Why SW:TOR Won’t Be The Success Everyone Hopes

Fat Jedi

Fat Jedi have trouble gripping their lightsaber. It's a graphical bug.

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.

-Gordon

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42 Comments

  1. Doone says:

    I think this assessment rings true in my experience with the game so far. I really do hate to do early reviews (i.e., reviews before max level), but when the gameplay doesn’t inspire you to even level, all I’m left with is my experience thus far.

    I can’t be bothered to do the same quests I’ve done in every other game again, including Bioware games. I can’t be bothered to get to level 20 before I see something reeeeeeally cool …if leveling was even a tenth as enjoyable as it was to me 9 years ago, perhaps. The private story thing has more potential than what I’ve seen so far in SWTOR, though I think this was a really nice shot at making questing more intriguing. But currently, it just feels like the same quests except someone is reading them to me.

    I hope the game actually does turn a good profit in 2012. The industry just can’t afford to have too many more MMO flops. But I *do* want this “theme park” trend to die already.

  2. Graham says:

    This was supposed to challenge WoW for the big stage. After playing the beta for an hour I knew it wasn’t going to make it. I guess the next game I’m looking forward to will be Diablo 3 and then “Titan” whenever that will come out.

  3. Stratagerm says:

    I’ve maintained that putting so much into the voice acting was a misallocation of resources. Nice to see the same analysis here.

    I was excited for Warhammer and Rift, but tired of those quickly. SW:TOR doesn’t interest me in the least, and I don’t have the slightest pangs of regrets over not playing it. Even my enthusiasm for GW2 has subsided greatly.

    I can’t get excited over thempark worlds anymore.

    I’ve been consumed by the greatest sandbox world of them all: Minecraft.

  4. ScytheNoire says:

    SWTOR needs a lot of things still. It’s missing a lot of things that have become standard in MMO’s, things that other games like Rift left out and quickly realized were needed. Hopefully BioWare will be smart enough to implement them all within the next few months, because they are needed.

    But my question is what does WoW have that SWTOR doesn’t? I see nothing that gives WoW any advantage over SWTOR. SWTOR takes everything WoW has, adds great story and voice acting. There is nothing I can see WoW has that SWTOR doesn’t, even if in lesser amounts, the content is coming. They didn’t do lay offs, they have a fully staffed team working on content.

    So I have to disagree. SWTOR has all WoW has plus story. Personally, I’ve been looking for a WoW like MMO that isn’t set in a classic fantasy world. Rift was good, but it’s setting killed it for me. SWTOR has an awesome setting, a world I’m familiar with and a fan off, and it makes it more interesting than WoW ever was. I’m intrigued to see where it goes. But BioWare needs to fix the problems, add the missing standardized things, and keep the content coming at a solid pace.

    • Gordon says:

      WoW is deceptive and actually has a lot more depth than people given it credit for. It has a huge variety of locations, races and very distinct classes plus lots of fun content, much more so than the kill or correct quests that SW:TOR covers up with voice acting and cutscenes. Plus, and perhaps most importantly, Blizzard have worked really hard to make each class unique and exciting with thoughtful gameplay components. The classes, talents and gameplay in SW:TOR are incredibly basic in comparison.

  5. Xintia says:

    I can certainly see where Gordon is coming from as I have already begun to experience this in some respects. I rolled multiple characters at launch so I could decide later which to focus on, but I already find it difficult to replay a character on the same faction. Yes the class story is different, but this only accounts for 20-30% of the content used for leveling. The rest is duplicated between all classes of the same faction. And at that point, the voice acting becomes a hindrance rather than a help. I don’t need to be told again why I am killing ten rats. So I think Gordon definitely has a point.

    But at the same time, I don’t think this will be as large a barrier to retention that he thinks it will be. What matters more for retention is not so much the feasibility of multiple alts and repeated play-throughs, but having meaningful and entertaining activities at maximum level. If SWTOR can deliver good, engaging endgame content, it can overcome this lack of replayability as players will be invested in their primary characters and want to continue playing them at max level.

    • Graham says:

      I think replayability is very important for the life of a long MMO. WoW has stuck around for a long time because it’s fun to start alts. Each race has it’s own starting area and if you quest in different zones it can feel like playing a totally different game. Rift only had 2 starting areas and that was one of it’s major flaws. We will see how it plays out.

