Monday, April 30, 2012

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Galactica MMO Probably More Popular Than Old Republic

Battlestar Galactica MMO 9 million users

Web-based, free-to-play MMO Battlestar Galactica Online recently reached 9 million registered users, which made me wonder how many retained users it currently has. According to Google Ad Planner, the Galactica website gets 2.9 million unique visitors, and because it's a web-based MMO that's been on the market since February 2011, it's likely most of those visitors are registered users. So I'd say a fair guess is about 2 to 2.5 million people are now playing Galatica online. That's pretty impressive for a couple of reasons:

Sci-fi MMOs haven't historically done well, even when they're based on well-known franchises. (Matrix Online, Star Trek Online, I could go on.) Of course, there's the Star Wars: Old Republic MMO, based on the Star Wars franchise, but despite a huge budget and a major marketing push, it's reached a peak of 1.7 million subscribers, and analysts expect it to fall to 1.25 million subscribers by next year. At that rate, Electronic Arts will still make a decent profit from the game, but a long-term WoW-level success doesn't seem likely. Takeaway one: Battlestar Galatica Online is probably more popular than Old Republic. Takeaway two: The subscription model for MMOs just doesn't work anymore, EA, didn't you get the damn memo?

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Ezra

Shouldn't you compare how much money TOR makes vs. Battlestar Galactica Online before declaring subscription models for MMOs obsolete?

Since when is earning money via charging customers for a service, a pretty solid business model, a secondary concern to having lots of users?

Pussycat Catnap

Never heard of this one, and its got that many folks.

Might give it a look, making myself another notch in its statistics.

Pussycat Catnap

I agree with Ezra. Who's making the money is key in a lot of this.

But also we should not forget that WoW ramped up its population numbers mostly during its first and second expansions, and only started to lose them at the tail end of that second expansion.

WoW's numbers before its first expansion were large, but much smaller than now. Maybe 2 to 4 million. This was in an era where its competition was lackluster and outdated (Everquest II launched around the same time, but required zoning screens and loads every few feet a person traveled). And there was very little free and nearly no mobile competition.

For a while, Guild Wars was WoW's rival in terms of population. It had more "users", but having no subscription fee... that was a somewhat misleading fact as it merely tracked every registered account...

WoW's model of a subscription fee ensures loyalty. You pay, so you have to justify paying by using it, so you have to pay to keep using it so you can justify paying for it... :)
- And they are motivated to make sure you keep wanting to play... because if you don't log in, you're likely to cancel, and they lose money. So they have to make sure the product stays sharp, even to old users.

By contrast in the free to play "games" like Second Life and assorted micro-transaction MMOs - they are motivated at new users quick-schemes.

Get you to buy something, play around, and then GTFO of the way so the next sucker can come in and repeat.

Thus Linden Homes, a cheapo low quality housing option, that drives a lot of sales of cheap furniture, combined with fashion blogs to sell looks for 'online dating'... and a "Shelf Life" system meant to capture a user for just long enough to go from:

-noob
-hawt babe
-OMG he's the love of my life
-WTF that cheating bastard
-My family is so tough we will f-you up if you mess with us
-WTF they banned me from my family's home because I called that [***] a [***] cause she is one
-LL won't ban my family, screw this.

- About a 3 month to 1 year cycle.

Long term retention... that breeds whackadoodles, and that way lies madness. "You are not the customer we desire."

And this isn't an SL slam. That's just how it works in the systems where they need quick junkie-fixes and splurges from you, rather than slow and steady long term loyalty.

At least in SL, its offset by having a loyalty system in land ownership.

In the other 'MMOs' that are free, they just want you to do your drama, pay somebody, and get lost.

Hamlet Au

"Since when is earning money via charging customers for a service, a pretty solid business model, a secondary concern to having lots of users"

Since subscriber-based MMOs consistently started slipping, especially and including WoW, and free-to-play MMOs consistently started growing.

