Star Wars: The Old Republic has had a successful launch, but being the big Christmas MMO release will have artificially inflated its first-month figures. I predict that BioWare will stop releasing subscription numbers by the end of January when the free month period expires, as well it should because no triple-A MMO retains a large percentage of its subscriber base beyond the initial month. BioWare has been really pushing the purchase of a 60-day game time code with your game purchase, however, so we might not see a very significant drop until around three months in. I'd expect the game to still be running fine six months from now, and I don't expect it to switch to a free-to-play model any time soon.
From my experience raid-leading in World of Warcraft, I can say for sure that player turnover has been really high since the Firelands patch. People are getting bored of the content and quitting, and who can blame them after an entire raid tier with only 7 bosses? Some of my guild left for SWTOR, but most are still waiting for Guild Wars 2. I don't think we're an unusual case, so I'd bank on World of Warcraft subs dropping significantly when Guild Wars 2 finally hits the shelves. The Mists of Pandaria expansion looks interesting, but sweeping gameplay changes like reforming the talent trees are risky, and WoW will have a lot more competition in the market by the time the expansion launches. Given that Blizzard has stepped up its marketing efforts and content delivery speed this year and is still seeing declining subscriptions, 2012 may be the year when the industry giant finally steps back from the number one slot.
EVE Online has had a turbulent year, but the word on the inside is that the company has genuinely reformed as a result of the need to lay off employees. If the Crucible expansion has been any indicator of the quality and quantity of EVE development we can expect from CCP going forward, I'm confident in predicting that we'll get two fantastic expansions in 2012. With DUST 514 due to release in 2012, one expansion will undoubtedly be a tie-in with DUST revolving around conquering planets and more strongly incentivising their ownership.
We've seen a massive upsurge of online games that aren't quite MMOs this year, and I think the lines between MMOs and non-MMOs will continue to be blurred in 2012. Diablo III will take centre-stage, and we'll see countless MOBAs hit the market as word of League of Legends' incredible financial success continues to attract publishers who want a slice of the competitive gaming pie. Given the rapidly growing acceptance of indie titles and the proliferation of affordable game engines and server solutions, I expect to see a lot more indie titles entering the online space in 2012 and beyond. New online games will overwhelmingly use a free-to-play model, as it has proven itself to be incredibly successful for studios that don't need to recoup multi-million-dollar development costs. Steam will continue to be the release platform of choice for indie games due to Valve's genius marketing schemes that always involve playing cheap indie games.
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