What Will The Weather Be Like For SWTOR?

For those who truly hate World of Warcraft and cannot stand to grant it even one accomplishment, the real reason for the success of WoW is encapsulated in the idea of the perfect storm.

The circumstances were simply right at that moment of time and big, dumb old Blizzard fell into their position of market leader due to circumstances beyond their control.  The changes, the flailing about, and the constant “dumbing down” of WoW only fuels the flames of the fire that keeps this theory on the boil in certain quarters.

And you will notice that “perfect storm” has a bad connotation in almost every usage, so no doubt refers to how Blizz destroyed the MMO market, one more slam against the current front runner.

I do not agree with this theory.  People espousing it tend to ignore the fact that Blizzard had a series of best selling games before WoW, so had a good reputation, and that the Warcraft franchise was popular.  A lot of factors went into the success of WoW, a topic that has been bounced around ad naseum.

But while the whole “perfect storm” thing cannot stand by itself, things were certainly working in Blizzard’s direction.

EverQuest, WoW’s spiritual ancestor and former market leader, had trained a lot of people on what a 3D fantasy MMO was.  There were a lot of EQ players and probably even more former EQ players by 2004 out in the market looking for something new.

Games requiring 3D accelerated video cards were common, and such cards were readily available and not too expensive, so the base of machines capable of playing WoW was much bigger at launch than it was for EQ back in 1999.

EQ itself had reached the stage of shoving unfinished expansions out the door every six months, while SOE was creating its own successor to EQ, EverQuest II, which wouldn’t figure out what it was about, in my opinion, until the two years later with the Echoes of Faydwer expansion.

So the market was ready, in a way, for Blizzard to come along with World of Warcraft.  And even with its own troubled launch, it still looked like a better deal than its competitors on the market.

Yes, that is a grossly simplified look at WoW’s competition.  There were other games out there like Dark Age of Camelot.  But things did seem, in general, to work to Blizzard’s advantage in late 2004.

And it is news this week that made me start thinking about what the market will look like for Star Wars: The Old Republic, and how things will work out when it launches late this year. (Or so they say.)

Certainly there are some immediate parallels with WoW in 2004, so much so that it is tempting to start forecasting the weather in search of another such storm.

More the SWG forecast these days...

What might we predict if we took today and projected it out to the SWTOR launch?

The Blizzard Conditions

Like Blizzard, BioWare is well regarded, has a strong following, and a track record of best selling, high quality games.

And while Warcraft is a popular IP, very few IPs beat Star Wars.  And this is not a new IP with which BioWare is working.  Their success with Knights of the Old Republic gives them credibility with the public that they can deliver a good Star Wars game as well as the leverage (or so I have heard) to tell LucasArts to “screw off” if they start telling BioWare what to do.

The market too seems to be aligning itself in favor of BioWare.

World of Warcraft – It’s Draining Subs

World of Warcraft is in the position EverQuest was in 2004, the undisputed market leader.  And like EQ, it is slipping into decline.  While it does not suffer from quality problems in expansions, it is still managing to alienate sections of its core player base.  Even my mom says Cataclysm is nice looking, but “meh” otherwise.  And by destroying the old game to redo levels 1-60, they cut the nostalgia cord with  their loyal fans.  Blizzard has the summer to come up with something new or they look to be in the long cycle of decline.  WoW will still be huge and profitable and highly polished for years to come, but things appear to be on the down slope now.

Star Wars Galaxies – That’s No Contract Renewal!

Then there was last week’s announcement of the closure of Star Wars Galaxies.  Of course, LucasArts is declining to renew its contract with SOE in order to support SWTOR.  The announcement said as much.  And while it is silly to assume that SWTOR will somehow automatically get all of SWG’s subscribers, it will be the only Star Wars MMO in town, so no doubt some of that population will come in for a look.  And those that come to look may stay because, unlike the mass of EQ players that went to EQ2, said “no,” and ran back to EQ, there will no “home” to which to return.

