Q4 2007: NCsoft's subscription numbers & Tabula Rasa's financial flop

NCsoft crunches their numbers every financial quarter and releases this information in the open since they are publicly traded company. With all this information it provides a fantastic insiders look at one of the biggest MMOG publishers in the world. Another Massively writer already reported on the gist from the latest round of numbers, but with all the recent hoopla surrounding Tabula Rasa, let's take a closer look at NCsoft's subscription numbers across the board, and come up with a subscription number for Tabula Rasa.

[Worldwide]: 1,049,763 subscriptions (down 93,936 from Q3)
[North America]: 6,414 subscriptions (down 585 from Q3)

Lineage 2
[Worldwide]: 926,570 subscriptions (down 4,693 from Q3)
[North America & Europe]: 79,986 subscriptions (up 943 from Q3)

City of Heroes/Villains
[North America & Europe]: 136,250 (-3,063 subs from Q3)

Guild Wars

[North America & Europe]: 4,878,000 boxes sold (+378,000 from Q3)

Subscriptions continue to decline, but the impact isn't very noticeable unless you look at the loss over a greater period. Over a million subscriptions have been lost since the Lineage franchise peaked. No exact subscription numbers are given for Tabula Rasa, but an educated guess is discernable with the available projections given by NCsoft's CFO Lee Jae-ho. Tabula Rasa's given projection stands at 16 million for 2008. Its subscription fee is the standard $15 a month, added up for the year that amounts to $180. 180 into the projected 16 million and you get 88 thousand users.

I did some digging around and as far as I could find NCsoft hasn't disclosed Tabula Rasa's development cost. The 100 million dollar mark is a rumor, and NCsoft has gone on record to deny it. What can't be denied are the facts stated by NCsoft's CFO in the latest conference call. In that call Lee Jae-ho mentioned six months ago he projected 50 million dollars in revenue to their investors. The end result was Tabula Rasa's total revenue was 5.4 million dollars, which in part helped stocks tumble to an all-time-low, which rebounded yesterday. It is highly unlikely that Tabula Rasa will ever end up being profitable for NCsoft and this was admitted by NCsoft's CFO in the call.

Richard Garriott placed part of the blame on letting too many testers into Tabula Rasa's beta early-on. I find his argument truthful; betas are more about marketing than testing with many players. At the same time, I believe the TR developers deserve most of the blame considering Tabula Rasa had six years and plenty of financial-backing from NCsoft's deep pockets to create something amazing. I don't think amazing happened. The numbers prove it was a bad investment on NCsoft's part. Even Garriott's late-beta concerns proved that the game still needed lots of work, but the time and money was there. The end result is unacceptable.

Richard Garriott let many players down with faux promises and ultimately he let NCsoft down. They bought into his hype and are paying a steep price for it. We can' t blame Garriott or his team for not trying something different; however, it's the same story we've heard before: "We released too early, please come back." Is the beta to blame for Tabula Rasa's performance, or is it general incompetence by the developers? Maybe it's the runaway spending by NCsoft backed by false hopes that Tabula Rasa could actually draw enough players away from the likes of World of Warcraft? One other thing that I noted in the conference call is that NCsoft has implemented more checks and balances into the development process, three of those projects happen to be North Americans MMOs that are currently under-wraps.

The sour grapes surrounding Tabula Rasa are leaving many MMO gamers with the question: Is Tabula Rasa a bad game? A lot of Tabula Rasa players say no, and that the game is much better off now than when it was in beta. What is certain there's not enough players. The game has flopped financially, and it needs to see substantial growth to even come close to breaking even. If you are interested in trying the game out, you can still pick up the Collector's Edition for $15 online at GoGamer. It was also reported by a reader that Target has the regular edition on sale for $13. It may be worth a shot if you are looking for something new, and some money towards NCsoft may go a long ways to their continued publishing efforts so MMOs like the recently canceled Blackstar stand a better chance.