Can a MMORPG Be Profitable With Short Term Players?

I was just reading Keens thoughts on why he won’t be lasting more than two months in SWTOR.

He’s repeated a few things as to why I didn’t end up buying the game myself. I had two big problems of course, limited time and budget, that made me critically evaluate whether I’d play or not. A couple of years ago earning around 100K a year it would have been a no-brainer. Dropping over a hundred on a game (the initial purchase and a couple of months of subscription) wasn’t a matter of wallet.

But overall, I knew that if I got SWTOR it wasn’t going to be  a long term proposition for me. Buying a single player RPG is one thing, you don’t have to play it every day to get your moneys worth. A sub based MMO on the other hand kind of demands time spent. And unfortunately SWTOR is very single player oriented. Don’t get me wrong, Bioware have come up with some interesting mechanics to allow players to cooperate and not spoil their own character plans. (Selection and assignment of dark/light side points while in groups is a case in point.) But SWTOR never felt that much massively multiplayer to me.

But that isn’t where I want to go with this post. I digressed.

At the end of his post, Keen asks

Can this really count as a MMORPG if it only lasts a month?

That’s a really interesting question.

I think the obvious answer, at least to me, is yes. MMORPG stands, as we all know, for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. We don’t call them Massively Multiplayer Online Long Term Role Playing Games. Players don’t sign up for two year plans that prevent them from changing ‘providers.’ How long it takes a player to complete the game is irrelevant. As long as he or she enjoys it.

If the game allows dozens or hundreds of players in an online world to be in the game at the same time, and that there is an element of persistence, then the MMO acronym is deserved. RPG on the other hand, well, we do over use that term a bit these days, but the premise still holds. Having lots of players on at the same time in your online RPG makes it a MMORPG.

I think the more interesting question is can a MMORPG be profitable if it only lasts a month?

The usual way things work is that a when a game is released it sells well for a while, and then as new games enter the market, sales of the older ones drop away. Developers and publishers often continue to support these games, fixing bugs and patches and providing forum support for a while, but there is often no new content unless the game is designed for DLC. (I’m not counting sequels.) The most profitable period for the game is right after release. If the publisher gets the development costs and marketing mix right they can make a lot of money.

Can a MMORPG do the same?

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  1. Green Armadillo

    If any MMO can turn a profit despite short-term stays, I maintain it would be SWTOR. When you think about how many times people replay Bioware single player games, and remember that replaying SWTOR will cost the player more subscription fees, I think they will probably do fine. There’s also a second month or two in playing the other faction, even if you never go back and try the other classes, and they’ll probably coax people back for the occasional month with patches.

    That said, I didn’t buy it at launch either. The subscription fee isn’t going to be discounted anytime soon, but the box will be, and it’s not like I’m lacking in other things to play. To the extent that it is a “single player” experience, I see little advantage in showing up first and hitting all the bugs.

  2. RPG Paradise

    I don’t really see how a MMORPG *would* just last a month. As far as I know of, there are no games that flopped that bad after release (there was a MMOFPS… can’t think of the name of it but as far as I know that’s the worst launch so far — ended up being pulled).

    Over time the games die off as new ones come out and players get bored of doing the same content over and over, but when it really comes down to it, they’re still (usually) profitable. Those that don’t end up turning around and doing a F2P hybrid model (which we’ve seen happen to Star Trek Online, Lineage II, Dungeons & Dragons, soon-to-be AION, Age of Conan, and others). And that’s what happens when things go downhill.

    I feel that as long as a game is *worthy* of being played (meaning not fully bug-ridden and having a lack of support), it should be good to go. A majority of games earn back most of their investment off initial sales as it is, which means even if they were to flop right after, there would still be a small loss (we’re looking at AAA games, right? If we get into indie and otherwise it’s a different story).

  3. Stropp (Post author)

    Are you thinking of Fury by Auran? IIRC, that didn’t last too long at all.

    By lasting a month, I mean (and Keen also) a months worth of play… not being shut down after a month.

    Actually I think most MMORPGs if they make it too release without being cancelled, tend to last for a long time. Aside from the aforementioned Fury, I can only think of a handful of MMOs that have been shut down. The venerables, Asheron’s Call, Everquest 1, UO are all still going. Even Warhammer, now down to a minimum of servers is still running.

    Personally I think that if Tabula Rasa had been developed by SOE or EA (not NCSoft) it would still be running.

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