E3 is over and some new videos, cinematics and information about Star Wars: The Old Republic and its content were released. While I absolutely understand the hype when I watch those very detailed cinematics and enjoy every glimpse of story they do contain, I am also a little worried about the low amount of information about gameplay content, mechanics and how all the new information is published.
So I tried to rationalize a bit why and by which aspects I feel so torn between anticipation and disappointment. Here are some of them:
Damn yeah, it’s Star Wars! I am totally sucked into that universe the moment I hear any part of the many well known themes or sound effects and who could resist the urge to explore all the landscapes we know from the films and games and taking our role in their “history”.
The cinematics created by “Blur” do their part very well, but that’s no wonder. If you’ve been playing computer games for quite a while you surely know one or more trailers they did. Just take a look at their listed work. In a more negative way, some of the titles made me realize that a brilliant trailer and a beloved IP (intellectual property) does not automatically result in an awesome and successful game or hint in any way at the overall quality or content.
Speaking of the brilliant IP, “Star Wars: The Old Republic” is not the first Star Wars MMORPG.
While the prosperous days of “Star Wars Galaxies” are a long time ago and there are, not only for me, reasons to compare the two, BioWare already stated in more than one interview that their game should be considered fundamentally different. I’m not sure if that makes it better for me.
I liked Star Wars Galaxies for its wide terrain, plastered with player houses and -cities and a very complex, deep and time-consuming crafting and player economy, but there was maybe a lack of guided story and predefined endgame the time I played it, which was pre-NGE.
SWG comes from and maybe marks the end of the era of sandbox-MMOs. Compared to that BioWare’s new attempt seems to fit perfectly to the less free and deep but extremely entertainment oriented and easily accessible family of themepark-MMOs.
Considering the amount of different MMORPGs and the variation in their mechanics I was a little surprised that in the last year their announcements were mainly centred around features I love to see in offline RPGs, like an immense amount of decision-making while developing your character, the extensive storyline or the full voice-over. Now my question is whether that is enough to keep player numbers high and if that is the content MMO-players are seeking nowadays, especially considering the possible pricing like the other MMOs in EA’s portfolio, e.g. “Ultima Online”, “Dark Age of Camelot” and “Warhammer Online”. Each of them not blessed with a large community anymore but still with a monthly fee of around 15$/13€.
Sure, the game will contain more content than the story part but most of the mechanics I have read/heard about I have already seen in some kind of variation in other MMOs. Thus, I do not find variety or improvement when it comes to the every day content aside from the hopefully brilliant RPG-part.
In the case of space combat it is in my opinion a lot worse. I feel taken back to ’93 when “Star Wars: Rebel Assault” when railway space-combat felt innovative and entertaining.
Until now there is no definite release date but according to an interview with Frank Gibeau (President of EA Games) the game will definitely release this year! Well, in the same interview he said that the game has 6 classes. I hope Bioware is aware of both. That may be not that dramatic but when you take a look at his profile at EA’s homepage he states that he is playing the game. O.o ;)
More seriously though, I do hope that does not show how EA as the publisher defines the time frame for the game’s developers and puts them under pressure to release the game even if it may not be complete, polished and balanced. Releasing a game unfinished or cut (imho in the case of EA & Mythic: again!) may reduce the development costs and make you a quick buck but may turn an MMMO into a one day fly at the market despite its potential. Are MMOs not naturally aiming for continuous income, but what if EA or investors could use their margin for this fiscal year?
Another reason to push this game into the market this year could be that the later it gets, the more they would have to place it against Guild Wars 2 and TERA. But I have to say, if I lean back and take a more distant look at the kind of MMO they will be, I do not see one of them as BioWare’s main competitor. Sure, both belong to the MMO-genre but in my opinion TERA will be a niche game in the “western market” due to its Asian style, different controls and overdone sexiness. It probably attracts a different kind of player than SWTOR and should have less impact on sold boxes and monthly income. Guild Wars 2 may attract the same players but as a buy-to-play. If the release dates differ more than a month, many will take a look at both games like I have said in another blog entry or may leave Guild Wars again even if only temporarily to test SWTOR, because you can return spontaneously whenever and for how long you want without the monthly fee. Also Massively has some interesting thoughts about the competition between the these two.
