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How many subscribers does an MMO need to be considered successful?

Today we’d like to start what will become a new series of discussion features on, where we post a few thoughts on a particular MMO game related topic, and then ask the readers to weigh in with their opinions by responding in the forum thread or casting a vote in the related poll. Once the poll has been open for a reasonable amount of time we’ll then come back and revisit the topic, summarizing the results of the poll and community discussion.

Poll Feature: How Many Subs?

Today’s Topic: How many subscribers does a subscription model MMO need to be considered successful?

With the recent announcement by Mythic Entertainment that Warhammer Online’s subscription numbers are currently hovering around 300 thousand, and the not-so-recent-anymore announcement that Tabula Rasa would shut down when this high profile MMO failed to live up to subscriber number expectations, a question arises. Just how many players does an MMO need to be successful in today’s market? To investors whose eyes fill up with dollar signs with a near audible cha-ching noise when they hear about subscriber numbers like those of World of Warcraft, games like WAR and Age of Conan seem like dismal failures when at this time last year the hype would have you believe that either one of these games would be a WoW killer.

But WAR and Conan are still around, and the companies behind these games say, publicly at least, that the games are profitable and doing ok. And why shouldn’t we believe them. Most MMOs out there have less than a million players. Plenty of what we would call AAA quality games have less than a million players. EVE Online serves as a convenient example of a game that’s been going strong for years with no sign of slowing down. The funny thing is, EVE has less players 5 years in than WAR is boasting after only a few months. Can we seriously look at CCP and their work on EVE as a great success story and on WAR as a failure given that the numbers don’t support this interpretation?

Personally, I think that the pre-launch hype around several of the previously mentioned games is responsible for the negative interpretation of public opinion that these games experienced post launch. I’m not saying that unrealistic expectations are the sole reason these games have been called failures by many; each game has their own unique problems at launch. I’m arguing that hyped expectations and failure to meet those expectations is the leading cause of creating the perception of failure. In reality, failure to meet expectations is not the same as out-right failure. I also think that CCP did the right thing with EVE when they set the terms of success at a modest level (to get more players in EVE than there are people living in Iceland; roughly 300k) and looked at success from a long term sustainability point of view, rather than a fast cash grab after launch point of view that many of us players think is the driving thought behind a developers motivation.

So that’s what I think now. Am I right? Am I wrong? I definitely didn’t explore every facet of this topic, so cast your vote and share your opinions, and hopefully in a few weeks we’ll all have a better understanding of what it means to make a successful MMO in 2009.

1 Million or more
10 Million or more
500K - 1 Million
If the game makes enough money to continue operating, then it is a success
Less than 500K
There are too many other factors influencing an MMO''s success to accurately choose numbers
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