Ferd Frederix

This is a fun game to play. It uses the same game engine (Unity) as the Reactions Grid Jibe plug-in which used to make an OpenSim-like SL that plays very nicely on Androids and modern web browsers:

http://reactiongrid.com/unity3d/serverroom/

Makes you wish you could just drop in to a sim in a web browser...

Ezra

"Since subscriber-based MMOs consistently started slipping, especially and including WoW, and free-to-play MMOs consistently started growing."

MMOs like all products have lifecycles. They mature and then usage declines. This is true for every single product ever, including free to play MMOs.

When one product, no matter how popular it once was, inevitably declines in popularity the takeaway shouldn't be that the business model behind it is what was at fault. That logic doesn't apply to anything else so it shouldn't MMOs. It's like saying ad-based TV dramas should've died with MASH. Subscription based internet should've died because NetZero rolled along with free internet and no one had yet thought how to improve upon AOL's offerings.

If no subscriber-based MMO has done as well as WoW yet then it just means no subscriber-based MMO has been made better than WoW yet. People haven't devolved below the concept of paying for things worth the money, and will continue to do so in droves proportional to the quality offered.

Hamlet Au

"When one product, no matter how popular it once was, inevitably declines in popularity the takeaway shouldn't be that the business model behind it is what was at fault."

Is there a subscription-based MMO launched in the last few years that's still growing its subscriber base a year after launch? There may be one, but I can't think of any, can you?

Dartagan Shepherd

@Ezra ... good points all.

It's a saturation and long-term interest problem. Less top players in the subscription field as lesser products fail to entice like they used to.

Indie projects are on the rise with a variety of models.

Expect Zynga, free-play and other nickle and dime models to slip right along with subscription based models as users move to lighter weight satisfaction.

Mobile will also get more realistic as it becomes saturated.

Startups in general will eventually get stale (thankfully) as people get bored with non-delivery on something with meat on it and to be blunt, some fairly dumb offerings are the norm. Failure rate is high. Staying power and long term worth are low.

If anything, I'd expect things to come full circle to subscription on high quality offerings in the future.

Ezra

"Is there a subscription-based MMO launched in the last few years that's still growing its subscriber base a year after launch? There may be one, but I can't think of any, can you?"

Is there a social game on Facebook that's ever grown in active users pass its first year? Most don't grow pass their first month. So is that indicative of a failed business model, or is that just the lifecycle of that type or product and it really doesn't matter because it still produces happy customers and profit?

It's pointless to hold WoW's exceptional success as a measuring stick of what every other following MMO has to replicate. After all, WoW did nothing no other MMO has accomplished that's truly important, which is find its niche. It took WoW a lot more years than say, CCP's Eve Online did, but the end result is the same: profitable companies with happy customers. You can't call that a failed business model.

Ezra

"Expect Zynga, free-play and other nickle and dime models to slip right along with subscription based models as users move to lighter weight satisfaction."

Yes exactly...there's no product ever that grows forever. It applies to both subscriber-based and free to play MMOs. Every product find its niche and that's a point of success, not failure.

But infinite growth seems to be what some people expect nowadays. It'll be interesting to see the shock on some faces when Facebook for some unfathomable reason becomes unable to add hundreds of millions of people every couple of months. I'm sure then the idea of a social network as a business model will become questionable.

Arcadia Codesmith

The problem with using SWTOR as a yardstick is that they blew it, big time.

Bioware produced a superb single-player game (and it really is top-flight), which is no less than you'd expect from them. Then they grafted on a basic end-game raiding and PvP system and called it an MMORPG.

It's a standard rookie mistake, and one that's plagued the field for many years now.

They have time to recover, but only if they admit their error and stop trying so hard to NOT be Star Wars Galaxies -- a game that did many things wrong, but did community right.

You don't have a real MMORPG until players invest in it, move into it, and make it home. Otherwise all you have is a bright shiny for them to play with until the next bright shiny comes along.

