Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
 
Bartle on SWTOR

The notes of Dr. Richard Bartle on Star Wars: The Old Republic are well worth reading. He doesn't go into too much detail, arguing that he actually makes a living by giving his opinion in detail, so it would be foolish to do so for free. But he makes some great major points.

Dr. Bartle's description of the endgame of MMORPGs is something I very much agree with: "Traditionally, while creating new expansions an MMO developer will try to keep players occupied by teaching them to dance through interminable raids that have gameplay bearing little resemblance to the gameplay it took the players to get there." And, not unlike me in my 1001 nights post, he notices that by having a class quest which ends at level 50, SWTOR has something closer resembling a game over screen than previous MMORPGs. Which leads both of us to exactly the same question: "The question is, then, what will players do next?"

But what is interesting is that Dr. Bartle has experience with MUDs that had a game over screen, and where people kept playing the game for years in spite of that. He says: "once you can treat the virtual world as a place like any other, you return because you like it there, not because you have a purpose there" And I think that this is a big thought, which game developers would do well to consider: Are these virtual worlds places to which we would return because we like it there? Or are we just playing with a purpose, striving towards an end that never comes?

My personal prediction is that SWTOR will fail to hold huge numbers of players beyond level 50. Some people will just recreate the same sort of raiding culture in SWTOR that they had in WoW, but that won't be millions. Some people will stay a bit, doing some minor endgame activities, but mainly play alts. And a large number of people will feel that they reached the end of the game and quit. Because, in my opinion, Star Wars: The Old Republic does not provide a place to which I would return because I like it there. Outside the linear stories I experience if I visit a planet at the right level, none of these planets is really interesting enough for me to stay. There isn't much to do on any planet outside your level range. Thus to me ultimately the planets aren't places, but more like scenery painted on canvas as backdrop to the theater piece I'm currently acting in. I'll stop here, because discussing how it could be done better is a whole separate post, which I leave for another day.
Comments:
I agree. I have already made the gut prediction that SW:TOR will have less than 1 mio players one year after launch.

At this point, considering the blogs, traditional press and the metacritic score, I would now say that EA could be happy if they had 500k subscribers one year after launch.

In other words, SW:TOR failed. And it failed for EXACTLY the reasons we, the blogosphere, had predicted for at least 2 years prior to launch. We should be proud - and sad.

Let's see if GW2 turns out to be a place I would like to return to, even though I don't progress my character's power - a place Azeroth was until mid-WotLK.
 
"once you can treat the virtual world as a place like any other, you return because you like it there, not because you have a purpose there"

That made me immediately think of LOTROs' "The Shire". I'm pretty much out ot LOTRO these days, no desire to go back. However just thinking of The Shire gives me the desire to patch my game client. This is the single area in any MMO I ever played that felt like home, a place worth fighting for.
 
" Star Wars: The Old Republic does not provide a place to which I would return because I like it there. Outside the linear stories I experience if I visit a planet at the right level, none of these planets is really interesting enough for me to stay. There isn't much to do on any planet outside your level range"

Unlike wow, right?
Where you spend days and days running your highest level character to blades edge mountain to partake in games and fun along all the other max level toons...

My point is this: yes there are much clearer lines as to where toons hang out in swtor than other mmo's, but they aren't different. Players will always hang out in capitals, low levels will always level in their designated levelling zones (except special little snowflakes), and end game will be different, because mmo's are social games and you need a levelleling plateu (at least in my optics), so that players who level fast, can still have a point in game to meet and play with players who level slowly.

What i'm trying to say, is that claiming that swtor will fail because it has a level/end-game model that looks like the 10 mill sub monster that wow is, is silly.
 
@nils. Failed how? half a mill sub was what bioware stated they needed to suceed. I've not ever seen any goal to beat what-ever mmo out there.

With the choice to focus so much on story, they purposefully cut out a huge chunk of potential players; those who want to pvp, those who can't sit still long enough to hear the dialogue (kids and the shooter crowd et al), so saying they failed because... well im not sure why you'd think that half a mill sub is a fail
 
claiming that swtor will fail because it has a level/end-game model that looks like the 10 mill sub monster that wow is, is silly

What, in your opinion, is the unique selling point of SWTOR?

