Tobold's Blog
Monday, January 23, 2012
Doomcasting SWTOR

There has been a lot of talk about the news that some financial analyst downgraded EA stocks, believing that SWTOR wasn't doing so well. And judging by anecdotal evidence from the blogosphere, we went from hype to doom within one month from release.

Unlike some commenters here and elsewhere, I am not quite ready to declare Star Wars: The Old Republic a failure yet. As I said before, neither me nor my readers / commenters are representative of the average MMORPG player any more. Taking a non-representative sample of one, yourself, and extrapolating from that to a million or more players is not a scientifically viable method. That is not to say that bloggers don't have good insights into what could possibly be wrong with a game. But whether these perceived failings lead hundreds of thousands of players to unsubscribe is a lot less certain.

One reason why I would hate SWTOR to fail is that I dread what comes afterwards. There has been a sufficiently long string of failures, which combined with the natural decline of World of Warcraft might well lead to the general impression that MMORPGs were a fad which is dying. Which would mean no more big budget MMORPGs after the current batch in production is finished. MMORPGs could go the way of the dodo, or to take a better example, the way of the turn-based strategy game. Once in a while some small company will still release one, more out of love than out of profitability concerns. But in general the whole genre will be considered dead. So I would be very careful with wishing SWTOR dead, because you could get what you are wishing for and then some.

Unfortunately I don't have much to base hope for SWTOR on. The strong point of SWTOR is clearly the story-telling, and it appears that this strength is one with not much longevity. If you drew a curve of story-density versus time, you'd have to admit that it is declining. Most characters have the most fun and intense part of the story in their starting zones, and then its downhill from there, with progress getting ever slower. You need to grind more and more mobs between two major story elements. Plus, as I said in my previous post, SWTOR isn't a great game for grouping either. Thus I can well see myself becoming bored by soloing, and quitting because I can't find enough group content. Whether I am an unique snowflake or just one of hundreds of thousands of players who thinks that way is what will determine the future of SWTOR. And maybe of the MMORPG genre.
When I point out that SW:TOR, in my opinion, is not going to have more than 500k subs one year after release and thus call it a failure, I usually get the reply:
500k is not a failure.

I think this says a lot, already, because let's be honest: maybe EA says that they will be profitable with 500k - and maybe they even are. But we all know what EA tried to achieve with SW!

They didn't want to make a game that is just about profitable. They wanted to make a game which has a few million subs in the long term. They wanted to print money the Blizzard-style. And with these aspirations in mind they failed.

Should we hope that SW:TOR has about 500k in a year? Yes. Less would be bad, because it could lead to investors giving up. But more would lead to more single-player MMORPGs. And, I at least, really don't want to see more money pumped into (uninspired) developer-created narratives.
I want a virtual world.
I agree with Nils, while 500K might not be a failure, it will likely be a failure for the amount of cash EA threw at the game. And while I don't care for SW:TOR at all, that doesn't mean that I'd want it to fail. I don't want to see anyone out of a job, at least the ones who would be let go. It surely won't be the decision makers, but the grunt developers who actually do the work.

Personally, I'd rather see more virtual open worlds but in single player games, ala Skyrim style. In the past year, I've gotten more play from games like Skyrim, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Saints Row. I'd love to see more work and effort put into those than another generic MMO with fetch/kill quests, grind to max and raid. That style has been done to death in my book.

Perhaps GW2 will change that, and if successful will spawn others to follow suit. At least with GW2, once I buy the game I'm not forking out a monthly sub for it. Hopefully it will be a good game, but for me and I think many others, the WOW style of MMO just isn't going to cut it anymore. It doesn't matter what graphics or genre you slap on it, we've done every style of quest/mission thousands of times over.

But perhaps this is a good thing for some of us, who spent countless hours in these games. Due to my boredom with these games I learned to play guitar. Normally I'd be playing countless hours of some MMO, but I spent some time learning how to play an instrument instead.
As the MMO blogosphere's #1 SWTOR Doomsayer (you'd think, from the reaction I consistently get,) I'm of two minds about it. On the one hand, I like Bioware and would like to see them succeed, and I would like there to be a viable big-ticket alternative to WoW. Not becuase I want WoW to fail but because I want WoW to have competition, and thereby an impetus to improve.

On the other hand, I am very, very tired of dev teams chasing that, and think MMOs would likely benefit greatly in the long run from more games with smaller budgets that allow them to take more risks. I do not see a downside of the market for MMOs contracting to the size of the turn-based strategy market, some examples of which sell quite well.

