SWTOR keeps us on our toes — but when will Jabba’s trap door open?

I really wasn’t going to do a third Star Wars: The Old Republic post in as many days — I’ve got a lot to talk about with other games, really — but if you haven’t heard already, BioWare sprang a lot of big news yesterday that necessitates some discussion.  In summary:

  • The Early Access for SWTOR has been moved from the 15th to the 13th
  • BioWare’s not going to inform players that they’re in the early access until the day of
  • The client is available to be downloaded now
  • BioWare confirmed there’s no grace period following early access
  • EU’s getting their retail copies of SWTOR on the 15th, NA on the 20th

Now, to be honest, I don’t know whether to be frustrated with BioWare, pleased with them, or shrug and realize that in the large scheme of things, this will be old news quickly.  But as I said to a friend last night, this has to be the most convoluted head start program/implementation I’ve ever seen for an MMO (and my friend agreed).  Players are notoriously thin on patience and very tense around launch, and surprises like this aren’t often well received — even though, on the surface, it looks as though it’s to our benefit.  I mean, seven days of pre-launch play (potentially) instead of just five?  How can one complain?

I’m not going to really complain about it, but I do want to point out that it does have a few downsides.  Many die-hard MMO players have already arranged next week around the 15th in the hopes that they’d get in on the first day, but now that’s been moved around and thrown schedules into disarray.  Personally, I had next week all planned out with my to do list, which is now shot to Alderaan and back because of this last-minute reshuffling.

And it’s incredibly hard to plan to be available on a certain day if you really don’t know whether or not you’ll be in on that day.  What if you take Tuesday off but aren’t in until Wednesday or Thursday?  It’s a small thing, but we all know that these “small things” are important to players.  BioWare’s making it very, very difficult to plan out an already busy holiday season week.

I’m also not a fan of how the company is doing this “rolling out” early access with telling people the day of if they’re in it.  It may be just peaches on their end, but every other MMO head start I’ve ever seen has given us a date and time well in advance and (usually) stuck to it.  Maybe we’ll all be in before we know it next week, but maybe some folks really will be left sitting on their hands in frustration while their friends are in the game, snapping up names, and pulling ahead in the initial rush of leveling.  Tell me that there won’t be hurt feelings with a straight face.  I dare ya.

But as I said, it’s hard to complain when a company is giving you more of something good, so I’ll cut it out there.  Some folks are going to get extra days of play, and that’s terrific.  I have been mulling over what’s going on behind the scenes because of all of this, and have come up with a few theories:

  • BioWare’s simply ready for launch and wanted to provide a pleasant surprise off the bat
  • Because BioWare’s rolling out early access access, it’s giving itself two more days in which to do it so that it has more flexibility and fans who’ve preordered later on will have more than one or two days of playtime
  • The EU retail copies on the 15th makes me think that there might be some connection with the longer early access, like BioWare’s trying to overlap the two (especially since there’s no grace period).  Maybe NA will be seeing earlier-than-expected copies as well after all?
  • BioWare took a look at its beta and pre-order numbers and realized that it’s going to get snowballed if it didn’t adjust its schedule

Pick one or more of the above, or make up your own theory.  I feel bad for SWG players who will now see their game shut down well after early access for SWTOR begins, practically guaranteeing that nobody will be paying attention.

Anyway, I’ve got work to do and fewer days in which to do it.  /Syp out!

16 thoughts on “SWTOR keeps us on our toes — but when will Jabba’s trap door open?

  1. Buhallin December 8, 2011 / 11:19 am

    You know all those times when an article comes out about how silly or crazy or obsessive MMO players are, that we get all mad about? You know how the genre is still a source of mainstream mockery that gets no respect despite the millions of players?

    This. This is why. Ponder your Christmas discussion: “I’ve had a REALLY horrible month. They decided to open the game EARLY, so I couldn’t take the first day off and had to wait until I got home from work NINE HOURS later. Someone had already taken DarthRoxxorYouz for a name, and Bob doesn’t have a job so he was already level 32 and we aren’t going to be able to play together unless he stops playing for a day so I can catch up!” You can see the looks you’ll be getting – I know you can.

