Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
 
Expectations for Cataclysm and SWTOR

Rumor has it that some crazy European player managed to get to level 85 before Cataclysm was even released in the USA 7 hours later. But even for the average player the projected time to level 85 is measured in weeks, and unless they roll a goblin and a worgen alt and play through the 3,500 new quests of the Shattering, many players will have settled in some repetitive end game routine relatively early next year. With even the most optimistic schedules not foreseeing another World of Warcraft expansion before 18 months time, the current period of everybody being busy with Cataclysm won’t last forever, and we will have time for other games as well. And with Star Wars: The Old Republic coming out in 2011 (latest news says not before April), Guild Wars 2 in 2012, and some other games in between, there will be some choice.

But I’m afraid these other games have the cards stacked against them. Our expectations for Cataclysm were quite realistic: More of the same; and Blizzard delivered that, plus some bells and whistles. While the actual expansion isn’t revolutionary, the preceding The Shattering patch is the largest content patch in MMORPG history, and unique. When SOE had a “cataclysm” happening in Everquest that was sold as a separate game, Everquest 2, while the original EQ continued to exist as before. A complete rework of the whole level 1-60 game is quite daring. And nobody was surprised that the “new WoW” was a more streamlined version of the “old WoW”, with much of the same basic game structure of quests and levels. The other games don’t have it that easy, because we expect more of them.

I just read a print magazine in which the author described playing through the first 7 levels of playing a Jedi in a preview-version of Star Wars: The Old Republic. While acknowledging the great voice-overs, the writer was quite disappointed of his first quest being to “kill 10 flesh raiders”, and all the other quests until level 7 being variations of that theme, and having him kill other flesh raiders, with just one Jedi opponent at the end. And that disappointment derives from having expected something much different, and somehow grander and better.

There is a danger here that our expectations will doom SWTOR. If, in a quite realistic scenario, Bioware releases a solid MMORPG which has much of the same structure in terms of quests, levels, and how combat works as World of Warcraft, there will be a howl of disappointment from some quarters. If we expect the same gripping narrative in SWTOR that we are used to from Bioware’s single-player games, this disappointment might even be inevitable. Nobody has ever even penned a theoretical proof that it is possible to transpose the narrative of a single-player game into a MMO environment, much less implemented it. All our hope is based on a few hollow marketing slogans of 4th pillars and the like.

Cataclysm is a product of very high quality, minor problems with login during the first few hours in Europe notwithstanding. As this is the third expansion, and Blizzard has WoW up and running for six years now, and makes a billion dollars of revenue per year, this isn’t really surprising. It will be hard for Bioware, with less financial backing and no experience in launching MMORPGs, to just come up with a product meeting similar standards of quality. And if they manage to do that, people will still be disappointed, because they expect Bioware to deliver the impossible, the “WoW killer”, the “future of MMO gaming”.

My personal advice is to expect Star Wars: The Old Republic to be some sort of “WoW with light sabers”. If we expect the differences between SWTOR and Cataclysm to be more in the details than in the fundamentals, we have a much better chance of not ending up very disappointed. Hoping for the impossible will only destroy the enjoyment of what might still end up being a solid MMORPG.
Comments:
Which would be absolutely fine by me btw. WoW polish + Star Wars ip = a great time for all. Everyone is always seeking that experience of the magical first time they were in awe of a game. It's just not possible, but that shouldn't reflect poorly on the game even though most people will let it. For myself Bioware has built a good reputation from their previous games and I will buy the new one regardless of other reviews or internet opinion. Love your posts Tobold!
 
But people are tired of WoW. You can't put a star wars coating on the same game they've been playing for 5+ years, and when they complain, tell them to suck it up and have low expectations.
 
So you're saying that Bioware's shooting themselves into the foot by claiming that SWTOR is somehow groundbreaking? Or are they simply letting the hype run rampant without managing the expectations?
 
If they fail because, after they've pretty openly told us they're going to deliver the same gripping narrative we're used to from Bioware's single-player games, we expect that and they don't deliver, then they deserve to fail.

