Tobold's Blog
Thursday, December 22, 2011
 
The Tortage theory

Two-and-a-half years ago, I wrote a post about the level 1 to 20 zone of Age of Conan, called Tortage. That post ended with a look into the future, about Star Wars: The Old Republic: "And would a game which had Tortage-like storytelling throughout be a smash hit? Bioware is apparently betting on the latter with Star Wars the Old Republic. Here's hoping." I have a theory about that, which I mentioned in my subjective opinion post about SWTOR, but apparently it is difficult to explain.

My general model of MMORPGs is that they consist of an endlessly repeating part, like combat, or you could call it more generally "gameplay", and a non-repeating part, which you could call "content". The gameplay of Tortage in Age of Conan is exactly the same as the gameplay in the rest of the game. But the content part of the two halves is very different: In Tortage you play through an engaging "destiny" quest line with great story-telling, afterwards the storytelling gets much thinner and less engaging. People noticed that break, and because Tortage was the only part of the game accessible during beta, players felt like they had fallen for a bait and switch confidence trick. They didn't care that the gameplay of the second part was identical to that of Tortage, they cared for the destiny quest and the storytelling, and felt cheated. Thus Age of Conan managed to lose two thirds of its subscribers after the first month, and is generally considered to be less than successful.

Fast forward to 2011 and if you look ONLY at the gameplay, Star Wars: The Old Republic plays exactly like World of Warcraft, with minor modifications. But most of the people playing SWTOR don't care, because what is important to them is the other part of the game, the content part. On the content side SWTOR beats WoW hands down. SWTOR has fully voiced dialogue cut-scenes for every quest, WoW has 511 characters of text to read. Yes, the two very different ways to tell the story, to tell the quests, lead to the same sort of "kill 10 foozles" gameplay. But people don't care all that much about gameplay, they care mostly about content. So the reception of SWTOR is generally positive, because players feel they are getting something very different from World of Warcraft, because even if gameplay is very similar, content is very different.

But with content being its greatest strength, content is also SWTOR's greatest weakness. Because as I said in my definition, content is the non-repeating half of the game. The gameplay part can be repeated very, very often; some of us killed a million mobs in World of Warcraft. The content part loses dramatically on repetition. Playing the Esseles flashpoint the first time is great, playing it the fifth time you forget about the dialogues and cutscenes and just concentrate on the gameplay.

Thus it is very likely that players will have a Tortage moment once they reach the level cap at level 50. There will still be a game after reaching the level cap, but it will be very different from the leveling game. It will be strong on gameplay, and weak on storytelling and content. You'll still log into a game of the same name, but that Star Wars: The Old Republic you'll be playing at level 50 will *feel* very different from the game you are playing now. You won't meet new, interesting characters and have interesting dialogues several times per play session. Instead you'll skip through the cutscenes and dialogues of the equivalents of dungeons, raids, and daily quests, because you have seen them many times before. The content has basically ended, and only the gameplay remains. And that might be a crippling blow to a game whose strength is the content, not the gameplay.
Comments:
Agreed. There could be some mitigation in the fact that Bioware may have succeeded in attracting a less traditional MMO audience, one which is less focused on power levelling through the content, in effect giving them more time to produce further content. This should be further helped by the fact that rolling alts in SWTOR is looking like a lot more fun than in other MMOs, given the quality of the class quests. But there's no doubt that in a month or so a lot of the hardcore element of the current player base are going to be feeling that disconnect between the levelling game and the end game.

It doesn't necessarily follow that this is a problem for Bioware; they're wise enough to know that just because a minority burn through your content in a couple of months, the majority of the players will happily take quite a bit longer.

Their content strategy has also been set in stone for a few years now, and they will have observed Blizzard's struggle to get good quality content produced at a sufficient pace. I hope they've been planning for the necessary content production for a while.

If we start to see lots of updates consisting of grindy, easily produced and repeatable content (faction grinds, token farming etc), we'll know they've been caught short and are trying to buy time.
 
I'm not playing SWTOR myself, but I keep reading that what players currently enjoy most about it, is in fact solo content (and sending NPC companions around)....not sure that is a good thing for an MMO?
so, I agree with you - once that part is gone or exhausted, SWTOR won't be able to deliver on the MMO part of the deal which should be ongoing, battle, coop play etc. the longterm hooks that developers rely on in order to keep MMOs running. I can't judge whether they are actually there - but is it going to be the same crowd that enjoys them?

