Star Wars: A New Home

I have been a part of many Massively Multiplayer Online game launches. I am, you might say, a connoisseur of new MMOs, the consummate dabbler of online gaming. I love to experience the opening of a new world, to be first to leave virtual footprints on the far side of a new frontier, among that small band standing at the shore of a grand new ocean. Additionally, it may also just be that I draw from a secret well of pleasure in witnessing the failure of others, and there are few places where rich veins of failure run more deeply into the loamy ground of disappointment than in MMO launches.

I was there for the launch of EverQuest, EverQuest 2, Asheron’s Call, Asheron’s Call 2, World of WarCraft, Anarchy Online and Dark Age of Camelot. I know from personal experience that even in games that may somehow survive their rocky breech birth and establish long legacies of profitable success, the launch can become something best forgotten. Catastrophic lag, broken quests, crashes to desktop, inoperative login or account servers, broken worlds, zones going offline, horrible imbalance, power outages, bizarre bugs, game breaking exploits — these are just a sampling from the smorgasbord buffet of game launch nightmares.

And those are just the ones you can actually do something about. That’s to say nothing of lack of fan interest, empty servers, bad initial reviews, negative buzz coming out of beta and having to launch a half-complete game because your company is just flat out of money. The likelihood of a successful MMO launch, even for the best of companies, are the kind of odds that would make even Vegas blush. So really, what chance did Star Wars: The Old Republic have at a stable, smooth, customer-pleasing launch?

And yet...

To say that Star Wars: The Old Republic has come online flawlessly would be to look at the game with blinders on. Though my experience has been relatively error and impediment free, I’m going to break with long-standing Internet tradition and not assume that an anecdotal sample size of one can be extrapolated across millions. But, I also recognize that launching this massive beast of a game, an undertaking that should intimidate even the most cash-rich MMO developer, is the kind of effort that boggles the mind to consider, like deciding to launch the entire state of Nebraska into a stable, low-earth orbit. Considered on its own, its impressive enough that it’s gone as well as it has, but considered in the context of the history of the genre that’s come before it, this is the magic of the gods.

Over some 15 years, I’ve seen it all with the games I mentioned above and, oh yeah, also: Age of Conan, City of Heroes, Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Guild Wars, Horizons, The Matrix Online, DC Universe Online and Planetside. The MMO launch is sort of a boot camp, a shared experience that players endure together as much to say that they were there at the beginning as to actually enjoy a game.

In World of WarCraft there is some cachet in being able to talk about being there on day one. It is the old man’s argument, the virtual world equivalent of saying, “You kids, these days. You don’t know how easy you’ve got it. Why, I remember when Paladins were one of the worst classes to play in the game. We only had 2 continents back in those days, and that’s all we needed! And it took weeks of play just to get to level 60! And when you did, you just ran Molten Core over and over again … . What do you mean you don’t know what Molten Core is!?”

So, when you walk into a game like The Old Republic, you know that even after 15 years of MMO learnings, there is just sort of an inevitability about the hazards and complications of a massive launch. Even if everything goes right — and it never does — there will be intolerable queues, over-population in low-level areas, unpolished environments, a mid-level-range dead zone and endless little bugs that will need to be squashed over the weeks and months to come. As a veteran MMO launcher, you know not to look for the game as it is, but the game as it will likely become.

But, that hasn’t been as true with The Old Republic. The actual game, once you're playing and through navigating some of the questionable authorization cul-de-sacs, feels much more like something in its second year of operation than a game that is now really only 2 days old. It’s the sort of thing that as a gamer you can marvel at, but as a long-term MMO player you consider as something as close to impossible as can be achieved.

And, I should know because along with all those other games I listed, I was also there at the launch of: Star Wars Galaxies, Final Fantasy XI, Neocron, Shadowbane, Star Trek Online, Champions Online, Tabula Rasa, Vanguard, Auto Assault, Warhammer Online and probably a handful of others I can’t even remember.

I think The Old Republic is sort of the perfect example of why I play so many of these games and dive in on day 1. It’s ultimately about finding a home, a place to live and be happy. For five years, World of WarCraft has been where I can fall back and recover — a comfortable, familiar place that connects with me despite its flaws. I know that MMOs aren’t really particularly great games, mechanically speaking, and that they are elaborate time sinks with diminishing returns. But it is good to have a home base of operations, some stabilizing environment that is a known quantity, beloved blemishes and all.