You are judged against your hype. When you're the one voicing your hype, it's your fault if you don't live up to it. Nobody likes a Molyneux.
 
you somehow imply that we should TRY actively to like SWTOR, lest it not fail, and i don't see a reason for that.

it's perfectly fine to judge the game by the standard of the times, by our own expectations, their promises and the general context of the market or at least our own perception of it.

for me SWTOR is in for a pretty rude awakening, watching them dream for 2 mil. subscribers over 2 years and (as of today's eurogamer's article) 10 years of market life...

all they have is some blocky characters, bad animations, uninspiring combat, and same old "epic" story presented as loads of text but this time (wait for it!) read out loud instead of written in interface windows...

this "OLD MMO" canon for me is a dead art form or at least quickly becoming one. you can't "win" by better costumes for the opera actors if your audience wants to watch a movie.
 
I haven't played WoW in a while but I have noticed a trend in other mmorpgs that people will play a game for a few months and then take a break until the next expansion. Does a similar phenomenon not happen in WoW? If it does then other games like TOR could still pick up a good number of WoW players who are in between WoW patches. They won't be able to hold on to them forever of course but if my impression are right that is the way the industry is moving: people are now much more prepared to move between games and are prepared to come back to a game after a patch.
 
Between yesterday morning where I wrote this post, and today where I published it, Syp from Bio Break published a post relevant to this, saying: "The cliche of reinventing the wheel — in other words, spending unnecessary time and effort to redo something that’s already been done perfectly fine — comes to mind. It’s weird to consider that for a pretty young genre, people already see us as in a “rut” because change isn’t coming fast or wild enough. It’s weirder when you compare this mindset to almost any other hobby, especially if you consider how other hobbies are just fine with 95% the same plus 5% improvements with each year’s iteration. You don’t see gardeners out there waving their fists at the sky because we’re still planting stuff in rows, or football fans angry that we’re still stuck with two teams going left or right on a field, or race car game players livid that these vehicles don’t fly yet.
 
heh, that's funny comment but totally missing the boat :)

reinventing the wheel might feel redundant, but sticking with the wheel when u want to play ball won't do the trick, would it now?

you could argue that WoW is doing perfectly OK at what it's doing but that's just circular argument - "WoW is the best in the genre narrowly defined by the example of WoW"

but where WoW ends there's plenty to explore. from the top of my hat i see at least 2 directions:

1) WoW is merely mediocre as a "World"despite the name. It's biggest props is the seamless world and deep setting. In terms of interaction with the environment though there's much to be done to just catch up with Ultima (korean ArcheAge is obviously working in that direction)

2) in terms of action and immersiveness of combat it's beyond repair. the current combat system is as abstract and unintuitive as it can be. check out what Tera, Blade and Soul, Vindictus, GuildWars 2 and even Warhammer 40K DMO are doing (or talking about) and try to return to the same old ugly-dance of toon meets a foozle, aligns with it and both start wacking at each other. Even Age of Conan of old and ill fame is way ahead in that direction. And this area is also quite unexplored and open for new games to try and master it.

WoW is waaaaaaaaay far from perfection - don't limit yourself intentionally. It's good at what it does, but what it does is not all there is.
 
TOR beta leaks increase rapidly especially from veteran players e.g. people i trust. There still seems to be many technical flaws, wich is odd after this long beta period. WoW in space could be a good thing, if executed well, wich i don't see from all the official material. Their combat animation still look just bad. That's something Blizzard nailed so very early on, because it's so important.

On the other hand many beta leaks praise the cover system. I don't see something working in a large scale scenario though. Me thinks TOR will even shrink the scope of the genre compared to what WoW did with raiding. I smell Bioware selling 1-group content as raiding very very soon and it could be the niche they need.

