Five quick thoughts on SWTOR’s recent State of the Game

As SWTOR picks up momentum for its free-to-play conversion, we’ve been treated to a new state of the game post by Executive Producer Jeff Hickman.  You can read it here if you haven’t already.  As my time this week is limited, here are just four quick thoughts about it off the top of my head:

1. Introducing yourself with a picture of your tattoos is not as cool as you think it is.

If you’re going to show a picture of you, including your face would be nice.  The whole tattoo-resume thing ranges from laughable to been-there-done-that.

2. Jeff Hickman?  When did this happen?

Actually it happened well over a year ago, and I should know since I wrote the story on it.  But I guess I forgot, and from comments I’ve read, it seems like a lot of people forgot that WAR’s old head honcho is now in a key position on SWTOR.  At least it makes for easy snide comments for those looking to do so.

3. BioWare’s really sticking to the “subscriptions made people leave in droves” line — and I don’t fully buy that.

Of course, I don’t have access to any of BioWare’s feedback or research, but this seems to be an awfully convenient statement to be flinging about.  Convenient in that it places the blame for subscriber loss on the business model and not the product or ongoing service.  I still think that sub-only games can succeed and thrive if done right and if they offer a superior service, and if saddling the game with subscriptions was going to tank it, then BioWare either had to be completely oblivious to any pre-launch feedback and research or EA strongarmed them into it.  Again, I don’t think that’s the case.

What I believe is that SWTOR is a solid MMO with plenty of strengths and plenty of flaws, but at the end of the day it couldn’t justify its subscription fee with a superior product or a superior service.  Hickman kind of hints at stumbling in the service department with slow updates, but the rest is BioWare’s PR spin trying to take the pressure off from players pushing for a quality increase in the product and/or service.

4. Addressing the departing team member situation was surprising and gutsy.  I liked it.

If BioWare is keeping its head in the sand over the whole “subscriptions was our main downfall” line, at least it’s not trying to ignore or obfuscate the fact that the studio’s suffered a lot of personnel losses from the very top on down.  Hickman gets points for at least acknowledging this, as well as making an interesting observation (that some members left because they weren’t fans of the F2P adaptation).  He might lose one or two of those points for trying to spin all of this as a positive thing, but I’m giving him a pass on this because so many other studios wouldn’t even touch this subject in public.  On the whole, MMO companies are loathe to have team member layoffs or departures noticed and reported on, because it just doesn’t look good.  But Hickman addresses it and says the team  is still dedicated and working hard, and that’s actually comforting to hear.

5. The things I wanted to hear, such as the continuation of class storylines and how BioWare is going to handle pushing those stories forward, weren’t mentioned.

But hey!  Oceanic server populations, am I right fellas?

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7 thoughts on “Five quick thoughts on SWTOR’s recent State of the Game

  1. The tattoo ‘thing’ is just pathetic. Grow up Jeff.

    Other than that, I’m looking forward to trying out SWTOR again and resurrecting my level 30ish bounty hunter.

  2. Concur on the tattoo thing, it makes him look like a bigger idiot than I already did, after the whole WAR debacle.

    After that? His three things are rubbish. There may be people who enjoy the game, but there are a lot of people very put out by it as well. Lack of content, and the sub not being worth what you get are the two major keys for people leaving. Slow updates is a third.

    On his topics.. Yeesh. When people who have been around for a while leave, the project suffers. It doesn’t thrive, and to say otherwise is wishful thinking at best, and flat-out ignorance at worst. It’s a drain on knowledge, and you can’t simply step someone, even with the same amount of experience, into a role on a project they’ve never touched and expect equal or better productivity. As for QA, their QA is laughable. The complexity issue is a garbage crutch. IMO, the only thing he got right here is handling Oceanic servers. Too bad that taking the easy way out on that question made it impossible to screw up.

    As for the things that matter, such as the core of the game(class storylines), skipping that is very telling; namely that Bioware has no damn clue of what they’re doing.

  3. “He might lose one or two of those points for trying to spin all of this as a positive thing, but I’m giving him a pass on this because so many other studios wouldn’t even touch this subject in public.”

    Has there been any public indication, prior to this letter, that staff voluntarily departed from Bioware in protest of the F2P move? This strikes me as extremely unlikely since A) big corporations like EA usually have contract clauses against this sort of thing, B) trashing the direction that your former employer is taking your old project is generally not the sort of loyalty that a potential employer likes to see in an applicant, and C) if so, I haven’t heard.

    If not, then why throw the game’s new direction under the bus by unnecessarily pointing out that it is so controversial that people allegedly quit their jobs rather than work on it? The more I re-read this line, the more it sounds like a continuation of passing the buck as in your point number three – suddenly the layoffs of half their staff are due to routine churn and creative differences, rather than because the game dramatically underperformed for its budget.

    None of which is really our business as customers, except to the extent that it impacts the feasibility of their future content release schedule. Unless all those people really weren’t working on the game (Darth Hater reported that the layoffs included the team that did pre-rendered out of game cinematics), how can their absence somehow be a good thing on the march towards a more aggressive release schedule than the team ever hit while fully staffed?

  4. And to remember that EA/Bioware limited release only to several countries (~21 if I remember correctly). So, for instance, I could not play. Only half year later they removed the limit but it was too late – I was not interested.

  5. I’ve seen a lot of people decry the idea that the sub fee is an issue, and that if only SWOR was better quality then they’d be paying the sub fee.

    But SWOR doesn’t exist in a vaccuum. It is surrounded by F2P options that aren’t held to the same standard because they are free to get into. In order for SWOR to be worth the sub fee in comparison to all thsoe F2P options, it would have to be better by a long way. And it (reputedly) isn’t.

    The sub fee locks people out. The MMO industry isn’t what it was a decade ago, with limited options and where players would wait for months and then pay for updates that released new content. No, we’re now demanding monthly (or sooner!) updates that are free.

    EA BioWare took the punt that story and a ‘best of’ Star Wars setting was going to be enough to keep players paying $15 a month. It wasn’t, not when you can pay less (or even nothing at all!) and spend time in AoC, LOTR or a host of other titles.

  6. How many 500,000 plus sub MMO’s are there right now? What MMO held 500,000 consistently for more than six months?

    Aion, Lineage, Lineage 2, and… that’s it. All of those are Korean MMOs.

    In the West? WoW. Only WoW.

    They aren’t saying SWTOR can’t hold several hundred thousand subscribers, they are just saying they can make more money with FTP.

    Nothing wrong with that, and given the failure of every single other MMO to even hold 5% of WoW’s sub numbers, I think the common sense conclusion is that the sub model is not workable if you want anything beyond EQ #’s and you aren’t Blizzard.

  7. Pingback: [Links] Pandarian musings, Brawlers Guild, cash shops, SWTOR F2P « Welcome to Spinksville!

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