Why did Star Wars: The Old Republic Fail?

Looking back at MMOs it is easy to say they fail and it is easy to say they did not.  The problem might be definitive.  How does a game fail?  Out of this series only two of the games I have covered have fully closed up shop, these being Prius Online Anima Redux and Faxion Online.  In a sense those articles might give more meaning to the word fail because these are MMOs that failed and did not have the financial backing to try and revitalize them.

An MMO like DC Universe Online failed after a month of downtime.  Currently it is one of the most popular free to play MMOs out there.  The same can be said for Age of Conan which went from 1,000,000 subs to 100,000 subs in a month, now it sit at over 2,000,000 players as a free game.

I will say that just because a game is still around does not mean it did not fail.  Fail in an extreme approach means that a thing stops functioning.  In this sense there can be no failures.  Even The Failship which has ran into a bridge wouldn’t have failed under this definition because the ship is still in tact.

No before considering this remember that failing can refer to intense mistakes, failing to meet objectives, not meeting demands, or closing down.

With SWTOR I am looking at this from the perspective of the corporation as they did not meet the objectives they set out.

SWTOR in a Nutshell (A Big Nutshell)

In 2002 Star Wars Galaxies released and was a massive…. flop.  This was nothing new for LucasArts head George Lucas as most of his games although commercial successes were also miserably terrible.  Lucas was forced into a 10-year licensing deal with Sony Online Entertainment in which SOE would get exclusive rights to the Star Wars MMO license.

In the mean time Lucas saturated every single sub-market of gaming with a Star Wars game.  Included was the very popular Knights of the Old Republic RPG series.  This series established a new Universe for Star Wars, a world before the one we know.  Because of this Lucas was able to grant a license for the Star Wars exteneded universe while maintaining the exclusive license for the Star Wars normal universe.

Bioware had gained such a great name for making quality games in the industry that Electronic Arts bought them out and started transforming all of their own studios into Bioware studios.  Bioware-Austin was created specifically for making MMORPGs.  Some of the EA-Mythic team (now called Bioware-Mythic) was shifted over to this studio to begin work on Star Wars: The Old Republic.

The game started development in 2006 based around the earliest form of The Hero Engine, an engine designed specifically for production of MMOs.  Bioware tweeked around with it a lot.  $200M in development later the most expensive video game ever made was released.

The world would launch with three full raid encounters, three PvP modes, four high tier 5-man dungeons and interesting jumping game hunting quest series called “Datacrons.”

It was shaping up to be a big deal, but alas there was trouble in paradise.

#1: Shaky Launch

I will say that I don’t think the launch has much at all to do with the failure of the game in total.  But I will bring it up for the sake of mood setting.

Pre-ordering was something people did in the past in order to get a copy of a hot game.  It was presumed when a game was really really popular that if you did not pre-order the game, you would not get it.  This was true of so many different games.  I can remember waiting a week to get World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade because there was no outlet for pre-ordering in my small town.

As well pre-ordered games were more often cheaper.  Because of this people who pre-ordered were getting some value-added product.

Star Wars: The Old Republic pre-order actually cost $5 more than the regular non-pre ordered game.  That’s odd, right?  In the promise of pre-ordering was an early start bonus.  It was stated in the 1000 page contract that you would get early access depending on server availability and the time of your pre-order.

So a person who pre-ordered a year in advance would get first dibs on early start while a person who pre-ordered two weeks before game launch might not.

Well it all worked out pretty terribly.  Some people who paid extra only got a one day head start.  Some people who paid extra got a one hour head start.

Next on the list of problems had to do with texture packages.  The game in beta had higher resolution textures than the game that went live.  That’s just a little odd.  The argument Bioware stated was that your computer would explode if it used the high res textures.

This however did not stop the folks at Bioware from using high res texture screenshots in all of the publicity information.

