30/08/2016

Monthly Chapters - Yay or Nay?

I think I've expressed most of my opinions on KotFE's story in my summary of chapter sixteen (and to some degree in the write-ups of previous chapters), but I still wanted to talk a bit about the chapters' monthly release schedule.

Before saying anything else, I have to give Bioware kudos for actually managing to pull it off (mostly) - only two of the seven post-launch chapters suffered some sort of delay. I honestly wasn't sure whether they were going to succeed at making this ambitious update schedule reality... because they failed at it before. (SWTOR was originally meant to have monthly updates at launch.) Or remember back when Wildstar promised large monthly updates, sixteen of which were already supposed to be in pre-production before the game had even launched? The only example of an MMO successfully sticking to a really fast update schedule in recent years that I can think of is Guild Wars 2's first living story, but considering that they haven't repeated that after the first season came to a close, it probably wasn't completely without issues either.

So while it's fun to joke about things like Bioware endlessly delaying the Eternal Championship until its final release, they did a good job at sticking to their update schedule with the actual story chapters. Personally I thought it was also evident that they learned a lot from the process as they went along. At least from my experience, later chapters suffered from a lot fewer glaring bugs than some of the earlier ones (naked cat-man, anyone?), and there were marked improvements to gameplay as well as time went on. You could tell that Bioware took our feedback seriously and made a clear effort to move away from too many boring trash fights towards more engaging boss encounters.

From a storytelling point of view, I'm not entirely convinced whether monthly chapters are a good thing though. If you want people to treat it like a television show, a month between episodes is actually a bit long, and you end up constantly wanting to remind the viewer/player of what's going on - which is why I've been joking about so many chapter intro screens starting with a view of the Alliance base to remind us where we were. This results in somewhat choppy storytelling, with every chapter trying to tell an almost completely self-contained story, and I think that chapters ten to sixteen turned out to be a lot less "elegant" than chapters one to nine for that reason. I suspect that the story flow would be somewhat improved if at least two chapters at a time could be tied together, even if that would result in bigger breaks between each "chapter pair".

Of course the reason Bioware opted for monthly updates is that the subscription renews monthly, and you want to give people a reason to stay subscribed. I really wonder how that worked out for them. In a recent interview with the Bad Feeling Podcast, Ben Irving stated that they were very happy with KotFE in terms of metrics like engagement, but if that's true it's certainly not something most of us were able to observe. In my own guild - which is somewhat atypical I suppose, consisting mostly of raiders and all - people were already continuously subscribed regardless and the chapters had little influence on people's activity. In fact, as time went on I noticed that several people seemed to lose interest in keeping up with the chapters even though they were active in game, falling further and further behind in the story - though it might be that, like Njessi, they made an "executive decision" to let the chapters build up and then play through several of them at once.

Meanwhile, the hosts of the Bad Feeling Podcast reported that they got the impression that the monthly chapters caused overall engagement to decrease, as people just logged in once a month to play the new chapter and then logged off again. I suppose it doesn't matter as much for Bioware as long as people stay subscribed and keep buying Cartel crates, but it's less good for people who enjoy content that requires as many people as possible to be active and playing (such as flashpoints and PvP).

What are your feelings about the monthly update schedule? Did it make you play more, less, or the same as before? While it didn't affect my own play time, I certainly enjoyed getting new content that frequently... but as I said above, to be perfectly honest I suspect that slightly bigger and slower releases would be beneficial in terms of story flow. Then again, I'm one of the few who'll stay subbed anyway, regardless of how quickly the patches roll in.

6 comments :

  1. I like that they come monthly, but tbh, I consume them in bigger chunks. But that's just how I play, I tend to flit back and forth between games. It's nice to always have something new waiting, rather than 'hm it's been 4 months, I want to play again but ... eh...'

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  2. While I definitely enjoy regular updates, I am not really a fan of the 'Chapter a month' format. Personally I found that a chapter could be completed in one session and in most cases there was nothing else continue to work on so I actually found myself playing less. When I did play I it was doing things that had nothing to do with KotFE. Even things that were supposed to string you along such as the Star Fortresses and Alliance Alerts, while nice, felt light on any replay-ability and in the case of Star Fortresses actual connection to the rest of the game.

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  3. KotFEs monthly release cadence did have the effect of reducing the "nothing more to do, I've done all the content in this cycle" to smaller chunks.

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    1. That would work in favour of the monthly sub though, unless you were going to stay subbed for the entire time anyway...

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    2. I'm sure it was a factor in their decision to go to the monthly release cadence.

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  4. I think the sequel chapters (from X to XIV, last two i havent seen cuz I think they dont worth 30 €) are rather bad,not tied to each other and many of them generic.
    I would prefer a story arch told in chapters instead of this. The first IX chapter was good, they left some major concern/plothole unanswered, what the later chapters did not answered either.

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