It’s About The Numbers: SWTOR and subscriptions

There's still subscribers in them there mountains!

Well, it’s a sunny day in the neighbourhood for doomsayers and whingers everywhere. The news of an undisclosed number of employees being laid off from Bioware Austin is seen by some as the latest nail in a coffin that certain people have been building out of thin air and speculation.

But does that mean they’re wrong? First, let’s go over what we actually know.

Employees have been laid off – some will be able to join other projects within EA in Austin (EA Sports also have a presence there).

Are the layoffs a sign of anything definitive? No. At least not according to Massively’s Larry Everitt who tweeted “oh well, it wouldn’t be an mmo without layoffs after launch”.

That there have been layoffs is almost predictable and sadly inevitable. In fact, mass layoffs aren’t unusual in the software industry in general. remember the 600 Blizzard employees let go from its worldwide workforce in February this year?

Daniel Eriksson was recently promoted, so that may be indicative of internal restructuring that’s been planned for some time although it’s equally possible EA’s growing financial issues and the 25% drop in active subs also prompted the shedding of staff.

That said, Stephen Reid, SWTOR’s Senior Community Manager, was one of the unlucky ones who are now charting a new employment adventure. I think we can all agree that wrangling the trolls and hysterics that populate the SWTOR forums probably needs more people, not less. Judging from his tweets it wasn’t his idea to go either. So what gives there? It’s odd.

As far as resourcing SWTOR in the future, Andrew Wong, an EA spokesman indicated that other studios, some overseas, will be involved in future work so that might indicate outsourcing or perhaps Bioware utilising assets within the greater EA family. Either way there’s no reason to think that the game will suffer in the short to medium term at this point.

Even so, the spectre of F2P still keeps getting pushed forward by many. This is almost always shouted down as being the certain kiss of death, but I’d suggest it’s a rather old way of looking at the MMORPG landscape. Without doubt, any F2P game of yesteryear would be a pale shadow of any premium sub-based AAA title, but it’s not the case any more. Consider, when SWToR was conceived four or so years ago the very idea of making it F2P was laughable. But the world has changed since then and it’s likely SWTOR’s subscription model is a fossil from a bygone age.

‘But WoW can do it successfully’ I hear someone in the back yelling. ‘So what?’ is my reply. Blizzard created something that is probably going to remain unique. People spend the money because they have invested so much time building a virtual life and community amidst a world of content that’s been build up over seven years. WoW has mass, WoW has momentum and it’s going to take a long time for that to wind down. SWTOR is losing mass and has lost much of it’s momentum, but that doesn’t mean its doomed.

SWTOR does need to evolve. Into what, I have no idea. But I am reminded of another game I waited eagerly for the release of. It got off to a rip roaring start but was buggy with missing features. Controls and combat needed major work and after the initial novelty wore off, the bitter, angry complaints started. After the second month it started losing subscribers. In fact it shed so many that it was rare to see another player. At all. Then came server merges and finally the dreaded move to Free2Play. ‘It’s the end of the game’, ‘We’ll be swamped with 8 year olds’. The sky was falling according to many, but it didn’t. Now DC Universe Online is doing just fine. As of November last year its revenues were up 700% from its old subscription based model. Its fourteenth DLC update is about to hit and will include returns from Adam Baldwin and Mark Hamill.

Does this mean SWToR should look at F2P. Not really. Not yet. The subscriptions would have to get down to 500k before the financial viability becomes questionable. Since many players will have taken out three or six month subs it’s the June figures that will give us a clear indication of how the games future looks. But even if they drop and the sub model fails, it’s not our last hope. There is another.


  1. I sub for 3 months at a time.  I have no intention to stop playing.  A few things that I’d like seen addressed, but overall a fun game.   Players come and go in mmos, employees of game companies come and go.  Just the normal eb and flow of it all.

    I’m excited to see where ToR goes, what it will bring have after a year.

  2. Milesname1 says

    I fart on pants

  3. Joey_1827 says

    I’ll be honest. I’m not renewing my sub for June. Bored stiff.

