SWTOR: Subscriptions, Servers and Dart Boards

What happens when you ask BioWare for transfers? Whether it is nicely, with extreme distain, by feedback, by forum posts, or by the door slam end subscription we all get the same response. This response is “Thank you, we appreciate your thoughts. We are monitoring the servers and examining this idea”.

But are you, BioWare? I don’t think you are. But don’t worry. That’s why I have done this monitoring for you. You can thank me later. Or send a threatening email warning me to stop and desist. Either one.

If you keep up with www.torstatus.net you can see what anyone can see. And that’s not only an extremely sharp downturn in populations overall recently, it’s also showing major trends in server desolation. BioWare was happy to report 2.1 Million copies before launch sold and even more ecstatic to share that 1.7M decided to subscribe after the first month. And as of April 1st, 2012, they are reluctant to not only admit that they only have 1.3M subscribers but even sadder to share that all the free months they provided are among that number.

Now while torstatus.net cannot give us exact populations or even close to subscription numbers it does show us server load indicators. Based on this sole tracking it can examine the trends of players on each server. While it cannot tell us how many players are subscribed, it can tell us roughly how many are playing. And in that trend we can start to draw conclusions.

At the beginning of April 2012, BioWare reports nearly 1.3M subscribed. In which North American servers number 123 servers. Of those:

  • 2% can reach Heavy population levels
  • 47% hold steady at Standard population levels
  • And 50% of the servers are considered Light population
  • 1% left for indifference and Full server loads

Compare this to end of April with the same amount of servers with players drawn to Beta events for GW2 and D3 and we see:

  • 1% Heavy server populations (down 1%)
  • 36% holding Standard levels (down 11%)
  • 63% now at Light level (up 13%)

If we look at today, May 18th, 2012 and consider that the first batch of subscribers in December of 2011 have now reached the end of their subscription cycle and that the free month has ended in many of these cases form 1.2, and then we consider the launch of D3 (not a direct competitor, but a major PC release) we then can examine even more dramatic numbers with same amount of servers:

  • 0% Heavy server populations (down 1%)
  • 6% Standard server levels (down 30%)
  • And a 94% on Light levels (up 31%) <- Pretty Ridiculous

Less than a week ago Light server levels were down under 80%. The release of D3 has hit the server levels harder than expected. Server levels have been in a steady decline for the last month but as of May 14th have taken extreme dives. A month ago we were witnessing server migrations. Where the lower population servers were steadily losing balance the top 10 servers were growing in populations. As of this week, no server is in the green.

The Fatman server now holds an index level of 2.44 meaning that it is no longer considered a Heavy Server. It is a Standard server with capabilities of being Heavy 44% of the time. This is down 13% from last month. What was the quickest growing server is now taking the harder of the population losses. This maybe a good thing to the veterans of the server that for a short time were suffering from a queue times to log in.

The top 6 servers are all suffering in the Standard populations only 63% (average) of the time. This means for the other 37% they are Light populations. Not a great number to see for the top 6 servers among 120. Even servers like the Harbinger are suffering a 0.42 loss meaning they no longer are capable of hitting Heavy Server loads. They now live on the cusp of Standard levels with plenty of downtime in the Light levels.

Of the vast majority of servers that remain in Light status at almost all times, except for the 2% of downtime for maintenance are under dropping in activity. Average losses from last month equal nearly 17%.

When looking at Torstatus.net you do have to keep in mind that the index is a population index it’s a server load index. Meaning that the low end servers showing 0.98 index, are not a equitable number to an actual active number. The 0.98 shows the server’s activity as it compares to the level. A 1.00 would mean the server sits at Light population at all times. The 0.98 means that it had at least 2% downtime to servers being down. This does not mean that there are X number of players. It’s only a server level indicator.

As for Europe in early April at more than 45 Servers:

  • 2% Heavy (Same as NA)
  • 43% Standard (-4% compared to NA)
  • 55% Light (+5% to NA)

As of today:

  • 0% Heavy (Same awesome number as NA)
  • 6% Standard (Same as NA, but up from last week)
  • 93% Light (-1% from NA)
  • 1% downtime or other

Our 3 servers in the Pacific are somewhat healthy (imagine that lower server numbers are doing slightly well *cheek slap*)

  • 1 Server is Heavy 21% of the time
  • 2 Servers are Standard roughly 72% of the time

Even these are taking losses at heavy numbers averaging 14% losses this week.

What completely off base ridiculous analysis can I conjure to make conjecture about actual subscription numbers, do you ask? You didn’t, but I love making predictions.

I like to consider that the index number that torstatus uses can translate to a variable level. Where Light equals X number of active players. Standard equals X+Y. Heavy equals X+2Y. Based on that very broad association (it’s far assumption when you consider the analytics, even I realize that) I can assume that according to server indexs on April 1st, 2012 the total servers for TOR totaled 234.50 for 171 Servers. At 1.3M approximate subscriptions, that would mean very roughly that each servers averaged around 5,543.1 subscribers (not meaning active).

This means that a month and a half later with an index of 192.29 for all servers, we could roughly assume that the subscription base is nearly 1.066M (18% drop) today. If we consider the driving forces behind D3 release this week and Beta events for upcoming MMOs, we can consider the last month’s statistical drops in index values to be somewhat recurring for the next 2 months. If the the next 30 days is anything like the last 30 days the total population index should drop another 21.29. Meaning that near GW2’s release (just before at the latest estimates) SWTOR should have 947K in subscriptions (<1M).

Take this to an even more ridiculous projection. If we look at the loss in population from D3 this week, we can consider the same drop on GW2’s release. Meaning that as of the end of July after its release, if SWTOR has only released 1.3 and not expanded into the Asian market they could be seeing near 770K in subscriptions.

