Monday, July 28, 2008

Did Funcom lose money by releasing early?

I was playing some Age of Conan over the weekend and exploring some of the updated content in the Khopshef province. One of my friends was on and had a equal level character so we ended up grouping and burning through some of the mid level quests in the zone. I was surprised by how deserted it was and most of the people we saw were higher level jerks who would instant kill us for fun. The people our own level would hide if they saw us and then try attacking later while we were fighting mobs. When I did my first round of leveling the asshat behavior wasn't this bad, but I guess most of the normal people have left the game by now. I can see why the Zero Punctuation review said Age of Conan was in need of some idiot fumigation.

The low number of people we saw in Khopshef Province got me curious about actual realm populations and I thought maybe the number of versions off the zone would reveal a dip in players. I was shocked to see only one version of Khopshef was running and the same held true for the other nearby starting area, the Wildlands. I had noticed earlier that mid-level zones like the Field of the Dead and the Noble District were getting sparse and only had one or two versions running. However, I thought the lower level content would be more populous. Just earlier in the month I had seen Khopshef have four versions up and running. I checked in several times over the weekend and saw the story was always the same. Age of Conan had suffered a much more severe dip in numbers then I thought.

Based on what I've seen in the game my estimate for the number of subscribers in Age of Conan is between 100-200k. I can't believe the numbers dropped that low since I was expecting a 50% drop at most and I thought the game would continue getting at least some new players. I think I underestimated the effect of negative word of mouth from blogs. While I had come across a few people who liked the game most people tore it shreds while comparing it to either World of Warcraft or Warhammer. The game is in a much better state then it was at release and it seems obvious they would have held onto more subscribers if they had just delayed a month or two. Since I'm a numbers kind of guy I started to create a scenario for just how much Funcom suffered from releasing early.

Assumptions:
1) Age of Conan lost more then half its subscribers
2) Warhammer releases in September
3) Warhammer will effect the number of AoC subscribers in October
4) Funcom would have kept more subscribers if they held back the release

Scenario 1: Current Day
May: 700k accounts * 50$ = 35M
Jun: 300k active accounts * 15$ = 4.5M
Jul: 200k active accounts * 15$ = 3M
Aug: 200k active accounts * 15$ = 3M
Sep: 200k active accounts * 15$ = 3M
Oct: 50k active accounts * 15$ = .75M
Grand Total: 49.25 Million

Scenario 2: Held Release Till July
May: Worked on Itemization and UI updates
Jun: Worked on PvP system
Jul: 700k accounts * 50$ = 35M
Aug: 600k active accounts * 15$ = 9M
Sep: 600k active accounts * 15$ = 9M
Oct: 200k active accounts * 15$ = 3M
Grand Total: 56 Million

The main reason that Funcom lost so many accounts was that the game had a lot of untested content after Tortage. If they had let in more beta testers during May and Jun and cooked up a real PvP system then I think that would have kept a lot more people in the game. They were still going to lose a decent number of people after the first month because of high technical requirements and the overuse of instancing. However, if Funcom had just waited a bit longer I figure Age of Conan would have mimicked City of Heroes and maintained a subscriber base between 120-175k for several years after release. Instead what we have is a situation where I suspect they'll have to do some server mergers after Warhammer.

13 comments:

Scott said...

There were plenty of us beta testers all through May. They even kept the beta server up through June before they converted it to Testlive.

The problem wasn't the number of testers. The problem was they didn't allow us to actually test any "end-game" high-level content at all. All of the Technical Betas were PvP-oriented, but they weren't "massive PvP" and sieges were never tested at all, to my knowledge. The result of that was the epic fail first live siege.

Were they not letting us test it because they wanted to keep it all a surprise? Or (more likely) because it just wasn't done?

We told them and told them it wasn't ready for launch. We pointed out exactly what wasn't working - both the obvious and the stuff hidden beneath layers - only to be ignored. Not that AoC is the first time beta testers have been ignored, far from it.

Funcom saw a window of opportunity to have the entire summer to themselves before any other big MMO launched. They took the chance, and they just may end up paying a heavy price for it.

Overall word of mouth may contribute, but I still think in the grand scheme of things that bloggers themselves are but a tiny slice of the pie. I wouldn't go so far as to over-inflate any of our individual or collective egos to assume we have much, if any, sway over the opinions of the general populace.

Cow Nose the 50 Pound Cat said...

Mm, good reply Scott. Interesting post too.

Green Armadillo said...

I think Scott is right; bad blog word of mouth may have hurt growth, but that doesn't explain where existing players went. The answer is that the first monthly fee came due and players decided not to throw good money after bad. You don't need to read an angry blog post to see that the game you're actually playing for yourself is a mess.