I am there at the launch of so many of these games, because I’m always on the lookout for my next home. Even though I’ve played maybe 30 MMOs for varying lengths of time, there are really only 2 that have been foundational bases of operation: WoW and EQ. It’s extraordinarily rare to even hazard to think you may have found the next to add to that exclusive club. And yet ...

I will say only this for now. When I play The Old Republic I feel something I haven’t felt for a very long time — this odd combination of simultaneously being in a very new and yet very familiar place. And beyond it all, beyond the technical achievement, beyond beating the odds, beyond the relatively smooth release and the mostly positive fan reception, there is something even more impressive I see in this launch. A small patch of virtual real estate that I feel like I could make a home on.

Comments

Slimy? Mudball? My home this is! ;D

Couldn't agree more. Fantastic to see somebody step up, learn the lessons from folks that did it wrong, and really fscking deliver.

2011 is bookended with great MMO launches: Rift on one end and ToR on the other. Can't wait to see what 2012 brings.

My experience has been great so far, since I started playing last week. I've faced some bad queue times a couple of nights, but other than that, the game is running really well.

I can name a dozen annoying bugs or incomplete things I've found now that I have 2 characters close to level 30, but considering the game launched 2 days ago, where pretty much every server is swamped with people playing (even their own web page had a queue this morning!!!), it is in a much better shape than several other MMO launches in the past couple of years.

I can't wait to see what they will do with the game in the coming months, considering they have a pretty large playerbase and resources should not be an issue for them. What's important is that the game is fun right now and I feel good playing it. I haven't felt this since, well, since WoW I guess.

You got the quote wrong, Zenke!

Nice write-up. The launch has been very smooth and stable for me. There are a few minor bugs that will more than likely be fixed, but I have not encountered anything game-breaking as of yet.

I have enjoyed SW:TOR very much and look forward to the level 50 Ilum pvp zone with its always ongoing pvp environment fighting for control over each factions base similiar to DaOC (my favorite mmo of all time) and WAR.

One thing that makes me echo this even more, and this isn't an original insight: Bioware understands SW better than anyone at Lucas. That comes through in myriad ways, and contributes dramatically to the sense of "home."

rabbit wrote:
One thing that makes me echo this even more, and this isn't an original insight: Bioware understands SW better than anyone at Lucas.

But they both love binary morality.

Do they accept Pay Pal?

My God, some of those other MMORPGS you mentioned, I haven't thought about in years. I had such hopes for Horizons. I was going to be a dragon.

Binary morality is "hard-coded" into the Star Wars universe, isn't it?

Sarcophagus wrote:
Binary morality is "hard-coded" into the Star Wars universe, isn't it?

It's actually something that I liked about Star Wars, and that many games (and movies) have tried to remove or change.

Only thing I'm worried about is finishing all the content and the amount of time it may take for them to add new content at the quality bar they have set. The quest lines are fantastic.

wordsmythe wrote:
rabbit wrote:
One thing that makes me echo this even more, and this isn't an original insight: Bioware understands SW better than anyone at Lucas.

But they both love binary morality. :P

Do they though? I heard on GB that even though the gameplay mechanics tend to steer toward binary morality, in the story, you can veer in weird directions. For instance, the evil faction's goals do not always align with the Sith's goals, meaning that some choices you make are evil in different ways. I like the idea of tension between the empire and the Sith. It reminds of the tensions between the SS and Wehrmacht in WWII.

Grubber788 wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
rabbit wrote:
One thing that makes me echo this even more, and this isn't an original insight: Bioware understands SW better than anyone at Lucas.

But they both love binary morality. :P

Do they though? I heard on GB that even though the gameplay mechanics tend to steer toward binary morality, in the story, you can veer in weird directions. For instance, the evil faction's goals do not always align with the Sith's goals, meaning that some choices you make are evil in different ways. I like the idea of tension between the empire and the Sith. It reminds of the tensions between the SS and Wehrmacht in WWII.

Not the first time BioWare's writers have tried to rise above mechanics that want to push players toward one extreme or the other. I love them for trying.

Sarcophagus wrote:
Binary morality is "hard-coded" into the Star Wars universe, isn't it?

Sort of, and depending on which sources you look at. From one angle, it's not so much morality as it is aggression vs. passivity. Still, outside the games it was always more how strong one was in the Force that mattered, not how many light/dark actions a Force user had done.

As a veteran MMO launcher, you know not to look for the game as it is, but the game as it will likely become.

This is always the way i see MMOs and have always in teh back of my mind dared them to reach that goal. To become what i expect out of them. SWTOR is the first one that has pushed back and said watch me try right from launch.