Tricky...I have a hard time interpreting SWTOR's popularity; is it proof that SWTOR gamers are in fact solo-playing gamers? can we therefore assume that those who like today's WoW also like SWTOR - same crowd?
 
Dissimilitude writes: If we start to see lots of updates consisting of grindy, easily produced and repeatable content (faction grinds, token farming etc), we'll know they've been caught short and are trying to buy time.

True, but faction grinds and repeatable content can also be done well, and not cheaply or easily. Rift's rifts are, at the core, repeatable content done at least interestingly, if perhaps not quite well. Even wheezing old Blizzard, with its daily questing areas, thematically linked to latest raid, managed to evoke a sense of impact on the world through the efforts of unglamorous player masses.
 
But wouldn't a game that neglects the world and mainly offers raiding as end game, something that is not part of the leveling game, also cause such a Tortage moment after you've leveled up?
 
I agree that a good/better 1-49 does not a long-term MMO make. OTOH, we don't really know what Bio has for 50. (The Bio roll-an-alt comment points to that person at least not getting MMO end-game.) My guess is they will miss the boat on that. But better alt play gives them some extra time to get it right.

However, regardless of my endgame, I would launch TOR by focusing on my unique selling proposition as story.
 
Syl - since you haven't actually played the game I will clear this up for you. There are plenty of grouping quests and instances for group play. I'm getting a tad sick of reading swtor is a single player game as frankly that is untrue, can you play through the game solo 1-50 of course but you would miss out a lot of content.

Also nothing stops you grouping up with friends or other players whilst questing (even accompany them on story missions) and dismissing your companions to craft if you so wish.

So no you can't say swtor gamers are solo players at all
 
In some ways I feel they made a mistake marketing this as a game. If they'd left out the WoW-clone stuff and advertised it as a 400 hour long interactive movie it would have amazed and astonished people. Imagine watching SWTOR in a cinema with 400 people on a huge screen with a controller to click which dialogue option you wanted the storyline to follow.
 
Slightly off topic, but I've seen a lot of people write about how it seems this game is single player and it defeats the idea of an MMO. What game are they playing? The ammount of (repeatabe) group heroic areas in each zone is quite high, as wellas the evenly spaced out flashpoints. You need groups for all of these, the rewards are not to be sniffed at as they are of higer quality to solo quest gear. Without even going into the hard to reach holocrons, I rarely spend more than an hour or two soling before I want/need to find a group. Half our smallish guild is made up of people we've met questing that was got along with well and invited to game with us long-term.

I would suggest people complaining about the lack of Multi-playerness of this game either don't play it, or shy away from every group event.
 
@Kring: The "traditionalist" argument (see Syncaine, etc.) is that classical WoW did have continuity between leveling game and endgame, that, while not perfect, was close enough to drive player growth.

Leveling was of non-trivial difficulty and asked you to perform well at building your character using your class abilities in order to succeed, and the endgame was simply an extension of that. However, modern WoW departs from this design by (1) making leveling so trivial that no "intelligent" use of class abilities is prompted at all, and (2) emphasizing "dance"-style raids that test your ability to learn the dance, not your build or your ability at the gameplay mechanics of your class. Thus modern WoW, in this view, can be distinguished from classical WoW in increasing the discontinuity between leveling and endgame.
 
It is not really possible to create end-game content at a rate that is on par with the speed at which users can consume it. Repetition is necessary for the game to survive. However, it needs to be done in a way that keeps people coming back for more.

It almost parallels life in a way if you think about it. The average person is not going skydiving one day, snowboarding the next, and scuba diving the next day. These are non-repetitive "fun" experiences that come in spurts between the daily work grind. While these are great and add a lot of value to the game, i think it is equally as important to make the daily grind fun.

The way to do that, imo, is by adding a heavily social aspect to it.
 
One thing though; content doesn't necessarily need to be short. The main problem with the Tortage theory is that it packed way too much of its little amount of content early on and didn't pad it with enough gameplay.

If one can make the assumption that Bioware is a much better company at creating amounts of "content", then if it's appropriately padded with fun gameplay elements (i.e. long dungeons that take a while to learn and complete, mini-games that take skill to overcome ala StarFox? etc.), there is the possibility that Bioware can make the time for itself to keep on generating content.