The main competitor I see is Blizzard. But no, not with a meagre patch for WoW with some raid content, instances, a new area or more dailies to keep the playerbase busy.
The largest threat I see rising is Diablo 3. At the first thought that may sound surprising because it’s not sorted into the branch of MMOs but it has many parallels. It’s a time consuming game in which you can easily spend every minute of your free time in for a few months. It has (like Guild Wars 2) only an entry fee.
But as my strongest arguments: it is from Blizzard, it is highly anticipated, and I see many indicators that Activision/Blizzard and EA/BioWare are very concerned about how polished their games are and when they could release the games. So welcome to the release date poker.
If I take a look into my crystal ball and do a bit of rough guesswork I see Diablo 3 being placed against SWTOR would be in so much ways beneficial for Blizzard and could massively hurt EA and the succeeding development of SWTOR. Imagining that about 5% of WoW’s subscribers are bored with the game and craving for a new refreshing time sink or the holy grail in another game like many times before, we would be talking about 250.000 subscribers in the Western market. Not counting in the Eastern market here because the payment models are usually different there.
For Blizzard that may not be that dramatic. The number of subscribers usually fluctuates between patches, but for a new game on the market that is a great deal and could be a solid part of the playerbase. At least, this would be a fine number of sold boxes to please the publisher and investors.
With those 250.000 players, especially in the long run, I see a bigger value than just their bought boxes and paid subs. If a new game does not only want to peak high at release but also wants to maintain a larger amount of players, they have to build and establish a stable and growing community. So it would be beneficial to get as many players as possible which are connected with each other. That’s the point where Blizzard could intervene. They will be losing players but it would be wise to lure them to Diablo 3 to keep them in their Battle.Net.
Blizzard has already stated years ago that the day will come that WoW’s playerbase finally peaks and then starts declining due to players moving on to other games. In the same statement they also mentioned that they hope that this other game will be one of their own ones. So why not do it this time? Yes, we do not know how finished the games really are at the moment and if it is possible for Blizzard to already announce Diablo 3 as finished and that it can be shipped within weeks but if it is, I see no reason why they should not wait until EA makes their move.
Compared to EA, Blizzard has the financial background that they can easily delay the game for months, even the development teams would not have to sit there eating up money. They could polish, balance and optimise the game even more or already start to work on an add-on.
Not an easy environment to release a new MMO in, I admit. One of the biggest selling points I see is the IP and that BioWare may attract a lot of fans because they are trusted for their good RPGs. Also, it’s Star Wars and a science fiction-setting. There is not such a huge number of AAA-MMOs as in the fantasy section. I may guess heavily here and there is absolutely no proof except for my experiences and my personal preferences when I say that I think that the game will have about 1,2 – 1,8 million sold boxes in the first months (which would be more than Warhammer Online, Rift or Aion achieved). Heavily depending on who they are up against, of course.
But after that, I see the game drop to 600.000 – 900.000 after about 6 months like most of the games in the past years did when the MMO-tourists leave, the game turns out to be not like anticipated, friends don’t join in or in the worst case the storyline and RPG-Part is done multiple times and the rest lacks that entertaining quality.
Finally, I have to admit that at the moment I don’t see myself buying this game on the first day, even if I do love Star Wars but I wish to be proven totally wrong and that the game is in fact brilliant because I like BioWare for what they did before they were bought by EA and merged with Mythic. I want to see diversity, creativity and a tough competition between several high quality games on the market.
May the force be with you, BioWare!
Edit: Another article about Star Wars: The Old Republic from Massively.