A third controversy unfolded when people who were reporting bugs, complaining about the game, or just trolling on the Bioware forums had their accounts banned and were ejected from the game.  People who swore in text as well were ejected from the game.

A fourth controversy unfolded when people realized that if you typed /getdown you could never be hit by any shots.  This allowed people to take down very powerful out door raid bosses with very small groups.  It also got a little silly in PvP when people would type /getdown and no one would kill anyone.  Anyone caught typing /getdown was ejected from the game for knowingly exploiting the game.

#2: Content Locusts

Locusts are swarms of miserable inserts that devour plants in seconds.  Unlike a pride of lions the locust hunts itself into extinction.  Instead of slowly and gradually hunting, the locust feast or famine.  Their cycles involve mass reproduction when there is a lot of food and mass death when there is none.

For this reason someone who is a content locust has a zero sum end game.  By this I mean that it is all or nothing for them.  If you are not constantly providing new content then you are actually producing nothing.

My second argument is thus that the problem with SWTOR wasn’t that it didn’t have enough content, but that people devoured it too fast.

This is a two fold problem.  On the one hand the people playing the game are the problem.  Much like how you would not want to give an unlimited movie pass to a guy who spends 20 hours a day watching movies, you also really do not want these kinds of people in your game.

On the other hand this is a developer problem.  The general solution to content locusts is to produce content so hard that only a select few of them will be able to do it.  This is something that I think a lot of developers miss out on.

Hard content is not a selling point to try and attract hardcore gamers.  No one at Blizzard ever claimed that content was going to be super hard.  They just made hard content and gave it to gamers.  There is a lot more respect for developers who try and make super hard content for the content locusts.

Instead Bioware tried to sell it on having hard end game content.  Much like other people who try to sell on that point it is bound to fail when it is beaten.

The truth is content locusts do not actually want hard content.  The people who want hard content are those that are challenge oriented.  A challenge oriented people will do the hardest difficulty of any game.  Skyrim is an easy test of this.  If someone cannot do a quest do they reduce the difficulty, or look for new approaches?

#3: All is Fine Drink the Wine

So often the metaphor is used in cults of a righteous leader who drinks the wine he is serving his guests.  Of course in this scenario the cultist leader who is supposed to be looking out for his follower’s is preaching to everyone the suicide that he is suggesting.

Bioware was definitely serving the wine they were feeding people.  It’s a little harder to follow people who just seem deluded.

There are some things that were honest and should be made clear.  Electronic Arts is a publicly traded company and any lies they would tell the investors is considered a capital crime punishable by prison sentence.  So there is no reason to believe that what they were telling people were lies.

Bioware probably did register 3M accounts in their first year.  They probably were hovering around 1.7M players around the four month marker.  They probably did drop down to 1.3M around the six month marker.  But it is not these claims that really upset the people who are playing the game.  Those are the claims that upset people who quit it.

MMOs are kind of weird.  It’s like a sports team.  If you feel spited by your favorite sports team you become a venomous troll out to get them.  So any news of success of that sports team hurts you so bad.

No the wine they were serving came in the form of a guild summit help in Austin, Texas (home of their studio).

The sound of the guild summit was promising.  It sounded as if the developers at Bioware were trying to take a CCP approach where they ask the community for direction.  They invited guildmasters from around the world and the 400 guild leader convention, the largest of its kind began.

The opening of the summit was a Q&A section.  This allowed guild masters to ask developers questions.  I thought this a great opportunity for Bioware to talk with guild masters and really get a strong grass roots.  The panel Q&A was a disaster.

Every single suggestion made was either ‘not on the timeline’ or was due in a year.  It was kind of pitiful.  In the least they could have tried and looked like they cared.  Instead they used the show to

People paid money to fly to this conference and all it ended up being was a fluff show.  That turned off more people than worked on creating a community.

#4: Electronic Arts

Something has to be said about the immense pressure put on a studio by big brother parent company to make sure things come out on time and are handled most cost effectively.

