[SWTOR] The numbers game

So EA held an earnings call earlier this week and revealed that subscriptions for SWTOR were down by 400k from earlier this year. This still leaves 1.3m active subs, depending on how far you trust their accounting/ reporting, so it’s far too early to conclude from this that the game is dead as a lot of commenters seem very keen to do. Their immediate plan is to get a group finder tool into the next patch (1.3) which they talk about in the official podcast, as well as their plans for conventions this year, the rakghoul plague, what else is coming for Legacies and so forth. (Best thing about the official podcast, as well as the guys sounding genuinely keen, is that it isn’t too long.)

I imagine a solid group finder will provide a lot of content for players who have been struggling to find groups for flashpoints, and they hinted in the podcast that you might be able to make groups for planetside heroics and random op groups also. Certainly as emphasis shifts to alts, the group finder will be invaluable.

They will also need to implement some kind of server transfer. A cross server group finder will mean that they can push this out a little further, but there are low pop servers which need to be sorted out so that players have a community to interact with.

In context, SWTOR is following the sort of subscription number curve that the vast majority of themepark MMOs see, and may even have better retention than most at the moment. But if EA and Bioware were expecting this to be the game that broke the mould, it clearly hasn’t done that either. I do seem to recall at some point they said they needed 500k subscribers to turn a profit, and they’re still well above that level.

More worrying for the longer term is that they don’t seem to be expressing any solid plan for what to do about endgame, which leaves us with these beautifully crafted levelling storylines (as a Bioware fan and lover of storytelling, I’m very thrilled with them so far), perfectly adequate ops and flashpoints, warfronts, and solid MMO-style gameplay. And that won’t be enough to keep people once they are done with alting. This was ALWAYS going to be an issue with a heavily story based game. Always. I’m happy they made it anyway because I like the game a lot and hope it makes some decent returns for them at some point, but you do sometimes wonder what they were thinking.

They are also now stuck with a playerbase that is expecting these voiced storylines with extensive cut scenes and dialogue options from future content. I think what they have done is great and raises the bar in a way that will make it difficult for storytelling in other MMOs to compare, but it will have to be part of future SWTOR development plans. On the other hand, the rakghoul event was very promising and the majority of players seemed to have enjoyed it. As a fan and a keen player, I’m happy to keep paying subs for a few more months to support a game I enjoy a lot, and see what they can come up with.

And I think SWTOR should be an easy sell to WoW fans who are done with Cataclysm content but not burned out with that style of themepark MMO. It’s a high quality offering of a type that we probably won’t see again. Which is why it’s disappointing to see WoW Insider crowing about the numbers when they could instead support the genre – maybe a lot of WoW fans are bitter about people who play other games? (Although you’ll see in the comments that a lot of people say they play both but not at the same time.) It’s not as if Blizzard has been actively putting out content recently.

So what is a casual player again?

One of the comments Riccitello made was that they felt that the drop in subs was due to casual players leaving. This is a new definition to me for casual, because I’d have guessed that hardcore players were just as likely to burn through content fast and then leave. But it’s actually not a bad definition for an MMO so let’s look at it. Imagine if instead of talking about casual vs hardcore, we talk about casual MMO players vs core MMO players.

If you are a core player, then you are quite attached to your current MMO of choice. You may not be burning through cutting edge endgame content, but you are happy to potter around and find things to do because you just enjoy the game and like playing it. You are unlikely to jump to the next flavour of the month game and ditch the MMO completely, or if you do you will probably return. You may well be part of a guild, but you might equally be a soloer or someone who only players with a small group of RL friends who are also core players.

I like the concept of the core player because it describes how I’ve tended to play MMOs once I got out of hardcore raiding. And I am sure it describes other players too – I’ve known plenty of longterm core WoW players who happily pottered around there for months or years without obsessing overly in a hardcore way about the game. It describes a type of player who loves their game of choice and plays it regularly, but without necessarily feeling they have to do cutting edge stuff in it all the time. The type of player who is in demand by just about any guild leader.

Interestingly, it’s at about this stage in an MMO (3 months in) that you will start to find out who the core playerbase are. I think SWTOR may take longer to bed in, because people who enjoy Bioware content have plenty of alt storylines to explore, so it may take a few more months for them to really be done with it. It’s the people who stay after THAT who are the core group.

Or else Bioware provides enough new single player content to keep the semi-core playing – but it is entirely possible that they won’t be able to do this quickly enough. Designing a new core endgame mechanic that will be appealing to players who enjoyed the intense storytelling of the levelling path would work too; but it’s hard to imagine what that might be. It’s not impossible to procedurally generate stories to some extent, but not in a way that will be satisfying. Sandboxing the themepark (ie. player/ guild colonised cities, space stations, trading hubs, etc) could be another way forwards, but not in the short term, and it’s not clear that it’s in Bioware’s skillset or plans to do it, nor whether server size is large enough to make it work.

But MMOs, at their heart, may not really be suited to the mass market. The mass, by definition, will never be core gamers. Those of us who are, whether we be hardcore or casual, sandbox or themepark, PvE or PvP, probably have more in common with each other than we know.

Does it actually make financial sense to create good storylines?

