reached ONLY 1,2 million subscribers... I agree that this is simply insane.


Advanced Member

Joined: 1/11/05
Posts: 173

3/24/10 10:05:58 AM#9

Thanks for the coverage Scott, that quote is truly mind blowing, I had no idea ... o.O

But this is the very point of MMO investment: totally insane numbers put up even VCs should be slapped hard for, estimations made one could cry about without anything solid to base it at WHEN they are made.

And on the other hand ... that drives the industry and investment and makes it so hard for small indie games to put something up. MMO's are quite sustainable and profitable if done on small scale and as long term investment. But I'll never forget the reactions of investors when we were shopping for funding and kept low and true: 20.000 subs would make a profit, 15.000 would break even. They laughed at us. Too small scale to be of any interest. Now if we'd become mad and aim (as if you can "aim" for subscription numbers literally) for 100.000 or higher, that would be interesting ...

How stupid can one be? Upscaling is something you can always do, but that you do once you have A PRODUCT to talk about and market reactions to it. And not when there is only "gambling paper" on the table. *shakes head*

Did we believe it is possible our design would attract a number as high as the one they wanted? Yes. But we were not willing to bet on it and wanted some solid business plan. This isn't what is well liked in the scene though.

Played: Pretty much any fantasy MMO, some did not even make it to release ...
Favorites: UO, EQ2, Vanguard, Wurm Online
Playing: ... (sigh) ...
Anticipating: EQ Next, Albion Online, maybe Crowfall


Novice Member

Joined: 6/23/09
Posts: 2728

3/24/10 10:11:11 AM#10

I've said before and I'll say it again. ToR will never hit 2 millions subs, guaranteed.


Yes it is a Star Wars game, yes it has computer game fanatics who are fans of Bioware (but guess what most non involved gamers don't know who game companies are at all, don't forget that being on these types of forums makes you the minority of customers). But it also has things going against it.


It is being released on PC only correct? Bioware gets a ton of sales from console, so this is immediately a huge hit in numbers. Second it's an MMO. There are still a lot of people out there who won't touch a game if it's an MMO. It's different enough from the MMO genre to lose many MMO fans with it's extremely linear, extremely solo based design.


It is completely unrealistic to ever expect an MMO released in the west to get 2 million subscribers, let alone 2 million in sales.


This game might sell a million copies out the door (preorder and first month), this game might have 500k subscribers by the end of month 2. But to expect anything above that is insane.


EA has been killing itself lately, they don't know how to manage their business. So to spend this much on an MMO and to expect 2 million or more subscribers shows how out of touch they are with the markets. It is also why Activision/Blizzard (Vivendi) are taking over the monster that was once EA. They are now the company to beat and EA is the example of what not to do.


I would put money on the fact this game will not hit 2 million subs or even come close.



Joined: 3/05/10
Posts: 7792

The middle road is the place to be!

3/24/10 10:14:03 AM#11
Originally posted by Vestas

The real question becomes, what about SW:TOR makes it the second coming? What makes it the next holy grail? The Star Wars IP?  History h as already proven that's not enough.  Sure the market is different now, they'll get over a million in box sales in the first month easy.  It's retention that matters and there's been very little I've seen in the released gameplay shots that show it's got the kind of chops to retain those kinds of numbers.



I gather it's the combination of the Star Wars IP and the developing company, Bioware. Any other company, and I'd given another SW MMO little thought, even as someone who liked the Star Wars movies (Empire Strikes Back, still one of my favorites). But I consider Bioware one of the few game companies who is as much on top of their game as a Blizzard is. They *might* be able to pull it off (emphasis on might).


I don't really like EA, I see it as a typical example of a big corporation, just as many top music company or top movie company, it's above anything else the big bucks and the pooha that goes with it that's primarily on the mind of its management, 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, making a product you can be proud of further down the list and creativity even farther down the chain. Saying that they need 1 mil subs to break even and being focused on 2 mil subs doesn't exactly help make me enthusiastic about a SW ToR. It's all big words and big goals and actually bad, bad PR.


But as the OP goes, look at the movies: sure, you have the blockbusters and the insane amounts of money they throw around to make it and announce it as if it's something you can be proud of. You'll always have those, but next to that you have a large number of movies that don't need insane amounts of money and still are successful. You only have to look at how a Hurt Locker beat Avatar at the Oscar nominations. It isn't the insane amounts that makes a great MMO, it's how smart you work with the money and resources you have available, the attractiveness of your idea for a MMO and the feats in it, plus how well you implement them in your MMO that wins the race, or at least that wins you a place for your MMO to exist and flourish.

The ACTUAL size of MMORPG worlds: a comparison list between MMO's

The ease with which predictions are made on these forums:
Fratman: "I'm saying Spring 2012 at the earliest [for TOR release]. Anyone still clinging to 2011 is deluding themself at this point."


Elite Member

Joined: 2/27/07
Posts: 7209

3/24/10 10:18:18 AM#12

I don't think the problem will be reaching one million subscribers, the problem will be retaining such.  There needs to be plenty of content and you can't have players reaching max level in a short period of time.