The goal of Bioware is to make games and keep all of their employees working.

The goal of Electronic Arts is to publish games and minimize costs.

So when Bioware was forced to lay off 50% of its MMORPG department (Bioware Austin) it was in part because Electronic Arts found a new way to make money off of SWTOR, by reducing game quality.

Yes there were many who would lose their jobs anyway.  UI artists are not exactly used to holding a job for over two years.

But yeah they let go of most of their staff so that Electronic Arts could have stronger quarterly profits.

In the end Bioware-Austin is an EA studio and they’re forced to toe the corporate line on things.  You can see when many of these developers were describing things that the passion was not there anymore.  They were getting on stage and saying things that they’re not excited about all so they could keep their jobs.

Because of these massive cuts content roll outs continued to slow down time and time again.  In an act of desperation they only recently announced their transition into free to play so that they could salvage what many people regarded as a very slowly sinking ship.

We are one day from the launch of SWTOR.  It is possible after this they will be able to turn around the game and really make something of it as Lord of the Rings Online has.

I know that as a former subscriber and as an alpha tester I’ve been rewarded some obscene total of Cartel Coins in an attempt to lure me back to the game.

Much like how Age of Conan failed and rebounded there is a great chance that SWTOR can also rebound from this massive failure.

If the total subscribers they held was Rift or Eve Online or Age of Conan this would be considered a huge success.  However because this is Bioware and these guys ship 50M copies of Mass Effect in the first month something this low is considered to be a pretty big failure.

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Where SWTOR Free to Play Wins

A few months ago I was actively criticizing the SWTOR free to play model.

To me it seemed stupid for Bioware to GIVE away the best part of their game.  If you are unaware you can have one character slot and you can play the entire single player leveling experience for free.  Anyone who has played the game knows that this fully voiced leveling path is easily the best part of the game.  Anyone who has played the game probably only did this part of the game and probably skipped over everything else.

The problem, to me, with Bioware’s model was that it didn’t really give people an incentive to buy stuff.

And then they dropped a bomb shell.

The new free to play details went live and boy did it start to all make sense.

If you ever pick up any epic gear in the game you would now need to pay a micro transaction fee to use it.

Although this cuts the nuts off of the consumer this is…. brilliant.  Another game did this, Age of Empires Online.  This is one of the few free to play games that was ever successful in conning me to pay beyond the regular game.

So basically what will happen is you will be playing the free game going tra-la-la and suddenly, you’ll get an epic item from a quest… or a world drop…. or one of the free dungeons.  It will have a lock on the piece of loot and you’ll let it sit there until eventually you start falling apart and are forced to buy this item in cash.

Some might call this a ‘buy to play’ format.  In some ways… it is.

In reality, it’s not.

To actually do anything PvP or end game content you need to get a weekly pass.  The weekly pass itself is a little bit of a s-cam.  Basically a subscription fee costs $15.  But for the average person $15/month sounds a little too steep.  So instead of that you offer $4/week for everything.  Now suddenly they’re making an extra $1 a month off of people AND they’re attracting more people to do this stuff.

People also end up doing a lot more content when they know they only have a short time to do it (and you’re paying by the second people!).  As long as people purchase weekend passes they assures that content will stay active.

Of course as you know I’m as cheap as they come and I will no doubt resist the temptation to make a micro transaction until absolutely necessary.

SWTOR Free to Play Announced

In ultra exciting news SWTOR is going to the free to play model.

Now how is this different, we should ask, from say DC Universe Online.

First I’d like to address the newly released The Secret World.  Now five months ago (before launch) they announced a Life Time Subscription for the game.  And of course in typical Troublmaker style I threw out a controversial video in which I coach people to not get the life time subscription because it is a scam.  It is a scam because at the time it was clear to me The Secret World would go free to play as Funcom’s other two titles (Anarchy Online and Age of Conan) had both adopted free to play.  It was then my opinion that dishing out $200 (that would pay itself off after a year) was not worthwhile because you would be getting the game unlimited for free sooner rather than later anyway.