And all that said, comparing F2P registration numbers to paid subscriptions is comparing apples to bowling balls. F2P accounts never go away, because nobody has to pay to maintain them; subs are cash money in the bank.

Unless you've got a hard number for paying Galactica players, you've got no basis for comparison.

Subscription is far from dead, but if you're going to tap all your players for $15 a month, you have to deliver a wide range of experiences to engage different audiences, not eight mostly linear quest lines cumulating in a repetitive and boring raiding game or PvP arena.

And on a side note, I just reactivated my WoW subscription yesterday. It's not the greatest game ever, but it's got community -- despite its glaring design omissions.

Oberon Octagon

BSG also has a storyline that is more open to a lifestyle existence. You have a place to live and make friends. You're not always on a goal-oriented taskline. I really believe it's the environment and what the residents make of it rather than business models.

shockwave yareach

One important detail in eveyrone comparing WOW and other MMOs to SL.

WOW works because Blizzard comprehends that they are selling an entertainment product. Thus they are constantly working to ensure that the product stays entertaining. For when the customer (that's us) stops being entertained in WOW, they'll take their money and go have fun someplace else. But as long as they can keep having fun, they will pay. And WOW is still a subscription service -- all that's changed is the hook of the first few levels are free to try and get the last people who don't play WOW to join.

If LL had run the grid with the attitude that it has to remain entertaining for their customers, SL would have huge numbers and huge profits too. But instead, LL decided it had to ban all the fun, start acting like the good taste gestapo and drive the entertainment out. Because God help anyone who thinks their product should be enjoyable, because SL is srz bizness... And so people have no reason to join/remain, thus there are no customers for the creators anymore and they have no reason to join/remain either.

That LL is looking into creating gaming zones is a positive step. If LL were to fix the number of players per sim flaw and offer entire sims to game builders inworld for half price (to bring new gamers in and offload the game building work to the inworld creators), they could start a whole new business stream. While their recent effort is a positive new step, I've little doubt they'll screw it up just like they screwed everything else up.

For the company that created SL, they don't seem to understand their own creation nor their PAYING customers well. All they have to do is make a simple set of TOS rules, sell people "land" at a price they can afford, and leave them the H*** alone to enjoy their purchases.

Hamlet Au

"It's pointless to hold WoW's exceptional success as a measuring stick of what every other following MMO has to replicate."

But I wasn't asking about WoW, which launched in 2004. I asked, can you name a subscription-based MMO launched in the last few years that grew its subscriber base a year after launch?

Hamlet Au

"Is there a social game on Facebook that's ever grown in active users pass its first year?"

And yes, there's some -- off the top of my head, Zynga's Texas HoldEm, Backyard Monsters, and Tetris Battle were still growing a year after launch. HoldEm has been around for nearly FOUR years and is still attracting new users.

Ezra

"But I wasn't asking about WoW, which launched in 2004. I asked, can you name a subscription-based MMO launched in the last few years that grew its subscriber base a year after launch?"

You also stated: "Since subscriber-based MMOs consistently started slipping, especially and including WoW, and free-to-play MMOs consistently started growing."

Presumably this comment is why you believe it's at all relevant to ask about subscriber counts going up pass the first year. I believe its irrelevant and secondary to a profitable company and happy customers, and especially irrelevant when used as a metric to compare to registered users of a free to play MMO.

Subscription counts go two ways; up and down, it shouldn't surprise anyone when down eventually happens.

Registered accounts only goes up. If you want to fairly judge interest in a game like TOR and BGO, at least use the exact same metric. Meaning, don't compare TOR's current subscriber count to BGO's total amount of registered users. Instead, compare TOR's total amount of registered accounts to BGO's total amount of registered accounts. Then consider the reality that for every TOR player there's ever been, a box was bought and most subscribed for at least some time.

So to completely and fairly judge TOR and BGO, compare TOR's registered accounts vs. BGO's registered accounts. TOR's subscription counts vs. BGO's non-existent subscription counts. TOR's box sales vs. BGO's non-existentbox sales. Then tell me which one's business model is working out for them best.