EVE Online – Unrest… but when isn’t that the case?

EVE Online is in chaos for the moment.  But when does it ever go for six months at a stretch without something driving the player base to howl?  And it is unclear to me if the echo-chamber of the threadnaughts represents anything more than the most vocal segments of the minority of EVE players than play the 0.0 segment of the game.  Still, EVE is a very interconnected game, so your empire space based mining corp would feel the pinch if null sec players stopped needing resources.  And EVE is a home for those who want a space MMO, and while SWTOR won’t be anything like EVE, you can be sure there will be some cross-over… and all the more so if CCP keeps stoking the fire or ire in the player base.

Rift – So Happy Today

Rift, the darling of late winter which bloomed so rapidly in the spring seems to be enjoying a stable summer.   The biggest selling point for a lot of people seemed to be that is was “not WoW.”  But it has started moving closer to WoW in difficulty and mechanics.  Will this flower be a perennial or merely an annual, shedding a chunk of its player base for the next “not WoW” thing?  Are the new trial servers an innovation or just a clever way to do a server shut down without doing a server shut down?  Will Rift be able to claim a sizable loyal core, or will its player base be tempted by something that may be even more “not WoW?”

Guild Wars 2 – When it Ships

Guild Wars 2, a serious contender for attention in this market now sounds like it won’t ship until 2012.  If SWTOR makes its own plan and launches this year, having GW2 out of the way will be an advantage.

Other Titles – Any High Pressure Systems?

What else will be coming out this year?  Diablo III and the next installment for StarCraft II represent all that Blizzard will have to offer.  They will steal some attention, but are really for something of a different audience.  There will be other games, many of them free to play, as well as expansions.

So What Is The Forecast?

Having taken a semester of meteorology in college, I know a wee bit about forecasting the weather.  And one of the truths of it is that a forecast gets more accurate the closer you get to the particular time for which you are attempting to forecast.  And accuracy only hits 100% when you are telling people what is happening right now for your current location.  The further away you get in time and space, the bigger the margin of error.

We are months away from a SWOTR launch and many things can change.

BioWare might need to slip the release into 2012.  Or, worse, they might really need to slip in to 2012 but get forced by EA to go out the door unready for prime time.

Blizz might figure out what it needs to do to get WoW out of its slow decline and restore growth.

EVE might stave off a player revolt (actually, it surely will, as such unrest is part and parcel of the game in my opinion) and introduce walking on stations in time to make space interesting enough to attract those who might not be sold on SWTOR. (Though that level of change would no doubt instigate another player revolt in the threadnaut echo chamber.)  Or EVE players might just stalk off to Perpetuum and be invested there when SWTOR rolls out.

Guild Wars 2 might launch this year.

Some other game, some sort of indie MMO with Minecraft-like powers of appeal, might show up and change the whole scene.

Heck, if we want to get wild in our speculation, SWG, riding a resurgence of interest based on nostalgia and its imminent demise, might start delivering enough dollars to LucasArts to make it think twice about shutting it down.  But I would rank that on the scale of “maybe the horse will learn to sing” as far as likelihood goes.

There is a lot that could happen between now at the launch of SWTOR.

And sometimes the weather throws you a curve ball.


That is this week’s forecast for Silicon Valley.  Rain is very uncommon in the summer here, but it happens.  And two hours ago that forecast had the picture for thunderstorms.  Even more rare those.

So, like the weatherman sitting here in late June and saying it is likely to rain in the fall, it is pretty hard to dispute the idea that a BioWare produced, Star Wars themed MMO with EA’s marketing muscle behind it is going to sell less than a million boxes in a short span of time.  Beyond that, you have to guess at what conditions will exist at the time of its release.

What do you think will influence the forecast for the launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic?

12 thoughts on “What Will The Weather Be Like For SWTOR?

