Tomorrow, January 30, marks the first anniversary of Vanguard’s release. The last twelve months have been deeply disappointing for Vanguard fans in many ways, but toward the end we finally began to see some light at the end of a tunnel that, at times, seemed dark and endless. Here’s hoping that the upward treng continues, in both the quality of the game and in the number of people who’ll be able to enjoy the world of Telon unburdened by pesky issues. A fellow over on a message board I frequent expressed doubts about Vanguard’s ability to stick around. My response to that grew long enough that it seemed like a better idea to post it here.
Vanguard is not really in the same position as a typical low-subscription MMOs. The best numbers that are publically available say that Vanguard has around 35,000 subs – but that number is both questionable and about 4 months out of date, although it is above the commonly-assumed threshold of viability (about 25K, although numerous games manage to survive with a fraction of that,) by a reasonable margin. And with the inevitable decline in bad press and the acitivites of haters whose hobby consisted mostly of bashing Vanguard, it’s pretty easy to assume that it has nowhere to go but up. In other words, that the remaining subscrtibers are pretty hardcore Vanguard fans who won’t casually abandon the game.
However, there’s an additional factor that’s hard to calculate for; the option to get a StationPass that gives you access to all of SOE’s game, at least one of which (Matrix Online) is less viable than Vanguard and has considerably murkier long-term prospects. This makes it nearly impossible to figure out the player base from the number of raw subscriptions, and muddies the 35K figure, which comes with no explanation. Are those VG-only subs? Or are you assuming that a certain percentage of that 35K is from the StationPass accounts of other players that may or may not play something else that SOE offers? If so, what’s that percentage?
Too, there is the less tangible asset that Vanguard brings to SOE – the value added to the StationPass program. Ditching Matrix Online and the presumably low-sub Vanguard makes the StationPass a lot less attractive to consumers, especially with the loss of Gods & Heroes to Perpetual’s mismanagement. Actual player numbers may be very weak, but I’d venture to guess that there’s also a large number of StationPass players who play EQ or EQ2 and fiddle around with Vanguard occasionally, and would resent losing it – and the moment there’s only one game you play on the StationPass program, the whole package becomes a big loser. The same logic applies to Star Wars Galaxies as well, which is why I don’t think it’s in any imminent danger of cancellation unless LucasArts actually pulls the license or it expires, which is bound to happen sooner or later – but probably not until some other Star Wars product with which it will compete arrives or is about to arrive, and BioWare’s mystery project (if it does turn out to be a Star Wars MMO,) is almost certainly at least two years away from release. In a way, SOE is actually trapped into keeping these games around, until such time as actual logins dwindle to an unacceptable level, which, judging from Matrix Online, has got to be pretty damn low. And that I don’t see happening without a direct reversal of current trends.
Also as far as I could tell, player numbers on Vanguard seemed to be trending upward, which makes sense given the gameplay and stability improvement in the vicinity of GU3, and the “Return to Vanguard” holiday promotion, from which the game must have retained some interest. I think it’s safe to assume for now that Vanguard isn’t going anywhere. That’s not to say that Vanguard’s survival and eventual success is inevitable – it’s not, and SOE is going to have to work both hard and smart to get it there – nor that Vanguard will ever be a 500K-subscriber game. But there’s anough positive talk floating around now that I think it has a real chance to not just survive, but thrive in the next year or so, and certainly enough to limp along if the worst happens for another few years.