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Bioware Targets Different Audience For Swtor
06/05/2012 by
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I started playing Star Wars The Old Republic MMO since December 2011.  My background for MMO consists of Everquest in 1998, Asheron’s Call, Ultima Online, some Dark Age of Camelot, City of Heroes, World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online, and now this.  In most of the MMOs I’ve played, I truly enjoyed the lively world that I was virtually breathing in.  Every zone you were in had people in it.  It always felt like someone was always doing something.

Recently in Bioware’s Star Wars The Old Republic, they announced they had a drop of population from 1.7M to 1.3M subscribers as of end of April.  Who knows how they articulated the numbers, but I do know for damn sure those are definitely inflated.  I played on a server Krayt Dragon, and it was noticeable that the population during prime time started dwindling on the Imperial Fleet.  When Swtor first launched, prime time was about 120 people.  Now it’s about 30 people.  To me that’s about a 75% drop in activity.  I don’t know how it reflects the subscription base in the future, but it’s well known that most people are most likely on the Bioware provided free month at the time I’m writing this.

EA/Bioware at this year’s E3 released their announcement for Swtor’s direction, and it’s a clear indication of where they are going with the game.

Here are the announced changes:

– Free to play to level 15 (starting in July)
– New warzone: Ancient Hypergates (This year)
– Level cap increase and new combat abilities (This year)
– New companion: HK-51 Droid (This Year)
– New playable species: Cathar (This Year)
– Nightmare mode (This Year)
– New Operation: Terror from Beyond (This Year)
– New World to Explore: Makeb (This Year)
– New space mission: Space Station Assault (This Year)

First, none of these changes address the fundamental problem with Star Wars The Old Republic, which is the game lacks “massive multiplayer”.  The only thing massive about it is that it’s on a server and it can hold more than 2 people.  Bioware needs to fundamentally address the game’s dynamic content.  Adding static content on top of existing static content is still just static content.

Second, making the game free to play is a clear indication they are not pulling in enough draw into their game.  It might be from their metrics that people on a weekend trial don’t spend enough time to have some addiction to this game.

Third, pvp is very shallow in this game.  They removed world pvp because the mechanics were very flawed to begin with.  It was fun when there were some fights going on, but in the end there weren’t enough incentives to continue world pvping unless it was to do some dailies.  Adding a new warzone tells me that they have no immediate intention to revamp the pvp aspect, and it will just be instanced pvp with no rewards or results that affects the world.

Fourth, the rest of the content was intended for pve.  It seems they are hoping to add more static AI content to hopefully give some more variety to people who enjoy playing against the computer AI.  I, personally, have hardly touched pve instances after capping out.  I’ve been through that already in Everquest and World of Warcraft extensively.  It’s ironic when Bioware announced that they were going to focus on pvp, but instead it seems they are devoting much of their resources to pve.

Lastly, whoever decided to add another space mission needs to be shot in the nuts.  The space missions are basically Star Fox on rails.  Everything is scripted.  There is no dynamic interaction to these missions.  Also, playing space missions has no effect on the world outside of it.

What we have here are clear signs that Bioware, EA, and The Old Republic are targeting the non MMO-experienced casuals.  I played on average 10 hours a week, and I still managed to get 1 50 character with 5 pieces of war hero gear.  All the encounters in instanced runs seem very scripted and been done before.  See that green thing in the ground? Don’t stand on it.  See when the boss’ has a shield? Step away from it.  It’s the same mechanics over and over, and it’s been done over and over in past MMOs.

For a behemoth of a company, EA/Bioware needs to try and lead the genre instead of cloning it.  That’s how Everquest and World of Warcraft set an example.  They were at the forefront coming up with new ways to entice their audience and to enforce the MMO and community into their game.  Based on the past 6 months and Warhammer Online’s track record, it’s dubious of that happening in the near future for this game, but I suppose anything is still possible.

One thing that would make me come back is if they made this into a real Star Wars MMO experience.  Think Dark Forces 2 meets Xwing vs TIE Fighter.  Fighting against other people in Jedi Knight / Jedi Academy was by far one of the funnest aspects in that game.  That coupled with online space battles was also very fun.  If they can somehow combine them together and make it so consequences affect the world that you virtually breathe in, I’m 100% positive it will be a huge success.