Monday, March 11, 2013

Looking for a win

I've been thinking about my reaction to the announcement of the Gree event, and wondering why I felt so strongly about it that I started foaming about wolves and sheep.

The truth is that SWTOR needs a win.  Things haven't been going so well for the game lately.  The initial launch as a monthly subscription failed, despite years of preparation, a hundred thousand committed fans, and box sales pushing two million.

A month before the first anniversary, the developers pulled it back together and re-launched with a free-to-play option, and all reports indicated that this re-launch was as successful as the this initial one.  This tells us that the intellectual property of the Star Wars franchise is still huge (not that we had any doubt), and that many people still want to play a Star Wars MMO.  The right game, with the right mix of story, social features, challenge and complexity, will be overwhelmingly successful.

But players are still waiting for The Old Republic to prove to them that it is the right game.  As I said before, committed players are willing to forgive old hurts, clear the slate and give the game another try, but they definitely need to be convinced this time around.  Frankly, the first few events have shown mixed results.

HK-51 was well conceived, and the short quest series was brilliant:  great story telling, challenging puzzles, a dynamic environment that changed in response to player actions, a suitably impressive boss at the end.  Whoever designed and executed that derelict ship should be put in charge of the entire Makeb expansion. The longer task of assembling parts was less well received but well within the expectations of an MMO.

However, the Life Day items in the cartel store were a definite fumble.  I think it was an understandable fumble.  Bioware employees had been working full time on the transition to F2P and had no extra time to work up a Life Day event as well.  They were, no doubt, exhausted and ready for a break over the Christmas holiday.  But someone needed to understand that the fans were charged up by the new influx of new players and ready for something new to do with their game over the holiday break.  Instead, they got nothing.

And actually worse than nothing when the Life Day items in the game store seemed to confirm their worst fears about free-to-play - it was going to be nothing more than a blatant cash grab.  Silly, fun, social items like the wookie robes or the Orb, usually the kind of thing given as rewards for participation, were instead being sold for top dollar at the Cartel Market. The message was: fun things that other MMO's give as story content will be milked for all the cartel coins that they're worth.

Bioware needs to show them some clear successes, some unmitigated victories.  And it seems to me that they aren't going to do it with ambiguous goals and a fist out for cash.

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