In my opinion the unique selling point of SWTOR is the story, the "fourth pillar", the voice-acting, the dialogue, however you want to call it. Now imagine many people bought SWTOR *because* of this unique selling point, because they liked the story, because to them it felt much different than the game they already knew, WoW.

So why would it be silly to assume that at the point where the story ends, where SWTOR becomes just like WoW, only with less features, less raids, no addons, no guild perks, etc., etc., etc., people start leaving?

In short, I know why I prefer leveling in SWTOR to leveling in WoW. I don't know why I would prefer raiding in SWTOR to raiding in WoW. Do you?
 
DOOOOOOMMMMM!!!!!
 
Why would have failed then?

imho it's all in the eye of the beholder.
Do we really know what they want to achieve?

imho there is not much difference anymore between "normal" games and MMO's. patches, updates, DLC, expansions it's all the same to me.
 
@Tobold

Who has SWTOR failed? EA shareholders?

"Some people will just recreate the same sort of raiding culture in SWTOR that they had in WoW, but that won't be millions. Some people will stay a bit, doing some minor endgame activities, but mainly play alts."

Sounds fine to me!
There's room in the market for another themepark MMO - even if it has to go all micro-transactiony.
 
@Tobold: Who has SWTOR failed? EA shareholders?

@Bernard: Huh? I never said SWTOR failed, or failed anybody. I said: "My personal prediction is that SWTOR will fail to hold huge numbers of players beyond level 50." If you only read that phrase until the word "fail", and didn't read the rest, you misunderstood what I was saying. I am only making a rather narrow prediction on the power of SWTOR to hold players after they reached the level cap.

So please, take your complaint to Nils, who made a much broader statement. SOPA or not SOPA, I am not responsible for what Nils says on my blog. :)
 
If they provide regular flash point, battle zones and operation updates it will hold interest.

WoW stop providing regular updates during LK.
 
:)
 
Nils,

I'm not Metacritic scrying expert, but 85 looks pretty solid to me. Or were you thinking about the user reviews?

Me, I just want to play the damn game, but sadly it's not available for my platform!
 
Nils was probably talking about the Metacritic user score, which is very evidently "gamed". Any natural distribution has a peak in the middle, and low probabilities for the extremes. The Metacritic user score for SWTOR has a high number of extreme high and low scores, and nearly none with a middle score. Basically Metacritic was used as a battleground between SWTOR haters and SWTOR fanbois, with a combined result that isn't representative of anything.

In as far as you trust review scores from paid journalists, the Metacritic "critic review" score of 85 is significantly more representative of the actual quality of the game. Games don't need to be entertaining for years to be good games. SWTOR is a very entertaining game at least for some months. It's only potential "fail" is in the long term.
 
And don't you see this where Everquest succeeded more than 10 years ago. There were mixed zones throughout the world, if you can recall a place like East Commons or Oasis, having content in place for a wide range of levels. This not only let you feel attachment to these locations as you began your adventure, it took you back to them to continue it. This would further cement it as a locale to be in your mind. Remember when a Griffin would come and destroy your level 8 Wizard staring at spellbook? Well you could come back at a higher level and take on that Griffin and then actually 'feel' the power you've gained. This is arbitrary when the fight always feels the same regardless of your level, because you aren't venturing into dangerous territory.

I think losing this is what attributes to the feeling of moving scenery in MMOs these days. You have to fear, feel and be immersed in these worlds. Otherwise we are just paper cut outs roaming and repeating.
 
Tobold, the metacritic score is never really gaussian. The only people who go vote there are those who love the game and those who hate it - those who 'care'.

And, honestly, I understand every KOTOR fan who has no idea about MMOs, who hopes to play the next KOTOR, and is then confronted with this game. SW:TOR is only a good single-player game (until level 50) if you consider it an MMO...
(Yes, this sentence is as ridiculous as reality :)

If you judge it as a real single-player game, like the old KOTOR games, it is extreme grindy and graphically inferior. I suspect people with 'wrong' expectations went to metacritic and voted.
 
