Did Ineffective Monetization Kill Star Wars: The Old Republic?

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Did Ineffective Monetization Kill Star Wars: The Old Republic?

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Star Wars' unlimited subscription model is blamed for MMO failure.

In the wake of last week's announcement that Star Wars: The Old Republic was switching to part freemium part subscription, there's been plenty of discussion about why this happened. Wasn't Star Wars supposed to be the savior of the subscription model? Last year, one of EA's competitors argued that even if Star Wars had a shot at the magic 2 million subscriber number, it would be the last of its kind. Was he right? There's at least one who thinks so: Ramin Shokrizade, Game and Monetization Director for RIVET Studios Ltd, a Manchester-based game company. An expert in virtual worlds and goods, he thinks ineffective monetization was a major cause of the game's downfall, and that it was never going to work on an unlimited subscription basis.

"The problem with the unlimited subscription model," says Shokrizade, "is that it rewards players for blasting through your content as fast as possible." The faster they get through it, the less they have to pay for since they can cancel their subscription as soon as the content runs out. Most who binge in this way can get through an entire game in under a month, and Shokrizade describes this as "a recipe for canceled subscriptions and poor retention."

He also has words of warning for the Star Wars freemium switch. "Converting a game from a subscription model to a free-to-play model is difficult to do effectively - especially if the base game is complex - and is no guarantee of increased revenues." Such a switch needs to be carefully planned at the earliest stages of game design; something that is unlikely to have happened during the development of Star Wars: The Old Republic. "In the case of [Star Wars], this is likely its most fatal flaw and should act as a clear warning to future MMO producers to consider this aspect of game design earlier and more carefully." On the other hand a well crafted switch could significantly increase revenue, and Shokrizade estimates there's a potential two to four times increase on first year income at stake if it is done right.

"Any new MMO entering the market in the current environment," Shokrizade concludes, "must be carefully designed from the start to endure long enough to build market share." A successful, long-lived game like World of Warcraft already has a war chest substantial enough to fund multiple expansions, which is what will keep players coming back again and again. A new entrant to the market will need to consider its monetization model carefully, since it hasn't got the kind of resources needed to unseat the current MMO champs. Choose unwisely and the game could crash and burn, an awful warning for the next entrant to the MMO sphere.

Source: Gamasutra

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I'm still unsure if the switch will be graceful. Bioware has made a lot of beginner's missteps in handling their first MMO. The same might be said for how they handle the transition to Freemium.

Soviet Heavy:
I'm still unsure if the switch will be graceful. Bioware has made a lot of beginner's missteps in handling their first MMO. The same might be said for how they handle the transition to Freemium.

And I guarantee EA will be breathing down their neck through the entire process. I don't expect it to end well.

I'm sure this was a problem for The Old Republic, and I get that this guy probably knows more than me, being an expert and all, but I can't seem to get the thought out of my mind that The Old Republic hasn't been doing well for more obvious reasons than the subscription model. Like, you know, dated combat, way too many group quests, and a bland art style.

Subscription models are like the Highlander.
THERE CAN BE ONLY OOOOOONNNNNNNNNNNE!

If you rushed through TOR, you're doing it wrong. I can't blame you for it since it is literally a wow clone with a dialog wheel taped on, but still.

Star Wars' unlimited subscription model is blamed for MMO failure.

I'm not going to play grammar nazi, but I thought part of the appeal to working online was that you didn't have to type the header in that goofy ass newspaper style >.>

There is a video by a guy who says the reason TOR failed was that by getting rid of rep grinds, personal crafting, etc., there was nothing to do after you were done with the story, so people just left. I for one kinda liked the story, but it was nothing special, especially after seeing TSW's story.And the environments. ugh.

elilupe:
I'm sure this was a problem for The Old Republic, and I get that this guy probably knows more than me, being an expert and all, but I can't seem to get the thought out of my mind that The Old Republic hasn't been doing well for more obvious reasons than the subscription model. Like, you know, dated combat, way too many group quests, and a bland art style.

gonna have to say, this

aside from the story's, which where unimpressive anyway, it offers absolutely nothing new that is worth while.

elilupe:
I'm sure this was a problem for The Old Republic, and I get that this guy probably knows more than me, being an expert and all, but I can't seem to get the thought out of my mind that The Old Republic hasn't been doing well for more obvious reasons than the subscription model. Like, you know, dated combat, way too many group quests, and a bland art style.

Spice and Wolf! <3

OT: I loved my three months with The Old Republic. The only problem I had with it was the lack of content once you've been through all the planets. I was spoiled with World of Warcraft, getting on the train just after The Burning Crusade was released, meaning I had a ton of content, and by the time I was up to end game, new stuff was out! Good times. Eventually got old, though.

elilupe:
I'm sure this was a problem for The Old Republic, and I get that this guy probably knows more than me, being an expert and all, but I can't seem to get the thought out of my mind that The Old Republic hasn't been doing well for more obvious reasons than the subscription model. Like, you know, dated combat, way too many group quests, and a bland art style.

