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The burst of the SWTOR bubble

Tanks don't wear robesIt seems there is a rampant wave of doom-calling in the blogosphere about the failure of Star Wars: The Old Republic. It is probably obvious by the lack of posts on Epic Slant about the game that I wasn’t that interested in it. I’m still not but sometimes it is just nice to fit in with the crowd, especially when you get to say (in some ways) “I told you so.” Let me be clear, I’m not saying that I accurately predicted that this game would fail and am now taking joy in it. What I’m saying is that all the complaints now are things I saw in beta that led me to not buy the game. The things that I pointed out and that people told me “I was missing the point” on. For all of those things, I told you so!

The Pedestal Effect

The MMORPG community, when tired of something, seeks to find “the next something” that will fix their woes. I may be a jaded bastard but I’ve watched players do this since EverQuest. As we’ve added more people to our genre it has gotten worse. I just can’t do it anymore and often look down on those that do. I’m simply accustomed to disappointment. I’m going to pick on Chris a little here and go back to something he said to me on the podcast. He told me that Star Wars was the most polished MMORPG in beta in forever. That was not my experience. It wasn’t even close and I continually see posts from others about lack of polish. The most polished MMORPG in beta, to date, was Rift. It was so polished it completely disarmed my jaded, callous, and skeptical demeanor. SWTOR was not as polished as Rift. People will disagree but that is the pedestal effect. We will look past faults because we don’t want to see them. I wanted to see faults in Rift and was proven wrong.

This is the same reason why 38 Studio’s Copernicus is in so much danger. Based on the early information that was released, the general ideas behind the design, and the all-star team they have working there, players (including my guild mates) have set their expectations so high the game can’t possibly live up to them. Everyone is literally expecting this to be a Renascence of MMORPGs. A return to what made EverQuest great. This is both an unfair and unrealistic expectation. Players did the same thing with Star Wars because “It is Bioware man! Everything they make is the best.” Well folks, I’m sorry. SWTOR didn’t turn out to be “the best MMORPG ever made.” It was just the most expensive and it is literally just on par with everything else out there.

It IS a single player game

Yes, people continue to tell me that it isn’t and that anyone who thinks it is “doesn’t get it.” That is fine. Raw data available to me says you’re incorrect. When Star Wars released I knew my Rift guild would take a hit. I bolstered our ranks because I knew we’d dip. At the same time I told my officers that we just had to last 30 to 60 days and we’d be fine. Everyone took that on faith that I would be right. If Star Wars is such a compelling group and raid game why is that literally all but one of my guild mates are now back in Rift? Why is that each and every one says they came back because when they reached the cap the game was not compelling enough to pay? That is the failing of “the story as the forth pillar.” Eventually that pillar ends and, if the other three aren’t strong enough to support the weight that is dis-proportionally focused towards the story, the load on top collapses.

Still not a failure

All of this said, the game is still not a failure in the scheme of things no matter how many people want to claim it is. If your goal was to reach and convert two million subscribers it is probably a failure. If it was to reach and convert one million subscribers I’d guess that it was probably a failure. EA and Bioware got too much ego with this one and opened their mouths (a failure that 38 Studios does not have). They started throwing around numbers, acting like they were the masters of the genre, and now they’re suffering the consequences. Don’t write checks to shareholders that you can’t cash. Being profitable doesn’t always means being a success when it comes to publicly traded stock.

Par the course

This is, once again, why I’m viewed as a “pessimist” when it comes to MMORPGs. It seems if you don’t get into the fanboyisms and/or love “the next big thing” you’re the bad guy. I’m an optimist in life but when it comes to repeated experiences I become a realist. If I get my hand bit twice when I try to pet a specific dog I’m going to assume that he’ll bite it a third time. I just chose not to allow myself to be bit by Star Wars: The Old Republic.