Bah! Great minds think alike I suppose....

Link back thingy: http://gankalicious.blogspot.com/2012/01/star-wars-gank-finally-speaks-out.html
 
At level 50, your loading screen turns to "Interlude" - I'm fairly sure they intend to add more class story content.

Given 1.1 is adding another planet IIRC and even more content, I wonder if SWTOR will be pretty well placed to maintain interest from the people who, like in WoW, rotate out when content is "old" and come back for "new".

If they can keep up a content pace like that, perhaps they really can keep a larger portion of people "hanging on" because there'll be something they havnt yet done which doesnt require dancing the dance that is raids.
 
Hi Tobold, if you don't mind I will cite some other passages from Bartle:

"...OK, so I said that I was going to continue with my subscription for the game (which I didn't in LotRO or Rift) because I'm interested to see what Bioware will do with it. I'll now explain why I'm interested.

My grand theory of why people find MMOs fun draws on Campbell's Hero's Journey. To cut to the chase, it comes down to this: self-actualisation occurs when you accept that the game accepts that you've won. In most modern MMOs, the game never admits that you've "won" because the developers believe that if it did, players would stop playing and go off to some other MMO instead. Their preference is to keep players around for long enough that an expansion can be built to move the finishing line further away. Players either self-actualise through their own strength of will, or they get increasingly frustrated and drift away, or they become trapped at an earlier stage (typically that of planner/achiever) and keep going until they burn out.

Now this belief that players shouldn't get to "win" because then they'll quit sounds pretty logical, but the evidence from the old text MUDs that did let them win is contrary: players kept playing for years (in some cases, decades and counting) after they won. This is in keeping with Campbell's theory: once you can treat the virtual world as a place like any other, you return because you like it there, not because you have a purpose there. I've been saying for years that someone should make a major MMO with an end-point, and I was beginning to wonder if the concept of what an MMO "should" have as an elder game was going to become so ingrained that even if one of them did allow players to win, too many of said players would be too set in their ways for them to accept it."

The most important quote:

"Well, SW:TOR has only gone ahead and done it: it's told players that at the end of their class quest line their story is over. There are other stories, but your main one has come to an end. Congratulations, you've won."

SWTOR may be aiming at a very different audience to the end game raiding/min-maxer crowd. I note these are the most "frustrated" and angry of the current/ex SWTOR player base.

For years we've said that MMOs have no "end". Well maybe level cap is the end for most players.

Is that a bad thing?

Single player RPGs are played to "Then End". But people replay them all the time if they enjoy the world.

This is how I've been playing MMOs for a few years now. I get a toon to level cap, do some end game stuff but then roll a new class/faction to explore if I like the world. At present, I like the SWTOR world, and happy to re-roll toons and explore.

I just spent six months in RIFT watching the population crash, and I'm told to "hurry" to the end game where "the real game is" if I want to PvP or run a dungeon. So, at level 35 I thought about grinding to level cap "as fast" as possible without enjoying the world and thought "meh". Good game, well done but I've stopped playing because I have no interest in a game that makes levelling trivial.

Maybe SWTOR is different because the fabled "end game" is just that: the end.

Maybe the levelling game in SWTOR is "the real game", and the player base BioWare want are those more interested that play style.

What's better? A million casual players or a couple thousand end game raiders?
 
@Tobold "In my opinion the unique selling point of SWTOR is the story, the "fourth pillar", the voice-acting, the dialogue, however you want to call it. Now imagine many people bought SWTOR *because* of this unique selling point, because they liked the story, because to them it felt much different than the game they already knew, WoW."

Now imagine that this is exactly what BioWare intents to do: to turn SWTOR into virtual/interactive sitcom. They can produce as many "episodes" as Seinfield or Star Trek did by just reusing existing and refurbished content. They can make you come to old flashpoints and planets in the context of a new story. Meanwhile adding new planets and stories. They have literally thousands years of Star Wars lore to exploit.
 