One of the impressions I have gotten from seeing Bioware responses around SWTOR is that while they estimated the average levelling time for players reasonably accurately, they were still surprised at how intensively many people played the game – ie. how many hours per day.

I don’t really think this should have been a surprise. They should have figures for how quickly people played through their single player RPGs, and then realise that MMOs are a more competitive levelling environment. But ultimately, my experience is that if I played more than I had intended, it was because I was really into the story and setting and wanted to know what was going to happen next.

So maybe really compelling storytelling just encourages people to eat up content quickly, and grindy repetitive quests would be better business sense for a subscription themepark MMO. This is not especially good news for consumers or producers. Yes, emotional engagement with the game can make people more attached, but if they play to the end of the story and then leave, was it really worth the effort? And if you like storytelling games, then ideally you’d like companies to feel incentivised to make more of them.

Really this sort of model would work well in a F2P or main game + DLC type of setup. I don’t for a moment think that EA plan to take SWTOR F2P, but actually the content style would work quite well. You could easily sell class or planet storylines – they’re good quality and would be worth paying for.

And lastly, are people really talking too much about SWTOR?

Another point Riccitello made was that investors have been very focussed on SWTOR in comparison with other EA offerings, noting that it isn’t in their top 5 when compared to properties like The Sims and Madden.

On the one hand, they were the ones who hyped it as a competitor to WoW. On the other hand, EA and Bioware do also have a ton of haters who are only too keen to dogpile on them, including journalists. I think a lot of gaming journalists detest MMOs anyway.

I have a theory that this is because RP and themepark fantasy MMOs are more appealing to female gamers and a lot of people think that the holy grail of gaming is still 4-5 male mates logging in every week to shoot the crap out of each other in their FPS of choice and resent anything else that might be popular. I can’t prove it, but when RPers and MMO players are widely disparaged as geeks by EQUALLY GEEKY gamers, it does wind me up.

Stropp airs a few ideas he has about where Bioware are going wrong, but I don’t really agree with all of them. I don’t think Bioware have forgotten their true fans, they keep making stuff I love! Who were the ‘true fans’ anyway? People who liked BG?

Targeter at Imperial Intelligence has some thoughts on what could stem the tide.

Rohan shares some thoughts on the subscriber drop also.

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48 thoughts on “[SWTOR] The numbers game

  1. I think part of the frustration of MMO hopping stems from wanting to be a core MMO player, but not being able to find a home. The Littlest Hobo syndrome – wanting to settle down, but always moving on.

    I can absolutely identify with your description of a core player with respect to my time in LotRO. I spent three or more years playing that game, having reached the level cap on multiple characters, and having experience various end-game dungeons, but having never been bothered with raiding. The fact that I could find so many things to do, to potter around as you put it, kept me going even when I was at the level cap and not looking to raid.

    Unfortunately Turbine seemed to lose that focus of alternative activity in recent expansions, and thus I was left with raiding or moving on. Now I’m back as a Littlest MMO Hobo, and hoping that games such as Guild Wars 2 can offer that core appeal which keeps me invested in a game regardless of whether I’ve hit the level cap or want to raid.

    I think SWTOR possibly missed a trick in that it could offer so much more than just raids; although raiding is great for a section of the player populace, I still think MMO developers underestimate the player retention they could have with alternative fluff activities, such as LotRO’s legendary item system, skirmishes, or deeds. I hear good things about the Holocron hunting, but I think the game needs more things like that – it doesn’t necessarily have to crank out a whole lot of new storylines straight away. I think there’s still a lot of good will towards the game, and players would probably be happy being entertained by various fluff game elements while they wait for the next expansion to bring further storyline advancement, for example.

  2. To me, Riccitello definition of “casual player” seems “a player that quit playing a game he doesn’t find fun anymore”, especially considering how many “hardcore players” (that played the same MMORPG for months/years) actually spend most of their time complaining on the forums but somehow cannot quit.
    So, developing content to retain an OCD player is far less expensive than developing actual fun content as it consist of just creating something (quests, raids) that must be repeated many times: hardcore players will complain but will still play it.

  3. There is a problem with AAA games hype, which is WOW numbers. Anything that doesn’t match them is seen as failing to ‘break the mold’. Many MMOs are classed as failures, but are still going strong. Even Vanguard makes enough money for that most commercial of companies, SOE, to keep it running.

    The ongoing problem for any new MMO developement is that there is so much stuff out there now, most of it free. I’ve just started running through Norrath again, in EQ2. It’s vast, quality, stable, and costs me nothing. (Well, OK, I bought some bigger bags). After a few months of that, I may get bored with fantasy, and go level in Champions, or City of Heroes, or DC Universe. When I get my fantasy itch again, I can go to LOTRO. If I really want to PVP, Warhammer Online is still out there, as are Conan and Fallen Earth , again, costing nothing. And if I want a genre sci-fi alternative to SWTOR, without subs, Star Trek exists. (I actually have a lifetime sub to that game – worst purchase ever)!

    These games are so good, so easy to download (EQ2 can have you going in 5 minutes), so free, that I struggle to justify any sort of subscription. And my income level is at a point where £10/month is not any sort of big deal for me…I just don’t know why I’d bother.