I however did not say do not purchase nor did I not say do not play The Secret World.  The game is released today and of course in traditional Funcom numbers it is posting average review numbers.

I’d like to differentiate the Funcom transition to free to play from this first time Electronic Arts transition into free to play.  Funcom moved to free to play because they stopped making money with a subscription model.  SWTOR is moving to free to play because it is a better business model.  This can be evidenced by the fact that Warhammer Online… in its 5 year glory is still yet to go to free to play despite being dead for quite some time.

SWTOR going free to play addresses the primary problem people had with getting the game in the first place, that is they wanted a single player experience but did not want to pay a subscription.  SWTOR, unlike other games, is not dying so quickly.  To compare Rift went from 500,000 to 150,000 in under a month, Age of Conan went from 1,000,000 to 100,000 in a month, DC Universe Online went from 1,200,000 to 100,000 in a month, Warhammer Online went from 750,000 to 5,000 in a month.

SWTOR went from 1.7M to 1.3M over a period of 4 months and only recently dropped under a million.  They’re not waiting to die off to make the switch.

It’s time for developers to face it, World of Warcraft was a commercial oddity that no one will ever hit ever again.  Blizzard successfully created a social club with a monthly entry fee.

The new Bioware model will be very similar to the Sony Online Entertainment model.  You will be able to do the quests to Level 50 for free.  If you want more character slots you have to buy them (or delete your character), if you want to PvP you have to pay for that, if you want access to PvE dungeons you have to buy a dungeon pass.

The odd part of this is that unlike Sony Online Entertainment games…. the leveling content is what people want to do.  Honestly, no one cares about leveling in Lord of the Rings Online.  In fact I’d argue that the leveling is the most painful part of that game as if you don’t purchase bonus zones it becomes tedious and almost impossible.  The same is true of Dungeons and Dragons Online and DC Universe Online.  Leveling sucked in these games, you WANTED to do the dungeon and end game content.

The problem for SWTOR so far comes in with that there is no reason to make the jump from arguably the best and funnest part of the game (solo leveling) to their group end game content.  SOE created guest passes whereas if you purchased dungeon access you could (as leader) bring your group into the dungeon.  The content is largely

What Bioware does with their free to play model will in the end decide whether or not the game will succeed or fail.  By having questing up to Level 50 free I have no doubt that the game will have capacity servers on free to play launch, but I don’t know how they will do on the money side of things.

Why do People Hate SWTOR?

We are entering the fourth month of SWTOR being around and Bioware is still looking quite strong.  Against odds Bioware proved that they could make a Star Wars game that people liked.

So why are there still so many haters?

This article title could easily be “why do people hate WoW’ because it is a lot of the same.  This article will be quite long and organized into three distinct parts: Popularity, Electronic Arts, and Hype.

(1) Popularity

The most popular girl at school is easily the prey of the most popular.  It is something human to hate something that is popular.

The feeling from this is the need to be a delicate little snowflake, a unique enigma… different.

When a person feels like they are coming into the majority they branch out and do their own thing… until they mature.  After a person matures they suddenly start attempting to be more like everyone else and will seek similarity with everyone.  This is the old people phenomena widely known as The Fence Problem or “the grass is always greener on the other side.”

The concept is quite simple, SWTOR is popular right now so it will have haters.  Less popular games generally do not have haters because honestly, there is nothing worth caring for.

You will never hear anyone complaining on the forums how bad DC Universe Online is.  This is because despite having a strong opening, the games popularity died off with the Sony Online Entertainment hacking.

If the game stayed popular people would be harping about how insecure Sony Online Entertainment is, how slow the content rollouts are, how shallow the PvP is, or various linear limitations.

Although there are thousands of MMOs that are worse than Star Wars: The Old Republic, people will focus in on this game just because it is the popular one.

