You might have missed it recently, but news broke the other day that Star Wars: The Old Republic has been hemorrhaging subscribers. According to EA’s own quarterly earnings report, SW:TOR has a total or around 1.3 million active accounts as of May 7. However, last quarter, EA reported their subscriber base as 1.7 million for their MMO at launch, which means that at that rate they’ll be dead in the water by this time next year if BioWare/EA doesn’t staunch the flow of leaving players.
Does this bring me joy? Maybe a little. I’ll admit to a little schadenfreude when it comes to Bioware/EA’s gaffes, especially after the bad taste both Dragon Age 2 and the ending of the Mass Effect trilogy left in my mouth. At the same time, it makes me sad that EA is literally running BioWare into the ground, especially since they’re responsible for so many warm gaming memories from my past.
The worst part is that even if SW:TOR ends up being a miserable failure and goes free-to-play by 2013, it’s really not going to do much to impact EA in a negative way. The company makes so much god damned money off their mass-produced sports games that they’ll never totally run out of cash – according to their Q4 2012 earnings report, their FIFA franchise makes money hand-over-fist – so the only thing that the destruction of the BioWare brand will accomplish is, well, the destruction of the BioWare brand.
EA will undoubtedly run the brand into the ground and dismantle it, retaining all the company’s intellectual properties and licensing or selling them off to regain some of their investment. Or they might focus on the most successful of the studio’s IPs – which at this point would probably be Mass Effect and Dragon Age – and just turn them into the kind of casualized “press Start to win” Call of Duty shovelware that’s been inundating the industry over the past few years. Hopefully they’ll let my treasured memories rest in peace instead of making them spin in their graves.
I don’t hold out any particularly high hopes on this. Other game studios take beloved brands and basically drop massive dumps on them in an effort to bring it to a “new, contemporary audience,” and end up making it some vile nightmare vision of what it used to be – kind of like that scene in Alien: Resurrection when Ripley walks into the lab where all the failed clones are being held. One of the biggest offenders is Capcom, a once highly-respected game studio that has recently chosen to farm out their classic Devil May Cry IP to an outside developer for a “reboot” of the series, fundamentally changing the main character into someone that looks like he just got back from a My Chemical Romance show.
Now, I’m not adverse to a little re-imagining of a classic character or the inversion of an over-used trope, but there are just some things you don’t fuck with. You wouldn’t make Tom Selleck shave his moustache, would you? Well, maybe you would, if you wanted him to join the cast of Friends for a few years, but that’s not the point! Selleck’s still rockin’ the Thomas Magnum to this day. There’s are two reasons for this: number one, it’s iconic, and number two, it hurts my soul to see his exposed upper lip (on an unrelated note, I want to move to Hawaii in my old age, adopt two Dobermans, and name them Zeus and Apollo. I may or may not affect a British accent as well).
In the end, it remains to be seen what’s going to happen to BioWare. Maybe EA will pull something out of their ass and actually allow the studio to get their feet back under them and stop making focus-group tested garbage. Or maybe the original founders of BioWare will pull an Avellone and start over from scratch somewhere. At this point, I’m pulling for the later instead of the former.