Even if only 500K people stick around for the long term, that's nothing to sneeze at. That's a steady ROI of five million dollars a month, or sixty million a year. If the release price for the PS3 version is $39.99, and they sell half a million copies of that over the first couple of months, they've recouped twenty million dollars without a single person having to subscribe.
They won't recoup the development costs for XIV in a single year. But if they can convince 500K players to stick with it for ten years, like folks have done with XI, then they have a decent shot of recovering their investment and eventually turning a profit.
At this point SE has to play a long game. If they play for a short game, they lose. And if they fail at the long game, which is still a possibility, they lose. And if they lose - they go under. No more Square Enix. (Some white knight might ride in to rescue them to get the IP in their portfolio, like Enix did to Square before, but then we'll end up with a company that is once again completely different.)
This is their last chance, and I think they realize it.
FFXI was ok with 200k (peaking at 500k for a very short time) players because it cost lol12 million to create, it still took them 5 years to make the money back as they stated, 5 years to make back 12 million. FFXIV needs millions of players (because the budget is massive) and they need to do something almost no other mmo has been able to do for 8 years, hold most of them there for more than a month. If FFXIV doesn't get huge sales numbers and keep all those players for a long time it will be a spectacular failure, it has to make it's budget back while running the servers, running customer service staff and having a large sized dev team working on new content. You also need to factor in that MMOs have now changed, they used to start small and build more players, these days people all buy into them at launch, it peaks early and it's all downhill from there. Given that, it has to be **** near perfect at launch and have a lot of content so people don't get bored and go back to the old games.
The problem really is that FFXIV doesn't seem to be trying to be the best at anything, indeed it's trying to be generic wow clone when people and reviewers are slating games for doing that. Tera offers better graphics and battle system, SWTOR offers an amazing story with fully recorded voice acting based on the SW world, WoW is king of endgame content, Gw2 offers good no sub MMO experience and FFXI offers a popular FF old school MMO experience (it's even being given a new expansion around the same time as this launches). New non mmo games are coming out faster than people can finish the old ones which also hits MMOs because it stops the addictive nature of these games catching hold of you. Players expectations are incredibly sky high too, especailly from P2P titles.
The MMO market used to be a kiddy pool when FFXI launched, you could get away with almost anything and you could hook your players and keep them for a long time. The market today is a shark infested pirahna tank, it has to compete with very heavy hitters, has to contend with players that question why the game isn't free to play and that will simply dump a game if it fails on any number of small things or annoys them. If FFXI would of launched these days it would of died before the year was out, it infuriated you as a player, had very little content and added new content at a snails pace.. yet you put up with it back then. That would never fly today.
I think the biggest problem with XIV players is they seem to have very little outside MMO experience, if they did they would see it's going to be nowhere near as easy as they think it will to turn this game around.
Half of my old linkshell just wished they re-skinned XI and be done with it.
That's a big part of the problem, they have to compete with thier own title ontop of everything else.