EA ‘probably’ invested $500m in The Old Republic says analyst. Star Trek Online now Free-to-play

An incredibly ambitious MMORPG based off the most lucrative of science-fiction IPs was never, ever going to come cheap. But few, surely, would have imagined the possibility of Star Wars: The Old Republic costing up to half a billion dollars(!), such is the total investment made by EA, a Cowen & Co. analyst Doug Creutz proposes. 

Factoring in the acquisition of Bioware and Pandemic, development, marketing budget and other costs, Creutz told MarketWatch, “I think it’s safe to say that the total all-in investment in ‘Star Wars’ is approaching half a billion dollars. EA has minimised its risks as much as it can on this bet, but it’s still a risky bet. To the extent that any one game defines his tenure, it’s going to be how ‘Star Wars’ performs.”

As videogame budgets go, The Old Republic's is undeniably gigantic, even when compared to inflated current console development costs. In IGN’s ‘The Economics of Game Publishing’ report, the website revealed how publishing a game for current consoles (Xbox 360, PS3) “is estimated to be roughly $10 million as compared to $3-$5 million for the Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube”. There’s little wonder we’re seeing ever more sequels, reboots and re-releases – game development remains hugely risky, with early suggestions the industry is ‘recession-proof’ looking ever more foolish.

The Old Republic's investment estimation comes at a time where massively-multiplayer games are in a state of limbo between subscription and free-to-play (F2P) payment models. Today, it was Cryptic Studios' turn to announce Star Trek Online would be going F2P, with subscription still available for players to access in-game items and perks. Is The Old Republic, therefore a risky proposition amidst a handful of F2P clones? Perhaps. But then, Creutz' conclusion is entirely believable: the success of The Old Republic will almost definitely come down to “how 'Star Wars' performs”, and players sure won't get sick of lightsaber battles any time soon.

The stats speak for themselves. Since going live in December, the game has enjoyed positive press and taken the crown as the “fastest-growing MMO in history”,  with EA reporting just three days after launching that it had already picked up 1 million registered subscribers. When you consider each player pays £30 for the game at retail and subsequent £8.99 payments once a month, and with expansions sure to follow, EA's investment seems ever clearer – The Old Republic isn't meant to be an over-night success. Like any successful MMO, it'll take years to see its true promise. Upon which time, EA may well have recuperated their losses.