    Maybe there needs to be a market shift. MMOs that start subscription-free, but cost a chunk to purchase – anyone think they didn’t get, say, £79.99 value out of SWTOR? You might get less initial sales, but focused on fewer servers. Then have another round of newbies at £39.99 3 months later, £19.99 at 12 months.

  4. The problem with both the words “casual” and “hardcore” are that gamers seem to use them pejoratively. Spehirah describes the casual as quitting a game that they don’t enjoy and the hardcore as those (OCD?) still playing a game they don’t enjoy and just complaining about it. Where does that leave the players who are still playing because they still enjoy it?

    • Actually The Escapist just changed the subject line in their story about this, which originally said “EA blames filthy casuals for falling SWTOR numbers.” They took out the ‘filthy’ but left it in the tags on the article.

      So yeah, I think you’re right. I actually don’t think Riccitello was using it in a perjorative way, but just to describe a non core player.

    • Its really a shame that “casual” was used without understanding that it is loaded language. And its a shame that Gibeau can’t just comment and say “woah, I meant non-core, sorry about the word choice, totally not the minefield I wanted to walk through” without taking another media hit.

      Hazards of PR, I guess.

  5. Your question about interesting storylines is a pertinent one.

    There is a proportion of the SWTOR community that is happily pottering around and rolling alts, experiencing the stories and occasionally doing group content. I can see this group staying, as there don’t seem to be any competitors on the horizon.

    So I think the answer is that it CAN make financial sense, if Bioware can figure out a cost effective way of delivering this content. They have a captive audience of Starwars fans and story fans.

    I expect the numbers to drop another 70% before they stablise, to reflect the size of this audience.

  6. I think TOR can hit it’s stride, because I don’t see GW2 or MoP or TERA doing what it is doing right now with stories.

    I’m reading all of the OMG Beta! reports out of MoP, and all I can think about is that once MoP is released everyone will burn through the content in a few weeks and then go “what now?” They’ll have seen it all, and the race to the level cap will be over. Then, it’ll be back to the same old same old for WoW.

    If TOR does their patches and whatnot right, there could be a steady stream of new stuff for story heavy people who aren’t into the race to the level cap.

    Then again, GW2 might be the fly in the ointment here.

    • I also think there’s enough unique in the approach that Bioware bring to SWTOR to attract and retain a core crowd of players who really value those things. But like you say, a steady stream of new stuff will need to be on the cards.

      I also think GW2 is likely to be a game that MMO players play alongside their main sub game. We’ll see, I haven’t tried it myself outside a 40 min demo, it’s just a general feel I get. So it’s competing with games like D3 as well as full sub MMOs.

      • Given how I remember when the big D2 vs. BG2 wars were going on, I wonder what’ll happen once D3 drops. Will all of those searchers for the next big thing migrate to D3 from WoW and other MMOs? And will all of those players drop D3 as quickly as they picked it up once they finished the game?

      • I don’t see D3 as a pick up, finish and go on to the next game sort of game, for a simple reason – it provides almost endless difficulty and advancement. While you’re going to beat the “story” of D3 in a matter of ~20 hours (or less probably), the item hunting game will last nearly forever, and if Blizzard do their job right, it will be difficult enough to keep things interesting. And if they don’t, then there is hardcore mode which won’t ever get “too easy”. This is why I played D2 for longer then I played WoW (or any other game), and I fully expect D3’s new inferno mode to deliver on that score hehe.

        Now admittedly that type of gaming is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’d say there’s enough people like me to keep D3 going strong for a very long time. You’d be amazed at how many people still play D2 heh.

        I have to say though, I have no idea what you mean by D2 vs. BG2 wars. They were both excellent games but also completely different to the point where trying to rate one vs. the other is meaningless.

      • When both D2 and BG2 dropped at about the same time, there were a lot of ‘net fights over which game was better. The D2 fans didn’t like the clunky AD&D 2e interface that BG2 had, and BG2 fans liked the story over that in D2. (I’m simplifying things quite a bit, but those were the main arguments on either side.)

        Over a decade later these arguments seem pretty silly, but back then they were the big deal in the PC RPG space.

        What I’ll find interesting is whether D3 cannibalizes logins from MoP or not. Of course, there’s the annual sub bonus, but WoW activity numbers could be hurt by D3.

      • Heh, well I guess it’s a good thing that back then I was too young to bother reading internet forums much. Both things are obviously true – BG2’s story was incomparably better then D2’s (which was mostly just an excuse for a certain angel/demon to kick some ass). And D2’s gameplay was better then BG’s, although I do still have a soft spot for those old d&d rules.

        As for whether it canabalizes WoW’s numbers – I’m about as crazy about D3 as you can get (i.e. I played D2 more then anything else and expect the same for D3), but I plan on playing an MMO (SWTOR) along with it. It’s a different thing. And I imagine I’m not that unique on that point. It may lower in-game activity, but not lower subs by much.

    • I think you are underestimating the appeal of many of the non-raid features to players who are not looking to raid. PokeWoW is not the greatest concept in the world, but it’s tied to achievements so its a carrot for people to chase. Same for rep grinds. We complain about them, but fundamentally that’s what you are logging-in to do – spend time in the fantasy world doing things that somewhat improve your character. I do understand that for some people an MMO is a chat program with cool graphics but for those of us who want the continuing character in a persistent world the small improvements are the sale point. And that is where SW:ToR failed.

