Can Pirate101 Be Revived?
On January 16th, a community member discovered a most interesting press release hidden away on the UK version of Yahoo Finance. This press release announced that a Malta based gaming company, Media and Games Invest, or MGI, had entered into an agreement to acquire KingsIsle, the maker of both Wizard101 and Pirate101.
This, of course, sent the community into a frenzy. Over the weekend, speculation went rampant concerning what this acquisition could mean for the two games. There was a particularly large amount of discussion about Pirate101’s future following this announcement. The initial press releases (one released on Yahoo Finance and another released on MGI’s main website), provided little information that could be legitimately useful in answering the many questions the community posed. However, there were a few important pieces of information worth noting.
The Press Release
The most important information for the sake of this article is included in the above screenshot. The major points:
- Pirate101 is not being explicitly abandoned, and is said to be “doing well”
- Mobile games, long considered by the community to be a major reason why Pirate101 was not given the attention some felt it deserved, are largely being abandoned, as they were not profitable
- Also noteworthy is the planned development of console/mobile versions of Wizard101 and Pirate101.
Since Pirate101 players have had little reason to be optimistic about the future of their game, some members of the community immediately took this announcement as evidence that Pirate101 was saved and would be revived by MGI. While I’m not sure that these press releases imply the salvation that some believed was imminent, they certainly are some of the best news players have heard in the past 4-5 years.
This brings us to the major question on every Pirate101 player’s mind: Can Pirate101 be revived? If so, what would be necessary? In order to answer these questions, I’m going to analyze some of the data and statements provided by MGI at the press conference they hosted on January 19th.
Where Does Pirate101 Stand Right Now?
Below, you can check out some of the important financial data for Pirate101, as well as Kingsisle as a whole. This data was displayed at the January 19th press conference. I encourage everyone to listen to the VOD, which is much more thorough. Throughout the remainder of this piece, I will invoke various facts from the slides to make my points.
Let’s start with some of the less optimistic news. Pirate101 has a much smaller playerbase and generates a much smaller stream of revenue than Wizard101. Slide 3 states that Wizard101 has made 375 million USD in revenues since launch, good for a 93% revenue share (slide 2). Thus, one can easily derive that Pirate101 has made between 25 and 30 million USD in revenue, which amounts to about 7% of KI revenue (slide 2). Furthermore, similar findings hold regarding number of accounts. Pirate101 has under 10 million accounts, while Wizard101 has over 50 million.
My goal here isn’t to be a doomsayer. However, this information is essential to understanding how Pirate101 could be revived. The numbers for Pirate101 are not good right now. This is an unfortunate fact. As such, it is very likely that Wizard101 is a better dollar-for-dollar investment right now.
The Economics of KI Games
Basic economics tells us that KI/MGI will want to maximize profits. This is done by equating the marginal revenue per dollar spent on the two games (i.e. you invest additional dollars into a given game up until the point where an additional dollar will earn you more revenue if spent elsewhere). With the massive size difference in the two games, an additional dollar is likely better spent on Wizard101 right now. So, what reason is there to be optimistic?
First, MGI is a larger company with more resources than KingsIsle. Slide 5 shows that MGI revenue was approximately 4.5 times that of Kingsisle in the first 3 quarters of 2020. This means that it’s certainly plausible that KI is granted more resources to invest in its games. Furthermore, the separation of mobile games and the promise to separate console/mobile/PC teams means that MGI increases KI’s ability to focus more exclusively on its 2 MMOs.
Thus, it might be the case that KingsIsle has sufficient funding to allocate a greater portion of it to larger Pirate101 updates. How could this work? Another basic result in economics is diminishing returns. The more you invest in a given project, the less each additional dollar gives you. So, with sufficient additional funding, you should be able to convince yourself that that investing in Pirate101 can become at least as good as investing in Wizard101 at some point. It will still likely be the case that more is invested into Wizard101. It is still a larger game and given how engrained it is into the culture, it is likely to stay that way.
MGI Statements: A Reason for Optimism
Perhaps the most important cause for optimism lies with some of the statements made by MGI management during the recent press conference. At approximately the 24:00 minute mark, an MGI official fields a question regarding future storyline updates. Although he acknowledges that closing the 70 level gap is “not so easy.. in a short time,” he states that they intend to “put some effort in the game and bring it to a bigger level than it is currently.” He then adds, “I believe that Pirate101 also has a high potential which was maybe not fully used in the past.” If we assume that these statements will be properly acted on, this is certainly cause for celebration.