Hamlet Au

I wasn't comparing BGO's total registrations to TOR subscribers -- I was comparing it to BGO's monthly active users, which like I said, are probably about 2 to 2.5 million. That's at least 2 million people, many of whom might have been interested in playing TOR, but are instead going with a free-to-play option. That's consistently the market trend now -- away from subscriptions, and toward some version of freemium. It's why MMOs like LOTRO and DDO went free-to-play years ago. (And now make more money as freemium MMOs, than they did as subscription-based MMOs.) And that's probably why there hasn't been a recent subscription-based MMO that has grown or even stabilized its subscriber base after launch. There are too many freemium gaming options now for the subscription model to make sense.

Don't take my word for it, Lum the Mad was saying this back in 2008, and it's even more true now:

http://gigaom.com/2008/08/16/why-the-mmorpg-subscription-based-business-model-is-broken/

Last year he blogged that TOR will probably be the last of the breed, which sounds right:

http://www.brokentoys.org/2011/09/20/soes-john-smedley-subscription-model-dead/

Ezra

"I wasn't comparing BGO's total registrations to TOR subscribers -- I was comparing it to BGO's monthly active users, which like I said, are probably about 2 to 2.5 million."

Yes I know you didn't compare two metrics that are actually:

1. Real
2. Relevant to one another

Google Ad Planner isn't a measure of monthly active users, a guess is a guess.

Even if your guess of BGO's monthly active users was accurate, those are free accounts not easily equatable to the 15 dollars of revenue per subscriber TOR gets. I assume we're in agreement money earned per active/subscribed user a month plays a factor in determining if a business model is successful or not, right?


"That's consistently the market trend now -- away from subscriptions, and toward some version of freemium."

Freemium is a business model where the ultimate goal is to GAIN subscribers. Which is why the two example MMOs you listed, DDO and LOTRO have subscriptions.

"Don't take my word for it, Lum the Mad was saying this back in 2008, and it's even more true now:"

Yeah and the free to play browser-based company he went to work for and promoted in that blog post, John Galt Games, closed down the exact same year while the company he left, NCSoft, is obviously still kicking along with the subscriber-based MMOs it's released since then.

richard

It MIGHT have 9 million registered, but there are less than 10k active.

old BSG  player

That's a lot who signed up but how many are playing and paying. I quit playing this game after a couple of months due to lack of content. Their updates are always about bug fixes and nothing about game content.

BSGplayer

Your guess of figures is way out. Theres not even close to that many people actively playing BSG across all their servers.

The reason they have so many registered accounts is because it's web based i.e no client to download, this makes it really quick and easy to sign up and try the game, plus its FTP.

I would say theres proabaly about 5-10,000 active players across all servers and a large percentage of them will be casual players.

That said it is an ok game if you're a BSG fan although it still has a lot of bugs to iron out and is desperately in need of new content.

ziku

This game is awesome....i have continualy played since beta....I also have bought some good amount of cubits....and im sure there are many who have spent thousands on this game...they make money and good players still come back as shown by the resurgence of cylon presence on caprica server...just proves the star wars game is lame and no one wants to pay to play a game they may not get to play every day or week...

Arcadia Codesmith

There's plenty of room in the market for both.

Freemium appeals to people who want something for nothing, people who want to feel superior to others based on how much real money they sink into virtual goods, and designers that would rather focus on the cash shop than the game.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But the rest of us will continue with our "doomed", immersive, complex subscription MMOs many, many years into the future.

You get what you pay for.

Manxe Kitairn

WOW is not entertaining because it is fantasy, not reality simulation. When you grow older, you grow tired of magic, and recognize it for what it is. Therefore the game has a limited life.

