Pretty much every time a new subscription-based MMO is released or is about to be released there is a lot of comments about “game is released too soon”, “it would need another X months”, “it is missing vital features”. These comments have been for many years – if the answers were that easy, one would think that would have picked up on that, right?
The issue here is of course that there are no easy answers like that – repeating comments like that hardly brings any new insight and may very well be wrong anyway.
Today NCSoft announced that they will close down Tabula Rasa at the end of Februari 2009. It does not come as a big surprise, early this year NCSoft did say thet they would give the game about a year and that it would have to make about 8 million USD for that year, which was their break-even point for operating the game.
Tabula Rasa has not quite made those numbers. I’m sorry to see the game go away; I played it in beta for a while and about 7-8 months from release and to large extent I did enjoy the game. But there were some annoying issues which never got fixed and pretty much everyone else I played with disappeared after a while. But given the less than stellar inital results I do not think they had that much resources to work with in the first place in the past year and they did some quite nice things in some updates.
WIth NCSoft operations focusing more to the region near ArenaNet in the US I guess the people that have worked on Tabula Rasa may be at risk of losing their job or relocate, I guess. Not a nice situation to be in, so I hope that works out.
For those that want to try the game a bit before the end NCSOfts says that the game will be free to play from January 10th 2009 until the end.
NCSoft seems to be in the position of merging their operations, creating an NC West with headquarters in Seattle. ArenaNet is located in the neighbourhood there, so I guess that shows how well the performance of the former US HQ in Austin has been received by the main HQ in South Korea.
ArenaNet’s Guild Wars have certainly been the most successful Western title for NCSoft, followed by City of Heroes/Villains. The Lineage titles have not been doing so well and the more recent titles of Dungeon Runners and Tabula Rasa also have their share of problems.
The development efforts on some future game in Austin was cancelled, and now NCSoft is also reducing staff in their UK office. This seems to include cancelling development of new titles that they had ramped up before – much in line with what NCSoft seems to have been doing in the US.
Since NCSoft has both cancelled some titles under development and also cancelled publication of titles developed outside NCSoft (e.g. Blackstar), they seem very much to put more focus on fewer titles.
I can understand why they are doing this from a business perspective, it does makes sense. It is a bit too bad that their various efforts did not turn out well since they have at least had an innovative ambition here, trying new business models, new/different genres while most of the other major Western MMO companies mainly has been stuck in the fantasy-game-with-subscription-fee-model type of games.
I do hope that this also means that the separation of servers for US and EU sides in City of Heroes/Villains will be gone soon. NCSoft has removed the previous arguments for keeping them separate. At least one shared pool of servers would be an improvement from now, even if they do not go all the way to a serverless set-up a la Guild Wars. But at least Cryptic contemplated that before.
So I think this also means that the major titles we are going to see next from NCSoft will be Aion and Guild Wars 2 and that is about it for a foreseeable future. City of Heroes/Villains will get some more love. If Tabula Rasa manages to get some more subscribers they might still be around also, but they are not in a particularly good position now.
The name Garriott was also completely absent from the press releases surrounding this re-organisation. Interpret that as you want.
A few days ago my regular computer broke down completely. There had been some warning signs; DVD drive had stopped working, only some USB ports were working, sometimes it reported fan speed as too low (although another restart “fixed” that).
Since it is starting to get a bit old anyway I have ordered a new one, but it takes a bit of time to get the pieces I want, so I am playing on my Vaio laptop instead when I play.
While I have generally not had any problems playing most games on high graphics settings, the laptop experience has been been significantly different.The laptop has an GeForce 8400M GT graphics processor, not really aimed for gaming, but reasonably modern I guess.
Guild Wars: Plays nicely on high settings
City of Heroes/Villains: Looks good, but not particularly smooth on high settings – at least on villain side.
Tabula Rasa: Autoconfig settings sets graphics quality to low and uses the wrong resolution, looks like crap. Changing to the proper resolution improves things a bit, but I cannot change settings above low. Looks quite ugly, but plays smooth.
From a play experience perspective it is obvious which game will be mainly played while I use the laptop – Guild Wars.
NCSoft Europe has released podcast #3 in which community manager Avatea interviews Starr Long, Tom Potter and Victor Meinert from Destination Games/NCsoft Austin.
Not that much new if you have been following Tabula Rasa news, although some nice bits and pieces mentioned. The podcast starts with an introduction of the participants and introduction of what kind of game Tabula Rasa is. They continue with talking about the feedback process and some of the new things coming soon in Tabula Rasa, with focus on Clan Owned Control Points.
The podcast is about 40 minutes long.
For those who subscribe to RSS news feeds from NCSoft, note that NCSoft Europe and US NCSoft has different feeds, so you won’t see the podcast news unless you subscribe to the NCSoft Europe feed.
A bit over a week ago NCSoft released their earnings report for the first quarter of 2008.
This time I was curious as to how well Tabula Rasa had done after their first report, where numbers for the game was less than stellar.
There has been many updates and improvements to the game, so it was interesting to see how well it has been doing and if this was reflected in sales anything.
In previous earnings reports most of the MMOGs are reported separately, while the other games (casual games, Dungeon Runners etc) get lumped into the category “others”.
Fortunately in this case, Tabula Rasa had it separate entry for the sales of the game. Unfortunately, the numbers were not particularly good, roughly 1.8 million USD for the quarter, a whopping 2% of the total sales for the quarter.
When I looked at the “operating metrics” section, Tabula Rasa was not included at all. This section includes the other larger MMOG titles (Lineage, Lineage II, Guild Wards, City of Heroes/Villains), but no mention of Tabula Rasa. Other online games such as Exteel or Dungeon Runners are not mentioned here either. So neither of those are probably considered worth mentioning for investors.
In the part that talks about future development and sales during this quarter, Tabula Rasa is not mentioned at all, but all of the titles in the operating metrics section are mentioned.
So there are probably no new and big investments in the game in order to boost the game, more likely that the dev team got some resources to keep it running and do some updates and see if they can improve numbers, but not anything significant.
1.8 million USD is still a fair amount of money though, but they are hardly going to get the invested money back anytime soon with those amounts though.
So how many subscribers may the game have now? Looking at the sales numbers for Q1 2008, the Tabula Rasa numbers are about 1/3 of the City of Heroes/Villains sales numbers. In the opering metrics section for City of Heroes/Villains, they report close to 135000 in “monthly access”. That could translate into the same amount of subscribers, although some are probably trial accounts.
Using that as a base for calculations and assuming subscription fee, retail price and split between US and Europe is roughly the same that would mean Tabula Rasa subscribers/monthly access would be around 1/3, i.e. around 45000.
As I mentioned in my entry from the previous earnings report, NCSoft had forecasted around 15 million USD for 2008 for the game. 1.8 million is less than half of what would be needed for that forecast, if the earnings would be divided evenly throughout the year.
I feel sorry for the development team here, because I think the game deserves to have a larger player base. But the staying power is not good enough to keep a lot of people for a long time and likely not enough new blood coming in. If they would extend the trial to be a bit longer than the few days the current one has, they might get more people wanting to play if for a few months at least.