(Caveat: if it takes too long to complete the gameplay elements, you could have large swaths of players not reaching content, ala Blizzard).
 
Tobold, as I said at otehr post, there are 8 diferent sotrilines at SWTOR: one for each class. I am not sure what people will do at level 50, but I will certainly play each class (both empire and republic) to level 50.

SPOILER (don't read bellow or you will see a spoiler, you were warned)

From what I saw with jedi knight, the chapter 1 ends epically at level 30+. Then there is an interluge where the player can try diferent things before start chapter 2 (I done some quests I get from Kira). Now I started chapter 2 and from what I saw until now (level 38), the things are walking to otehr epic chapter.

At Beta I played jedi consular until 10+, but while it shares the same zone that jedi knight, it have diferent class quests and from what I saw I can say that the prologue is a diferent story.

My smugler alt is at 10+ now, I just completed the prologue. Chapter 2 for the smugler is a "treasure hunt", and I can see how diferent is the story for smugler, while my alt is going to teh same planets taht my jedi knight goes and doing the same gfeneral quests.

But there is things you need take note. First, I am doing diferent choices with my smugler (money first, I am geting a lot of dark points for that) and the result is that the quests end diferently (I get to two NPCs that I had not saw with my jedi just because I take the option that give me more money).
Second, there are more than one flashpoint, the people don't need repeat Esseles 5 or 10 or 100 times. The best advice is try each flashpoint while your toon go up level. However, for now I am having problems for try it with my jedi knight because there are few people above 25, but I will try more flashpoints with my smugler. Other problem with flashpoints is that they demand time: teh story is long. The advantage is that the best reward for try flashpoints is that you gain a lot of social points, so I guess we will see a lot of players trying it.

So, from what I saw with 3 characters at the republic side and one at teh empire side (I too played a sith at beta) is that there are enough content playing the 8 classes for a long time. I too need say that there are things I don't tryed. PvP is one, so I have no idea how it works, but from what I heard from other players, it have no level restrictions, so you will find other player that is 10-20 levels above you and that will be scary. I tryed a few space combats, but it is really a minigame, maybe they change it later for make it better and more story attuned.

END SPOILER
 
I'd say you're pretty spot on Tobold, though I assume Bioware's plan (and my sincere hope) is that they address the specific issue with regular creation of new content. I can only assume that is their intention as they've cast SWTOR as a "Story" MMO.
 
@Pitrelli
I see, well that's certainly a more balanced voice, thanks.

I guess the issue some players still see is in the "nothing stops you grouping up with friends" though; this is an argument that was always used in WoW too, but the reality of it is that if cooperation is not enforced, as a consequence a lot less cooperation will happen. and ultimately that affects everybody in an MMO.
 
Here's how SWTOR handles it after level 50. They release new 'raids' that are story based about every 3 months. Design the raids so a player or group has to go in there multiple times, either for loot, random encounters or difficulty. But releasing a raid based on a story shouldn't be that difficult and I think can be done every quarter.
 
As long as Bioware does not give in to the whiners and get the gameplay aspect up to par with what I would expect from a MMO launched in 2011, I will be a happy repeater at the cap between content additions.

The points are obviously highly subjective, but vital for me to actually remove barriers, to get to and enjoy the gameplay when it becomes the center of attention:

- UI customization built in or via addon
- macro system
- proper LFG system, including but not limited to a cross server flashpoint finder

They need to add those things otherwise the gameplay feels like 2004 to me.
 
Yeah, Syncaine's refrain that SWTOR is merely a solo player game and not an MMO is laughable. He really has no clue. Is it soloable? Sure. Would one miss out on lots of quests were he/she to ignore all the elite quests? Yep. He initially touted Rift as "MMO 3.0." Well, when called out on it, he claimed that what he really meant "themepark 3.0" I'm only lvl 27 thus far and I've easily done 5-10 times the amount of group content while leveling (not even counting Flashpoints) that I ever did while leveling in Rift. I really love reading his rants. One of the best parts of my daily blog reading.
 