There is not and has not been an MMO released in the last 12 years that has not had bugs, problems, and low content.  MMOs unlike normal games are designed missing content that the developers work on over the 2-3 years between expansions.

(2) Electronic Arts

Popularity explains why people will initially hate this game and why they will hate it over worse games… but it doesn’t really explain how much people hate this game and why this hate has continued for so long.

To establish this we need to look at the people who are publishing this game, Electronic Arts.

Electronic Arts has had an image problem for quite some time.

About five years ago Electronic Arts purchased Bioware because of how good Bioware games were.  Then Electronic Arts took all of its RPG studios and started slowly converting them over to Bioware’s.  This process involved Bioware employees teaching people who to build a generic Bioware title with the high end story telling and emphasis on roleplaying elements.

So slowly all of the Electronic Arts studios became Biowares.  The final one to convert over is EA-Mythic which is now Bioware-Mythic and is releasing a Warhammer MOBA.

The reason EA felt the need to do this is because they have such a terrible name and wanted to burn out the good name of Bioware to really push their games.  It took no less than 5 years for EA to ruin the reputation of Bioware.

How?  Bad PR.

I could go on a 30 page rant about EA’s various hits against gamers, but I’ll start with more recent.

So, Dragon Age 2.  The game was purposely chopped up into pieces and sold off as DLC extra cost content.

The game featured homosexual characters that you could choose to have an affair with.

People were massed banned from Bioware forums for over-complaining/trolling about the game and then were unable to activate their copy of the game.

Dragon Age 2 had a DRM (Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service) also known as a one time use key.

Any sort of complaining about this game on the forums saw your topic deleted and your account banned.

Worst yet Bioware employees were caught in a scandal to try and bribe many gaming websites in exchange for great ratings.

Another similar controversy erupts over the game Battlefield 3.  The pre-order package for this game was bigger than maybe anther other.  Included in the offer was a copy of Battlefield 1942 and a large number of exclusive pre-order only free DLC.

Well after only three days Battlefield 1942 was taken off of the pre-order of the game (the pre-order cost more than the regular price).  The argument was they could not produce enough Battlefield 1942 discs and roughly 1M people did not receive a free copy of Battlefield 1942… despite paying for the pre-order.

Come launch day Battlefield 3 hit the stores and this exclusive pre-oder only DLC…. was available to everyone.  In fact the pre-order extra cost was exactly the same as the cost of buying the game and buying the DLC.  For British residents the cost of the pre-order was actually HIGHER.

So when SWTOR launched and people complained about the game Bioware was banning accounts left and right.  When anyone swore in the game Bioware banned accounts left and right.  When people swore in game, their account was banned.  When people exploited game bugs, their accounts were banned.  If people accidentally used game bugs to their advantage… their accounts were banned.

So a lot of people are REALLY upset not because the game… but because of the people who make it.

It is the same sort of energy that fuels the anger between Serb and Croat to fight each other for the last thirty years.

(3) Hype

Bioware learning from Warhammer Online knew not to hype up this game, but instead get other people to do it.  I have no doubt that they paid a number of websites for coverage and positive feedback.  It cannot be proven and so it will just maintain a suspicion of mine.

The culprit of the hype though is the fans themselves.

Fans lead themselves to believe this would be a game that it would not be.  If you lead yourself to believe this will be the end all game… of course you’re going to hate it when it is not.

Many people gave Mass Effect 3 a low rating because they hated the ending to the game.  The ending did not meet the expectation that was given to them in the first game… and so people think it is something that it simply cannot be.

Every single MMO and every single game has to be put down the hype train to sell well.  Currently everyone is seeing Guild Wars 2 as the end all save all game… which will no doubt be consumed in under two weeks.  TERA is also being portrayed in a similar way… despite being in Korea for a year now and losing its core audience after a month.  The Secret World is the only one being modest so far and it seems like they are going for the viral campaign.

