EA: The Old Republic only needs 500,000 subscribers to turn a profit

Launching an MMO based on an insanely lucrative franchise doesn't come cheap, but according to EA's CEO John Riccitiello, Star Wars: The Old Republic will only need about 500,000 subscribers to keep its galactic online empire from crumbling.

Riccitiello's predictions were in response to claims that development costs for SW:TOR had exceeded $300 million, and that EA and its developers at BioWare were far, far away from the point of profitability. These rumors surfaced last year in a blog managed by an anonymous (and slightly jaded) BioWare Mythic employee known only as EA Louse who wrote:

“Don’t make me laugh. They’ve spent more money making the Old Republic than James Cameron spent on Avatar. Shit you not. More than $300 million! Can you believe that?...Old Republic will be one of the greatest failures in the history of MMOs from EA. Probably at the level of the Sims Online. We all know it too.”

Fast forward a few months and Riccitiello is still denying EA Louse's accusations, stating that the real cost is nowhere near that high. Moreover, EA is confident that it can attract and sustain a million subscribers, even though it only needs half of that to turn a profit.

"At half a million subscribers the game is substantially profitable, but it's not the kind of thing we would write home about," said EA's Chief financial officer, Eric Brown. "Anything north of one million subscribers is a very profitable business.”

Reflecting on the development cost rumors, Brown added, “There’s been a fair amount of talk on various blogs, describing spends that are vastly higher than anything we’ve ever put in place. Some of them, they bring a chuckle but they also bring a frustration for those that are being responsible in the management of EA’s R&D dollars when they read sort of falsehoods out of the press.”

It's interesting that EA would stick to its subscription fee structure when the much of the MMO competition is turning to a free-to-play microtransaction model. After all, EA loves itself some microtransactions, but then it also loves itself some reliable income. We'll have to wait until March to see how many players it can lure over to the dark side, but our guess is that a Star Wars MMO developed by BioWare and supported by EA will scrape by somehow.

[Sources: IGN, Gamertell]

Feb 3, 2011

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Matt Bradford wrote news and features here at GamesRadar+ until 2016. Since then he's gone on to work with the Guinness World Records, acting as writer and researcher for the annual Gamer's Edition series of books, and has worked as an editor, technical writer, and voice actor. Matt is now a freelance journalist and editor, generating copy across a multitude of industries.