  4. forceslinger says

    Still having fun.. but I’m taking my time.. not to 50 yet.. so there’s still story for me to get through.. 

  5. davyandrews247 says

    There are certain harsh realities with the world in which we live and that is most businesses are subject to the vagaries of the world economy. Unless you’ve been living in a bubble or in Alice Springs you will know that currently the global economy is in a state of flux and that’s putting it mildly. The results of that are on the news every day. Whole countries are going bankrupt and job losses are on a sharp increase as businesses across the globe tighten their belts in an effort to ride out the storm. If you need a current example check out the Spanish bank Bankia and their situation. Their creditworthiness has been downgraded to that of “junk bond” and even if you have no idea about banking finance I’m sure you can figure out that a description with the word junk in it can’t be good.
    What does this have to do with TOR I hear you ask? Well whether we like it or not games developers/designers/publishers are in a market that relies almost totally on the disposable income of its customers. So when times are tough, as they are now, things like computer games and games subscriptions are some of the first things that are sacrificed in order to pay for those annoying but essential things like utilities and food. Although not necessarily in that order! There are cheaper/free options for those who can’t do without their MMO fix and so games like TOR suffer as a consequence. So in an economic perfect storm attributing job losses at BioWare directly to TOR’s popularity or lack of, when the games industry is suffering as a whole is in my opinion naive.
    Additionally there is almost a guaranteed subscription drop off as those who are testing the MMO waters for the first time decide it isn’t for them and go back to their game genre of choice, or diehard MMO players go back to their wives deciding that a Star Wars mistress isn’t what they were looking for.
    I suspect some people, perhaps those younger players, were expecting a game that was as mature and developed as WoW straight out of the box. As much as we may have hoped for such a game the reality is that was never going to be the case. We live in a society where instant gratification has become the expectation rather than a hope and with an already heavily populated games landscape, time to develop your product is in short supply. BioWare are experiencing this first hand.
    As a former WoW player and someone who has played TOR since release I think that on balance we have an exceptional game that is capable of surviving long term. It will never reach the heady subscription heights of WoW but that’s ok as I don’t think our game should be seen as a direct competitor but as a very good sci-fi alternative to the world of sword and sorcery.
    So where do we go from here? Well there are signs that the American economy is improving and whether we like it or not that is the yardstick by which the world economy is measured. If this is sustained then the positive effects to the games industry should be obvious; more disposable income, more games sales. The real question is whether BioWare and EA have the rectal fortitude to stay with the product for the long haul rather than go for the quick fix. My feeling is that with Lucas Arts looking over their shoulder and the amount of investment that has gone into the product thus far it would be economic suicide to bail out on the game at such an early stage. I therefore believe we will be playing TOR for some time to come and that the product will develop into something that is self sustaining and ultimately successful.
    It’s easy to be the person who leaves when things are a bit difficult; it takes character and dedication to be the person who stays with it and proves the doom merchants wrong. Which are you?

    • My head.  Please leave it as you found it, when you’re done.

    • The Guilty Party says

      That was relatively reasonable except where you suggest sticking with a game is some kind of measure of character or dedication. It’s a game, a product, a service. If it provides enough entertainment to justify the money you spend, good. If not, you shouldn’t pay for it. It does not make you a better person to pay for something you don’t enjoy.

      • davyandrews247 says

        Yes good point. It was not my intention to suggest that people should stay with a game you don’t like, I certainly wouldn’t stick with it under those circumstances. Perhaps I should have said for those who are on the fence about whether to stick with the game or not. With hindsight maybe I should have left the last paragraph out. Thanks for a constructive response, a rare commodity these days.

      • I think he was refering more to the developer than the consumer.

  6. Outsourcing was the root of their problems to begin with. Doubling down on stupid seems to be the new MO.

  7. its over says

    There are so many things wrong with this game but i think f2p would solve all these issues as ppl wouldnt have anyhting to complain about then. Its free.
    And who cares about the economy, we’re here to play games and get away. Why should i ‘stick with it’ if it’s completely and utterly horrible. I think the majority of players that keep denying this game is fail haven’t hit 50 yet, they haven’t played thru to the end, ran an alt again and seen all the fail there is to see.
    It’s a WoW clone for sure but it’s a bad wow clone. All games genres copy/clone and build of each other, its been happening for ever. But they didnt even make the clone right, they made a worse game. Who cares if wow wasnt this good back in w/e year it was released this is 2012.