Interesting theory about endgame, but I feel like you are leaving out a lot. You will be able to hit lvl 50 pretty early in this game, but that doesn't mean your game is over. If you are a completionist and want to experience everything with this game you have 17 planets to fully explore and quest in. I have been leveling very slowly while raising crafting etc but by the time I finished Nar shadda I was almost lvl 35. I believe I got all the datacrons from korriban,nal hutta, balmorra, and nar shadda. The quest chains on nar shadda alone took around 14 hours of gameplay to complete. So I've fully experienced 4 planets but have now unfortunately outleveled the next planet in my class quest so I will have to stick strictly to my class quest until Im caught up level wise. I'm going to have to go back to the skipped quests on tatootine when Im level 50 now. I'm sure that by the time I hit 50 I will still have around 8 or 9 planets to explore as well as heroic/nightmare versions of flash points along with the 2 operations on different difficulty levels. That sounds like more than enough content and story to hold me over until the first big story patch or maybe even the expac.
 
By your definitions, I am far more interested in Gameplay than in Content. I can get the "Content" massively more efficiently and enjoyably in several media other than MMOs and at a very much higher level of quality.

MMO gameplay, however, is available only in MMOs.
 
I get what you're saying, and I don't play SWTOR (not yet, anyway) so take my opinion for what it's worth.

I don't agree that is "very likely that players will have a Tortage moment once they reach the level cap at level 50."

It's a possibility, sure. But I think I can argue it's not the most likely possibility.

BioWare has many more resources available than the producers of Conan did at the time of launch. So BioWare can do more. I don't know that they will, but they can. SWTOR can be argued has also been a greater success than Conan was at the offset. 50 levels is more than 20 levels, so that also gives Bioware more time to extend the game in a meaningful way. Bioware simply has more resources and momentum to "do more."

In terms of what to "do", at the risk of oversimplifying, there are at least two general routes: adding lots of game play at the expense of more meaningful content, or adding more meaningful "content" than they otherwise would at the expense of the repeatable game play.

WoW does the former. Conan decided to try the former too quickly (to save a buck, perhaps?) and it cost them. What will BioWare do?

I would bet that BioWare will be aware that what makes their game a hit isn't the similarities to WoW (though the game play similarity is a recipe that is successful with careful planning) but it's the content. The special attention to bringing the playing into the universe. And so I see it much more likely that future expansions won't follow the WoW recipe, but instead will bring a new recipe to light that focuses on the story and your hero's involvement in it, and less on the world's progress (and your diminutive role as supporting cast while the major NPC characters push the story). Less leveling and more story telling (where the reward isn't more power, but the progress of the story). Less "mass questing" and more epic quests. Less of the world, more of you.

What do you think?
 
Your comments are well articulated and sound plausible.

One additional factor to consider for end game "replay-ability" is PvP . (I know that is not your personal interest).

I can tell you that PvP is well implemented with a number of clever touches you might want to consider.

For example:
(1) all PvP queues are random which allows for graeter variety of maps without lengthening queues. It also means that all game types get played evenly (not just the ones that award honor most quickly). It also prevents premades from queueing for only the map that they;ve mastered.

(2) It appears that all players join in the same games regardless of level (with lower level characters simply boosted to be the same as higher level). This means that you can always PvP with your lower level friends. It also means that the queues are basically instant at each level.

(3) battleground rewards are given based on your participation in achieving the goals of that map (i.e. guarding strong points etc).

Based on these factors I have have found SWOR PvP to be improved over similar games such as WoW or Rift.
 
Stabs said:
"If they'd left out the WoW-clone stuff and advertised it as a 400 hour long interactive movie it would have amazed and astonished people."

Never EVER go into marketing stabs... seriously.

As to the more general question about is the TOR "end game" going to be as compelling as WOW's? I Don't know... and nobody knows right now so it's rather pointless to debate it. Let the future be written as it is made.

But I personally would offer this one view of a possible outcome.

Much has been made about is TOR this or that on individual feature comparisons with WOW. What I don't see people comparing is the raw number of players that TOR is drawing to their game world. It's a subjective guess but I would say MOST of the current TOR players ARE NOT WOW PLAYERS.

Think about that at least a Million plus players are playing an MMO for the FIRST TIME in SWTOR.

Will these newly minted MMO players know that the end game is "lame" or not challenging enough?

Will the new players complain about not having enough heroics or raids?

Or to be more to the point what happens if the majority of SWTOR players haven't played enough other games to KNOW the should be bored with the end game?

Or... what happens when the WOW players notice the party going on down the street and check out the noobs not performing the their PVP dances properly?
 
For me, Star Wars plays like a gorgeous solo game, yet it still has all of the MMO components as well. The stories, world details, and NPCs are the kind of thing I'd only expect out of a high end PC game, yet I've also grouped more in my first week of playing that I did in my first six months of playing World of Warcraft.