      On your D3 comment below, my guess is that it will be a huge hit on my demographic. The entire focus of the game is a continuing character in a somewhat persistent world working to improve. On-choice grouping, chat, and eventually PvP. I expect a huge hit while people work through normal difficulty then a large return to the MMOs as the requirement to work your character becomes apparent in nightmare – assuming that nightmare and higher are actually difficult.

      • PokeWoW will become like some BGs and Rateds with their hardcore “L2P noob” attitudes. I see people play Magic the Gathering and Warhammer, and it’s those sort of attitudes that will dominate the Pet Battles. If you’ve ever been at a flea market during the beanie baby craze, you know what I’m talking about.

        As for the rest, I know all about the alternate advancements, because I don’t raid. However, I’ve seen the burnout from the end of two expansions, and the Cata burnout began much quicker due to LFR allowing people to clear content more quickly. The new Cata zones were empty after two months into the release, which was when I got a pair of toons through Northrend and headed straight to Vashj’ and Hyjal. (My main went and fished during that time, because I wanted to see if someone in Northrend quest greens could go straight into Cata zones.)

        I’m not convinced that the lure of a new expansion will keep people playing a couple of months into MoP without new content. Any initial raids released will be cleared much more quickly than in Cata because of LFR, so people will be back to square one once more.

        D3, I’m not so sure about either. I remember D2 and when it was released, and how people went nuts over the gems, but all of my friends stopped playing the game after a few months because they’d finished it and there wasn’t anything to captivate their attention. D3 tried to alleviate that with PvP, but they had to pull it from the initial release. In the end, the always on Real ID mentality might start to wear people down. All this, however, is just speculation until D3 drops, and then we’ll see who is left on the MMOs.

      • Redbeard, I think that the community just needs to acknowledge that Cata was a bad expansion in almost any sense of the word and drive on. It had a few good time sinks (archaeology and the Molten Front) but otherwise did most things poorly. I stopped playing WoW for over well a year after hitting cap on the characters I cared about because, if you weren’t a raider or into organized PvP, there wasn’t much to do.

        I do agree on the initial rush to tame the wild pets, it is going to be as bad as when the new phases opened for the Shattered Sun Offensive (I’ve been here since vanilla, with breaks, so I think I’ve seen every bad point) but that is going to calm down. The battles are either PvE or anonymous PvP from the last I saw so that should discourage some of the more vile griefers.

        Mostly though the question is on the impact of D3. I played D2 for years after it was an outdated game because if provided what I was looking for. If you are not interested in the grind the game is not going to last beyond normal mode. In D2 running hardcore in hell was a rush that I haven’t found in any MMO. To be honest, I don’t see D3 having a hugely persistent impact on the MMO scene. Those of us who will gravitate to it are likely to keep an MMO subscription for occasional use. Most of the people who play I would expect to get through the story on normal and then return to whatever they were doing.

      • That’s a fair point, Rimecat. I think PokeWoW is a decent enough idea, I liked Pokemon and they have a whole world to hide cool tameable pets in. Assuming it doesn’t get minmaxed to the limit and Blizzard make any pet combination fairly viable so people can pick their favourites.

        There are some long term goals in SWTOR, mostly to do with PvP rank or legacy related things like levelling one of each race or buying off legacy upgrades by gathering credits. But it’s something they could do more of, for sure. I think their solo friendly endgame is alting. One thing I do wonder with WoW is how things like account wide achievements and progression that pretty much gets outdated with every new content patch really play to that kind of audience.

        I do wonder though due to the annual pass and realID connection, if Diablo 3 might take the place of rep grinding as the downtime activity of choice for WoW players.

      • The problem is that the legacy system was supposed to provide alternative advancement through alt-ing but it doesn’t actually provide real advancement. It’s mostly just an achievement system without in-game benefits. And the game desperatly needs ways to advance – you gear up from raids far quicker then you used to in WoW (pvp gear will also probably be fast to get once rated BGs are out, although right now it’s a very long grind).

        Leveling up a new character gives really minor bonuses (+10 presence) and fluff (new social animations). Now I do understand why they didn’t want to give huge bonuses – suddenly every “serious” pvper or raider has to “grind” 4 alts to be competetive, but there are ways around that. The most obvious one is to tie all the legacy advancements to your companions so that it doesn’t impact raiding/pvp, and actually that’s exactly what they’ve done. But even though they’ve limited the advancement the bonuses are still so small that no one really cares. A better way is to provide a different sort of game – like skirmishing or monster play was in LOTRO, or this pet system in WoW seems to be, where you can give large bonuses without “forcing” people who just want to raid/pvp into it. Or they could just bite the bullet and give serious bonuses to alt-ing, the same way they did for exploring the holocrons.

        And it is a shame since the story and solo play is actually fun – I’ve started a republic Jedi Knight character on top of my 50 juggernaut and operative (and various low lvl emp characters) and I’m enjoying myself alot. But there is no carrot there my dumb self to slavishly follow.