    It’s kinda funny, really. I’ve been a gamer for about 30 years – board, tactical, miniatures, RPGs, computer, all way, WAY before it was cool. I dealt with all that proudly, with never a shred of embarrassment or shame for my chosen hobbies. Until now. I look at the response of gamers to this, and I am ASHAMED. We’ve just plain lost it.

    I’m honestly just happy it’s virtual. If this launch were in the real world, it would make the usual Black Friday rush look like a quiet church picnic.

  2. Syp December 8, 2011 / 11:23 am

    @Buhallin – MMOs are a unique beast in a way and yeah, the community does lose it over little things, but I’ve seen just as much insanity over other hobbies, franchises, and whatnot (Harry Potter comes to mind right now, for some reason). I think there’s a good discussion in waiting about how we do need to chill the heck out, be grateful for what we have (because it’s a lot), and ween ourselves from the entitlement teat. Soon!

  3. Morganic December 8, 2011 / 11:27 am

    The whole lack of grace period is annoying for those of us who ordered physical copies online. Who knows when the companies will actually be able to ship out, and personally UPS doesn’t deliver to my house until around 7pm during the holidays. So I’m going to be stuck not playing on the 20th and possibly the 21st, which is just plain retarded.

  4. thade December 8, 2011 / 11:38 am

    Early access is over-rated. The game will still be there after that first super-packed-starter-zone week…and will be probably one to two patches in to account for the kind of stability issues you only really experience when a *few million players* all sign in on the same evening. To be fair, I don’t have any data on their recent beta weekends (which I suspect were as much to stress test as they were to demo their game to people) but no amount of testing can ensure you’re going to be 100% stable on launch. (Unless your name is Trion and you are just that lucky. Though it’d be nice if Rift’s exceptionally stable launch became the new par.)

    I’ll be picking up my license – on *disc* (aside: not too keen on their take on Steam) – after the holidays. Makes no sense for me, personally, to license it – even with early access – only to lose 2+ weeks of my “free month” while I travel around and visit with people for the holidays.

  5. Buhallin December 8, 2011 / 11:52 am

    You’re certainly not wrong that plenty of other hobbies get overly enthusiastic, but think about their reactions to a similar announcement. Latest Harry Potter comes out two days earlier than expected? NBA season starts a week ahead of the new schedule? I have a hard time seeing “Curse them for letting me have it earlier than I thought!” being a major response, and that’s before you even consider that we’re talking more FOR FREE.

    I agree it’s an important conversation, but I doubt it will happen. Which is sad, honestly, because it really, REALLY needs to happen. Not just because it makes us all look like complete nutjobs, but because I’m pretty convinced that the obsessiveness is slowly strangling the entire genre into oblivion.

  6. Nebel December 8, 2011 / 11:57 am

    I’m with Morganic — I’m most phased by the lack of a grace period. As an early Christmas gift, my sister bought me a copy of the Collector’s Edition off of Amazon — which is completely awesome, but Amazon is notoriously bad when it comes to shipping MMOs on time.

    At least I’ve all been able to play for a “free” week, claiming the name(s) I want in the process.

  7. Warsyde December 8, 2011 / 12:15 pm

    Personally I think Bioware realized they were all ready to go and there was no point in delaying until the 15th when they could just as easily start on the 13th. Why wait?

    As to the scheduling . . . well . . . don’t arrange your life around a game 😛
    It’s exciting to get a new release we’ve been waiting for, but it will still be there after work. Taking a day off just to get in a few hours earlier is kind of silly.

    And no, I’m not just saying that because I can’t take time off.

    Probably.

    😉

    I’ll be very surprised if Bioware doesn’t cave on the grace period thing. Other games have done it in the past, and most of them have relented under extreme player pressure when it gets down to the wire. Just wait, on the 20th when people start moaning that their copies haven’t arrived and they’re locked out of the game Bioware will do an about face to earn good PR and let people keep playing until the end of the week.

