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I dislike this sort of speculation as it tends to be ultimately estimation work, but it has been bothering me after this was brought up on another forum.
Let's look at some ugly numbers pulled straight from NCsoft's IR page. This is City of Heroes' historical profits.
2004 31,475 (incomplete year: 3 quarters)
Note the last one.
1Q 2Q 3Q 4Q
3,348 3,491 5,709 3,239
Despite the launch of the Going Rogue expansion, they couldn't reach their projected goal of 19 million KRW (16.8 million USD) and made 15.7 million KRW instead (13.9 million USD), and in fact they actually sold LESS units than compared to over the summer. Granted, this may be in part due to Cataclysm and/or DCUO launching, but that's still painful.
Let's look at some other numbers here, which can be seen as either optimistic or pessimistic: Tabula Rasa's operational costs prior to it being shut down.
2007 (Game launched Nov 2, 2007)
1Q 2Q 3Q 4Q
1,870 2,007 1,756 182
The game was shut down on Feb 28, 2009, and there is no statistical sales listed on the investment sheets beyond an "Other" category.
So, currently CoH is running at around 16k. If TR was shut down at the 6k mark, if CoH continues to lose sales at the current rate, and rather than the previous trend of a couple thousand per year, there's a BIG drop from 2009 to 2010, City of Heroes may kick the bucket around early 2013. Several of the senior designers and staff got released last holiday, and while they claim they moved on, for all we know it could be a positive spin on corporate layoffs.
NCSoft doesn't dig F2P. Therefore, unless Q1 and Q2 2011 really pick up, things are looking rather grim and I may reconsider my urge to resubscribe.
Now WHY they don't allow people to host their own servers and keep games going under fan initiative is unfortunately in the legal swamp, but there's my quick look into the crystal ball.
Remember, it has to be fun to be a game. Grinding is a bedroom activity, and the point is definitely not to do my wife as fast as possible.