To be fair, I despise endgame. I've never had a need to raid; I considered even heroic dungeons something I had to slog through to get to a few bennies I wanted and to at least try certain content. I am hoping that Bioware, after developing an MMO that plays completely different than any of the others I've tired, will also come up with a completely different endgame.

If not, well then after I level four Empire and four Republic so that I can play around with all the advanced classes, I'll probably get bored and stop subscribing. World of Warcraft kept me for almost two years and ten characters, so hopefully there will be a lot of entertainment before I wear Star Wars out.


In the mean time, I'm enjoying a number of things that Bioware has done differently and I think done right. The fabulous looking worlds that you can spend hours just looking at. The social points earned through grouping, which lead to rewards you can only get that way. The arena PVP that has been quick and painless to join and which has a variety of maps and objectives. The sub-game of space combat.

All things that make this a very different game in my mind, even if the basic gameplay is still target enemy, press 1, 4, 2, 3, 2, 3, 4, collect treasure -- just like a lot of other games out there.
 
"Never EVER go into marketing stabs... seriously."

Ha ha, think I just got owned.
 
The point about solo play is that TOR's design doesn't encourage group play over what WoW does and in fact being at different stages in non shared stories makes the game feel even more individual.

At the moment, though, my SWTOR server feels a little like early WoW and grouping is fine and a lot of fun:- There are a lot of new people who haven't yet learnt how to min/max the fun out of the game or that grouping isn't really necessary for getting quickly to maximum level.
 
@ syl is that not the joy of an MMO in that you have choices? I don't think an MMO would be particularly well received if they actually forced grouping. I know rift added in zone grouping but let's be honest did you actually see any chat between players? Usually it would be complete silence and then the group would disband when the rift closed. What I'm saying though is it is down to an individual on how they decide to play.
 
There's no doubt that there will be a massive transition between leveling and end-game. Bioware knows this, which is why they've been pushing guilds way before the game was even out. SWTOR will obviously be more successful than Age of Conan because the content leads you all the way to end-game and slightly "into" it.

There's definitely going to be some dropoff similar to AoC but not nearly on that scale...maybe 20%? A lot of people will start up alts and that will extend the game a bit but eventually people will run out of content.

What Bioware is doing is fairly smart. They're holding your hand, nurturing your character (and bond to that character). They're leading you to the end-game precipice (the land of little content), patting you on the head, giving you your lunch in an immaculate Star Wars lunchbox and hoping that you make friends at the end-game and want to continue your adventures.

Not everyone will want to play end-game. That's the same with every MMO but I think more will want to give it a try in SWTOR simply because of how attached they are to their characters.
 
Bioware have already announced their endgame strategy: it's the Legacy system. Once a character hits 50, roll an alt and work on getting your Legacy to the top of *that* advancement tree.

Sure, they'll put out some raids for folks who want that style of gameplay, but the eight story lines they already put together are the bulk of their "what will players spend time doing" effort; they just put the work in before the game launched.

Bioware basically took the "as a guild, we'll run this content repeatedly and get benefits from it" approach and made it personal. Tired of the Tython quests? Roll one of the non-force classes, or one of the empire classes if you want even less overlapping.
 
Seriously, this is some of the weirdness that mmorpgs engrain in people - when you finished the lord of the rings trilogy, did you have a tortage moment? Tortage started a story and...never got to the middle or end.

If the stories in SWTOR have start, middle and end, there will be no tortage moment.

The only tortage will be for people who expect an infinite middle.

Again, lie on the couch and tell me when you expected an infinite game, or even a game that runs for half a decade or more?
 
Here's a little more information for you:

http://massively.joystiq.com/2011/12/23/bioware-hints-at-new-swtor-content/

Highlights: "January will bring a new flashpoint to the game as well as an expanded operation instance.

Ohlen says that's just the beginning, too, and BioWare plans on releasing similar new content with regularity. Finally, players concerned over the company's ability to add new story (and voiceover content) will want to check out writer Alexander Freed's post on the official forums. http://www.swtor.com/community/showthread.php?p=692033#edit692033 In a nutshell, he says not to worry, as BioWare does have voice actors under contract and can proceed with development without adding much time to the content creation process."

So new content is already coming out in January and plenty more in the pipeline.
 
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