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

Alien13z wrote:

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.

Same here.

cube wrote:
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.

Which is why, in my post before the one you quoted, I said...

MeatMan wrote:

The pay-to-play model is dead it seems, and only WoW will be able to sustain it.

I don't see it going free to play any time soon, definitely not in that time frame. The launch was a huge success by most indicators and the player population seems largely happy, if not overjoyed, with the available content.

It's all up to Bioware. If they continue with good support and develop an aggressive patching schedule with frequently available new content, they'll have my money for the foreseeable future.

My experience has been extremely good for swtor I got to play the beta and I have been there also from day 1. by far the best mmo I have had the opportunity to play. story, skills, leveling, navigation, all and more are really really well done.

Ihaida: Mavericks

My eyes burn from the hours I've put into this game. Someone help me.

MeatMan wrote:

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.

How many times do the people that say this have to be proven wrong?

I've still got Batman AC, BF3, Skylanders, and SR3 to work through. But come late January/early February, I'm in.

ranalin wrote:
MeatMan wrote:

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.

How many times do the people that say this have to be proven wrong?

Well, this is the only time I've said this about any MMO, so ... once?

Maybe it's mostly wishful thinking on my part, as I'm somewhat interested in playing the game (for its "single-player" parts, not its MMO parts), but I refuse to pay $60 + $15/month for any game. That said, I do truly believe that TOR (or any new/upcoming MMO) will not be able to sustain its P2P model beyond 2013 at the latest, unless WoW subscriptions drop off significantly (30% or more), as the people who are willing to pay $15/month move to TOR. Again, I'm not a MMO player, but it seems that the free-to-play/freemium model has been proven to work by so many games, that fewer and fewer people will be willing to pay a $10-$15/month subscription fee.

Given the time and resources put into TOR, it is clear that they have no intention of going F2P anytime soon. Of course sales figures can change all kinds of plans whether you like it or not. The question remains is that what is EA/Bioware using as a metric for success? How many subs? I'd bet a box of doughnuts they are not foolish enough to try and measure on the WoW-scale.

Heretk wrote:

Given the time and resources put into TOR, it is clear that they have no intention of going F2P anytime soon. Of course sales figures can change all kinds of plans whether you like it or not. The question remains is that what is EA/Bioware using as a metric for success? How many subs? I'd bet a box of doughnuts they are not foolish enough to try and measure on the WoW-scale.

John R. has spoken about their metrics for success re SWTOR repeatedly. From memory, 500,000 subs is sustainable. One million subs is better. Google it -- it's been reported ad naseum.

Don't be looking for a free-to-play SWTOR anytime soon as they have already issued a press release saying that they are at a million players already.

so...yeah.

Despite being absolutely miserable with a cold, I seem to have accidentially spent the entire day (as in 6am to now - 9.00pm) on Tatooine (It's totally the game's fault for hitting me with that bonus mission chain after I thought I was done with the place).

It's hooks are digging in deep!

I am eager to get through this last chain of side quests so that I can find out what happens next in the main storyline. When was the last time THAT was something you could say about an MMO!?

Edgar_Newt wrote:
Heretk wrote:

Given the time and resources put into TOR, it is clear that they have no intention of going F2P anytime soon. Of course sales figures can change all kinds of plans whether you like it or not. The question remains is that what is EA/Bioware using as a metric for success? How many subs? I'd bet a box of doughnuts they are not foolish enough to try and measure on the WoW-scale.

John R. has spoken about their metrics for success re SWTOR repeatedly. From memory, 500,000 subs is sustainable. One million subs is better. Google it -- it's been reported ad naseum.

Don't be looking for a free-to-play SWTOR anytime soon as they have already issued a press release saying that they are at a million players already.

I am a filthy Google skimmer

As much as I like WoW, or did, I'd love to see another decent MMO succeed. However, if TOR is how the MMO world is evolving, I think I'll sit them out from now on.

Everything I've read and listened to put forth about TOR, including GWJ podcast, has structured this game as a great story plopped down in a shell of an MMO. This makes me feel like all they've done is taken a great single player game like Skyrim and added a couple of mailboxes and some grouping. Everyone has their ideas and reasons for playing MMO's, but this isn't it for me. This instead feels like they're charging $15 a month for what seems to be DLC, i.e. the ability to play more characters and storylines. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate a good storyline, but I generally shell out my initial game fee and play it at my pace on my timetable. Not because I need to cram as much story as I can in before my investment runs out and I can't play anymore without throwing out more money.

I guess I'm a little cynical because MMO's released since WoW have promised more content and things to do at max level and never delivered. They received a lot of criticism about being WoW clones and burned out relatively quickly. Other than the storyline I keep hearing about, I see no difference with TOR yet it is receiving a lot of good spin. And I think the reason for that is because people are so enamoured with the Star Wars franchise, that they're willing to overlook a lot.

I'll be anxious to see what people are saying a couple months from now. Who knows, maybe they'll succeed with some longterm, kickass content and I'll eat my words! Sorry for the long winded opinion... I don't post here often but I look around a lot and have felt kinda strongly about this one

I'm having a blast so far. I don't have the time to pump into it like some people do, but I have my Sith Inquisitor leveled to 11 now and am really enjoying the storylines.

I think story really is the difference in this game, and it's proving to be a much bigger deal than I thought it would be. I had zero interest in this game until a friend talked me into just giving it a try. Now I'm hooked on my story....... and I agree, I can't believe I'm saying that about an MMO.

I always enjoyed the social aspect of WoW, but found that if none of my friends were online, the game was boring to me. SWTOR though, I am enjoying the quests because the stories are well done and if friends aren't online, I don't really care that much.

