Commentary on the recent announcement of Warhammer Online subscribers is HERE, HERE and HERE. I more or less agree with all three analyses; it’s a disappointing number only insofar as it’s reflected in the prelaunch hype and the projections of staunch partsians.
Taking the 300K number as accurate (as I am inclined to do,) it’s higher than or at least roughly equal to any other western MMO except WoW. And WoW draws the majority of its “subscriptions” from Asia, and a significant number from places like South America, in which markets WAR has not yet been introduced. A launch in China could change the 300K number pretty radically in a hurry.
But let’s forget numbers from outside of North America for now, because I’ll be damned if I can figure out what’s appealing to the Japanese. WoW has (something like) four or five million North American subscriptions. WAR wants to break the one million hump. Is that feasible?
Maybe. Mythic has to keep the development ball rolling they way they have for the last three months. They need to continue to make technical and stability improvements, and they need to continue to roll out the content that got cut before launch that players feel entitled to. As a date to introduce two new classes, March is actually a terrific date, since sighs of discontent are starting to be borne on the wind out of Azeroth again right now. A month from now some of those people will be hearing about the new shinies in WAR and want to try it out for the first or second time. But Mythic needs to stay on track despite losing a significant chunk of their development team.
Ultimately WAR is not really going to steal its players from WoW; those who quit WoW to pick up WAR were going to leave WoW anyway, sooner or later, if not for WAR then for some other title. So WoW’s 4-5 million, while impressive in its own right, isn’t at all significant to WAR except insofar as it influences the public’s perception of ‘success’. When games like Vanguard and D&D Online thrive with a much smaller number of players than 300K, and when games orbiting a number 50K lower than that like LotRO and EVE are some of the best-supported, best-developed and most highly regarded titles in the hobby, a WAR fighting for second place seems much more respectable.
It’s fair to say that any perception of failure on WAR’s part is Mythic’s due thanks to all the hype and smack-talk coming out of their offices back in October and November. It’s also fair to say that Mark Jacobs probably caught a great deal of flak from his superiors at EA. And it’s probably fair to say that the release of Wrath of the Lich King probably stuck a large and unfriendly object in Mythic’s rump, coming as it did on the heels of WAR’s launch, and that right about March would probably have been a better date for that reason and to give the game some additional time in the cookpot.
However, to say that Warhammer is a “failure” because it only retains 300,000 subscribtions is pretty ridiculous. Five years in, EQ2 is thriving with less than half of that, and Vanguard (Vanguard!) is doing fine after two years with probably a quarter of it. Both games are seeing continuous improvement with a fraction of Mythic’s post-cuts staff.
Now, just as it’s possible that WAR will follow the EVE model and build upwards from its reasonably decent launch (much better than the EVE launch, actually,) it’s also possible that Mythic’s effort will fall apart, or some massive developer cockup a la the NGE will turn the game into poison, and that the numbers will actually go down. That’s possible, but it seems unlikely to me. Things like this tend not to be very stable although they can have the temporary illusion of stability; they will trend either upwards or downwards. I put the odds of WAR having a million North America and EU subs at no better than 10% by year’s end. The chances of the number going down significantly in the same period is probably 20%, although if the world economy doesn’t start breathing again that guess may go up. But 400-500K subs, solidifying WAR’s place as the number one alternative to WoW, is totally within reach if Mythic plays its cards right. And several hobby-wide trends, like the increasing popularity of PvP, favor WAR.