Subscription MMOs Aren't Dying

By Pete Haas 2012-07-10 11:10:28 discussion comments
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On a weekly basis, analyst Michael Pachter says something rash about the gaming industry, the Internet goes crazy and I try not to notice. It's hard to ignore him at times, though. For example, he just went on the record saying that subscription MMOs can only go downhill from here. That's just nonsense.

"[Star Wars: The Old Republic] was supposed to bring in all of these new people that had never played an MMO before, just because they loved the brand," Pachter said at the Evolve conference (via IncGamers). "We know that Rift just took players from other existing MMOs, and the same with Conan and Lords of the Rings. Now the same thing has happened with Star Wars."

I missed the part where we put electronic tags on every MMO player and then re-released them into the wild. How do we know that every player of a new MMO came from another game? While there's no doubt a lot of players switching games, the notion that those four games (three of which are based on long-running franchises) all failed to bring in new blood is ludicrous.

That's just a lazy generalization, though. Pachter's next claim was just flat-out wrong:

"It looks to me as though the MMO market is as big as itís ever going to be Ė as far as subscription MMOs. People willing to play $15 a month.., there are six or seven million of them. Period."

WoW has about ten million players paying a monthly subscription. Let's be extremely conservative and assume that every other subscriber-based game (Rift, EVE Online, Old Republic, etc.) collectively has a million paying customers. That would mean that Pachter's underestimating the amount of players willing to pay $15 a month by half.

Also, we're just talking about eleven million people currently paying for an MMO subscription. The amount of people potentially willing to pay a subscription is even higher. Why aren't they paying? It could be that there's no game on the market that actually appeals to them. This brings me to Pachter's next statement:

"If Star Wars couldnít expand it, when itís made by BioWare, nothing can do it."

First, to reiterate, it probably did expand the market. Second, Old Republic' loss of subscribers is not simply due to subscription fees being undesirable - it's due to Old Republic being undesirable. People did not enjoy playing it anymore and they unsubscribed. There was nothing inevitable about this game's success. There have been plenty of Star Wars games that bombed in the past and BioWare never made an MMO before. As someone who played it from December to April, I can attest to the fact that there are non-financial reasons that someone would conceivably stop playing.

Saying "I don't want to keep paying $15 a month to keep playing Old Republic" doesn't mean that I don't want to pay $15 a month for anything ever. Subscriptions work for Netflix, Xbox Live, cable, and more - why shouldn't they work for MMOs? Oh right, they already fucking do: World of Warcraft, World of Warcraft, World of Warcraft. Players will pay $15 a month to play a game, but they need to be convinced that it's actually worth $15 a month.
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