I'm a bit surprised that MMO writing basically seems to have given up on the notion that individual players aren't the hero of the world, but rather have bent the mechanics of the game to make it seem less weird that everyone is Achilles.

wordsmythe wrote:

I'm a bit surprised that MMO writing basically seems to have given up on the notion that individual players aren't the hero of the world, but rather have bent the mechanics of the game to make it seem less weird that everyone is Achilles.

Well how would you change the traditional power structure of gameplay? One of the oldest narratives in gaming is "player that increases in power until he wins". Traditional multiplayer games have everyone be equally powerful and just play the game, but there's no incentive to come back other than "I had fun". When you're trying to do a monthly fee or even F2P, you want them addicted, and the level curve is the most reliable way to do that.

Given the business constraints I think they pretty much have to give up. Has anybody ever tried to make an MMO where everyone wasn't superheroes?

I do think SWTOR handles this better than most, at least so far in the early levels I've never felt like a superhero unless I'm facing nameless monsters.

I would say if RIFT goes F2P.. then by all means its almost certain that TOR will go F2P.. heck.. WOW may even go F2P eventually...

It all depends on how solid the player base settles into... its good that it cracked 1M+ already.. but will it sustain that beyond 6-8 months..

I heard similar thoughts around RIFT (WOW killer.. proving subscription isnt dead etc..) and that is running out of gas quick... sure it didnt help that TOR is now out.

I'm not so sure that even a steady 1M subscribers for TOR will make EA happy.. EA suits are counting on double digit million subscribers..

However, if TOR is how the MMO world is evolving, I think I'll sit them out from now on.

I'm playing right now.. and its 99.5% WoW clone..despite how hard the fanbois are trumping its "story-line" Its highly polished and fun enough but it does make me sad that its so similar. I'm hoping Bioware can do some really cool stuff with a proper space expansion.. that could be the real differentiation and what drives this game into the stratosphere.

Interesting to note, I think Blizzard is well-aware of its placement in the market and F2P.

Web advertisements from two years ago were like: "Play a 14 Day Free Demo!"

Today, they say: "Play up to Level 20 for free!"

I think that's a significant shift in message, one that cannot be an accident.

Also,

TheGameguru wrote:

I'm playing right now.. and its 99.5% WoW clone..despite how hard the fanbois are trumping its "story-line" Its highly polished and fun enough but it does make me sad that its so similar. I'm hoping Bioware can do some really cool stuff with a proper space expansion.. that could be the real differentiation and what drives this game into the stratosphere.

Strong and confusing language. If the story is good (and I don't know if it is or isn't), then is it really only worth .5% of your valuation? Again, I'm speaking from a position of ignorance regarding this specific game, but brushing off story as belonging to "fanboi [sic]" territory strikes me as under-stating an important aspect of any game.

It's all relative.. there is a deep long story in WoW that everyone skipped..I don't feel that much different skipping cut-scenes and largely ignoring conversations in TOR. I'm sure its probably light years ahead of the usual crap stories that passes as "plots" in MMORPG's but is it worth $15 a month to listen to?

PyromanFO wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

I'm a bit surprised that MMO writing basically seems to have given up on the notion that individual players aren't the hero of the world, but rather have bent the mechanics of the game to make it seem less weird that everyone is Achilles.

Well how would you change the traditional power structure of gameplay? One of the oldest narratives in gaming is "player that increases in power until he wins". Traditional multiplayer games have everyone be equally powerful and just play the game, but there's no incentive to come back other than "I had fun". When you're trying to do a monthly fee or even F2P, you want them addicted, and the level curve is the most reliable way to do that.

I don't have an answer, but it makes me sad that nobody seems interested in the question anymore.

I genuinely don't think I will bite the bullet on this one. I love the idea of a new Star Wars based MMO, but I just don't have the time to sink into something like this. Besides, I was also in the launch of many of the games you listed above, or at least dabbled in them post launch. I have found that the longest I have ever spent with an MMO is the free month. WoW and Planetside are the only exceptions to this rule. That is only because I played in the beta in both, and actually enjoyed Planetside enough to continue for a couple of months.

I love the early exploration, but I just can't handle the grind once it sets in.

jennscoots wrote:

This makes me feel like all they've done is taken a great single player game like Skyrim and added a couple of mailboxes and some grouping. Everyone has their ideas and reasons for playing MMO's, but this isn't it for me.

Funny, when I see Skyrim I think "Where'd all the people go in this MMO?" If I'm putting in that many hours on a title, I want to do it with friends.

saxtus wrote:
jennscoots wrote:

This makes me feel like all they've done is taken a great single player game like Skyrim and added a couple of mailboxes and some grouping. Everyone has their ideas and reasons for playing MMO's, but this isn't it for me.

Funny, when I see Skyrim I think "Where'd all the people go in this MMO?" If I'm putting in that many hours on a title, I want to do it with friends.

Yeah, I'd agree with that to a point. And as I understand, quite a few blogs out there say that this game is so much better playing duo. Still, I can't get past the price tag of entry unless they do something great with endgame. In a blog my husband reads, I think it was summed up so much better than I could state "(Tobold's MMORPG): "If you don't mind paying twice the price for SWTOR than KOTOR 3 would have cost you, you can probably get 4 months of good single-player experience out of SWTOR. And that is it. Afterwards you would have to pay for a multi-player experience."

Like everyone, he's had great things to say about the story but at what cost and how do you justify it as an MMO? Just because there are others in the game seems like a hard sell to me. I too would like to see a change in the MMO model, but I can't put my finger on what exactly might be. I just know for me, the big draw to WoW was multifaceted. Shocking but I loved the PvP (arena) even as frustrating as class balance was, and I loved the raiding. But I also loved that I could play the game solo and as convoluted as it became, I personally thought the lore was really neat. Don't laugh but I read all the books

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.

You were saying?