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18 Responses to The burst of the SWTOR bubble

  1. Long-term retention of traditional MMO players was never this game’s likely strength or source of success. There’s no reason not to add token MMO features when you’re already spending $200 million, but this game is effectively Mass Effect/Dragon Age with a recurring subscription fee. When you look at how many times players re-played those games, which have far less playthrough-to-playthrough variability than SWTOR’s 8 classes, I think the “re-roll = renew” model is going to work out for them a lot better than people are expecting.

    Case in point, they put out a video on their account-wide “legacy system”, which will unlock rewards for your subsequent alts on the same server. Someone noticed a Sith character of a race that can ordinarily only be played by the Republic. Bioware confirmed that the character in question was indeed that race/class and neither confirmed nor denied that cross-faction races were a Legacy System reward. I assume that it’s true, and, if so, that it’s brilliant; for the right “exclusive” race, I’d level a fresh alt myself, especially if I can do it on a class whose story I have never seen previously.

    • Ferrel says:

      I certainly see and agree with your point but Bioware and EA didn’t pitch the game in such a fashion. They pitched it as the next great MMORPG that needed to have X amount of subscribers where X decreased by Y each time beta feedback wasn’t “this is the most amazing game ever made.”

      I do like the sound of the legacy system!

  2. Ubba says:

    They forgot to add Gnomes!

  3. Chris says:

    When I said that it was polished, it was after playing the intro planet. I still stand by that, it’s really well done. Unfortunately, I think a lot of that initial impress is based on scope and atmosphere. They nailed those elements. Gameplay wise, the game offers voicing and little else. As much as I enjoy the game leveling up, I don’t know that I’ll stick around long once I hit cap. The gameplay is 100% derivative. Even the leveling game gets a little tiring if you sit through every cutscene. That’s actually why I think TOR’s single player is pretty flawed. For ever good story there are ten throwaways pretending to be dire and important.

    All that said, it’s still a very fun game and I don’t plan on unsubbing anytime soon. As an MMO, though, RIFT offers the better experience.

    • Ferrel says:

      I still have to poke fun at you (because I like to)! I also have to disagree still about the beta. The Jedi side was not polished. I never played the Sith though so I think it is fair to say that one was probably more done than another.

      I have no doubt that the game is fun on the way up. I do hear a lot of complaints about the ten widgets quests. I think if you play with another player and go through two story lines you can avoid them? Is that at thing?

      • Chris says:

        Nah, there’s no avoiding your kill ten rats. Leveling through the twenties seemed exceptionally long to me (I’m at about 120 hours and level 31 now). If you group up with another player and do all of your heroic quests (2-4 man) and flashpoints, you will certainly be able to avoid *more* of them.

        The problem with SWTOR, though, is that they make it really hard to tell which quests are going to matter. Every NPC you talk to could be a good storyline or it could be an excuse for a chore, but the only way to tell is to listen to several minutes of dialogue.

        • Ferrel says:

          I really don’t think I’d like the game based on everything I’ve read and been told. I’m too much of a power gamer.

          Maybe once the box is $19.99!

          • Vatec says:

            I’ll give it a shot when it hits $29.99 ;^)
            I will admit at least minor curiosity regarding my Sith Warrior’s fate. He was shaping up to be quite the honorable psychopath at level 17….

          • Ferrel says:

            I’m still curious to know what happens if you go all light side as a Sith and all dark side as a jedi. That alone is intriguing to me.

      • Vatec says:

        Nah, the Sith side was pretty unpolished too. As of late October, the big “bodybuilder” body shapes couldn’t walk up the stairs at the Sith Academy in a normal fashion; the only way to get to the top was to face away from the stairs and walk backwards while strafing from side to side. There was also a spot in the first shared dungeon where the graphics were so poorly optimized that each swing of your weapon took five or six seconds to execute. You’d press Force Jump, wait five seconds, and then suddenly appear in the middle of the targeted group. You’d hit your AOE attack and wait five seconds before it fired off.