        And that’s one problem I don’t expect to have in D3. Even if normal mode ends up being easy and we all end up getting everything in a few months, I don’t doubt that hardcore inferno will end up being one of the toughest PVE experiences in gaming, and deaths will prevent gear from ever being overabundant.

  7. Reading this whole article, i am mostly amused on the “good storyline” statement. Would they actually have made good stroylines, the game might have caught my attention for longer than it did.

    Unfortunately, both classes which i played had an interesting first chapter, only to turn into boring stuff right afterwards.

    Trooper storyline in short: You’re the freshmeat on an elite squad. During your first assignment, most of the unit defects. You barely manage to limit the damage by sabotaging the superweapon they take along, but still you’re the last loyal soldier. Now you have to rebuild your squad and at the same time track down the traitors, bring them to justice and limit the damage they inflict. (While chasing them down, you even find out why they defected and honestly, given the choice, my trooper might have even switched sides halfway through. So yes, the first chapter was well written. )

    Great first chapter. And then? Oki, you are now a renowned elite-soldier, who is sent out to do some rather generic soldier-style missions. Recruit a few more people, fly around and be treated like crap because you’re “just a soldier” who is to be ordered to do everything which nobody else likes to do. Considering all the shine and glory but also the intrigues and twists of the first chapter, it’s quite obvious that nobody cared for the second chapter till some friday at noon the producer suddenly came to the writers office and told him that he’d need the rest of the storyline on his desk next monday, so they can send it to the voice actors…

    The experience of the Smuggler is quite similar. In the first chapter, you smuggle weapons to a planet. Your contact fails to turn up and while you are off your ship, trying to make the connection, your ship gets stolen. Thus you immediately have an enemy to chase. (Just like the deserters on the Trooper storyline. ) At the same time, bounty hunters are on your trail, after all you didn’t deliver your smuggled goods (the thief sold them off himself) and don’t have the finances to buy yourself out of it, either. After retaking your ship (sans the already sold weapons), a new companion reveals that the smuggling stuff was just a side business and the story changes into a quest for a huge treasure. Still catching the players attention, especially since your enemy from the start is on the same track, so it’s a race of who gets to the treasure first.

    End of chapter one, you dispose of your enemy, you get the pile of loot, your (female) companion decides not to become ruler of a planet but rather likes to do some cruising through the universe at your side. The interstelar bank recognizes your needs and adds more digits to their maximum limit of cash on an account, you add fuzzy dice to your ship and are ready to be the most pimped smuggler (and company) to ever cruise the universe.

    Unfortunately, there must be more of a storyline. Now the all-rich-and-famous smuggler feels compelled to volunteer (no matter his intentions) to work as special undercover agent for the republic. It feels tacked on, and clumsily, too.

    Maybe other classes have better storylines, the two i experienced were good at the start, but failed to be of any more interest after the first chapter. And the “normal” quests at some times were even more painful, at several of them i felt insulted.

    One of the most painful ones is on Taris. A researcher and her assistant send you out to find a lost team. You don’t only find the remains of the team, but also indication that the assistant sent them to their death for personal profit. Upon return, the researcher first is astonished by the info, but two conversation steps later (so within the very same conversation), the assistant again is her very best friend, who never killed anybody. (And the player, who brought evidence of the murder, is a bad guy now for not being nice to him any more! ) How stupid is the player supposed to be, not to stumble over that?

    A smilar one is, where you are sent to take revenge for the murder of a relative of the quest giver. The guy was unable to pay protection money to the bandits, so they killed him. If the player refuses to execute refenge for free, it is revealed that the guy actually had a stash of money in his house, which the player can have. So the guy who was killed because he had no money actually had a pile of money? Yes, it’s like 3 conversation steps away, the player obviously is too stupid to remember stuff which was already over 15 seconds ago, so it is allright?

    These were just two premium examples. Indeed, there are also some quests which are done really well, but i could also dig out more examples where the quest designers just assumed that the target audience is borderline-moronic (not stating at which side of the border) and never cared to weed out even the most obvious flaws.

    Of course, knowing statements of developers and producers about schedules in the game and the release date explains flaws like these, but this doesn’t remove these massive flaws, only the responsibility for them is shifted from one corner to another.

    Thus it is no big surprise for me, that the game by large is considered “fail”. I wish it was different since despite all the problems of the storyline, the voice acting was good. Outside of the first chapter of the storylines i played, the content of the conversations were mediocre at best, with only a few shining exceptions. The player made thousands of decissions in the conversations but almost none ever mattered. Despite all of this, the video sequences and voice acting were of a new quality, and the difference becomes most evident when crosschecking against cutscenes in GW2. The scenes and voices were done much better in TOR and really would’ve deserved storywriting of appropirate quality.

    With TOR now being considered a failure, i am afraid that it’s unlikely we’ll see cutscenes and video sequences of similar quality again in MMOs in the near future. Still, the big feature “story” of TOR at the same time, due to limited quality on the writers side, is its biggest downfall in my book.

    Anything else in the game is average, anyways. The complete concept of the game is aimed at being average, not below but also not above that. Everything in the game was required to have proven itself acceptable in another game already, else it was not included, now they are surprised that the game excels nowhere. Would the storylines have kept the quality of the first chapter, i might still be playing the game, just like many more.