I seriously guess TOR needs to go free-to-play to get its foot into the market. I doubt though, that EA will be open to this idea after pouring this much money into it. If they do address the WoW player with a subscription fee as potential customers, they'll have to fight a long uphill battle, cause TOR won't be to WoW, what WoW was to EQ when it was launched. That's for sure.

F2P WoW in space? I'm in. Different themed subscription based WoW from a company whose products get worse every year? Good luck with that. My expectations are low, mainly cause WoW isn't so flawed to get my expectations up. It's the opposite actually. After 4.0.3 my faith in Blizzard is back.
 
Hype is bad. I've stated that whenever possible since my disappointment with Black & White.
 
Guild Wars 2 isn't due until 2012? Where are you getting that from? I know there is no official date announced, but everything I have seen from every other source suggests a release date in 2011, probably the first half of the year.

I already know that I'll be playing Rift when it launches in early 2011, along with DCUO and the EQ2 Velious expansion, so it would very much suit me if GW2 didn't come out until 2012, since I can't work out how the heck I am going to find time for four new MMOs/expansions all launching in the same quarter.

I guess it's lucky I have only an academic interest in SW:ToR :)

Oh, and I agree with that Syp quote 100%. My wheels work fine, thanks - just put them under a new chassis occasionally and I'll be more than happy.
 
What strikes me is how much fourth pillar stuff blizzard included in cataclysm: Cut scenes, using both the in game engine, and pre rendered , voice overs on some quests, etc. It will be interesting to see how 2011 plays out, but I'm certain i will be spending some quality time with TOR.
 
The thing that I noticed yesterday (and it reinforced what I half-saw at the Shattering) is that Cataclysm has actually moved even further to the linear, story-telling mode when it comes to questing.

The actual quests still have a lot of the 'kill xyz' or 'collect abc' mixed in with a few flavor ones, but the way you pick them up is actually a little more immersive.

In TBC, you hit a quest hub, picked up as many quests as your log could hold and went around killing and collecting almost everything you saw until your bags were full. Which was a breath of fresh air after vanilla, but didn't give you a real feeling of progression.

Wrath was a hybrid of the two, but personally not very effective - I didn't enjoy the expansion as much.

I don't know how Cata will feel playing through it five or six times on alts, but for the first time through it's VERY story-driven if people read the quests. The fact that quest lines end with mini-bosses and celebrations reinforces that.

Which is far less about what the quests are asking you to do than why they're asking you to do it and how it progresses to the next one. If SWTOR can really tell a story that makes a character feel like they're making a difference, it has a chance. If it's too much 'well, you need to level up and be powerful and this is the grind to do it' - it won't.

And I haven't read if they're implementing a version of phasing or not, but phasing can be EXTREMELY powerful, as long as it doesn't create roadblocks for groups being in different phases.

But I think if you don't effectively feel like a hero early on, it's a much harder sell.
 
Oh, and to address the first part of your post - I am really curious how long it WILL take people to reach 85?

Granted, I know we're a self-selecting audience ... people who are interested enough that we read blogs on MMOs ... but several weeks seems very short to me.

With rested exp, it took me 3 hours to reach 81 and I think around another 5 to reach 82 (and that was with an hour plus messing around with archaelogy and tradeskills)

I really can't imagine it taking more than 24-25 hours to reach 85, since practically *everything* you do now gives you exp. I don't know what the average play time is, but it's hard to imagine that the bulk of players really only play a few hours a week, at least during an expansion, and those that do are more likely to max out their rested exp.

Although if somebody is parallel leveling a lot of chars rather than focusing on one first, I could see it.
 
I was expecting just that. WoW but with better story telling.

And there's no way that they can deliver the same amount of content that WoW has now.

But I'm still curious about the game. It's about time someone seriously challenges WoW.
 
Well I was playing in what was 3-4pm server time, due to my time zone, and I saw a couple 'Server first, level 85 class 'X'' messages yesterday. That was up to 17 hours after the expansion hit...