It’s no secret that Pirate101 has a lot of potential. Various KI developers have expressed this sentiment on multiple platforms, and the game has won multiple awards in its early days. However, due to bad luck, a dearth of players trying out both Wizard101 and Pirate101, poor investment decisions, or other unknown factors, Pirate101 has not realized this potential. It seems that MGI has an interest in making a second effort at growing the game. We can only hope that these statements translate into concrete action.
Update 1/22/21: More good news! A Kingsisle blog post from Falmea (Leah Rubin, Director of Games) announced an intention from KI/MGI to update the game more regularly, with developers like Mattnetic displaying excitement towards the encouraging news. Although this process will take time (likely many months), it seems that Pirate101 will start to get updates again!
What Does Pirate101 Need?
So if MGI is to make an effort to revitalize Pirate101, what in-game additions would it need? While story updates are certainly something the established playerbase has interest in, how impactful will they be? Are there other types of updates that could perhaps be better? In order to answer these questions, I refer you to slides 3 and 6 of the above image gallery. This slide shows the relationship between revenue and how long players have played.
The first thing worth noting is that around half of revenue in Wizard101 comes from players who have played for 5+ years, while 40% of revenue in Pirate101 comes from players who have played for 5+ years. Thus, KI is good at retaining players in the long run. Using the words of MGI, there exists a high degree of “stickiness.” We can infer that the revenue share for long term Pirate101 players is smaller (which would, relatively speaking, increase the revenue share for the other categories) due to those players quitting due to a dearth of updates. Thus, under “good” circumstances, it’s reasonable to assume the two games would follow a similar revenue distribution
However, the revenue share from players who have been around 1-5 years remains quite small in both games (25-30% for both Pirate101 and Wizard101). Thus, if KI has a major weakness, it’s that they’ve experienced less success extracting revenue from players who have only played for a medium amount of time (whether this is an issue of fewer players who have been around for 1-5 years, or those players spending less money is unclear).
What does this mean for Pirate101? There are many players who should be interested in storyline updates and would be willing to “pay” a lot to get them. I assume that those playing for an extended period of time typically have at least one max level character (these are the equivalent of 5+ year veterans).
This is further evidenced by the idea of “whales” in games that are ftp with paying options available. Whales are players that spend a large amount in microtransactions. We further generalize this by pointing to the Pareto Principle, which states that 80% of the outcomes (revenue) generally comes from 20% of the people (players). Essentially, there is strong evidence to believe that a small portion of the player-base will spend a lot. This portion is likely to be the most vocal, particularly when it comes to demanding story updates.
Medium Term Retention
While story updates are great, and satisfying these whales is necessary, should this be the only focus going forward? Or: Are story updates alone sufficient to revive Pirate101? I don’t think so. In fact, I think that after releasing an initial storyline (or other major content) update, the focus should briefly shift away from the storyline. Why? Let’s take a look at the revenue structure again.
Spending by players who have been around for 1-5 years accounts for around 30% of total revenue. On the other hand, spending by players who have been around for less than 1 year accounts for 32% of total revenue as well (as I explained before, under better circumstances this number would likely be lower, as the share of revenue from veteran players would be higher). This implies KI currently has a medium term retention problem. Newer players either aren’t sticking around for more than a year, or they are and their spending falls after year one.
How to fix this problem? Well, assume that it takes ~1-2 months for the average player to complete the storyline. What now? Wizard101 has a variety of post-story activities for players, including difficult dungeons, PvP, weekly events like BMH and the Deckathalon, fishing, crafting, gardening, pets, monstrology, and housing. Pirate101 on the other hand, has only 3 “difficult” dungeons, PvP, pets, and housing (but no housing tours).
There is a serious lack of good side systems for post-story players. I believe this is key to retaining player revenue in the medium run. Long term players will remain out of devotion to the game. Short term players will stay for the currently existing story and content. But how do we bridge the gap? Simple, give players more things to do when they complete the story, giving them more chances to become devoted to the game. The longer they stay, the more updates they will be around for.