It was too same-y to really grab the Zeitgeist but I get the point this guy is trying to make. WoW's overall design is even more dated yet their sub numbers are still astronomical so it's not necessarily the systems or game-play which drove people to blast through then drop The Old Republic. Despite being built on a very safe model there was still massive initial interest. Maybe the desire to find a new game world to inhabit long term just isn't there any more. Full-access sub models do encourage people to play through the content as quickly as possible before moving on. Particularly in games at the very beginning of their life-spans, where content is mostly front-loaded.

Honestly I think he's right, and no modern MMO is going to be able to get away from this phenomenon. In my opinion WoW is only still as popular as it is for the simple reason that so many people have been at it so long and invested so much. I'm sure the social/community aspect is the glue that holds WoW together. All new games will have an incredibly difficult time re-creating that lightning in a bottle no matter how special or innovative they are.

Perhaps I'm wrong. But I'd be interested to see some numbers on WoW's new subscribers and new-player retention to see if it's comparable with newcomers on the MMO scene.

What a lovely sensationalist headline once again - SW:TOR is not dead, so it's hardly been 'killed' by anything. Servers are merging due to lower populations, sure, but it's an easy and natural solution so people don't have to wait forever for PvP and PvE. At least on EU side on the "The Progenitor" RP-PvE server everything is alive and well with a big community. And I highly doubt people look for the RP servers first when joining an MMO, since roleplayers are always a minority in the community.

As for free to play, I'll still gladly keep paying my subscription and enjoying the game. I love Star Wars and KOTOR (especially the original, #2 goes from 'Decent' to 'Good' with the community restoration patch) so Old Republic is basically just more of that and I'm prepared to pay for quality. Even if SW:TOR was the best golden game ever brought to mankind from the treasure chests of Odin and a natural cure for AIDS, polio and about four and a half different types of cancer; it would still suffer from the oh-so-original EA hate because that's just what one is supposed to do nowadays.

I don't mind it going F2P as long as it doesn't affect my playing. So far MMO's that have gone from subscription to F2P have all had a massive drop in community quality on servers I've been on, and generally have just started messing with the paying customer. LotRO asking me to buy questpacks I used to have, APB giving people incredibly overpowered weapons, World of Tanks letting people buy their way to victory - list goes on...

If anything, I'm worried that F2P will 'kill' The Old Republic.

That must have been effective, but I guess the many design flaws of the game and the fact that it was a WOW Clone surely "helped" it's demise.
The plan was to trump WOW with the Star Wars brand and Bioware's good will (and it worked fairly well considering the amount of hype the title generated, but if the product is not better than (or a least different from) World of Warcraft, I don't see why players who invested hours in one game would want to jump to another and stay there.

star trek online has the same issue. you can zoom through the content in about 2/3 weeks tops and then there is pretty much nothing to do other than grind gear for the sake of grinding gear and thats with the new starbases too

People can analyze this all they like, but the bottom line is to compete with WoW you have to actually make a game that's as good as WoW. TOR wasn't/isn't a bad game (unlike Rift, I don't regret buying it) but the reasons for its failure are pretty clear to anyone who has played it.

ToR failed primarily because 1, they expanded servers wayyyy too quickly upon launch, and 2, because PvP, especially endgame PvP, was shit upon launch

It did the EXACT SAME FUCKING THING THAT EVERY BIOWAREA GAME DOES.

EA assumes that if you can get the overlap of a venn diagram, you can get both circles.
No.

SPRPG players do not want to play an MMO.
MMO players to not want to play an SPRPG.

There are however people who overlap and will play a very heavily SPRPG influenced MMO.
However there are even more people who wont.

Its not a horrible game, but it did nothing new, and had no end game content.
Same thing with ME becoming a turd party shooter, and Dragon Age becoming an action game.

They are trying to appeal to a broad audience, but end up appealing to very few people.
Added to that they are cheapskates who cut corners and offend those who would like the game.

Its just fail an epic scale.

What killed SWTOR was ineffectual monetization during the development process. I am sorry but the problem isn't the games subscription, or its gameplay, or its endgame, or any bugs or content. Those are all symptoms. The problem is the damn thing cost more to make then they would ever have any hope of getting back, regardless of payment model. They spent half a billion dollars USD on this sucker folks! That's just development marketing and licensing costs. That doesn't include ongoing expenses. When you screw up the accounting that badly there is no hope. It does not matter of the game is good, bad, or just another wow clone. It is completely irrelevant at that point. SWTOR failed at least a year before release. It wasn't lousy inexperienced devs. It was lousy inexperienced accountants.