500K after a year could and should be considered a very substantial success, but we're spoiled by WoW's numbers, which SWTOR spent so much money chasing that it almost cannot fail to be a financial bust. Whether it's a creative success or not (I think it's not,) or whether it's a good game or not (I think it is,) are discussions we can have, but they're irrelevant to whether it's going to lose money or not.

think that
Well, considering my comment in the previous post it may seem as if I'm doomcasting SWTOR. I don't really believe that it will lose all subscribers over night. It might even grow for a while if there is a decent flow of new players. I just don't think that it has the same longevity as previous games as I do suspect that people will have tired of the current end game system which is presented in game after game.

This probably doesn't mean that the MMO genre as a whole is dying either. Most likely it just means that developers will have to start coming up with some new new stuff instead of the usual copy/pasted system/design with a few added features. It's not an easy task, I'm fully aware of that, but I suspect that it's necessery.

I don't know if it's the right way to go, but I'm dreaming of a fully dynamic huge world where what I do will actually make some difference. Maybe just for me (and perhaps a few friends/the guild) but still some difference. The easiest for me to imagine it right now would be Skyrim online as that's the closest I've come so far to such content, but I think even that might be a bit limited in the long run. Seeing merchants travel with their carts along the road and having highway robbers set up ambushes. Orcs patrolling the perimeter of their camp being attacked by a dynamically created group of centaurs that decided that they had to leave camp to hunt for meat. Kingdoms going to war because of a gold mine on the border between them. Battles rolling back and forth. One of the aforementioned kingdoms actually capturing the mine and it's attacked by trolls that want to use it as their lair. In the middle of this the player characters could be employed by factions depending on what their current needs are.

I know that some of this content I've described is announced in GW2, but somehow I doubt that it will be as dynamic as announced and even then it's still a bit too bound by a certain set of rules or time tables. Time will tell though. But that's the type of stuff that I'm dreaming of. It would be hell to program no doubt, but I think that who ever makes this happen in such a large scale would probably have the next WoW on their hands. At least if it isn't a (&%#(@/ niche PvP game and is polished/relatively bug free.
There are more MMOs already than I'm ever going to play in the rest of my life. New ones appear literally every week. The last thing I worry about in respect of MMOs is that the supply will dry up.

If huge conglomerates like EA decide their development money is better spent elsewhere, that won't necessarily be a bad thing. If the market realigns so that a game that can attract a hundred thousand registered users is deemed a huge success and one that can hold a quarter of that is reckoned to be doing okay, we'll probably get some much more interesting worlds to play in.
Turn based strategy is dead, and only small companies are releasing them- not for profit, but for love of the genre?


Damn, I didn't realize the entire Civilization series wasn't profitable, and the Total War series was such a flop. I won't be bothering with the newly re-vamped X-Com then either. Oh, and I guess I'll cancel my Jagged Alliance Back In Action pre-order off Steam.....

...... methinks you've pronounced a death sentence on a pretty active, lively 'little' genre, but I have no idea how many copies those games have sold. A lot I'd wager.
Total War has a large real-time part. And both XCom and Jagged Alliance are being remade not as turn-based, but as real-time games.
The honeymoon is over. People are used to all the new shiny, and able to see what is lacking.

For me I can see that this game will not sustain me for a year in its current state. But, there is time for Bioware to address this, unfortunately I don't think they have 6 months or a year.

As you mention a LFG tool is sorely needed. Leveling is *FAST* I'm outgearing flashpoint content before finding groups. Heroic quests just get skipped. It doesn't seem to be due to a lack of people on my server, just no one wanting to go to the effort to put groups together. A LFG tool really is a must-have for any new MMO now.

We need UI mods. Expecting a healer to use the same UI that a DPS player uses is a bad practice. Unless Bioware is going to sitdown and think of how to change the UI for healers to make it usable, you are not going to have people enjoying healing. Simple things like target of target is plain missing. I've got more abilities than I know what to do with at level 25, and the default button layout is starting to break down.

Travel... If I do get a group together for a heroic quest or flashpoint everyone must make their way to the starting area. Flashpoint shuttles should be clearly marked on the map, and always available, at least. Porting people to the starting area is better. You can argue this breaks the game, but it's already done with warzones. I can be anywhere in the galaxy and boom, I'm suddenly in Nar Shadda playing Hutt Ball.