      • Boris says:

        Very true. I just started playing WoW and I can’t stop wondering if I shouldn’t make one character for every race, it’s just too addicting to see all those differences in story and setting. My favorite so far is the blood elves starting point and quests.

        I’m not sure how SWTOR is going to turn out in the future but most of the people I talked to who aren’t in the gaming community (first time or beginner MMO players) seem to like it a lot. On the other hand, the older/more experienced players will say “yeah well nothing new” or similar.

      • Gordon says:

        “Rift only had 2 starting areas and that was one of it’s major flaws.”

        Yeah, it’s one of the things that killed RIFT for me.

    • Aaron says:

      If the class system and skilltrees remain the way they are, replayability won’t matter. This could be observed as a positive statement but, as things in TOR stand now, it is an almost exclusively negative reflection. I’ll look back upon SWG for this one…

      In SWG, it was really quite important to try out all the different classes if you wanted to be most effective in end-game content, whether PvP or PvE (PvE mostly if you were real hardcore into the game and liked to run 2-man instances like I did… 2-man Tusken King in 55 minutes for the win). The different professions could be specialized intricately enough for the dedicated player to need to get to know the various functional specs of each profession in order to pull your own weight in any significant encounter. I played a full Healer spec Medic, so this was ultra important for me…

      There was endless replayability in SWG because the classes were so drastically different.

      There is hardly any need for replayability in TOR because each and every class is virtually built upon one single, unidimensional game theory: balance.

      You don’t NEED to play with other people to hit 50 in better than average/intended/decent time, in TOR. There is no NEED to play with other people because every class is WAY TOO VERSATILE. Remember when video games used to be challenging? Remember when muscle memory attained through sheer practice made you the better player?

      I don’t even see there being a “better or worse player” spectrum with TOR, as it stands right now. Just functional or not functional.

      • Aaron says:

        “The different professions could be specialized intricately enough for the dedicated player to need to get to know the various functional specs of each profession in order to pull your own weight in any significant encounter.”

        I should clarify my point:

        I’m not just talking about knowing how people you’re cooperating with might be working the magic, I’m talking about how the people you’re fighting against are, too.

        Know thy enemy.

    • Gordon says:

      It all depends on what people are looking for, I guess. Personally I like rolling alts and trying out new classes and SW:TOR is a bit limited in that regard. A lot of it will depend on how much content they can add in a short period of time too.

  6. spinks says:

    “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. ”

    Your thinking is very shaped by WoW here. Name any single MMO that has all of those things? Even Rift only has one starting area per side, after all. I am curious as to why the wide selection of races/ classes is so key for you — WoW started with 8 classes per faction and 4/5 races (although they did focus very neatly on the racial stories rather than the class ones), SWTOR effectively has 8 if you count the advanced classes.

    There’s nothing wrong in complaining about things you don’t like, but you do understand that it may not be possible for any new game to ever make you happy? Maybe I’ll be wrong and GW2 will be the game of your dreams, but it’s possible that may not be the case.

    • bhagpuss says:

      “Name any single MMO that has all of those things”

      Everquest, Vanguard, Dark Age of Camelot, EQ2 (now down to four official starting areas but actually there are far more “unofficial” ones), LotRO…must be more than that. And all those have been around a while. It’s true the trend seems to be towards a more limited set of options. Bad idea.

      Also, I absolutely agree with Nils. Replayability for me isn’t only about being able to do new things with alts, it’s also about wanting to do the same thins over and over because of how much fun they are. At the moment I spend much of my time in EQ2 soloing dungeons with my berserker because I can. It’s just a ton of fun.

      I love the combat. I just love whirling in a circle and watching all the mobs fall down. Just like in Everquest I never tired of rooting a mob with my druid and stacking every DoT I had onto it until eventually it fell over. I must have spent scores, maybe hundreds of hours of my life doing that and just writing about it makes me want to go and do it again.

      When the movement of my fingers on the keyboard and the images I see on the screen match sublimely, something happens in my brain that feels a little like satori. No voice acting is going to make that happen.

