Dwism and Gordon asked my opinion in the open Sunday thread on how Star Wars: The Old Republic would be doing, as EA just announced they needed over 1 million players to break even, and were hoping for 2 million. I was going to write something eminently thoughtful and combine that with some back of the envelope calculations, but Scott "Lum" Jennings beat me to that. So instead I'll combine my thoughts on SWTOR with some other thoughts I had about WoW and Farmville into one big thought experiment:
In a parallel universe without World of Warcraft, how would all those other MMORPGs that came out in the last years have done?
I have a theory that in this parallel universe all the other MMORPGs would have done exactly as well as in this universe. There is no such thing a predefined market of a predefined size, of which every game gets a certain percentage, so if one game would drop out every other game would get more subscribers. No, every game creates its own market. The 11 million World of Warcraft players would not just have played WAR, or AoC, or Star Trek Online. Even if Blizzard would close down WoW tomorrow, these other games wouldn't see an influx of millions of players. Every game just gets the number of subscribers which is the number of people who really like that game, and that is independant of the number and size of all the other games.
One area where this is obvioulsy true is the much decried Farmville with its 80 million players. These Farmville players are NOT missing somewhere else, how could they? We would have noticed a drop of 80 million MMORPG players, if there are even that many. Thus the whole angst and anger thing which MMORPG players express against Farmville isn't really justified. Facebook games have not the same playerbase, nor the same pool of developers, and how well Farmville does has no influence whatsoever on the subscription numbers of your favorite MMORPG.
Now if you take that theory of independant subscription numbers and think of this parallel world without WoW, where no game has even 1 million subscribers in the western world, how would you react to the announcement that SWTOR needs over 1 million subscribers just to break even? You'd call EA batshit crazy. One just doesn't go and bet $150 million on a game being a spectacular success in this fickle market. Not if all previous attempts of EA to make a MMORPG failed to get even half a million players.
I will surely try to get into the beta, and if that isn't possible buy and play Star Wars: The Old Republic, on the chance that it will really become the next big thing and will actually be fun. But I'm not holding my breath here. What I've seen up to now doesn't look too promising. Polished, yes, and polish is good. But I'm doubtful about how fun the whole cut-scene based story-telling "pillar" is. Given that nobody reads quest texts, I'm not sure people want to watch long explanations before being sent off to kill 10 womp rats. So I wish EA Bioware the best of luck, and them *selling* 1 million boxes is actually pretty likely, but I'm not so sure those million players will still be there after 6 months. Would be nice if I were wrong.