At this point I can see myself finishing off the character i'm working on, and perhaps 1 or two more, but I don't see SWTOR lasting more than a few months for me as it is today.
And both XCom and Jagged Alliance are being remade not as turn-based, but as real-time games.

It does look like turn based games might get a revival.

Note that this isn't the previously announced X-Com FPS. This will be closer to a remake of the original.
Problems with SWTOR can be summed up with a few key points.

-Bugs, lack of polish.

-Piss poor customer service.

-Content consumed too quickly.

-Plays more like a multiplayer game than a massively multiplayer game.

The biggest problem of all is becoming more and more apparent however. This game was released before it was finished. Now the dev team is trying to play catch-up and it is not working. If they work on fixing bugs, then the lack of content will bore people. Work on rolling out content and the bugs will annoy people into quitting. So their solution is to try to deal with the most annoying bugs only, while releasing content.

This is why Blizzard's release date policy is: "When its done".
So, all of these discussions about SW:TOR's probable success or failure are just assumptions? That's cool.
I never really doomcasted Swtor but I never supported it. My basic point was (and is) that people had already put it so high up on a pedestal that it couldn't possibly meet expectations. Bioware didn't help with their attitude of "we're
Bioware and even though we're new to MMORPGs we're going to hit a home run."

They didn't. Swtor isn't a bad game. It isn't a failure (at least I am not going to call it that). It just isn't the amazing thing that everyone played it out to be. When I was in the beta it was just another MMORPG like so many others so I neglected to bother buying it.
So, all of these discussions about SW:TOR's probable success or failure are just assumptions? That's cool.

Short of having a magic crystal ball looking 6-12 months or more into the future, is there any other way to discuss it?
"MMORPGs could go the way of the dodo, or to take a better example, the way of the turn-based strategy game."

Sadly, I think that outcome is pretty much inevitable. As you pointed out in your comments on the Panderia expansion, we're not the target audience any more. Game companies are unlikely to make MMOs as we've known them. Look forward to more linearity, more random dungeons/matches/warzones and more RMT. Less open world, less personal interaction and less choice.

Even Titan is likely to be more Farmville than Warcraft.

Nils sums up my feelings in his last paragraph. My opinion is that TOR is a bad MMORPG. I don't really want it to succeed, but then again I don't want to fall flat on it's face either.

Ah well, back to Skyrim...

i believe it comes down to what an MMO was when it was a few games that enjoyed the concept, the endgame that is raiding, the leveling that took months. Now to get more customers they have had to gear an MMO into a single player model of instant gratification similar to everyones favorite comparison Syrim. You can't have MMO customers and Single player customers in the same game, somebody will complain. While MMO may never have the large numbers again they will still be profitable to those who like the online community aspect and the endgame that an MMO is. Those who want a cut and dry start and finish w/o interacting with others they should stick to and will stick to the single player games like Skyrim & Fable.
I think any game company needs to look very carefully at what happened at CCP recently as a warning. When CCP began to believe they could do no wrong, perform miracles, ignore the player base, and believe their own hype, something was bound to go wrong. Feel free to google all the details of Monaclegate and the layoffs for more details, but at the end of the day players canceled subscriptions, and CCP had to cut 20% of their workforce, put WOD on the backburner, and put their efforts back into EVE (their only money-making product). Companies should be very aware that players will not just keep taking any sub-par product/features they choose to feed them. And above all else, quit trying to make the next WOW style success. So many games have tried and failed when they make that the goal of the game, rather than producing a unique and challenging product.
It's interesting...Rift went through the same rapid love/hate curve as SWTOR is experiencing.

I agree with previous insights that the problem with current mmorpg's is that we all know how to play them now. The magic of discovery in the world and the classes should be a games strength, but unfortunately, SWTOR's worlds are instanced, phased, and on rails; there is little love for an explorer type in the game. Meanwhile, the class structure is rigid and inflexible while the combat is bogged down by over-ambitious animation and the traditional holy trinity group mechanic.

The WoW killer won't be WoW. The challenge facing designers is to come up with new mechanics in a persistent open world where player actions have a direct impact on the world we play in. Sadly, every release that "plays it safe" pushes the sub-based mmorpg closer to extinction in favor of f2p and browser based titles.