So far my notes about Cata:

1) As a game it is much more polished, I haven't seen much that looked wrong. One quest in Azshara was fatally broken for me however, and blocked me from the rest of the chain behind it. Not good obviously. In general though the questline feels better than it did before. I still hated Dustwallow Marsh on Horde though, and yes, that didn't change much compared to before.

Then I got to 1000 Needles which changed completely, a good thing that.

2) Immersion? Naah no need. Parts of Azshara feel like a WWII Normandy, the consistency of the world is getting worse for sure. The equivalent of a nuke goes off in Stonetalon foe Heaven's Sake. This is a Fantasy setting, and that kind of thing just feels wrong.

So far, I'm feeling that the GAME has improved since WOTLK, but the WORLD has become more unbelievable than it already was.

It is still a good game though, but the world is nowhere near anything, and I mean anythingm that we found in a Bioware 1 player game before.

So I still feel good about SWTOR. That is a world that has so much background already, and I have a feeling Bioware will not mess it up too badly. There's a good chance, if it runs on the company laptop (I travel a lot eh!), that WoW sub will disappear. Or wil at times disappear when I have longer periods at home. To be seen!

Hard to say how much I like new WoW though. I levelled up to 41 so far as a Horde priest since the Cataclysm and it feels better, but a lot of that has to do with being new. Some of the new tricks I actually dislike. Vehicle quests are *well*, they deviate from what WoW does well and they don't do very well, really. On the other hand, the new regular quests are a lot better.

*shrug* I'm still in 2 minds about the whole thing, clearly.
 
What I find most interesting about the market in this era is that the new-game hype is gone among the regulars. Sure there are one or two hype comments on this thread, but everyone else seems to have a show-me attitude. Which is understandable given the last half decade. It may also be partly due to the fact that in many quarters people seem to have largely given up on NDA once the game moves from alpha to closed beta.

I have only heard faint rumblings about TOR, but I am increasingly concerned about combat (as well as quest design), just based on what I have seen so far. I already have zero expectations for endgame. However, I do think there is a big market space for a space-WoW, particularly given how slow Blizzard patches are.

Another interesting case is Rift, which seems to be on track for a release in late Q1 or early Q2 2011. Reports are that there's pretty nice polish, but the only real differentiating features from WoW are a very deep and flexible talent tree system and the public quest-style rifts. And of course they probably don't have goodies like dungeon finder and phasing in place. Rift should hit right around the time even the most casual players have run through the 80-85 content. Basically it has to compete with leveling an alt through the revamped Azeroth, with the same combat and abilities we've seen for 6 years. Should be interesting.
 
Syp's comment has its points, but that's more of a condemnation of the MMO game period. I think what people are forgetting is what firefox hints at: people may just simply decide not to play any more.

Especially when we have 5+ years of WoW remaining, and TOR is planned for 10 years of life. I can't see game systems changing much slower over a period of time equal to a entire console's lifespan.
 
WoW with Lightsabers sounds awesome. I look forward to being able to explore and conquer in a sci-fi setting with more gripping gameplay than EVE.
 
@John

You really "conquer" stuff in WoW?

--

It seems like the thread has come to these (rather astute!) conclusions:

1) TOR will fail because it is focusing on story
2) WoW got so much better because they shifted focus to story
3) No one wants story in their MMO
4) People love story in RPGs that Bioware makes, but they don't like story in MMORPGS Bioware makes
5) No one reads or pays attention to story in WoW
6) People love addition of story to WoW
7) Warcraft has more fans than Star Wars
 
Let's not forget that Guild Wars 2 has a massive advantage here, and that is being subscription-free. If ArenaNet make the PvP as balanced as they did in the original Guild Wars, I can't imagine this game fail at all. I mean for a game that was released just months after WoW and still sold more than a fair amount, outselling any MMO since WoW has been released, apart from WoW itself of course. The other good thing about Guild Wars 2 is that, since it doesn't require monthly fees, you can play it whenever you want as opposed to whenever you pay, therefore it is not a game that can be a potential WoW-killer, but WoW can't kill it either (WAR, AoC, TR).
 
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