We will just have to wait and see, but it seems to me to be a huge amount of pressure on Bioware, enough to break the studio.


Novice Member

Joined: 2/21/09
Posts: 623

3/24/10 10:18:20 AM#13

The real problem is that if EA fails, it could affect the industry for a while. Other companies may just give up on competing in the market at all. Pray to the gaming gods that SWTOR is a hit...



Joined: 3/05/10
Posts: 7792

The middle road is the place to be!

3/24/10 10:27:07 AM#14

I don't know. look at the whole feverish internet dot com bubble that was such a hype a number of years back. You see the same in a smaller way now with MMO's, now that Blizzard has shown that 11mil subs is actually something that could be reached.

Now everyone else and their dog wants to make a super successful MMO*cough* = make insame amounts of money, whether that's realistic or not. A good burst of that dream bubble is maybe what the MMO market needs, to adjust expectations more to reality again instead of the realm of Investors' Fairytale Neverland where many publishing and investment companies are floating around in now.

The ACTUAL size of MMORPG worlds: a comparison list between MMO's

The ease with which predictions are made on these forums:
Fratman: "I'm saying Spring 2012 at the earliest [for TOR release]. Anyone still clinging to 2011 is deluding themself at this point."


Advanced Member

Joined: 11/11/08
Posts: 790

3/24/10 10:48:20 AM#15

You do need to factor in box sales as well...but aside from that, that quote reveals this to be a huge roll of the dice for EA. 1 million subs just to break even?? That's insane. Given what I have seen and heard of the game so far it fails to deliver on many one I know is even planning on buying it...anecdotal sure, but come on! Even an astoundingly successful launch (by any previous standard) of say 1m box sales and 500k retained subs in the first year won't PAY FOR THE GAME! nuts is that?


Novice Member

Joined: 1/30/04
Posts: 187

3/24/10 10:54:54 AM#16

Excellent post Mr. Jennings!

"Your pride, good sir, far exceeds your worth." -x3r0h

Oldest member with the least amount of post counts. That counts for something, right?


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Joined: 7/02/09
Posts: 1105

"Excellent breeze... Great day for cards."

3/24/10 10:56:19 AM#17

I think my expectations are right on. All I want is to play kotor 3 online. Thats it. So no matter what happens, I'll be as happy as a pig in shit.

If you stand VERY still, and close your eyes, after a minute you can actually FEEL the universe revolving around PvP.


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Joined: 11/06/07
Posts: 456

3/24/10 10:57:13 AM#18
Originally posted by cyphers

I don't know. look at the whole feverish internet dot com bubble that was such a hype a number of years back. You see the same in a smaller way now with MMO's, now that Blizzard has shown that 11mil subs is actually something that could be reached.

Now everyone else and their dog wants to make a super successful MMO*cough* = make insame amounts of money, whether that's realistic or not. A good burst of that dream bubble is maybe what the MMO market needs, to adjust expectations more to reality again instead of the realm of Investors' Fairytale Neverland where many publishing and investment companies are floating around in now.

Maybe the MMO industry does need to pop the bubble. Maybe they need to prove that MMOs need sufficient funding and development time to be successful.

Look at the industry now. You have MMOs coming out left and right and most of them release in very ugly states. It seems that so many MMOs would do so much better if they would've held off release 6 months to a year.

I hope that this Bioware + EA combo gives Bioware the time and money needed to bring a successful MMO about. I mean, EA has the publishing prowess to get peoples attention and Bioware knows how to make a game. So if time and money are not problems, then I am confident that this game will rock the industry in one way or another.

Sure, this game is estimated ~150MM now. I wonder how much Blizzards next gen MMO is costing. There is a quote out there from dev on it saying "Its nice working with an unlimited budget" in reference to Blizzards next MMO.


I hope this is successful and is released in a ready state. I just want another game other than WoW to prove that MMOs need thier development time.

  User Deleted
3/24/10 11:01:41 AM#19

I say boycot this game & see the MMO market go back to a much healthier state.

But, thats just me thinking...


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Joined: 1/13/07
Posts: 456

If someone has alot of friends, does that make them a socialist?

3/24/10 11:11:09 AM#20

Im a vet gamer.  Hell, I used to play by your dumb ass back when you were the raving lunatic Lum the Mad and Nighthawk, Greybeard, and all those other baboons from Joy of Villany made fun of you on their site.  Im saying that only to illustrate that Im coming from likely the same viewpoint you are in alot of ways.

I see nothing revolutionary about this game.  Nothing.

World of Warcraft was uncreative as all hell, but it made all content MMOs accessible to anyone due to the sheer lack of skill necessary to actually play.  Without frustration there was no discouragement.  Without discouragement there was no anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to fear.  Fear leads to JEALOUSY!

None of that existing, there was nothing holding gamers back.  Everyone got involved.

SWTOR offers nothing more than the Lucas franchise and a Sith faction.  Big effing whoop.

This game can rot for all I care.   I'll play Earthrise... if its good.... or play a decent multiplayer game until a worthwhile MMO is released.... if that ever happens again.

Crappy, petty people breed and raise crappy, petty kids.

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