  1. Warsyde

    If Bioware can ship by the end of the year (as promised) I think their box sales will be very good. If they can deliver on their promises of an engaging RPG in MMO clothing without sacrificing the features that makes MMOS, well, MMOs, then I think they’ll have a good chance of hanging on to a good number of the people who try the game.

    Their chances of hitting high sub numbers are much better than Rift’s, and Rift seems to have done fairly well. If it releases in December, it will have been nearly a year since the last AAA subscription MMO launch, and many many players will probably be hungry for something new.

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  2. slice

    NIce read! Although SWTOR will be a big game, just because it is has “star wars” attached to it does not always mean it will be successful.

    In order for it to succeed Bioware will need to make good on its promises and also fix things quickly, (The fiasco some of the bugs in its previous games hurt its images imo)

    But as you mentioned its being attached to starwars does help it a lot.

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  3. Darraxus

    There are only a few games I am looking forward to. SW:OR, Diablo 3, and Modern Warfare 3.

    I think that Old Republic will do very well. I think it will sell a lot of boxes and eventually have a steady subscriber base that will be significant, but much less than WoW.

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  4. SynCaine

    Slight correction: I believe DAoC was bigger in 2004 than EQ1.

    SW:TOR would need WoW to NGE/Trammel itself the day before launch to really catch the same kind of luck WoW had in 2004, and that would require way, way too much effort from Blizzard.

    The safest prediction IMO is that SW:TOR will be silly huge at launch, but fall faster than any MMO in history just a few weeks/months after release. If GW2 can time their release correctly, they might be the ones in the center of the storm.

    (Also, Perpetuum will make EVE fans appreciate EVE more when they come back, and they will come back)

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  5. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – The only data I have ever seen shows DAoC capping out at 250K subscribers, while EQ was past 500K in 2004.

    That same chart shows SWG capping out at 300K. Good for the time, enough to make money, but that cannot have met the definition of success for LucasArts.

    YMMV on those charts of course.

    And EQ had built up a serious amount of discontent, but was the only PvE raiding game in town for a lot of people until WoW showed (and EQ2 failed to meet expectations of EQ players).

    Some people will hang around in an MMO until something better comes along due to friends, guild, or whatever.

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  6. Jason

    As you point out, Blizzard had one thing that few other MMOs(even Star Wars MMOs) have had when launching a new title; the history of the IP combined with the strength of the brand itself. Warcraft was fairly popular, selling very well over the years, and that certainly contributed to the initial success of WoW. Keeping it accessible and polished has, until recently, kept them well atop the heap.

    So where does that leave TOR? In a fairly similar situation, I believe. Bioware has a solid history of making reasonably polished games that are pretty solid all around. Baldur’s Gate, NWN, KOTOR and more recent games like Mass Effect give them a similar pool of gamers to draw into an MMO like TOR.

    Despite all of that, and even if you consider WoW to be stagnating in a similar manner to how EQ, DAOC and even FFXI were in 2004, I don’t think that they’ll be able to pull off the same kind of coup that Blizzard did, so completely capturing the casual space of players who don’t think of themselves as hardcore gamers(despite their habits with ‘casual’ games indicating otherwise). So they’ll do well, even very well for an MMO, but will never quite make it to the level of success that Blizzard has.

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  7. SynCaine

    Linked blocked at work, but I remember Mark Jacobs talking about DAoC around the time WAR launched (before he got canned) and saying that, at one point when EQ1 had declined a bit and DAoC peaked, it had more subs than anyone else. I figured that had to be around 2004ish, since after, well, we know who had the most subs going forward.

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  8. Angry Gamer

    This is so easy it’s not even funny.

    SWTOR’s launch will be so sunny that people will swear the whole world went mild on us.

    REASON? This guy (see link) didn’t buy 1.5% of EA to “have any ol’ SWTOR launch”.
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/31/idUS219613+31-May-2011+BW20110531

    Money Quote of the article:
    ““This agreement signals Relational’s confidence as we transform EA from a packaged goods company to a fully integrated digital entertainment company.” “

    Kotick wanting to make Activision games “packaged goods” doesn’t look too smart after this kind of statement hmmm…?

