If a games success is now based on selling millions of units and a subscription based product is gauged on active subscribers, how are we to assess ArenaNet’s inevitable success? With no subscriptions, would selling 1 million copies or less be seen as a failure? Or are expectations even higher?
In EA’s recent annual financial report they revealed that Star Wars: The Old Republic has, since February this year, lost over 400,000 active subscribers. After a sizeable investment on EA’s part and with Bioware having put their reputation on the line, it’s difficult to avoid the obvious; the game has been hemorrhaging users.
This makes life incredibly difficult for EA as they need to market this, somehow, as positive news (in any way they can) in order to ensure the existing player base don’t become nervous. In contrast, ArenaNet on and after Guild Wars 2’s launch won’t share much of this fate and for all intents and purposes are capable of screening themselves off from such scrutiny.
With no subscription numbers, they are under no obligation to reveal their active users to anyone other than NCSoft, though this will place a greater emphasis on their necessity to sell boxed copies and to eventually reveal total sales, just as they did Guild Wars. However, combined with such a strong emphasis on digital distribution and microtransactions, ArenaNet might only sell 500,000 units on launch but will still be capable of delivering a huge revenue stream.
In less than a year, Team Fortress 2 achieved sales of more than two million dollars from microtransactions, the switch to free-to-play single handily revitalising the product and clearly reaping financial rewards. But having been built from the ground up as a ‘buy to play’ product, with microtransactions at the forefront of its profitability and long term sustainability, Guild Wars 2 will inevitably dwarf such figures based on the inevitable number of concurrent users it will achieve (Team Fortress 2 only has around 45,000 daily users).
Having opened their doors for users to pre-purchase Guild Wars 2 on the 10th of April, 48 servers were eventually announced by ArenaNet, with predicted users across each server of around 5,000 people (though this could be a little generous or significantly below their server capacity). With all servers listed as ‘High’ or ‘Full’ during the first beta weekend event, we can roughly predict around 240,000 units sold, generating potential revenue of £19 million pounds or $30 million dollars (when taking the average sale price). This sum will have provided much needed revenue to ArenaNet and NCSoft coffers when so far into development and will have reinforced the viewpoint that Guild Wars 2 really does have huge market potential.
What I find interesting however is that even these potential pre-purchase sales figures, by industry standards, would likely be seen as low. Although these are only pre-purchase sales and I must stress, that this all remains speculation on my part, I was predicting much higher pre-purchase sales. Based on the sheer volume of media coverage, use of social media and hype surrounding Guild Wars 2, I anticipated somewhere in the region of half a million pre-purchase sales.
There is the possibility that ArenaNet are fast approaching that figure, with a month having passed since pre-purchase went live, however there is always the likely explanation that people simply don’t want to part with their money until they know the product is playable every day (rather than the monthly Beta weekends the pre-purchase grants you access to) or the buying public are awaiting the first full reviews, to be sure it is in fact as good as people say.
What I also find interesting is that ArenaNet haven’t yet revealed their actual pre-purchase sales figures. Based on their previous habits of announcing milestones (beta signups, Facebook “likes” and total Guild Wars sales) it’s only natural to assume total sales would be forthcoming. Perhaps ArenaNet have yet to announce their total sales for fear of the industry misinterpreting it as their final sales figures or to avoid criticism for failing to instantly sell over million units.
I have no doubt that Guild Wars 2 will sell well in excess of a million units, and eventually surpass Guild Wars' sales in a significantly shorter period of time, but even then these figures (if they were to once again sell a total of 7 million units) pale in comparison to the likes of World of Warcraft, Call of Duty or even Just Dance (though the genres aren't necessarily comparable).
With that in mind, would NCSoft and ArenaNet realistically be happy with the milestone of a million sales at launch or is the gaming industry and its critics expecting significantly more? What are your sales expectations for Guild Wars 2?