And going ftp will not save this mess. The problem is the massive development costs still sitting out there as a write off / massive loss. WoW was a success not simply because it hit 10 million subscribers. It was a success because it cost under $50 million to make, and then had 10 million subscribers. Rift, while not blowing the doors off anyone subscriber wise is a succesful game, because it cost well under $50 million to make and has a subscriber base capable of supporting those development costs at a profit. LotRO was able to be turned around by going ftp, not because of the magis=c of ftp, but because its development costs were low enough to be supported and recouped by ftp business models.

The payment model is not the magic fix or the wave of the future that everyone seems to think it is. Games can do well with any of the payment models. Subscription, Xpac, ftp, or a hybrid of the above. The key is being able to control your development costs so you have the flexibility to find the model that works best for your game, and have low enough amortization costs that you can see a return on your development costs. Right now that sweet spot seems to be at or under $50 million or so. I don't think any game that has gone over that on initial release has succeeded (Conan, Warhammer, SWTOR) while the majority of games that have kept themselves more conservatively budgeted have found their niche and turned a profit. (WoW, Eve Online, Rift, LotRO, etc)

It doesn't matter how good a game you have or how good an IP, you also need good and frugal managers and accountants. Sometimes the cries of publisher or financier interference are not the evils that we portray them as in the gamer community. The recent mess over at 38 Studios should be a shining example of this. Once again it would not have mattered how good the game was. The development costs had exceeded any chance of profit from the product. The investors and the Governor understood that. The management and developers did not. That's why they lost their funding.

I'm sorry, but blame whatever you want, in the end the game was just meh.
It did nothing new and it did nothing better.

That's what killed the game.
It was a sub-par WoW clone (down to the /commands and button layout) that was wearing a Star Wars suit.

I was promised something new and different, and what I got was the same I saw 20 times before.

That is why it failed.

Dear game developers

STOP MAKING CLONES OF WORLD OF WARCRAFT. If people wanted to play a game like WoW, they would already be playing WoW.

Maybe my opinion isn't common enough that it would make a difference, being a non-mmo player and having played the game in question, but it seems pretty obvious to me. if you want to distinguish yourself from WoW (or at least top it), and you're using the Star Wars IP... then where the hell is the epic space combat? If you look at Star Wars as a whole, the first thing anybody wants to be is a Jedi. The second is to zip around in X-wing fighters and blow up TIE fighters (or the other way around). Before we had the tech to effectively create a game that lets you be a Jedi, Tie Fighter and X-Wing Alliance were the most iconic Star Wars video games available.

I know it would be a bit more work to implement, but a space sim generally isn't going to be expensive to make these days, and they had a whopping $200m budget. Couldn't have been that much more work to upgrade their half assed on-rails space shooter to legitimate space sim quality, and it could make for some great end game content.

Again I don't know what the numbers behind this would be, but that's what would've gotten me interested in the game.

nikki191:
star trek online has the same issue. you can zoom through the content in about 2/3 weeks tops and then there is pretty much nothing to do other than grind gear for the sake of grinding gear and thats with the new starbases too

Star Trek's actually worse, there were people in Sovereigns back in the first week the game came out, and you could easily get to RA5 (the original level cap) within a couple days.

IIRC, for a new player, there was about 100 hours of content fed side at launch, including patrols.

The last two years have added... well, honestly not that much more, about 40 hours on top?

DVS BSTrD:
Subscription models are like the Highlander.
THERE CAN ONLY BE OOOOOONNNNNNNNNNNE!

"Be" goes before "only."

faefrost:

*le snip*

You make a lot of sense, sir.

If you read the entire article, he actually points to the lack of community and community tools as a key weakness of the game. A subscription MMORPG needs good community aspects if it wants longevity.

What turned me off personally was the lack of a decent Looking for Group tool upon launch. Standing around a city doing nothing for a significant portion of your game time is not something I'm willing to pay a monthly fee for. I hear they have since implimented one but it's too little too late. I might go back and check it out once it goes free to play but that will largely depend on how entertained I am by Mists of Pandaria.

Karloff:
Did Ineffective Monetization Kill Star Wars: The Old Republic?

Short answer: No
Long answer: Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

In all seriousnes, though. The game failed, because it was unpolished and had glaring design-flaws that a six-year-old could have pointed out.

(Example: One strictly linear levelling path per faction while on the same time pourring ressources and creativity into good class-specific questlines. Thus forcing people who want to see the good bits to go through every damn quest over and over, and over again)

When this first came out, I was seriously considering switching from WoW to ToR, because it was being trumpeted as 100x better than WoW. I then decided to watch my friends play it before I made my decision, and I noticed that it was EXACTLY the same. Still had the useless gather quests, still had the leet mobs that would tear your face off, it was simply a WoW clone that was strong with the force.

