Future TenseOctober 11, 2008
Today, we received word from up on high (I only assume EA sits on top of Mt. Olympus) that Warhammer Online crossed into the 750,000+ subscriber territory. This is, of course, great news (it’s easily one of the biggest-selling MMOs in years, if you discount WoW’s expansion), but also a bit of a misguided statistic, since none of these subscribers are yet paying for the service. That got me thinking about the road to WAR’s subscribers in the next year, and what ups and downs it might experience depending on these factors:
- End of the Free Month: This is a crucial junction for any recently-released MMO — will the customers who bought the box and tried the game out for a month consider it worthy of now paying a monthly subscription? For some, the answer will be “no”, and they’ll either go back to another MMO or leave the scene entirely. What companies bank on, and what Mythic is probably chewing a few fingernails over, is that a vast majority of their playerbase says “heck YEA!” and stays around.
- Reviews: Print and online reviews have tremendous sway over consumers’ wallets, and how WAR continues to fare in this department is crucial. I wouldn’t worry too much, as WAR’s walked away with some pretty glowing reviews, and even the so-so ones range in the 80-percentile and admit that there’s a lot of promise in the game. As of the writing of this article, Gamerankings has WAR at 88%.
- November’s Expansion Whammy: After two months of free reign as the new kid, Warhammer will have to relinquish that title to two new expansion packs: WoW’s Wrath of the Lich King and LOTRO’s Mines of Moria. Expansion packs always spike a game’s subscriber population, and as much as people wondered how many people would be siphoned from WoW to WAR, now they’re going to speculate on how many WAR gamers return to WoW (or, hey, play both).
- Word of Mouth: MMOs are long-distance runners that sprint out of the gate, hope to pick up enough of a subscriber base to continue, but ultimately rely on players’ positive word of mouth to keep the game growing after the initial newness and publicity dies down.
- Holiday Madness: It’s another potential spike for WAR, and although consumers will definitely be spending a lot less this December, Mythic should see a very nice bump from Christmas purchases. If the game’s not over a million subscribers at this point, I’ll wager this will put it over the top.
- First Major Content Patch: Big content patches are always a reason to rejoice and for games journalists to go ga-ga over, and WAR’s first (and second) content patch will be of major interest to new players and players who are holding off (or leaving) to decide if this game will be worth their long-term while. Major bump points if the first or second content patch adds back in classes or capital cities.
- Anticipated Future Titles: MMORPGs are notoriously fickle, at once seeming both completely faithful to their current MMO of choice, and willing to fly at the drop of a hat if something better comes along. Or is slated to come along in the near future. Or far future. Or even if there’s speculation. It’s entirely possible that a 2009 MMO (such as Champions Online) might seduce WAR players from the fold, or just the word that a certain MMO is in development (KOTOR?) is sometimes enough to send a MMO gamer into temporary hibernation.
- News of the First Expansion: We know that Mythic has plans for the first WAR expansion and that the team right now for it is rather small — but it is in the works. Expect a boost of excitement, publicity and apostates to return for another round of WAR hype madness!
- Breaking the Pop Culture Barrier: This is a long shot, but not as unreasonable as it would’ve been back in 2005. When a game breaches into the mainstream pop culture awareness, it has the potential to draw in entirely new, untapped crowds. WoW did it with their Toyota/Celeb commercials, Age of Conan had an episode on a sitcom, even Second Life was on The Office. Why not WAR?