And yes, it appears that they're going to lose big for their early launch. It'll be interesting to see whether this Sept 23 date the EA website accidentally gave for Warhammer holds or not. I'm sure they'd love to be on the shelves two months before Wrath, but Mythic would do well to look at what happened to Funcom and then take a good hard look at whether they're ready.

Jon said...

Not many sites did a very thorough review of Age of Conan beyond the Tortage experience. Most of the ones that did go into details were blog conglomerates like Massively.com.

It's not that I have a high opinion of a blogger's ability to sway consumers. Instead its more like we're the only source for reviews that actually go into the meat of MMOs.

Crimson Starfire said...

I liked your estimates for profit if Funcom had of held off releasing until content was complete (Scenario 2). Not far off the truth either.

I've honestly lost hope with this game. I've got this really bad feeling that Funcom might go Flagship's way... because I can't see AoC bouncing back after WAR and WotLK release.

Shannon said...

The AoC developers created the most visually beautiful game I've ever seen (using the highest possible video settings). The devs in charge of creating such shockingly beautiful zones such as Thunder River should take a big bow and congratulate themselves for a tremendous accomplishment.

And then they should, collectively, pick up baseball bats and portable fire extinguishers and go over to the content devs and pummel them for creating totally untested crap.

But wait, before they're done, the environmental devs then should head off to Funcom Corporate and kill every last one of the Suits who thought it would be a good idea to release an mmo in alpha stage, in 2008.

I was in beta, and was a huge champion of AoC from the first day. I got my friends to join. I got my ToS up to 53 and a great guild with a Tier 3 city. And, unfortunately, I also cancelled my sub today. I wish I could have seen more of the beautiful world (sunrise in Khemi!!), but could no longer tolerate the mail losing all attachments, no in game customer support (you have to be online 24/7 to avoid having your petition deleted!) and such broken mechanics to make you pull out your hair.

I hope they can financially hold on and continue to develop the game to the point where the mechanics are as great as the environment. I'll be the first to come back then.

RIP Age of Conan. :(

Openedge1 said...

I have your answers for you

I did a post on the numbers for AoC here
Unique Evidence
Specifically it deals with a new site I found called
AoCDB.info

Remember WoWDB. You could search for classes, races, etc.
Well, in all it's glory. A tool tracking users on the various servers.

And it is not pretty.
At this point, I am unsure of accuracy, but as of today they are listing a total of

116k+ players.
(This includes EU and US servers total)

Take this along with the daily losses on Xfire (fell last week for the first time to 19k hours, as of today they hit 18k...this is down from 60k+, and going down even more)

Funcom probably made a very huge mistake.

(PS: as a side note. The largest population of players according to AoCdb is ...level 5 (lol)..no wonder you saw no one.)

Scott said...

I originally was planning on saving my box (still have it in the shrinkwrap and pre-order War Mammoth card) and give it a shot in the winter, but overall the game itself just isn't interesting. Pretty, if you're able to run it pretty; butt ugly if you're not. But I'm not paying $15/month for pretty and nothing else.

But I think I'm just going to put AoC in the rear-view mirror and not look back.

This thing is tanking faster than I'd be able to eBay the box!

Relmstein said...

I don't think anyone needs to worry about Funcom closing down Age of Conan no matter how low the population eventually falls. Remember they are keeping Anarachy Online up and running on something like 10k active accounts.

Most of the big MMO closures like AC2, TSO, and Auto Assault are mostly because big name publishers didn't like the negative publicity of running a game with very few subscribers. Funcom doesn't seem to care about PR which might be bad news for the release of their next MMO.

Heartless_ said...

Relmstein,

Funcom may not care about their image, but their investors will. Funcom stock is falling last I checked and that is NOT a good sign after a major product launch. That shows that the investors have no confidence in the product recouping its costs.

AO survived with its subscriber count because it didn't take 1/100th of the cost to develop or maintain that AoC did. Funcom had a lot of funding for AoC from what I've heard and that is a whole different ball game compared to AO.

Eric said...

AoC had to release when they did. WoW players were waiting on S4. It was the best time. Had they waited another month they would have gotten half the subscribers they did get.

In my own guild about 20% went over and tried it, leveled to 80 and reported similar to what Ive read here. I never even considered it since I had more arena work to do.

Remember that Blizzard did not beta test lvl 55 until 3 weeks before open beta and release only had world PVP. They launched when they could get the most bang for their buck.

Openedge1 said...

@heartless

That's right..Funcom stocks tanked to their ORIGINAL price before AoC..

Horrible I tell you...
Just horrible.

(Would your pseudonym happen to be Briyan Anonymous?)

CommoJunky said...

Funcom is going Bankrupt anyways.

Funcom going bankrupt