Granted my numbers mean nothing. They come from basic number division and not even suitable market trends. And they assume the BioWare stays the same course. What is the likelihood that a company has outraged subscribers asking for basic actions, and that company refuses to act and decides that months from now another basic incomplete patch and using the same number of servers for launch after losing over 40% of your population is a suitable stance? Surely, no company is this stupid to overlook the basic server consolidation that all MMOs have to face. Okay, well maybe sometime in Summer. There’s no need to rush or anything.

Now, what I do suspect in all seriousness, that the draw from attention to the fixing the prior patches, refusing to merge servers and lack of communication for the future is due to a need we’ve seen from Western MMOs before. I have seen this, you have seen this, but no one is mentioning it. You have a company fully operating at near 100% without layoffs on the same game they just released less than 6 months ago, yet very little in content has occurred. Geeh, I wonder where those recources are at the moment? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions with this factoid:

  • World of Warcraft has over 10M subscribers. Only 2M of which are in North America. Only 1.3 are in Europe.

Take a wild guess where the other 7M is?

Now … what big announcement should we be expected from BioWare to the shareholders of EA in the next months?

Still not getting it? Well here are some more hints. It’s not going to be called 1.3, 1.4, 1.5 or 2.0. And it rhymes with Basia.

Anyways. That’s my prediction. If they stay on track with their current base of patches (incomplete ones) taking 2 to 3 months to release,  holding server merges for another 2 months, and they delay in a release for Asia, I will stand behind my prediction that 1st quarter earnings for EA will report under 1M subscribers and go even further to say near 800K is more realistic.

But then again, I’m shit and what do my predictions mean when actually reliable awesome analysis are out there with amazing hard line numbers. 1.25M by March 2013. That’s only 11 months off. You can’t get more reliable even if you were the Mayan Mother Fucking Calendar.

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SWTOR: Server Merges Timing Compared to WAR and Suicide

My post yesterday rustled some feathers. And the first comment came from a long time reader, Akalukz, who said “same thing happened with WAR, not sure where the surprise is”.

This got me thinking: Why am I surprised? Why does this seem like an atrocity? Why does my butt hurt?

BioWare/EA definitely feels like the bad guy. The worst kind of bad guy. This isn’t hate against the machine for delivering unasked for goods (CCP). This isn’t displaced anger in consequence to lack of content (Mythic). This isn’t profound disappointment with unfinished PVP open world promised (Trion). This is simply, unadulterated despise for not allowing a basic player need in an any MMO. And that’s the ability to actually play with other players.

This anger stems from a growing assumption that this problem was getting worse and worse. We expected the reason was due to political cause for the sake of saving face to the ignorance of stockholders. When the number of loss in 400K was shown on the fiscal report we just assumed, “well, hell, the cat’s out of the bag”. There is no more save face here. Now maintain what you still have, save some cost on servers and do some transfer mergers. You have 60+ server begging (literally) for it to happen. I’ve yet to see someone say “Yeah, I don’t really want to merge. I like playing with the same 5 guys”. I’ve literally never seen an MMO let a server get this bad. Let alone 60 of them. Fuck, even Tabala Rasa wasn’t this bad off. And they sucked.

So why the hell am I surprised coming for years of frustrations with Mythic WAR?

So I did a little math and historical analysis based on EA’s prior MMO project and now a subsidiary program under EA BioWare.

  • Warhammer Online Sold 800K copies by release date.
  • WAR launched in September of 2008 with 750K subscribers.
  • In October of 2008 they lost roughly 100K (18.75%/13.33% Loss) after the “Free Month from Box”
  • In November of 2008 rough numbers of 500K were being thrown around (37.50%/33.33% Loss)
    • This realization led Mythic to merge a number of servers with a response by the end of the Month. 
    • Free Transfer with designated servers were allowed with mandatory merges by December.
  • Sadly, by the end of December (for numberous reasons) of 2008, rough numbers indicated about 350K left (56.25%/53.33%)
    • Another merger of servers took place by February of 2009
  • Finally by first real content patch “Free Expansion” in May of 2009 WAR had leveled off to 300K (62.50%/60%) and from there took a steady decline for the rest of its life.

What does this have to do with anything? Well if you look at the timeline and the percentages, they should be eriely fucking familiar.

Just over a 80% retention for the first month of game launch.
And then a 40% loss in population in the first 6 months.
All too familiar.  

  • December 2011- SWTOR launches with 2.1M in sales
  • January 2012   – EA says 1.7M retained to subscriptions (19.05%)
  • May 2012 – EA Fiscal reports 1.3M subscribed (38.10%)

Before Mythic even saw the 40% loss they opened transfers. So, yeah, I am surprised. We, the players, have no fucking clue exactly what you gain by keeping up running costs for multiple servers. No clue.

What’s “suicide” in the Title for? That’s a funny story.

Sitting around waiting for the Pop to occur for a warzone, many players on the server agreed to spam CSR tickets urging for Server Transfer. Some filed this as a ‘Suggestion’ many others as Harrassment. The party harrassing said player? BioWare. For not allowing immediate transferes. One player wrote to the affect – “We have no economy because there are no players, we have no PVP because there are no players, we don’t have anyone to socialize with because there are no players. Give us server merges or god help me I’ll kill myself.”

I don’t personally know what he was thinking, but sure enough what followed was what we expected. Police arrived at his door to check on his well being. No joke.

Granted the player’s actions were profoundly moronic. What did he think they were going to do? It really makes me laugh. Your players are so hard pressed to recieve merges today, they are willing to sacrifice themselves for this service.