27/01/2018

Keep Calm And Play SWTOR

I've been getting flashbacks to mid-2012 recently. For those of you who weren't playing SWTOR back then, it was both a good and a bad time for the game. What was good was that the game received new content updates at a pace that we are unlikely to ever see again, due to Bioware still operating with a massive team dedicated solely to the MMO for the first few months. What was bad was that the game's reputation was largely in the gutter. It was being called a failure left and right, and people who'd never even played it were happy to reinforce this negative image in public simply because they'd heard it was too much of a WoW clone / they were still mad at Bioware about the Mass Effect 3 ending / they just hated everything to do with EA. Even fan sites frequently sounded as if they felt the need to apologise for liking the game, and it was actually really off-putting if you were engaging with the community outside of the game itself. I wrote a post about it at the time.

Now, the haters never fully went away (do they ever, for any game?), but they did quiet down a lot after the first year, because there are only so many times you can shout "TORtanic!" about a game that continues to receive updates year after year and still continues to attract a considerable amount of players.

However, recently there has been a sudden resurgence of doom-and-glooming, which I suppose wasn't helped by SWTOR putting out less content in 2017 than in the years before that. It started with YouTube recommending a widely-viewed video to me which spent three quarters of an hour talking about how SWTOR is utterly dead. I have to admit that really annoyed me, mostly because it was released as part of a series that I had previously enjoyed watching, about MMOs that were actually "dead" in some way, as in shut down or at the very least put into maintenance mode. However, this one just felt like an attempt by the creator to get views by simply shitting all over a well-known game because he didn't like it very much himself. (And it worked - the video, which I'm not going to bother to link, quickly became the second most viewed video on his whole channel.) My favourite reply from the comment section was: "I hope you never become a doctor."

Then the rumour mill started to get going. MMORPG.com released an article with the title "The End of the Republic?" whose entire content could basically be summed up as: "SWTOR has been reasonably successful over the years, but now there are rumours that it might end! I mean, probably not any time soon, but I guess it was too good a subject line to pass up." This week, things came to a head when Kotaku published an article focused on Bioware's new property Anthem, which contained the following comments about SWTOR as throwaway lines:

"Over the past few months, BioWare has essentially transformed into a single-game studio as it harnesses its teams to work on the ambitious multiplayer action game Anthem, sources say. There are still small teams maintaining Star Wars: The Old Republic and piecing together the next Dragon Age, which was recently rebooted, but the bulk of BioWare’s staff in both Edmonton and Austin are now on Anthem."

And even more damning:

"BioWare has also discussed ending development on the multiplayer online game Star Wars: The Old Republic, those sources said, although one person familiar with the studio told me recently that plans are still up in the air."

The latter in particular has had people going absolutely bananas, some of them seemingly expecting SWTOR to get shut down any minute now. Personally I think they are misreading that quote in two ways:

1. "Ending development on" is not the same as "shutting down". I'm not saying that the game going into maintenance mode would be a good thing, but I still think that it's an important distinction.

2. More importantly, everything that article references from "sources" is fairly vague. It's still bad PR and probably not something Bioware/EA are happy to have aired in public, but they're not exactly giving away company secrets. However, if that sentence was a definitive statement of intent basically leaked to a journalist before its official announcement, that would've been quite a severe faux-pas on the side of the person providing the information. I think a more likely interpretation is that putting SWTOR into maintenance mode was something that was brought up in a discussion and then not followed up on. Trust me, businesses regularly discuss a lot of options for the future without necessarily implementing even most of them. The reason it is brought up here at all is to emphasise the article's point of how desperate Bioware is to have Anthem be a success, to the point that they've considered all kinds of things just to get even more manpower onto the project.

Now, beyond that I'm not going to spend a great amount of time arguing about why I think that worrying about SWTOR being shut down or even being put into maintenance mode at this point is premature. Other people have already done that, such as Larry Everett on MassivelyOP and Xam Xam on her new site MMO Bits.

The only thing I would like to bring up, mostly because I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere else so far, is that few people seem to consider that, regardless even of what happens to Bioware after Anthem's launch, there are reasons for EA to want to keep SWTOR going, assuming that it makes any kind of money at all:

1. They don't need any more bad PR right now. You could say that they are already hated by so many that a few more gamer tears are nothing but drops in the bucket, but I think the recent hubbub about Star Wars: Battlefront II's monetisation has shown that they do care when it gets to the point of drawing negative attention from their investors. And if there's one thing MMO players are good at, it's expressing their anger loudly. How many people are out there, still condemning the shutdowns of City of Heroes and Star Wars Galaxies years after the fact? And I'm pretty sure SWTOR still has more players than both of those had put together (at the point when they were shut down). So a premature end to the game would draw quite a bit of ire from the community. Now, maybe the people in charge at EA aren't sufficiently clued in to actually consider this... but to me it seems like they'd really prefer to tread lightly right now and to not piss off paying customers unnecessarily.