    • A researcher and her assistant send you out to find a lost team. You don’t only find the remains of the team, but also indication that the assistant sent them to their death for personal profit. Upon return, the researcher first is astonished by the info, but two conversation steps later (so within the very same conversation), the assistant again is her very best friend, who never killed anybody. (And the player, who brought evidence of the murder, is a bad guy now for not being nice to him any more! ) How stupid is the player supposed to be, not to stumble over that?

      I see that sort of behavior all the time in the corporate world. It may be borderline moronic, but people don’t like to think that their best bud and companion stuck a knife in their back, in spite of evidence to the contrary.

      • My biggest story gripe was the way Quinn was handled in the Sith warrior line, something I still can’t resolve to this day. That said, some of the other storytelling beyond early chapters is frankly wonderful.

        I recommend trying out the Imperial Agent. I’m not trying to invalidate your opinion (far from it), but you’ll see some pretty awesome work there. This is assuming you’re still subscribed of course, which I get the impression you’re not.

        Of course, I do appreciate the disconnect between Republic and Empire quality of development, but that’s another topic altogether I feel.

      • @Zellviren– I just looked at that story listed above as taking cues from real life. Sure, it sounds silly, but people don’t often thing logically. They react emotionally to things, and accusations such as that will cause a closing in the ranks, in spite of obvious evidence otherwise.

      • The problem is that the character acknowledged that her assistant is a vile person who should be in jail, says that she is going to see to it, and thanks the player for proving his crimes. Then she promptly forgets and is back to being his bud. It’s jarring and just bad story boarding. They seem to have forgotten that they needed him around as a foil on the ‘rakghouls may have some sentience’ storyline so they just left him in.

        I still think that the worst was Belsavis, Republic-side. I spent three light-side characters trying to understand why I was helping war criminals, other than the sacrificial Senator, to escape justice.

      • Redbeard, one of my bosses was prone to medicinally-induced paranoia and delusions. He retired just ahead of the sexual harassment finding. I was my groups lead during that entire mess so yes, I have indeed worked for some very challenging people. But the thing is, all his actions, even the unpredictable ones, were in character with the changes the meds wrought on his personality. This character on Taris is not in least presented as the type who is going to make those type of decisions. It doesn’t feel at all right because she doesn’t change and the game never acknowledges the inconsistency.

      • (Oki. Sincei can’t edit and have no advanced editor here, let’s see if this formating works… )

        The problem is that the character acknowledged that her assistant is a vile person who should be in jail, says that she is going to see to it, and thanks the player for proving his crimes. Then she promptly forgets and is back to being his bud. It’s jarring and just bad story boarding. They seem to have forgotten that they needed him around as a foil on the ‘rakghouls may have some sentience’ storyline so they just left him in.

        Adding up to this, i clearly missed the option to actually do something myself. I mean, here i am, the lawful republic trooper, holding hard evidence that the guy murdered several people. My personal conversation answer would’ve been: now look at my hands. A blaster in one, shackles in the other. It’s up to you, if i can drag you to the authorities in shackles, or if i just deliver your dead body.

        I guess i am just expecting too much of the game which considers story and personal decissions to be the deciding key features to make it better than all the rest. :D

      • I think it’s more that because a lot of the game is fairly good about responding to some of your choices, players tend to really focus HARD on the specific quests or dialogues that don’t, because they stick out like sore thumbs.

        I bet that for every quest or character slip where you say ‘that was really anti immersive’ there were loads that were either really good or else at least OK. And I think this example was a mistake by Bioware, they maybe assumed you’d do the quests in a different order or didn’t think it out. (On Belsavis Empire side you can end up with inconsistent quest dialogue if you rush through the end of the planet quest before doing the rest.)

        ie. it’s because the game has a level of internal consistency that we’re just not used to seeing in MMOs, the outliers stand out.

  8. I don’t know that your theory at the end about why many people hate MMO’s is correct. Rock paper shotgun (the only gaming website I read regularly), seems to hate FPS and MMO’s about equally. I think it’s more of a general issue of people hating what they don’t like, and with MMO’s people tend to either love them or hate them.

    As for SWTOR, the game is certainly struggling, on the fleets I’m seeing very low numbers like 40-50 at times there used to be 100+. I think they hyped 1.2 a bit too much and then underdelivered. The legacy system is pretty much a glorified alt achievement system – cute, but not very consequential. The new raid is well made, but short, and without NM difficulty being released, too easy. And of course they cut rated battlegrounds -hopefully for the good reason that they realized that they had to introduce cross-server queueing to make them viable, but who knows.

    Having said that I don’t see the game dying – there is nothing else in the WoW gameplay without WoW “genre” coming up, unless GW2 actually ends up being as good as the hype would have it.

    I can see myself holding on to my subscription for a long time just for the few hours of raiding a week + quality pvp when I want it, even as I spend the majority of my time on D3.

    • After spending a weekend in GW2, i would say, the game currently is seriously overhyped.

      That being said, i also dare to say that the game is good. Playing a Charr and seeing him run around just feels awesome. The storyline of my Iron legion Charr engineer for as far as i got him, felt at least as powerful as the starting storylines of SWTOR. Conversations are nice and most NPCs were more remeberable than many in TOR, too. While i was only asked to make a decission rarely, it really made a difference when it happened.