I really hope SWTOR makes money. I love sub based mmorpg's. It's just a real shame that Bioware/EA felt they couldn't take any risks...That said they will get $120US out of me and millions of others so let's not start the funeral procession quite yet :)
Reading all your recent SWTOR posts I just had to comment. Since it was too long for a single comment, I just created my own blog for this. If people will be interested I'll keep it up. The 1 article says what I really want to say, SWTOR is nothing short of a gaming revolution and can redefine the entire gaming industry. Here's why:
Civilisation has died, really. People bought Civ5 for sentiment, but nobody plays it for fun, really. It's just too broken and boring, with no AI and no MP.
The death of the MMO genre is exactly what I'm wishing for. So far, to date, the only good big budget MMO to release is Vanguard, and maybe SWG. And both of those had huge issues. Big budget is almost synonymous with "WoW clone". If the big budget publishers pulled out of the genre, we'd finally get those small dedicated studios pumping out quality innovative titles, like in the MMO Golden Age from 97-2004.

If SWTOR crashes and burns, devs will finally see copying WoW doesn't work, and that MMOs should seek to be SOCIAL not singleplayer
I hope the Guild Wars 2 fanboys are keeping track of all the "SW:TOR was so overhyped it could never possibly live up to expectations," comments. What we are seeing now with SW:TOR we are going to see again when GW2 finally launches. The only difference is that GW2's hype is largely driven by us, the blogosphere, where SW:TOR's was largely driven by EA/Bioware themselves. But so many people are expecting GW2 to "save" the MMO as a genre... I don't see how it can possibly live up to all the hopes people are putting in it.
The criteria for something being DOOOOOMED seem pretty absurd.

Basically unless you play it for the rest of your freakin' life, or maybe even unless you play it for seven years, it's a failure?

Wierd criteria floating around out there. Makes me think some are actually looking for a new religion rather than to play a game, finish in a satisfactory way and move on with the experience under their belt.
Couple of points the "analyst" was some outfit called: Brean Murray Carret & Co.

When I saw this I immediately said er... who?
Not exactly like Goldman name recognition.

Also I would take any "financial estimate" prior to offical earnings with a HUGE grain of salt.
1) There were plenty of shorts betting that EA would bomb and thus make money on shorting the price.
2) ANY announcement from any non-company source is pure speculation.

[side note what's the chances that this little bit o' "research" breaking conincided with an employee stock lockout period ending and this 3% is employees sending 100 share orders into an illiquid market???
Hmmm I would even say some goblins might be involved...]

As to SWTOR fail being bad for games. Yes it would be "bad" but in reality games of this type are changing.
The expenses are SO BIG now that only a few quality MMO titles will be available anyway.

SWTOR has Star Wars IP and I believe that WILL prevail over time.

As to what one commenter said "it was shipped too early".
Yep, it was but would it really have been any better?

At some point ya gotta ship the dang thing. You have to test your science project against reality.

SWTOR has come out pretty well really. Remember BIOWARE has little MMO experince.
The fact that it is playable with few quality issues IS A BIG DEAL.

I wonder all of the people moaning about LFG did in WOW etc before they had LFG?
It's funny what you can get from listening to bloggers and blog commenters, though.

I mean, for example: in a complete 180 from Signus, I thought Vaguard was the biggest, most spectacular flop of the year (OMG you can make BOATS!) and that SWG/Vanguard were utter crap I wouldn't play if you PAID me - my time being too valuable and life being too short for those games.

My friends and family are in love with TOR, and get together to talk about how cool certain moments were and which choices did we make, etc, the same way we did for Mass Effect. We've played the game to 50s as buddies in pairs, and consider it to be the ultimate in co-op gaming. The 'corner of the blogosphere' which exploded into indignant nerd-rage over the Ilum changes elicited a pretty derisive, "Who gives a rat's?" from our group, as most had never bothered with it in the first place.

So. One group is predicting doom and gloom and the end of MMOs as we know it, another group is loving the hell out of the game.

Vive la différence.
I don't think TOR failing will lead to the death of the MMORPG. I do hope, however, that it will lead to the death of the WoW-clone - especially if new, different games like TSW and GW2 succeed. There is still money to be made in the genre, I just think people are tired of the same old (I know I am).
Agree with Cam here, I know I'm in the minority in the blogosphere as a) I didn't play EQ1 / SWG and b) I like SWTOR for what it is.

As we know games are played by a silent majority. This is the first game that has united the groups of friends I have from WoW, LoTRO, DDO and other games - they're all playing it. No other game has managed that, GW2 will not either. Maybe they won't all stay subbed for years but they're here now and that is something of an achievement for Bioware - is this the first post-WoW MMO that has true mass appeal?
I still don't get way no one is looking at Star Wars Galaxies when looking at the "end game" of SWTOR.

