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 Star Wars: TOR  Points To 'Healthy' MMO Market - Analyst
Star Wars: TOR Points To 'Healthy' MMO Market - Analyst
December 27, 2011 | By Kris Graft

The MMO market is highly competitive and often volatile, but if the recent successful launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic is any indication, there is still good demand for MMOs, according to one analyst.

"We view the early success of Star Wars as an indication of a healthy MMO market," said Baird Equity Research analyst Colin Sebastian in a Tuesday note. "While there is likely some shifting of usage from Activision's World of Warcraft, we see a viable market for multiple million-user MMOs in the U.S. and Europe."

Star Wars: The Old Republic, developed by Electronic Arts-owned BioWare Austin, is an ambitious, story-driven PC MMORPG that EA said gained over 1 million users within three days after its December 20 launch. That makes it the fastest-growing subscription MMO in history, according to Sebastian.

The analyst said he expects the game to sell around 3 million units by the end of EA's fiscal year, ending in March 2012. But he added, "We think Street expectations for 1.5-2 million paid monthly users through 2012 may be too optimistic."

Blizzard's market-leading MMORPG World of Warcraft still dominates the scene with 10.3 million worldwide users as of November 2011.

Sebastian estimated SWTOR reached around 350,000 peak concurrent users across more than 200 servers, with the initial million-user customer base skewing slightly towards European players. EA said Monday that players logged over 5.5 million gameplay hours over the weekend.

Of course, the MMO landscape is littered with strong launches that rapidly turned sour. Players will need to continue to re-up their subscriptions in order to seal SWTOR's success in the future.

Ben Schacter, analyst with Macquarie Capital said in a separate note on Tuesday, "Staying power will be key measure. The speed with which TOR crossed the million-subscriber threshold is certainly a positive, as the early feedback remains encouraging (88 rating from Metacritic, with 60 percent positive user reviews vs. 35 percent negative). However, the key, as with any MMO, will remain longevity -- only time will tell."

For now, BioWare Austin is committing all of its substantial resources to the support of SWTOR. "It's hard to say right now what we may or may not do as far as future projects," said BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk in a recent Gamasutra interview. "We're really busy working on future SWTOR content as well as continuing to improve the service. This will never end."

[Image: David Moore, TORWars]

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Cary Chichester
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The MMO market will be healthy for a very long time, what remains questionable however is the subscription model. The Old Republic is a huge game and likely one of the few MMOs released that can find success with the business model.

Joe McGinn
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Just so Cary. It seems the subscription model limits you to a real hardcore of people who are willing to commit a lot of time to a single game. It seems TOR is good enough to win some of these people away from WoW, and good for them, but the headline feels misleading to me. There have been so many failed MMO subscription launches, some of which (APB) may do quite well as free-to-play.

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The vision of games as escapism finds it's truest incarnation in the MMO. As interaction technologies improve this is the genre that is only going to grow. I think we'll see similar WoW-like mass imports of people as future killer apps are produced. EQ to WoW was a 2 order of magnitude change over 7 years, no reason why we couldn't see at least one more order of magnitude jump within a similar timeframe. The first MMO to launch across social platforms will probably get it.

Joe McGinn
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I think it's a healthy market, but the idea that there is tons of growth left in it strikes me as wishful thinking. It's a very hardcore-past-time way of approaching video games, and as such will always be a particular niche.