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No changes in MMOs...
There appeared comparable data from Blizzard and Electronic Arts on the number of subscriptions in their flagship products. Star Wars: The Old Republic, in which I play nervously, recorded a very unpleasant decline for shareholders during the quarter, while World of Warcraft probably also recorded a decline, but cleverly masked it.
Let's start with the more obvious one, which is the game from EA - in February it reported 1.7 million subscribers, but now as many as 400 thousand fewer people are playing STWOR! It's a drop of almost 25 percent, which is a disastrous result for a game freshly released, polished with patches and advertising campaigns - and on top of that a game which was quite decent in the initial reception.
WoW, meanwhile, sits comfortably on its throne of blades and doesn't care about the coming winter. Today Blizzard announced that as many as 10.2 million subscriptions are active in the game. And here comes the trick to hiding the actual decline in WoW's population: first, WoW was absent for a long while in China, which is a gargantuan market and which obviously clouds the picture of how the game is doing globally. Secondly, among those 10.2 million subscribers, as many as 1.2 million are annual subscriptions, rewarded with - I remind you - a free copy of Diablo III. I've been thinking about this option for a while myself, just to be able to enter WoW whenever I want. That's why I think that those 1.2 million were mostly people who thought like me and not real, dedicated players.
Of course, business is only measured by subscriptions, not the reasons why someone bought them, so I can't help but tip my hat to Blizzard for being able to keep their key number at such skyrocketing levels. I think it would be a third lower if it weren't for China and Diablo III - but God forbid I'm not judging Blizz's actions negatively, I appreciate the business craftsmanship. It's also worth remembering that in the last year WoW switched to try before you buy model, thanks to which you can download the client for free and play up to level 20 for just as cheap (and that's quite a big chunk of the game).
If I were someone more important than I am, I would do a lot more with SWTOR than just a free weekend or other temporary promotions if I were EA. I think the game should move to a free-2-play model with properly thought out (and properly expensive) payments as soon as possible. There's a lot of potential - but on the other hand, so does the competition on the f2p market.
Time will tell if SWTOR was a giant money-devouring well - and that's the near future. EA's stock price dropped 9% after these results were announced, and it's going to take a long time to rebuild that drop - especially since the stock market is used to reacting to positive news in advance. EA doesn't have much positive news in store for the company, with the stench of unnecessary acquisitions and skyrocketing costs still lingering behind it. The cherry on top of this cake is Star Wars: The Old Republic.