Why SW:TOR Won’t Be The Success Everyone Hopes
First off, as I’m aware I’m being quite critical of the game lately, I just want to say that I’m really enjoying SW:TOR. It’s a blast to play, lots of fun, and I’ve had a good time these past couple of weeks with it. Whilst I’d urge people to check it out because of those facts, I highly doubt, however, that I’ll be playing the game in two or three months time. I expect by then I will have returned to dabbing with alts in WoW, resubscribed to RIFT and/or be trying out EVE again (at last). And this is what I mean when I say that SW:TOR won’t be the success everyone hopes it will be.
By success, of course, I mean making stupid amounts of money, money enough to rival Blizzard’s revenue and generate millions of dollars in profit a month. If success in your books means the creation of a really fun game though, then yes, The Old Republic has succeeded in spades on that account. Unfortunately I don’t think ‘fun’ is what the board members of EA/BioWare had on their minds when they dumped $300 million into their latest creation.
The problem is that in the MMO world retention, not box sales, is the key to huge bags of cash. I know this is a highly debated line of thinking but, assuming that SW:TOR did cost $300 million to make and factoring in distribution and publishing costs, the game would probably need to shift somewhere between 10 to 15 million units just to break even without the subscription. That’s not even considering ongoing running and upkeep costs so I think it’s fairly safe to assume that EA/BioWare’s grand plan is to pick up maybe a million plus players and hold onto them for several years. Frankly, I don’t think that’s going to happen.
Not the sales part, that is, but the retention part. I’m sure The Old Republic will sell pretty well and even hold onto players for three or four months but, ultimately, I don’t think it’s going to hang onto its playerbase the way a game like WoW does. The fundamental issue, as I see it, is that the replayability of SW:TOR absolutely stinks. The story missions, cutscenes and voice acting are all great for about one play through per faction and then, after that, you come to realise that there’s no much else to hold your interest. I’m all for the intertwining of immersive stories into my MMOs… but not at the expenses of everything else.
And this, unfortunately, is BioWare’s big mistake. They sacrificed on so much in order to squeeze in a fully voice acted ’story mode’. It’s why there are so few classes, so few starting areas, limited racial choices, a small number of Flashpoints and Warzones, and only a single line of progression for each side. Likewise, once the shine of the story mode wears off, you realise that the gameplay is pretty generic if not shallow and outdated. Nils has a good write-up on the subject and, if you agree with him, you’ll probably also come to the realisation that WoW’s gameplay actually has a surprising amount of depth to it (at least in comparison to The Old Republic).
Although I’m by no means a hardcore player and certainly prefer accessibility and casualness above all, I like my MMOs to feel like real, vibrant worlds that offer an abundance of choice and selection. I like having lots of exciting races and classes to chose from, plenty of locations to explore, fun and diverse starting areas for a variety of exotic races and plenty of different places to progress through. These are the things that not only create a true sense of a virtual world but also keep people returning time and time again. Give me a playable Wookie over voice acting, any day.
At the end of the day, BioWare took a risk and made a single player game with MMO elements rather than a complete online world. They focused on story, compromising gameplay and variety in the process (the limited number of mirrored classes and the whole Advanced Class concept is a perfect example of this) and I fear that this decision is going to have a big impact on the long-term popularity of SW:TOR. It’s as if this whole story concept is a poisoned chalice – it’s fun and enjoyable in the short-term but ultimately damages the abundance of long-term content that MMOs need to truly succeed.