Now that it's going f2p, I again considered giving it a shot until I noticed that it limits your character development by forcing you to take select races. This would be like WoW saying, "All you free members, we're going to limit you to just the human and orc races. You can unlock the rest with a subscription." If WoW had been like that, I wouldn't have gone to subscription and I wouldn't have played it. A good f2p/freemium should limit activity, not creation.

Mind2Matter:
Now that it's going f2p, I again considered giving it a shot until I noticed that it limits your character development by forcing you to take select races. This would be like WoW saying, "All you free members, we're going to limit you to just the human and orc races. You can unlock the rest with a subscription." If WoW had been like that, I wouldn't have gone to subscription and I wouldn't have played it. A good f2p/freemium should limit activity, not creation.

Race is as far as I can tell purely cosmetic, and even then they're all just different colors of human/humans with various things taped to their heads.

I'm pretty sure what killed TOR is the fact that they spent $500 million to develop an MMO with barely a month's worth of content and no incentive for continued play.

Seems unlikely, I think it's more likely the fact the game wasn't very good and had little content was likely to blame for players not liking it.

tmande2nd:
It did the EXACT SAME FUCKING THING THAT EVERY BIOWAREA GAME DOES.

EA assumes that if you can get the overlap of a venn diagram, you can get both circles.
No.

SPRPG players do not want to play an MMO.
MMO players to not want to play an SPRPG.

There are however people who overlap and will play a very heavily SPRPG influenced MMO.
However there are even more people who wont.

Its not a horrible game, but it did nothing new, and had no end game content.
Same thing with ME becoming a turd party shooter, and Dragon Age becoming an action game.

They are trying to appeal to a broad audience, but end up appealing to very few people.
Added to that they are cheapskates who cut corners and offend those who would like the game.

Its just fail an epic scale.

"SPRPG players do not want to play an MMO"

Yes, I'm looking at you, Borderlands.

OT: TOR was destined to fail. And again, it's a shame that BioWare has to pay for EA's mistakes. I just hope EA takes very soon and doesn't completely obliterate BioWare with it.

Ummm, no.

Nothing killed SWTOR.

As far as I'm concerned, the game is still up and running.

It seems a little soon to do an autopsy on something that isn't quite dead (yet).

If we used the logic that F2P = dead, then WoW (and probably 2 other games) would be the only MMO's,

which is a false statement.

Not sure if jumping the gun, sensationalist journalism, or just plain stupidity.

My problem with SWTOR was this - it wasn't a good enough multiplayer experience to give me my MMO fix (I'm itchin' for some GW2), and it wasn't a good enough single player experience to make me play it instead of, for example, Fallout or The Witcher.

It tried to be all things to all men, and ended up falling short of all the things it promised. That's the reason I stopped playing, anyway.

There seems to be a lot of theory-crafting around the web regarding why SWTOR didn't do so well. Maybe, just maybe, the real reason is because it just wasn't that great of a game.

Personally, I don't think the subscription model is dead; however, I do think that the subscription model will generally fail if a game simply is not good enough. Just about every attempted exodus away from WoW has always seen a resurgence back to WoW and its subscription model. So, I don't think the problem is people being unwilling or unable to pay for the game under the subscription model. I think it's more that they quickly find the content of every other game that has tried to dethrone WoW to be insufficiently compelling to hold their interest, or they find numerous unacceptable gameplay, game-design, and game-mechanical issues that ruin the game for them.

To be fair, at this point, it's almost impossible to unseat WoW. The game has been under constant development, refinement, and expansion for the past 8 years now. It is prohibitive for any new MMO to attain the same level of detail and volume of content upon release that WoW has built over the past 8 years. The idea of the WoW-killer was a potentially viable concept in the first 3-4 years of WoW's existence, but, at this point, the sheer size and scope makes any attempt a virtual futility for any MMO that simply tries to clone WoW's success. In my opinion, it would take a game that radically departs from the current formula, such to be incomparable to WoW, to have any chance. Otherwise, the only things that are ever going to kill WoW are Blizzard and time.

Any time someone uses the word "monetization" with a straight face, that should clue you in that the person has no idea what they are talking about. The word itself is one of those "power words" that they teach in business school, like "paradigm" and "synergy." The word is a stock joke in English Arts and Literature circles.

In any event, the reason it failed was not because of poor effort on the part of the artistic staff of the game, nor because of mismanagement by BioWare Austin, but rather because the MMO business model itself is unsustainable. I made this point elsewhere, but in summery: there is no way that you can keep revenue levels high enough, even with constant updates and expansions. In trying to meet what MMO developers think are the demands of their players, they invest heavily only to face server depopulation regardless. WoW may be king, but its time will come as well. In fact, I consider the MMO to be a dying genre, populated largely by people I would rather avoid, in real life and even across a game server.

Note: I am still trying to popularize the pronunciation of MMORPG as: "more-pig." I have been unsuccessful so far.

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