Seriously, who didn't know the "leveling game" is going to end within a month? It's easy to rope a million players into playing the leveling game for a month , but keeping that many at the cap repeating Raids,Gear grinding and PvP'ig ? If Bioware is relying on -that- to keep the end game going, then something like Diablo 3 is going to totally kill this game, because why would you want to do -that- in SWTOR and not in something like Diablo instead?

At least SWG had that kind of sand box design, especially when it comes to using and RE-using content (i.e. why have a bunch of awesome planets to visit if it's only useful between a specific level range?) .

Anyway, until MMO devs figure out how to combine the leveling game with a few sandbox ideas, this kind of setup is not sustainable.
"I'd rather see more virtual open worlds but in single player games, ala Skyrim style. In the past year, I've gotten more play from games like Skyrim, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Saints Row"

Bioware already said that they were taking notes from Skyrim and that the next Dragon Age would be more open world. So you'll likely get that regardless.
Yes except the thing you're missing is, "we're having fun with SWTOR in the same way we did with Mass Effect, playing in pairs"

That is NOT a good MMO. That is a singleplayer game with coop features. If SWTOR had billed itself as such, the backlash wouldn't have been so good.

But as it stands, it's just a mediocre singleplayer game with a monthly fee. If it was entirely singleplayer or coop, then the things you did and choices you make would actually have an impact on the game world. In SWTOR, they don't. Because it's a broken hodge podge of two genres not meant to mix.
Gerry Quinn,

Damn, I didn't get that memo. Where can I get my 350 hours back?
Well, I guess it's good Civ 5 pleased some folks!

Maybe my comments were a bit harsh, but for me it seems to have lost its soul.
There is of course the potential that WoW is a actually a fad that will never be repeated.

I've made the argument on this blog that WoW came along at just the right time; broadband was common enough that a whole lot of people could effectively play multiplayer games that were fun, a problem in the late 90s when have 300 ms of ping during your Quake 2 match was acceptable, and you were doing really well if you only had 200.

Let's look at the evidence--- every year it seems like somebody comes out with some big budget competition that's supposed to dethrone WoW. Even know when Wow is undeniably in decline, SWTOR, a game that is apparently quite fun and has an excellent franchise behind it, can't get the job done. It's just going to be a merely reasonably successful, just like EVERY OTHER MMO EVER RELEASED.

Maybe, just maybe, there's a fairly hard cap on the number of people really interested in the MMO genre. There's any number of games that are much better than MMO's at any particular thing. There are games like Skyrim for those who enjoy the RPG aspect. There are games like GTA for the open world people. There's Call of Duty for pvp, etc. Ultimately there are just a lot of options out there that are more appealing in terms of gameplay, and aren't designed to be massive timesinks.

So the question becomes, why does the MMO deserve to be popular? It's a rather difficult question when you think about it. There are only two things the MMO genre excels at: nerd community and creating a achievement from repetitive tasks.

That's not a great selling point. I don't see any particular reason for the MMO genre as currently constituted to be much more than a niche genre. As the WoW player base decays, I don't see most of those people going to another MMO. They have so many other options that will disperse to the games that do what they like better than MMOs.

WOT is more or less a refuge for ex-MMO players.
My prediction is that in 5 years, the MMO market will be very small relative to the FPS and RPG market. The next generation consoles will be out with time for game companies to produce their big budget games and that's where the money will be spent. Big production companies like EA will be spending their money on single player and co-op RPG titles over MMO titles. They are in business to make money, not cater to the vocal minority shouting for sandbox virtual worlds.

WoW was an anomaly.
The topic is too absolute, why not just analyze the game as it evolves? Plus, complaining about the "lack-of" endgame/raid content for a 1 month old game is just stupid, especially when you blaze right through it to the cap. I'd say BW will improve, as they are getting used to the more hardcore aspect of the mmo market (see the addition of the new op with 1.1). I'll agree that SW:TOR is definitely not revolutionary, but it's still hella fun.
The reason I addressed that Civilization point was not only to defend my addiction (for the record, I think that Civ V is actually the best one for a long while. The AI has always sucked, but at least now the computer is honest about how bad it is).

Instead, I think it ties in to Nils' (and others too!) points made repeatedly as of late: the fact that MMO might mature from flavour of the year to a mature niche does not have to be a bad thing.
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