Around a year ago, I wrote a piece detailing my “wish list” for Pirate101. In addition to PvP balancing and additions (a more personal wish), I spent much of the piece suggesting improvements on or additions to the other side systems. Everything I wrote in that piece remains valid, so I’ll merely summarize my suggested strategy:
- Revamp the pet system by radically improving the speed of training and odds of success. A more detailed piece is linked here.
- Add complexities to the very unique Nautical Combat system
- Provide unique events similar to the deckathalon, BMH, and Spiral Showcase that incentivize consistent log-ins.
- Add fishing, gardening, crafting, etc. (or similar side systems)
- Do all of this while occasionally adding story updates.
What Can Players Do?
This will perhaps be the most controversial section of this piece. I don’t think individual players or groups of players are capable of doing much, if anything, to truly revive the game (i.e. get it to a point where it can receive consistent updates). While I have no problem with the existence of the various revival movements that have sprung up in the past couple of years, I remain deeply skeptical of how successful they can be.
The Paying Playerbase
Why is this? Let’s go back to some of the basic financial facts. Slide 6 shows that around 11% of new Pirate101 players are converted to paying players. I assumed that this number would be quite a good bit lower in reality, so this is a pleasant surprise.
So this means that for every 100 players an individual recruits, we can expect no more than 11 of them to be converted to paying players. Of course, we have to assume that these new players are drawn independently from a single distribution where the probability of paying is approximately 11%. This is going to make individual recruitment efforts relatively fruitless, save for the absolute largest of influencers.
On top of the low percent of paying players, there is also the issue of retention. As I mentioned before, there is a severe lack of side systems. Thus, unless you are deeply interested in pets, farming, housing, or PvP, you don’t have much of an incentive to stick around after you quest to max, further limiting the revenue increase.
Since the increase in revenue that individual players can affect through recruiting new players is quite small (and ultimately that is what’s necessary to revive the game- more money going into Pirate101, not more people shouting on Twitter), revival movements are facing a near impossible task. You may as well ask a human to move a mountain.
The Gulf in Revenue
This impossible task is made more difficult by the vast gulf in Wizard101 and Pirate101 revenue. As mentioned before, Wizard101 accounts for 93% of KI revenue; Pirate101 merely 7%. I remember posts on various forums where various KI employees encouraged players to “spread the word” about the game to increase revenue and make future updates a possibility.
But how are players expected to make material contributions to closing such a massive gap? Without proper incentives for those new players we do recruit to stick around (healthy and varied side systems), how will any efforts make a lasting impact? You can see that we face a sort of “chicken and the egg issue.” Without revenue, the game cannot receive updates. But without the improvements that updates bring, the game will struggle to bring in revenue.
A final argument that one might consider is attempting to encourage A-list youtubers and twitch streamers to play the game. Take the recent viral game ‘Among Us’. It exploded onto the scene after existing for ~2 years with little popularity. This only happened due to top streamers happening to play it and enjoy it. (I don’t believe there was any movement among already existing players to get this event to occur.) So, if your hope is to revitalize the game that way, it will take nothing but luck. I don’t see it as a realistic strategy.
So does this mean players are truly powerless? Not exactly. While I don’t think players can actually increase revenue in any substantial way, player hosted events are a great way to bolster the existing community. In general, I think community building events are far more worthwhile than attempts to recruit directly.
What Happens Next?
Pirate101 players have reason to be optimistic for the first time in years, due to the MGI buyout. MGI seems to have an interest in seeing if Pirate101 can realize its potential. I hope this is due to a careful analysis of hard data that support the idea that growth opportunities exist. It shouldn’t be mere speculation based on appeasing a minuscule, but vocal portion of the fanbase. However, I do want to note that the game still faces an uphill battle, even with company support. The economics of the two games, as well as financial figures, highlight this unfortunate fact.
So, I look to the future with skeptical optimism. I hope that MGI follows through on its recent statements and seemingly positive attitude towards Pirate101, although I realize that there may be financial incentives to act otherwise. Only with the assistance of this new owning company does Pirate101 stand a legitimate chance at getting revived.
Pirate101 players, what are your thoughts
on the future of the game?
Let us know in the comments below!