      Without spoiling too much: due to ressource limitations i had to decide, which weapon system of other engineers would get the upgrade i developed. The one i gave it to was cheerful to me for the following missions, the other one always was a bit grumpy. Also, the vastly different nature of the two weapon systems makes sure that the following missions play very differently. Matter of fact, i wouldn’t be surprised if you actually have completely different missions, because one mission i did, i’d have no idea how to deploy the alternative weapon system in it.

      Despite all the good, i of course also found stuff to complain about: the voice acting itself in GW2 is bad. Or rather, compared to what we had before TOR, it probably was quite acceptable, but knowing TOR, it suddenly is quite underperforming. I doubt that this will change, as it’d require to record all the voice acting again. (Sorry, but it really sounds more like “read the lines from a piece of paper” than “acting”. ) Also, animations in those conversations are way off. If you know how speakers are animated in TOR, you see the difference. This is something which i could imagine that it’ll still be improved before release.

      And as another warning, while the Charr storyline started out rather strong, the Norn one was rather weak, at least in the first 8 levels. (I didn’t get further, the weekend was too short. :D )

      So those players waiting for the second comming in the form of an MMO will probably also realize that GW2 is not what they were waiting for. But in the terms of “fun to play”, i see much more potential in GW2, especially thanks to how players dynamically and naturally start to cooperate in the game. (Supporting each other is rewarded, instead of punished like in TOR and most old-school MMOs. )

      The personal storyline will come to an end, in GW2 just like it did in TOR, but from the look and feel, i can imagine that playing GW2 might still be fun. PvP seems to be much bigger and in a better shape than in TOR and the world also seems to offer more PvE activity outside of the canned storyline. (Whereas “seems” is the important word here. Time will tell if it’s true or just the impression gained from playing for just one weekend. )

      Anyways, GW2 might sell at a little higher price than most older MMOs did, but TOR was even more expencive for me and GW2 comes without monthly fees. Thus i can see myself still playing it in a few years, even if it might be the same “start it once a month” way i currently do with the old GW.

    • I’m sure I’ve said this before but wait until after GW2 launches and I bet you’ll be able to find it in retail for about the same price as regular games.

      There’s no doubt it’s been overhyped but see the effect: everyone is talking about it. And an overhyped game can still be good, just it won’t be the Jesus game (thanks Syncaine for that phrase :) ) some people are expecting.

  9. For me in the case of WoW I quit over 2.5 Years ago when people were still wondering if WoW was in decline. I can’t say I was just a casual player and was I neither very hardcore. I was somewhere in-between as a dedicated player. For me after years of WoW I was just tired of the grind, group/players stupidity in instances, and wanted something else different in the MMO I was playing for a change vs more of the same.

    Though I like watching Star Wars and a fan, I just never picked up the game. I don’t think I’m a casual gamer and far from it. But I do realize after years of playing more Casual MMO’s I want something different in the MMO’s I choose to play and more selective in which one choose to play these days. Most MMO’s these days almost a decade later just haven’t seem to really have advanced much, just being more of the same with different flavor. Maybe why so many flavor of the month MMO’s that find it hard to retain players who have been playing MMO’s for almost a decade vs new players just discovering their first MMO as in SWTOR and maybe more casual in their playstyle maybe a great many are.

  10. On another note I can believe EA is probably fudging those numbers as well. Key be what they report in the next quarter for numbers if much haven’t changed other than gimmicks to entice players to stay.

  11. Great post — as always!

    But isn’t having 1.3m subscribers 5 months after launch kind of succeeding in breaking the mold? If the MMOData.net numbers are believable, no other MMO has done this without simultaneously launching in the West and the East, which SWToR did not. I’ve been perplexed by the gaming press’s response to the data, because I would have thought that they had exceeded expectations, not fallen short.

    It’d be hard for one division of a gaming company to be too terribly displeased with $20m in monthly revenue. That buys quite a lot of studio time with B-list voice actors…

    • On the 1.3m active subscribers my sarcastic question is: do we really refer to the number of _paying_ subscriptions there?

      I mean, less than a month ago TOR had the promo activities, with free week or free month. Which btw, was exactly designed to piss off the “casuals” which they now claim they are missing.

      I mean, you give a free month to every player with high activity (a lv. 50 character or a high legacy rank), but not to those who spent as much money but less time in the game. (Those who created as much income at lower operative costs. ) Thus the “hardcore” gamer got free playtime, while the “casual” did not. Now BW notices that within their “great and awesome” 1.3 million subscribers, there is a surprising low number of “casuals”.

      It might be my evil self, but i could imagine there is a connection somewhere here. :D

      Anyways, non-manipulated numbers would be way more interesting, but i doubt we’ll get them in the near future. On the other hand, i am rather confident that there’ll be another free week (which i again will probably not use) when they need to publish subscription numbers again in a few months.

      • That’s not a question we can answer. Maybe.

        I think it’s fair to say though that people who are still subscribed over 3 months after launch are more likely to be or to become core players than people who got what they wanted from the game (or not) and left before then.

