SWTOR, Diablo 3, launch dates, and the pressure of the first wave

So the battle lines are drawn and SWTOR has a launch date announced just before Xmas. This smacks to me of a management imperative to get the thing out of the door in Q4 2011, in the same way that sales departments tend to get hyperactive at the end of a sales quarter with regard to targets.

So no,  in answer to Stabs comment yesterday, I don’t think this date was devised purely in response to Blizzard’s delay on Diablo 3. I also think that D3 probably won’t be released in January 2012 – if it was that close to the beginning of the year they’d have put more people in crunch mode to get it out before Xmas also.

Also props to Stephen Reid, the SWTOR community manager is, via reference to his twitter account just after the announcement:

Rockjaw Stephen Reid

If you don’t mind I’m just going to talk about the release date ‘thing’ for a couple of tweets…

Rockjaw Stephen Reid

It feels weird it’s out there, but great. Now it’s real for all of us in Austin. Working on MMOs pre-launch is cool but launch is amazing.

Rockjaw Stephen Reid

I just want to say thank you to everyone who kept the faith and have waited patiently… you’re all awesome fans.

Rockjaw Stephen Reid

And to those who lost faith and couldn’t be patient… well, I hope you’re happy with the date too. :)

Rockjaw Stephen Reid

Last: been an incredible ride for me personally so far. The best is yet to come though! G’night and dream of #SWTOR + #TOR2011

So, question is, will more people buy and play SWTOR because of this release date than if they had delayed? It’s a balance – I suspect yes because of the pre-holiday date. Everyone with a pre-order will get some manner of early access before the street date anyway so the game will effectively be in full swing by the time it is released.

As to whether it’s wise to play any MMO on release, the answer is that ‘it depends’. It depends if people are bothered about possibly bugs and teething troubles, it depends how badly people want to be in the first wave of players, or if they are desperate to raid/ endgame in a hardcore group, it depends if they have spare time at release and this is how they want to spend it.

I think one of the legacies of WoW and its hardcore raiding fixed size raid model is that players who do fancy themselves as hardcore are now obsessed by powering through the levelling game as fast as possible. This is because the more hardcore raids tend to form up from the first players to endgame. It’s not as rigid a rule as some players seem to think because raids form and disband all of the time, but yes, if you’re in a really competitive group these things can be important. I think though that players who want to appreciate SWTOR for its strengths (story) will not want to rush.

Diablo 3 is likely to be another kettle of fish. Anyone who wants to make bank on the AH in that game will want to level as quickly as possible (so that they can sell high level drops to lower level players), and the chances are that Blizzard has had enough experience with battle.net to keep the thing up through the initial rush.

But more casual players (eg. me) could easily delay playing D3 until they have a gap in their gaming schedule. As a single player(ish) game, there aren’t the social issues with being behind that you can get in an MMO.