Via Brokentoys comes the news that EA fessed up to the real Warhammer Online : Age of Reckoning subscription numbers, and they are a lot lower than most people thought: Right now WAR has only 300k subscribers. Which isn't shabby in comparison to any other $15-a-month game except World of Warcraft. But with Mark Jacobs having repeatedly stated success criteria for WAR like "half a million subscribers" or "not closing down servers", 300k is a disappointment.
I've read different numbers about WAR's earlier subscription numbers, like 750k subscribers in the first month, or 1.2 million boxes sold. Which would mean that 3 out of 4 people who bought WAR and presumably played it a bit then decided it wasn't for them and quit. Now it is easy to point a finger at Wrath of the Lich King and to claim that the WoW expansion killed WAR. But of course Mythic wasn't forced to release WAR so close to WotLK, and if their game had been more attractive, they wouldn't have had such a high attrition rate. Not selling a million copies is one thing, but selling over a million copies and then not being able to retain those players is quite another.
So I have to admit my estimate of WAR having between 1 million and 2 million subscribers by the end of 2008 was wildly wrong. Not that I feel bad about it, because at the time everyone agreed and even chided me for choosing such a "safe" range. I still think that WAR isn't a bad game, but in a performance review of it you'd probably read the line "didn't meet expectations" somewhere.
So why didn't Warhammer Online succeed as well as expected? I still think making scenarios too attractive, thereby emptying the open world of players, was a big mistake. But in a larger sense the problem is probably that leveling up in WAR is a lot more grindy than in WoW or similar games, and once you did it and reached the level cap, there is only PvP to do; which has a range of problems from technical to social, and just isn't as captivating as the eternal hunt for better gear the PvE games are offering.