2. Remember the outcry when EA shut down Visceral and said that they wanted to focus on multiplayer games that could feature ongoing monetisation? Well, guess what, SWTOR is exactly that kind of game. In fact, I would think that from a marketing perspective, EA should view SWTOR as a great opportunity to test and review what sort of monetisation methods have worked for games like that and which ones have not.

Anyway, those are just my two cents on the matter. As someone who is very active in the community, I always find it a bit depressing to see stuff like this. At the same time, I'm aware that as a highly engaged player, my own view tends to be somewhat skewed towards the positive - I remember just how much of a shock the free-to-play announcement was to me at the time, because it seemed to go utterly against my own experiences of a great and thriving game.

However, regardless of what happens to SWTOR and when, there's also this to consider: Even if we were to find out that SWTOR was meant to shut down next week - would you rather spend the game's last remaining days wailing on forums or actually playing it while you still can? I know which one I'd pick. With that, I'm off to play some more!



(Also, Keith has been dropping more hints about the next expansion. MMOs generally don't launch expansions just before throwing in the towel. Just saying.)

6 comments :

  1. SWG supposedly still had around 300k subs when it was shut down. The reasons it closed had nothing to do with profitability or player interest, but everything to do with a new MMO that was in development - SW:tOR. CoH was profitable at closure, just not profitable enough. Bringing in the dollars doesn;t seem to be enough in and of itself to keep an MMO running and failing to do so doesn't always seem to be enough to close it down - look at WildStar or, for heaven's sake, Alganon.

    I suspect that if SW:TOR is in any kind of danger it will be from internal issues related to the position Bioware holds inside EA, not to how much money it makes or how many people are playing it. Given the scale of the rumors now, you would expect some kind of calming statement from the people running the game. If no-one's saying anything to deny the rumors that could be as worrying as the rumors themselves.

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    1. Money isn't everything, but the two articles I linked give a number of other reasons why it seems unlikely that SWTOR should shut down any time soon. Yes, admittedly there could always be some internal reason coming out of left field, but I don't see much point in speculating about that. Aside from the Kotaku article, none of the other "doom-mongers" I mentioned could cite any sources either, they just seemed to go for "game is dead"-type clickbait headlines.

      There certainly isn't going to be another Star Wars MMO after SWTOR - I'm always amused when people express firm belief in that. As if any of the big publishers were interested in making MMOs anymore...

      And I don't think a calming statement would do Bioware much good right now. People would just say "Sure, that's what they say now, BUT..." and it would give the rumours that much more traction to have them acknowledged by an official source. While they are the big topic of the day among the most hardcore fans, I'm pretty sure the majority of the SWTOR playerbase doesn't read sites like Kotaku.

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  2. I believe the fact that SWTOR is being worked on --as well as DA4-- is a good thing. If the "all hands on deck" situation with Anthem hasn't put SWTOR in maintenance mode, then SWTOR is in decent shape.

    But I do understand the pressure that Bioware is under. It sucks, and the only thing they can do is simply execute a perfect release. But in their defense, it can be done: Nintendo did it with Breath of the Wild, and Blizzard did it with Overwatch. So here's hoping that Bioware can pull this off so that they can get some breathing room again.

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  3. Reading this does bring back memories of 2012 for me, too, and not in a good way. I will always maintain that SW:TOR could have actually pulled through as a viable subscription-only MMO, had there been enough nerve on the part of the suits and a bit more time.

    I continue to wish the game well. It's funny how the much-derided 'fourth pillar' (the story engaging to the soloist) is now considered sine qua non MMO fare.

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    1. I'd bet some bourbon that MOBAs have something to do with the rise of the soloist's importance in MMOs.

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    2. @Sullas: I know, right? I can't think of a Western theme park MMO that launched after SWTOR that didn't try to include a meaningful single player storyline. Even Guild Wars 2, which was originally supposed to be all about the world and no quests now advertises each of its new updates as story chapters.

      @Redbeard: Can't say I follow you there? MOBAs kind of took over from MMOs in terms of popularity, are you saying story was the MMO world's attempt to retain players in the face of that competition?

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