    Whitworth doesn’t invest in ordinary situations and he learned from T. Boone to milk a company for it’s last drop. Count on SWTOR to ship this year, the ship to be flawless, and SWTOR to be a cultural phenomenon.

    Lucas Arts is clearing the decks, getting geared for advertising, and warming up the hyperspace drive. EA is getting IT infrastructure in place, and polishing the game to a high sheen.

    This game has all the makings of a mega hit and it will be BIG. Take it to the BANK just like Whitworth is going to.

    FYI – don’t bother investing in EA stock… Relational probably invested to get Most of the 1-2 upside out of this thing plus almost zero risk due to their investments securing IT assets.(only speculation, informed speculation but there it is)

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  9. Angry Gamer

    Just to add a bit more…

    Many people who see the success of WOW don’t seem to realize just how revolutionary their approach was in non-obvious areas.

    We talk about “perfect storms” but in reality WOW represents the state of the art and best practices apex at it’s launch.

    Just a few things that WOW did that nobody else did (very well) before.

    Outsourced for Professional 3rd party Server Hosting (IBM woot)
    Industrial class software patching system
    Outstanding IT load planning (Network, servers, dataservers, security)
    Customer Service staffed and ready to meet gamer demand
    HUGE content at launch (TWO contents, TWO factions mucho classes, gazzilions of quests)
    Optimized graphics for higher end systems (gamble but at least no clunky EQ graphics)
    Fully polished game with an extensive Beta test buildup

    all of this takes money (big money) so it was no wonder that Blizzard had to take on a moneybags partner to help push Wow out the door.

    Just as EA had to take on Relational.

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  10. Pitrelli

    Well im the SWTOR beta and imo from the few days Ive played it will do pretty damn well. A lot will depend on if players really do want to leave WoW but they certainly have to tools to easily be no. 2 on the mmo scene

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  11. ScytheNoire

    WoW did come along at just the right time for it to capitalize, but it’s IP was not that big, Warcraft was far less popular than Diablo, I can remember people groaning “Why are they making a Warcraft MMO? We want a Diablo MMO!”

    Star Wars doesn’t have this problem, most geeks love Star Wars, as do many non-geeks. It’s something we’ve grown up with and can relate to immediately. We know the gist of things, so we can jump in and get things relatively quickly. Darth? Oh, he’s a bad guy. Lightsaber? Ya, those are awesome. The Force? Of course I know what that is.

    So SWTOR has a huge advantage over WoW when it launched, because it’s a far more beloved franchise, perhaps the most beloved in the world.

    Also being set in the Old Republic timeline means that it won’t suffer the problems SWG did with conflicting with the movie lore. It’s a time that is much more open to the freedom to create stories without worrying about Lucas’ legacy. And there being a lot of Jedi and Sith makes sense, so no whining about “Why are there so many Jedi?”

    It has the familiarity of WoW, but without being set in the fantasy realm. That is what kept me from staying with Rift. It’s a great game, but I’m so tired of the fantasy world setting. I want a different setting. Sure, SWTOR is fantasy, but it’s a much beloved fantasy set in a technologically advanced world(s).

    Plus WoW’s barrier to entry has grown, a lot. It’s hard for new players to get into the game, because it requires purchasing the older versions of the game (unless they’ve changed that to just needing Cata now), and the player base can be rather unfriendly for new players learning the game. WoW doesn’t have much room for growth. People are either playing it or played it. No one is really looking for it, it’s a has-been in the mind of gamers. They want the new.

    SWTOR will be successful. It will steal players from WoW. But Blizzard already knows this. They are already planning to make WoW to start game. They plan to expand their store greatly. Eventually they will drop the subscription. The barrier of entry will keep dropping, it’s the only way they can hope to keep customers. But they know it’s eventually going to fall. All eventually do. It may still take quite some time, but that time will come.

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