      • According to the transcript of the call, yes, that’s paying subscriptions. The wording around the phrase that refers to “casuals” implies (to me) that they mean people who bought the box and didn’t follow through with paying for a sub after the initial 30 days expired. Hence the talk about people who left before the billing subscription kicked in. I don’t think they are at all referring to casuals in the same way that the rest of the gaming community refers to them. Remember though that the meeting was an investor meeting and it was a response to a question from an investment analyst rather than a memeber of the gaming press.

  12. They probably made leveling too fast. Perhaps they should have focused on that as the actual game instead of allowing themselves to get caught in the WoW mode of leveling just being a triviality to get through before the real game starts. What they should do now is try to find something at endgame that isn’t gear and dungeons. Does anyone really want another raid/dungeon endgame? What if after the stories of leveling the game became more like an EVE style sandbox where you take your created character and play out some story with it?

  13. SWTOR was even worse than cataclysm in terms of pushing out an unifinished game in order to beat the rush. Legacy patch TOR is what TOR should have been on release. Instead, Bioware stripped out a ton of features, including Legacy which should have been something they were trumpeting from the start, rather than a hanging thread that left people angry with the wait. Hell, they launched with half the final raid instance missing. Think about that. The pinnacle of endgame content, and they didn’t even include it at launch. TOR would be in much better shape if it had taken the time to actually finish the game and had launched in February than they did by making the Christmas rush and losing 50% of their box sales within three months.

    • Remind me again – which raids were in WoW at launch? Blackwing Lair… no. Molten Core… no. Upper Blackrock Spire (15-man)… er, no.

      • It is, indeed, not fair to compare the current state of WoW, or RIFT even, with SW:ToR in terms of absolute content. However, it is also unfair to say ‘look this game launched in this state 7 years ago’. That’s somewhat like comparing the safety features of ’50s sports car to one produced today. SW:ToR was incomplete at launch. I blame this much more on EA (as I blame the lack of PvP in the D3 launch on Activision) than BioWare but facts are facts.

        What they need to do is produce a get well plan that provides and actual road map from here to where they want their game to be in a year – then execute it and not keep dropping features.

  14. Pingback: SWTOR down to 1.3 million, WoW stabilized at 10.3 million | Diminishing Returns

  15. Thanks for the plug!

    As for the state of affairs in TOR, it was definitely a down day. And of course, as we all surmised, the nay-sayers and haters have come out of the woodwork, even in this very comment thread. I’ll be interested to see how Bioware reacts, how they decide to retain their current base and grow their population.

  16. They should go F2P and dump all the “we’re trying to make the subscription model work” crap.

    They’ve got a whole lot of great RPG content with an unrivalled IP attached to it. Lots of people would love to casually play a AAA single player Star Wars RPG with MMO trappings. The game’s F2P for the first world and you buy additional worlds as you go along, and additional content packs if you want to play flashpoints or ops and the usual mess of cosmetic stuff. You can even keep the “pure” F2P hook if you like by allowing you to earn game currency through things like datacron collection and filling out codex entries. There’ll be a subset of players who actually care about a constant treadmill of end game content, and they can monetise that and they can try to monetise PvP by forcing you to maintain a subscription for it if they want, but their bread and butter revenue is going to come from monetising, continually, the world content that they’ve already got. That’s the best part of their game, but it’s only going to become increasingly irrelevant content for a smaller and smaller player base if they stick to their current model.

    Let people play the game at their own pace, stop worrying about trying to sate the gaming appetites of a never satisfied “moar endagme content” crowd and play to your strengths.

  17. What did it for me is the lack of a LFG finder. Sure, five years ago I had fun sitting half an hour in Ironforge trying to form a group for an instance and then spend two hours in an instance. Then the LFG finder happened and I could join any instance in a matter of seconds, if not minutes. Having to fall back to manually forming groups isn’t much fun to me.

  18. Pingback: [Links] Guild size, MoP and warriors, D3, The Secret World, Bad Kickstarters « Welcome to Spinksville!

  19. The REAL numbers are alot less than 1.3 mil. That’s just ridiculous, those that play can tell you how empty their servers are. Ppl quit but have paid time left, alot also took the 6month sub up front as a cost saver and thought they would commit to the game. The free month and free weekends acocounts all of which are included in active subs props up these figures.
    Log on and look at the people, or lack thereof, and you realise it’s not good.

  20. Ooh, a hater!

    “The free month and free weekends acocounts all of which are included in active subs” [citation needed] I really doubt Bioware or EA would include people getting a free weekend’s play as an “active subscription”.

    It’s not good – but it’s certainly not a wilderness, either. Sunday evening/night, an average of 40-ish players on Imperial fleet. A bunch of 50s regularly disappearing as they went into warzones, and one group of under-50s doing the same. And a few taking a long time to try to get Flashpoint groups together. Roughly the same on Republic side. This is the week after Diablo 3 launched, too.

    Post 1.2, numbers jumped back to launch levels for a few weeks, then dipped. It _is_ quiet. 1.3 gives us an LFG tool (yes, should have been there from the start), which will certainly make things busier. (And – yes – will result in less people on the Fleet as they’ll be off in Flashpoints…)

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