        The Defiant intro area in Rift was far more polished in January than Korriban was in October. The only thing polished about TOR was the Fourth Pillar. The rest of the game was (and still is, apparently) derivative and buggy. Does it have the potential to be a great game someday? Probably. Is it a great game right now? Only for some people ;^)

  4. camelotcrusade says:

    I don’t play MMOs for the raiding end-game, so for me trying a MMO is about the journey to the end and how much fun it was on the way. Once I get to cap, the true yardstick of success for me is whether or not the game successfully lures me back after new updates and content roll out. And since the story for SWTOR is so fascinating to play through, you better believe it will have me coming back once a healthy amount of new content releases. I can’t say the same for RIFT, though. The playthrough was fun, but I wouldn’t call it an experience (and I *would* call SWTOR an experience).

    What’s more, I found it hard to really develop an emotional connection to my character in Rift – which I believe it ultimately why I left it and haven’t looked back. In EQ2 there was a tremendous amount of “fluff” I could gather to build a persona outside of the mechanics (and I’ve been back at least 4 times, like visiting an old friend), and in SWTOR there is a driving story that connects me to my character (and that I will want to keep authoring as new content is released).

    • Ferrel says:

      More MMORPGs really should be about the journey. I know that is one of the perks of SWtOR. I don’t think that was their business model though.

      It really does come down to conversions. If they can bring you back for each update that is great. I think they were more inclined to keep you subscribed constantly for a year. This is where we shift to alternative funding.

      EQ2 is a good example. I too have been in and out of it. I played two or three years straight and then ducked out. I came back for a bit and then disappeared again. The last time I ducked out was because SOE shifted so heavily to the cash shop and pushing people into it. The cash shop makes sense. It grabs people that just want to come back for a bit. At that time, however, they wanted a full subscription price plus.

      SWtOR was looking for subscriptions and I don’t think that is going to pan out. I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see some alternative money generating avenues soon.

  5. Starseeker says:

    I read on a forum once something along the lines of “the best MMO ever is the one players create in their heads, before their chosen game is ever released”.
    I think that statement holds true, I think a MMO can never hold up to the expectations of its players. As far as Starwars, like i said on my own blog, you could starwars on a turd and people would buy it.
    I am subbed to the game, a few friends have hit 50 and are working through other class stories. I myself just finished act 1, and already am finding that I don’t do any of the side quests, that I push through my story quest, then when I’m too low level to continue I run space missions or just not log in for a few days. Unfortunately, I don’t know if the reroll aspect will be any good, because while the “story” quest is different, the 2347893742 side quests are exactly the same. The path to leveling is exactly the same. The only way I can see around this is to roll a republic and empire toon and play through each side, and then well…it’s the same as every other mmo with less content at the end.

    • Ferrel says:

      That is a brilliant quote. We really are in this cycle of self-created hype turning to disappointment, turning to hate and a will to see failure. I don’t know what that says for our community but it probably isn’t great!

      I also have said the Star Wars thing. If this game was called Space Battles: The Baboon Republic and featured similar game play but not the Star Wars universe (but maintained the full voicing, etc) it would not have been well received. It simply isn’t a good enough MMORPG. It is just on par with everything that exists. They just spent more money than any other game to be there.

    • camelotcrusade says:

      While I agree that Star Wars has an automatic audience, I think it’s also important to remember it’s a polarizing setting. That is, some people will refuse to look at it *because* it’s Star Wars. In particular I’ve noticed that Star Wars is a favorite whipping boy for the anti-geeks, girls in general (oh, how many times I have I heard someone say they aren’t even going to ask the GF about it) and those who claim man-child culture has ruined a generation of young men. Not to mention the rants of fantasy purists who eschew all things sci-fi.

      As a rather casual Star Wars fan myself, I am frequently dismayed to learn that many of my friends are not casual about their Star Wars. They either love it or hate it – and sadly, assign these feelings to the game before they’ve even played it.