Why Bioware only have themselves to blame.

Posted: 23/05/2012 in Gaming
Tags: , , ,

Star Wars : The Old Republic. The “holy grail” of MMO’s, the one game that could finally knock that other well-known MMO off it’s perch. It hasn’t quite worked like that. This post isn’t going to discuss why it hasn’t taken off as well as most insiders thought it would, but instead I want to take a different approach.

Firstly can I just say that I played SWTOR for around 4-6 weeks, and in that time I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was something different and for an online game it felt like finally someone had thought slightly outside of the box. Did you notice I described it as an “online” game and not an “MMO”? I did that because to me, that’s how it felt. When I played it, it felt more like how it feels when I play Diablo 3 (when I’m not trying to rapid fire the error’s). It felt like a single game with online aspects, not an MMO with single player aspects, but again that isn’t why I’m writing this post.

I’m sure as many of you will know by now. Bioware has announced there will be job losses, mainly due to the declining player base of their MMO. As sad as it is, an as much as I feel the utmost sympathy with the people who have or are about to lose their jobs, I have to say that the company itself only have themselves to blame.

Why do I say this? Well it wasn’t due to the hype. It was a highly anticipated MMO and any “AAA” title always has hype surrounding it. What I think they did wrong was that in a peculiar way, Bioware over-prepared for it. They seemed to forget that as a rule, a subscriber base of 500,000 used to, and still is deemed a success in terms of an MMO, sure World of Warcraft completely obliterated that mould, but I still believe that WoW is an anomaly, something that will never be replicated to the same extreme again. What Bioware did was to bring the support staff in, launch hundreds of servers and now a vicious circle has kicked in. There are countless reports of dead servers and the idea of a server-only Looking for Group feature seems archaic in this day and age. The fact that their LFG is per server, in a way tells me that there’s some sort of lack of direction in the SWTOR department which is a shame. With quiet servers, people get bored and stop playing, which means the servers obviously become quieter and the poor souls at Bioware have to take the sword.

From what I’ve seen in my short MMO playing time is that the best thing to do is to under-estimate the popularity and build up. World of Warcraft did this. I started in April ’05, when in the EU there must have been less than 15 English servers. They were always plagued with queues  so Blizzard moved quickly to bring more data centres an servers online, with the higher amount of servers they went on a recruitment drive. Granted they’ve had to lay off some people recently, but that’s mainly to do with the subscriber base stabilising and no longer growing. When there were these huge queue’s (I remember when Haomarush launched, for the first couple of weeks the queue’s were anywhere between 2000 and 4000), did people give up playing? I’m sure some did, but others thought “this game must be good, I can see they are working hard to get more servers online, so this game must be good!”. It’s psychological thing. Busy servers and an action plan? The game must be good and they are doing something about it! Quiet servers and a sense of a lack of direction in how to fix it? What’s wrong with the game?

Now there might not be anything wrong with the game, and with SWTOR I don’t think that there is, but if an outsider were to look in, that would be the perception a lot of people would get. For me the most polished, and best MMO since WoW was released is RIFT and they built themselves up just before release but they didn’t over do it, at least I don’t think they did anyway.

All in all, I think that if some of the big cheeses at Bioware were to look at how they approached the game at the start they will see that their intentions were correct, but unfortunately they had set their expectations too high. It’s always better to start low and build up then to start high and be knocked down.

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Comments
  1. Chaelura says:

    Yep. One of the ways we described it was “single-player-y”. I hate to discourage developers from including the bells and whistles that BioWare included in the game (fully voiced, storyline quests, dialogue options), but somehow it didn’t cleanly translate into what a MMO should be.

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