As a veteran MMO launcher, you know not to look for the game as it is, but the game as it will likely become.

Free To Play?

I've just finished the "getting the game registered on their broken-ass website" stage of the game and are now into the more advanced "downloading multiple patches" part of the experience.

Haven't yet hit the "waiting in a queue to get into the game" stage yet, maybe I need to level up a bit first.

It sure is an MMO all right

I thought I posted this last night but didn't. THere's a TON of ambiguity and middle ground in the game, and some amazing fan service for anyone who ever played KOTOR.

rabbit wrote:
I thought I posted this last night but didn't. THere's a TON of ambiguity and middle ground in the game, and some amazing fan service for anyone who ever played KOTOR.

I can't wait to play an alt when they add the gray path and gear. As far as KOTOR, Taris has some great lore related quest lines on the Republic side.

So far this, to me, actually seems like the ideal "tourist" mmo, I really don't see it becoming a home for me even though I am quite enjoying my time with the game. I will play through a few times to see some of the different stories, but the gameplay itself just doesn't do enough new to really invest me in this world and its future as a game. Having years of investment in my WoW characters, I'll no doubt return to them at some point, and look forward to Guild Wars 2 for example, which is actually trying to advance the gameplay of the genre.

guh...wuh....what just happened?

One minute I'm moaning about the convoluted process of getting the damned thing set up and the next I know it's 12am and I'm on a shuttle to Coruscant with hair braids, a lightsabre and a whistling toaster on wheels as backup.

It's like The Hangover with less booze and more Bacta.

stevenmack wrote:

It's like The Hangover with less booze and more Bacta.

You can fix this!

guh...wuh....what just happened?

You're journey to the Dark Side is now complete. Strike down your father and take your place at my side!

I'm not a MMO player, but I predict SW:TOR to be free to play by the end of 2012. Mid-2013 at the latest. The pay-to-play model is dead it seems, and only WoW will be able to sustain it. That said, I understand why "AAA" MMOs launch as pay-to-play. They want to try to break even as soon as possible, but I foresee fewer and fewer MMOs launching as pay-to-play in the coming year.

Age of Conan broke my heart but SWTOR has exceeded my expectations.

Not only has the launch been solid but rolling another class gives you an entirely different story and experience. No more killing Kobolds regardless of what class you choose.

My expectations were REALLY low going in - given how I've felt about Bioware's offerings of late - but I have to say - it's pretty damned good.

Although the areas are a little on the big side. Takes freakin' ages to get about.

Hmm...I wonder if I can convert T7 into a Segway....

stevenmack wrote:
My expectations were REALLY low going in - given how I've felt about Bioware's offerings of late - but I have to say - it's pretty damned good.

Although the areas are a little on the big side. Takes freakin' ages to get about.

Hmm...I wonder if I can convert T7 into a Segway....

Eh, once the sprint-type ability (that I believe all classes get) kicks in at about level 15, it's not so bad. Combined with the taxis and well-placed shuttle points, I haven't found myself annoyed by long runs like I was in WoW.

When this game goes Free to Play, it's going to be a juggernaut.

I'm not a MMO player, but I predict SW:TOR to be free to play by the end of 2012.

Not a chance. I'd be willing to be TOR never goes FTP.

MeatMan wrote:
I'm not a MMO player, but I predict SW:TOR to be free to play by the end of 2012.

jonnypolite wrote:
When this game goes Free to Play, it's going to be a juggernaut.

Elysium wrote:
Not a chance. I'd be willing to bet TOR never goes FTP.

PA's take on this:
IMAGE(http://art.penny-arcade.com/photos/i-DF5xBvt/0/L/i-DF5xBvt-L.jpg)

Elysium wrote:
I'm not a MMO player, but I predict SW:TOR to be free to play by the end of 2012.

Not a chance. I'd be willing to be TOR never goes FTP.


So you're saying it will follow LEGO Universe's example - pay to play or bust. I don't see that happening, but again, I can easily see TOR going F2P by 2013. If this was some small developer, I could see them being able to get by with a relatively small playerbase paying a monthly fee, but this is EA/Bioware.

MeatMan wrote:
So you're saying it will follow LEGO Universe's example - pay to play or bust. I don't see that happening, but again, I can easily see TOR going F2P by 2013. If this was some small developer, I could see them being able to get by with a relatively small playerbase paying a monthly fee, but this is EA/Bioware.

It's worked pretty well for WoW.