    • Gordon says:

      What Bhagpuss said. Plus, I think the Advanced Class system and mirrored classes in SW:TOR is deeply flawed. The ACs take a long investment of time before they feel any different plus their core abilities never vary so ultimately it feels like you only have four classes in the entire game. I guess I just like playing around with alts and trying varying out gameplay mechanics rather than focusing on end game content. When I can’t do that, I get bored pretty quickly.

  7. Epiny says:

    My Smuggler is 25 and I’m finding it difficult to continue on. I think it’s the same reason I’ve never completed a single BioWare game… the shine just wears off to fast for me. My voiced canned responses are starting to repeat and it feels like the story is being dragged out to make it last 50 levels when the story isn’t deep enough for it. I was hoping for some sort of resolution so I could try out another character but honestly I don’t see myself playing SWTOR past the first month.

  8. Azuriel says:

    I never understand these sort of analyzes.

    Retention has a close-to-zero relationship with replayability. MMOs like WoW are only “replayable” in the sense that you A) care about Justice/Valor points, new tier gear, etc, and B) care about doing stuff with your friends. Seriously. How many times have you ran ZA/ZG as heroics? Those places are absolute garbage, and yet I probably ran them 30+ times over the course of two months because I cared about capping Valor, cared about getting geared for the next raid, cared about how NOT doing so would negatively impact my friends’ enjoyment of the game. Do you think I thought fighting Halfus and Omnotron and Magmaw for the 13th week in a row was fun? F*** no. It was fun the first time, and no more.

    The whole voice-acting angle is a foot in the door – something Bioware ran with to set their MMO apart from the competition. Same with the story bits. They are to lubricate your way to the endgame, where EA hopes you make friends, get tangled up in a web of obligation thereby, and find yourself longing on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30pm-12:30am every week for 4 years, with daily quests and gear grinds inbetween.

    The moment-to-moment gameplay is arguably important as well, but I’ve played classes/roles in WoW that I hated “for the good of the guild” and progression for months in Wrath. So who even knows.

    • Klepsacovic says:

      Why would you play something that isn’t fun? You’re not doing friends a favor; you’re just hurting yourself.

      Beside that, all you just described is why I quit playing, not why I kept playing. It was the rise of that sort of game within WoW that drove me away.

      • Azuriel says:

        The same reason you help a friend move into a new apartment – while the activity is onerous, hanging out with these people makes it worthwhile. And since most of us quit playing, we discovered that WoW was really the only game we had in common; one guy plays TF2 and Killing Floor, one girl plays PopCap games, one guy sticks to consoles, and I play single-player Steam games. We might get together on Vent every other week or so, or perhaps run something like Portal 2 co-op, but it will never be like raid nights or dungeon grinding on Vent.

        My point here is: who here actually thinks WoW has great solo replayability? And I mean solo in the sense that people are treating SWTOR as solo, in that you actively avoid making friends, joining guilds, and basically maintaining an emotional detachment to the game itself.

        I dunno, maybe people DO just grind mobs for no reason in WoW, or level toons up to 85 just to delete them and start again. But those people are such a microcosm compared to those replaying due to social reasons.

    • UnSub says:

      City of Heroes / Villains didn’t have much of an end game for a long time, but the mechanics were fun enough that each character of a new powerset combo played differently enough to try (well, for a lot of people and saw CoH/V grow during WoW’s massive growth period). CoH/V retained players through replayability, not loot.

      SWOR has to balance the issue that story ends, but mechanics are every second of every play session. From everything I’ve heard, the mechanics are passable, but not grabbing a lot of people.

      This issue will be compounded by EA’s “spare no expense!” budgeting for SWOR. EA needs SWOR to be a big success – at least #2 in the Western MMO market from day 1 and for years to come. If sub numbers start to drop off 3 – 6 months post launch, BioWare is in for a nasty shock.

    • Gordon says:

      I think a large percentage of WoW’s playerbase enjoying rolling alts and playing through the game rather than focusing on the end game grind. I know many players who start new characters are soon as they hit the level cap and one of the strengths of WoW is the variation available in the leveling game.

  9. pitrelli says:

    Gotta agree with scythe and spinks.

    Your view is rather WoW orientated / wow tinted specs which is fine as its your opinion. I struggle however to see where wow actually trumps swtor in terms of base gameplay apart from the capability to resize the UI and a dungeon finder. *Shrug* opinions are opinions I guess.