People who are upset when something does not meet their expectations will be angrier about it than normal people.

Imagine you go to the Canadian coffee franchise Tim Horton’s for the first time.  On your first visit you are served by overworked employees who are upset at their jobs, you are sold cold coffee, and your donut is stale.  After this extremely bad experience after being told how good Tim Horton’s coffee is, you are likely to run back to America and tell every single American exactly how bad Tim Horton’s is.

On top of this viral hate towards Tim Hortons you are also likely to get upset with anyone who talks about how good it is.  You are no doubt going to want to relate how poor your expectation is.  The only thing that will get you to try Tim Hortons again is if a tonne of your friends are talking about how good it is.

The same is true of SWTOR.  People who enjoyed or are enjoying the game will talk about the positive things in the game.  People take these reviews or recommendations and go to the game.  They come back having gotten a cold shoulder (maybe one class is far more fun than another).  After playing through the game for a little bit they decide the game really sucks.

In an Internet community filled with these people you get a community of self-reflecting individuals.  When a person makes a forums post complaining about the game they are communicating with a bunch of similar minded people.

If there was a larger community talking about what they like about the game you would see a turn over of SWTOR haters.  But you don’t have that.  We’re all digital here and without those real life friends you are likely to just be a permanent hater.

In truth a game cannot be everything to someone.  A game has a genre and focuses on something.  If you do not like shooters, you probably should not purchase a shooter.  The same thing is said for SWTOR.  SWTOR is a story game and for people who are really just not that much into story… it’s not a game for them.

I hope this analysis in some way accurately depicts why people hate SWTOR so much more than most games.

Thanks for reading, see you guys after the surgery.

SWTOR Sits at 1.7M Subscribers

A lot of people have been wondering exactly how well SWTOR has been doing.  The game world feels pretty dead with less and less people showing up at Fleet and less and less raiding guilds sticking around.

It has been widely known that the largest portion of the game have multiple characters and are somewhere between Level 10-49… meaning not in Fleet at all.

And t he number is… nearly 1.7M.  This is a three month drop of 300,000 subscribers… which isn’t bad.

Let me explain.

Rift has had something between 600,000-750,000 subscribers and is now sub 200,000 subscribers total.  Many people consider Rift a huge commercial success despite this.

Age of Conan sold 1,000,000 units and after the first free month it dropped to under 90,000 subs.

Warhammer Online sold 750,000 units and after the first free month dropped to under 100,000 subs.

DC Universe Online sold 450,000 sales and after two months it dropped to under 10,000 subs.

So when a publisher comes out and states that they have only lost 300,000 subs… that’s a good thing.  It means the game has stability, especially in light of the first content patch coming out ‘very soon.’

100 Things to do in SWTOR #22: Low Level Dungeoning

When SWTOR developers Bioware-Austin announced they were putting something in the game that cost 2.5M credits to purchase everyone asked “how do you make that much money.”

Well it’s actually quite simple really, you do the Boarding Party low level instance over and over and over.  As it turns out this little dungeon has tones of credits and drops in there.  On top of that you are also likely to get a lot of alignment changes through this.  I can tell you that after farming 4M credits I went from full Light to full Dark.

But you don’t have to just do it for money.  There are tones of low level dungeons you no doubt missed while leveling that are available to do.  So why not do them?

100 Things to do in SWTOR #20: Re-roll

My server is probably the biggest in the game.  But having said that one side is far less populated than others.  My guild (Premonition) cleared a large number of Nightmare server firsts.  But eventually the guild got blocked by one problem…. the server’s Republic side is quite small.

So, time to reroll.

The entire guild will slowly be rerolling Imperial and the guild will now be supporting both Republic and Imperial raids.  This means opportunity, you can join our leveling guild on Imperial side to reroll with us (on Space Slug) and clear the content at level cap.

Think about it this way, if you’re a good player… what would you do for a good guild?