@Tobold

My apologies - I read "My personal prediction is that SWTOR will fail to hold huge numbers of players beyond level 50." and inferred that you were of the same thinking a Nils!
 
How on earth can a game get someone to return for no purpose at all?

How do you differentiate "Hey, out complete lack of purpose in playing is very different from WOW's complete lack of purpose in playing!"

SWTOR failed?

This returning for no purpose doesn't seem very rational. How can you win, ie, something rational, at something that is erational? Even the people who do it don't know why they do - if they did, then they would know what purpose they do it for.
 
Yep, it only took one month after launch for the EQ jaded folks to predict downfalls.

Frankly, I don't care about what MMO blogosphere considers is good/bad about SWTOR. I am having fun playing SWTOR it's depth of implementation is really compelling.

I could go into full star wars apologist mode but just a few things to consider.

Have you done the following?

Maxed affection for one of your companions to see their complete quest line?

Rolled a Sith (or opposite faction) toon?
[the Empire stories are BETTER than the republic... you are cheating yourself if you don't take a walk on the Dark Side]
Hint: Sith Inquisitor/Sith Warrior are really REALLY neat

Done a few advanced Space Combat Quests?

In any case as I have said before. You all who read this blog are NOT the target audience of SWTOR.

After all this Star Wars thing... it's not a big deal probably a fad anyway.
 
@Tobold In short, I know why I prefer leveling in SWTOR to leveling in WoW. I don't know why I would prefer raiding in SWTOR to raiding in WoW. Do you?

Less than 20% of WoW's non-Chinese playerbase raids, so I imagine you could ask them. What are the 80% doing month after month? Certainly not leveling alts, given how everyone agrees that would take approximately 2 weeks to level cap. Right?

@Nils [...] I would now say that EA could be happy if they had 500k subscribers one year after launch.

In other words, SW:TOR failed. And it failed for EXACTLY the reasons we, the blogosphere, had predicted for at least 2 years prior to launch. We should be proud - and sad.


Er... okay. So we live in a world where 500k subscribers is a failure? The same world where 500k would technically be the second most popular Western MMO on the market? Unlike Rift's very public anti-WoW campaign, I am not even sure SWTOR set out to be a WoW-killer.

And let's be honest here: the "blogosphere" could simply predict that every MMO would fail and be correct 95% of the time; its predicative usefulness is greatly exaggerated. And, hell, if we are to the point that anything less than 1+ million subs is failure, no MMO but 1-2 can succeed.
 
I think most people's idea of what "subscription numbers" are is wrong from the start. This is not a process where everybody buys the game on release and the subscription number evolution depends mainly on how long they stay afterwards. Instead there is a huge movement, with many thousands of players coming in and going out every month.

Thus a drop in SWTOR subscription number not just necessitates people leaving, but it also needs a lack of new players joining the game. That is far from being given. Therefore I would say Nils' prediction is a bit premature.
 
@Oz Mike: your post (with the citation of Richard Bartle) makes a lot of sense to me. I once read that people felt about their favorite mmo like it was a local bar: You log on to hang out with the "local" crowd. How you occupy yourself during your stay in chat is not that important.

@Angry gamer: after your post, for the first time I feel tempted to try SWTOR.
 
Jesus Christ, really. We have been coming on here for the last month telling you this game would fail. It has already become a space bar fest. Everyone is skipping everything. LIKE I SAID THEY WOULD. All the classe being mirrors of each other is a BAD thing not good. There is no story choices, whatever you choose you end up in the same spot. IT MAKES NO DIFF. They spent all this money and time on a game that should be KOTOR III. Not a MMORPG. They should have spent it on gameplay,bug fixing and optimizing the game. When someone with a top of the line computer cannot play the game there is a problem. And the instancing is HORRIBLE. It makes it seem like there is no one playing. Had so much potential. Rich Vogel should be banned from working in the gaming industry. Everything the guy touches turns to crap. He seriously has no clue.
 
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