    Swtor will last me comfortably until guildwars 2 releases and will have replaced wow as my go to game with regards to New expansions. Pandas and pokemon just don’t float my boat.

    • Gordon says:

      SW:TOR gameplay mechanics are pretty basic at heart. The quests are all either kill or collect, the combat is essentially a matter of selecting attacks in order of power and the skill trees are very dull. In comparison WoW is actually quite dee, offering meaningful choices, varying styles of gameplay and some thoughtful combat plus has a lot more interesting content.

  10. Leah says:

    I guess it depends on what floats your boat. despite being a huge diablo 1 and 2 fan, I have replayed bioware games, especially mass effect, many times more then I did diablo (at most recent count, I have some in progress and some finished – 8 wardens, 15 shepards and 4 Hawkes). I know I’ll be replaying SWTOR individual stories for a while now and I will not get tired of the dialogue and cutscenes, partially becasue I can set up my characters differently, pick different choices. and with promise of neutral gear coming soon – alt replayability grows even more.

    with WoW? I cannot level there anymore. I made a mistake I guess you could say of going through all the redone quest zones for loremaster achievement. and when I tried leveling an alt… I realized that its same old, exact same old. and I cannot skip side quests and move on to a different hub, unlike SWTOR. you MUST complete all the quests in a chain, before you can progress through the land. and at least half the time, you MUST do the quests, or live without flight points, because they are behind phasing.

    but back to SWTOR. Star Wars Lore basically has mostly human looking races. and I’m guessing part of the reasons they picked the races they did was because the rest speak their own language and listening to your character chatter incomprehensibly is… well THAT definitely gets old fast. they already made twilleks speak english, but they are not as iconic in terms of their speech as say, wookies, or Jawas. so expecting existing IP provide something that doesn’t belong there is a bit, well… yeah…

    resizing UI.. yes more flexible UI would be fantastic. except WoW doesn’t have it either. it has addons and 7 years of head start in writing those addons… which STILL break with almost every patch.

    gameplay? I’m having more fun with SWTOR gameplay then I did with WoW for a very long time… last time I had this much fun playing my characters was in BC, where I STILL had to use all of my abilities situationaly, instead of sticking to very rigid, set rotation. I actually find myself playing strategically. and when you do flashpoints the very first one starts teaching you the value of variety of skills not just pew pew autoattack to victory.

    do I expect SWTOR to get the same numbers as WoW? not at all. does it need the same numbers as WoW? again, not at all. does it have longevity potential? absolutely. they are already adding new flashpoint and expanding an operation, next months. most of the player base haven’t even hit 50 yet, and they are talking of releasing more content.

    does the game need improvements? yes, of course. does it need to be more like WoW? please, dear god, no. I can see myself playing SWTOR for quite a bit of time. I have barely scratched the surface of it. and I doubt that I’m such a special snowflake as to be the only one.

    I’m expecting SWTOR to be more like EvE in terms of the player base. and hopefully that would be enough for bioware and AE to keep maintaining and adding to the game. considering that Warhammer is still running, on subscription model? I think we’re good.

  11. Nils says:

    I actually think the real problem with SW:TOR is the responsiveness of the core combat gameplay. In WoW, when you press a button, you receive instant feedback. This is immensely powerful.

    Back when grinding mobs was still popular, people did it in WoW, not because of the rewards (in that case WoW would be easy to clone). Instead they did it because grinding mobs was fun. And the reason was that playing your character and fighting mobs creates a sort of rhythm – just like playing a piano does.

    This rhytm is critically important to have fun a MMO – and is probably the biggest reason WoW is WoW. Playing SW:TOR feels like playing a piano where the sound of the keys is randomly delayed. And this is not a technical problem. For example, SW:TOR’s animations aren’t front-loaded, like in WoW. The game always wants to play each animation to its very end, instead of cropping it when you press a new button.

    Moreover, the resource systems are very simple. It’s mostly mana/combopoints/cooldown-limited. WoW has iterated on these things a lot over the years but SW:TOR didn’t leant from it. The fundamental problem of SW:TOR is that killing mobs with your character is not as much fun as in WoW – or even Rift. As since killing mobs is what MMORPGS are all about, this will limit SW:TOR’s success.

    I predict no more than 1mio subs in 1 year.