    • “I think the majority of players that keep denying this game is fail haven’t hit 50 yet, they haven’t played thru to the end, ran an alt again and seen all the fail there is to see.”For proof that this statement is BS.  I’m nearly on my 3rd 50 and am raiding on two characters and have been for a few months now.  IMO this game blows WoW out of the water.  I played WoW twice for not more than 6 months at a time (once during Lich and once during Cata) and I could never get into it.  And you talk about pain in leveling alts, that game was terrible to level alts in.  At least in this game there’s a story that’s different to keep you interested rather than just grinding the same mindless quests.  I plan on rolling some other faction characters just to see their story.
      My personal opinion is this game is a great fusion of story based solo RPG and WoW style Raiding/PvP.  If people end up not liking that it’s because todays games want mindless games like Call of Doody.  I weep for the future of gaming…

      • ThunderSoul97 says

        That’s because mindless kids rule the gaming world. They do not understand interesting games like SWTOR. All they want is WoW (just click, quest, no explanation, grinding, same thing over and over) or Diablo 3, just click click click. SWTOR was made with some intellect, WoW was not.

        Monkey see, monkey do. Click click click.

        Unfortunately, great minds will always be slowed down by mediocre minds. AKA SWTOR vs WoW.

  8. Good riddance says

    This whole site is like a support group for people who just can’t admit that their favorite game is dying. Good riddance. The market has no room and no need for another poorly executed WoW clone.

    • Go play a troll in wow, not hear.  You can take your WoW, that game sucked.  I’d take swtor over it anyway day.  The only reason why WoW is still going it because people are too invested and aren’t willing to go through what are normal vanilla pains to play a new game.  Period.  Yes some mistakes have been made.  They should have waited and included more features and more end game out of the gate.  They should have done server merges sooner.  Ect.  Games not over I’ll play it till the day the server shuts down unless something dramatically changes for the worse.  

      Good riddence to you sir.

      • ThunderSoul says

        I totally agree with you. However, ~I~ did invest $8,000 into WoW over 7+ years. A mistake a dearly regret. Even so, I was able to let go but only because the wife had a hand in it. 😛 Now I play SWTOR and it’s amazing. WoW has no “questing” in it, it just tells you “kill x”… “click y”… no explanation, nothing. And raiding is NOT fun.

        I found raiding in SWTOR to be amazingly fun. And it has beautiful graphics!

  9. There is only one issue with this game and that is low population servers. If they do server mergers now more people will get into end game. I have been running EC (latest Ops) and it’s quite challenging and enjoyable. It was hard to get into a group that could do it but that’s only because of all the restructuring the guilds are doing now that D3 is out and many people left. This game will survive, it will get better and it is not a freaking WOW clone. SWTOR is to WOW what WOW is to EQ. They all have similarities, pros and cons. 

  10. too many WoW trolls roaming about…

    tried WoW back before its 2nd expansion, got bored within a week for the lack of quest.SWTOR has actual compelling storyline to the quests based on almost 40yrs worth of fan generated lore.its all well and good to be doing a task because you’re told to, but in SWTOR you are given a reason to explain the task. something i did not see at all in WoW.
    this is why i will keep playing this game as long as there are people to play with.

  11. Bioware gave everyone 30 free days in order to make the
    numbers look good. Now the real numbers are going to come out. If the forums or
    the server(s) Im playing on are any indication people are leaving in droves.
    Most of my guild has already bailed and are playing out thier final days. Character
    Transfers are a stop gap messure that should have been in place from day one.  Did you know they cant even transfer
    characters to there test server?  What
    the game actualy needs is X server pvp and Ops.    Its taking a min of 30 min. during peek times
    to get WZs to pop. The game is dead.