Friday, October 21, 2011

The financial realities of decline

As Wilhelm decided to front-page my comment on the financial future of CCP on his blog, I would like to elaborate on that comment: As documented in my previous post, I do believe that the MMORPG market *in general* is in decline. I also believe, and that is well documented for many other industries, that a general decline of any industry means that some companies which are not on solid financial footing end up bankrupt. And I do believe that CCP right now is financially feeble. Thus I am willing to bet even odds that CCP isn't going to survive 2012.

The data I have supporting this belief are from earlier this year, and have been well documented by the Nosy Gamer. CCP made a profit in 2010 of $5.4 million, but that is after receiving a government subsidy in form of a $3 million tax credit. Them remaining profitable in 2011 was depending on them continuing to grow. Quote the Nosy Gamer: "Looking a few pages farther into the document (p. 34) shows that while CCP's total liabilities due for the year was $22.2 million, it was expecting to receive $18.4 million in loans and receivables throughout 2011 (p. 37). Still, that gap of $3.7 million was greater than CCP's non-tax profits in 2010. If CCP could maintain its growth of 2010 (where gross profit rose by 11%) then CCP will have no problems."

The obvious problem is that EVE's subscriber numbers did not grow in 2011. Instead they fell by 20%. Thus presumably the liabilities of CCP for 2011 are greater than their revenue, they went from being profitable to losing money this year. Of course we don't have profit numbers for CCP for 2011 yet. But if a company fires 20% of their staff, I would consider that as a sure sign of financial difficulties.

This is where the data ends, and the speculation about the future begins. While I am well aware that Star Wars: The Old Republic resembles World of Warcraft a lot more than it resembles EVE, I do believe that SWTOR will hurt EVE. It isn't as if SciFi fans have had all that many games to choose from. And even post-apology, it isn't evident that EVE is steering in the right direction now, with lots of criticism of their new planetary interaction game mechanics. Add all this to a general decline of the MMORPG market and take the age of EVE into account, and to me right now CCP looks very much like a risky bet on Dust 514. And I don't believe that Dust 514 will actually be a big hit, because the market of console shooters is highly contested, and I find no evidence suggesting that CCP is actually good at designing that sort of game. Not in a market in which even id Software with their latest game Rage finds it hard to succeed.

Note that my prediction is not limited to CCP. I do believe that the decline of the MMORPG market will kill other companies as well. And I do believe that Blizzard's profits from World of Warcraft will shrink significantly. Only that they have been making half a billion dollars of profits for several years, and they will make another ton of money on Diablo 3, so the decline of the MMORPG market isn't an existential threat to Activision Blizzard. But for smaller companies in the MMORPG market, 2012 is going to be brutal.

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