    • Paul says:

      This. I stopped playing SWTOR because the combat just felt so off (and there was nothing so attention-grabbing I could ignore that). Replayability? You have to have playability first!

    • Carson says:

      Yes yes yes yes yes.

      MMO combat (at least, the MMO combat we’ve been served for the last decade+) is, at its heart, very simplistic. And it’s HARD to make that simplistic combat feel good and be a lot of fun. So hard that, frankly, I’ve played a lot of MMOs, and WoW is the only one that genuinely succeeded.

      SW:TOR, to me, felt a lot like WAR: should have been fun in theory, but the responsiveness and reaction was just off, somehow. Five hours of beta was enough to convince me that the feel was just not there for me to be able to enjoy that game for very long.

    • Gordon says:

      I think it depends on the class. I didn’t really notice a problem with my Bounty Hunter but playing a Jedi the lightsaber combats feels a bit unsatisfying.

      • vortalism says:

        Because the lightsabers feel like giant glowing wiffle bats*? I know that Cortosis armor allows for protection against lightsaber and similar weaponry as well as energy shields (like the ones used by the droidekas). But everything else should be insta-kill lore wise. So it is immersion killing.

        *Thanks to Totalbiscuit for introducing the object “wiffle bat” to me. Never knew it’s existence before hand.

  12. NetherLands says:

    The less SW:TOR resembles WoW in anything but gameplay/controls (which as Nils has pointed out is THE strongpoint of WoW), the better. The reasons for this can be found in this essay of Bartle:
    http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2157/soapbox_why_virtual_worlds_are_.php

    I wouldn’t be surprised if SWTOR went with its strong points, and made new characters with their own Quests etc., horizontal instead of vertical Expansion (the later having been done to death by ‘WoWclones’; note that ‘horizontal expansion’ is how Pen-and-Paper RPG’s retain players) over time. Of course Wookies etc. have their voicebox-issues, but West End’s RPG solved that particular issue years ago (voice modulators, and of course they understand ‘common’ perfectly well).

    And now for something completely different:
    there’s a major bug with the Satchel of Usefull Goods in WoW EU, allowing (in short) say lvl 19’s to run around with Gear from Satchels meant for (say) level 55-60.

    http://tobolds.blogspot.com/2011/12/world-of-warcraft-satchel-of-helpful.html

    Unlike other, older cases (like e.g. swapping Quest rewards between the pre- and post-Shattering versions of the same Quest, most notably Dissectors on lvl 19’s) , and despite the fact it requires quite the exploiting by a group of people to do it , it seems that even though the offenders are known, Blizzard will be grandfathering the exploit-gear:
    http://eu.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/3129363872

    CM Irylinne (19 dec 2011):: Serious action has been taken in response to recent similar exploits, and those affected would no doubt disagree with the idea that exploitation is low/no risk. In this particular case, however, the removal of the items is unlikely to happen.

    meaning guys like this http://eu.battle.net/wow/en/character/ravencrest/Vanillamilk/simple are still running about tonking around trial players.

    Needless to say, this has quite the effect on the EU, and people are hoping the issue will be resolved (ie the gear removed).

  13. Adawde says:

    Now I haven’t played the game yet myself but from what I’ve read there is a rather annoying issue with unresponsive combat stemming from the animations having priority over the the actual ability. Essentially if your animation lasts 2.5s and the ability is on a 2s cd you have to wait 2.5s.

    My real question though is whether the story you embark on can immerse you in the world to the point that Swtor players have a strong enough desire to do Operations that they do stay subscribed for months as they try and “finish” their story?

    • Gordon says:

      I’m really curious to see what SW:TOR endgame is like and if it can hold up with the theory of storycrafting as, essentially, the story stops when you hit the level 50 and you enter a whole different style of gameplay – raiding and gear progression.

  14. [...] play the game  -  it’s fun but it will go downhill fast”. Already we have seen examples (http://blog.weflyspitfires.com/2011/12/28/why-swtor-wont-be-the-success-everyone-hopes/).  We have seen complaints that the game doesn’t have enough “replayability” and complaints [...]

  15. [...] on story, story, or even god forbid, gameplay with completely straight faces. Here is Gordon from We Fly Spitfires: And this, unfortunately, is BioWare’s big mistake. They sacrificed on so much in order to [...]

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