BSG works because it runs completely in a browser. That requires some forethought and good programmers, something lacking in most MMORPGs. If EVE ran in a browser, I might go back to paying the $15 a month for it, plus occasional boosts. But that would, at this point, mean radical changes to the heavy client/light server model of the game, and so EVE will die a slow death.

EVE has really good science, with one glaring exception, and that makes it fun for nerds as well as social gadflies. The exception? Spacecraft do not stop moving when the power shuts off. Duh!

And BSG allows you to enter the game for half an hour and have an exiting time. But still the same glaring error that defies Newtonian physics. EVE allows you to play 6 hour missions that you cannot put down, leaving not enough time for RL. RL allows you to make money to play the game, so real people will be forced to give it up as too expensive.

Give me a real live simulation like Fighter Ace, running in a browser, with quick exiting missions and free form, personally motivated play, and I would gladly pay $15 a month and enjoy doing it.

Oh. And that social stuff, too.

Ver

"That's at least 2 million people, many of whom might have been interested in playing TOR, but are instead going with a free-to-play option."

I would strongly question this statement. I signed up for BGO, as did a whole bunch of my BSG-fan friends, and we all played for maybe 15 minutes before never touching the game again (yet we still count as "registered users"). What we discovered is that BGO is simplistic, decidedly low-end, and in no way competitive against any traditional MMO, whether TOR, WoW, etc.

I don't believe for one moment people are choosing it over subscription-based games. Over other browser-based games? Sure.

Ver

Also, I really wonder where you get that estimate of 2-2.5 million active users for BSGO. I've never heard an estimate higher than 100,000 before, but the company refuses to release active player numbers (which may or may not mean anything).

Arcadia Codesmith

"When you grow older, you grow tired of magic"

Oh, poppycock.

You've reversed cause and effect. When you tire of magic, that's when you get old.

DrNova

From a BSGO player

I've played a fair amount of BSGO, and still do from time to time, even dropped a little bit of cash into it, and let me be the first to tell you that there is not 2.anything million players.

There are a couple thousand at Best. And this is a legitimate estimate, not a guess.

I haven't personally played Old Republic, but at best its very debatable is BSGO is better, if even equal.

BSGO is a fun game for a while. But it gets old quick. It has several issues. One being a complete lack of content and depth. There are very few things to do. There in the non pvp side, and thats horrible repetative, unentertaining grinding. Its not fun at all. NPC's are sub par in intelligence, "daily missions" are horribly monotanous and repetative, and there are currently maybe 8 or 9 storyline missions before you end the current story arc (not finished by any means, simply no more programmed quests/missions)

The PVP side is a little better, but not much. Its very close to a pay to win game. You CAN get everything without paying, but it requires a massive investment of time to complete repetative tasks over and over and over to take a small step fowards. You either need to play ALOT, or open the wallet to stay competative in the pvp world. You'll pretty much end up getting owned for a great deal of time if you dont pay. And the prices for the game credits are terrible, you need to pay hundreds if not thousands to peak out your gear and ships, the pay scale is royally screwed. PVP combat is actually pretty fun when your not hopelessly outmatched, and even better when fleet vs fleet action is going on.
However, there are serious faction balance issues on most if not all servers, generally one side is overwhelmed daily.

It at heart, is a fun game, but there are glaring issues, those I mentioned, and more, from items in the game, glitches, and core programming faults.

From all appearances BP doesnt seem to care so much about the game, and just wants to rake money in from it. The bulk of the community is unhappy to varied degrees, and most loathe BP.

The game never should have left "beta", as it claims to have. The origional development team, and at least the next two that followed, frakked things up pretty bad, didnt finish other things, and generally left the game and the engine a mess.

The current dev team, to give them credit, SEEMS to be working on fixing said issues. They are at least aware of them, and do provide (modest) feedback to the community. Hopefully they will make progress, as BSGO has the potential to be a great game, but currently its sorley lacking in many important aspects.

Try it out, its not completely broken, and you will probably enjoy it for a while, but currently it will become just a giant time sink over time, with little payoff.

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