  8. Xintia December 8, 2011 / 12:43 pm

    I appreciate the complaints and criticisms that have been directed at Bioware/EA over their launch preparations, and some of them are valid. But two things really strike me. The first is that I think Bioware really is trying hard here. We may not AGREE with some of their decisions, but to argue they are shortsighted or foolish doesn’t hold water for me. These guys aren’t dummies. They’ve looked at their situation, made some calculations, and issued policies based on that. We may not like them all, but to assume they don’t know what they are doing is silly.

    The second thing is something that struck me on the official forums last night, and I completely agree. The fact that we can sit here and argue and complain about a company’s policies regarding an MMO launch tells you just how good we have it. I hate to sound cliche, but if you can find time to complain about this, at least you aren’t starving. Take a moment to put your complaints in perspective and look at the world around you. TOR will be here tomorrow. It will be here if you get locked out for a few days because of no “grace period.” It will be here if Amazon “loses” your CE shipment. We have it pretty good. Take a moment to appreciate that.

  9. Remianen December 8, 2011 / 12:55 pm

    Buhallin, let me pose a question to you.

    You book a vacation to, let’s say, Turks & Caicos. Airline makes an announcement two weeks prior to the departure date you booked saying they’ve changed their schedule so now, they only fly to Provo on the day that’s two days prior to the one you booked (and planned for and took time off work for). You’d be okay with that, right?

    How many times did you take off work so you could play with miniatures or board games or pen & paper games? Given the much-discussed median age of the MMO gamer today, it’s not uncommon for folks to take time off work for game and/or expansion releases so when you move the goalposts (so to speak), you annoy these people. So don’t try to compare the behavior of MMO gamers with that of console gamers or pen & paper gamers or RTS gamers or any other segment. Because of the nature of these games, getting in early means you don’t have to deal with the rigamarole of the unrestricted launch. Heck, I preordered just so I wouldn’t have to deal with the rampant quest item thefts (first quest on Dromund Kaas as an example. While you’re fighting the mob guarding the quest item tower, someone runs in behind you and repairs the tower forcing you to wait 2-3 minutes for it to “respawn”), you get the name(s) you were after (which, granted, generally aren’t very original, as you alluded to) and potentially, you’re on Nar Shadaa (or higher) by the time the “official” launch occurs. Whether you agree or not, that does have value.

    As for what other people think, who cares? They poo poo the same when you upgrade your PC annually while they hold onto their PCs until the OS is no longer supported (and then whine about its performance, or lack thereof) or when you upgrade phones the very day your contract expires or when you buy an iPad or Kindle Fire at/near launch while they wait a year+ to even consider it. I’m firmly in the “enthusiast” category of PC users and an unabashed (PC) gamer. I was playing Meridian59 before most people even knew RPGs could be played online (Gemstone III prior to that). I’m not a unique snowflake either, there are thousands of people like that. We’ve become used to people trying to cast aspersions on us because of our hobbies (and then running to us when their gear doesn’t do what they want it to do). What other people think is irrelevant. They’ll be enjoying the sights and sounds of Naga Sadow’s tomb and the Dark Temple and maybe Justicar territory (if they’re earnest!) until 2012 arrives…..along with the other 2-4 million people doing the exact same thing. I’m sure they’ll enjoy fighting over In-IK’s quest spawns and waiting 1-2 minutes for respawn…..or 5 mins for the Guild Leader to repop after someone jumps them to tag him first.

    I see what Syp is saying but I think this is just a disastrous bit of PR. It seems a case where marketing overreached and now everything’s changing to fit the new reality (the reality presented by the last two stress tests). I think Bioware’s being cautious. They saw how their servers were ravaged by the stress tests, they know what their preorder numbers are, so they’re trying to stagger entry to the servers in a way that prevents that from occurring again. I mean, if you log in on the 13th and have to sit in a 4 hr long queue, that’s not going to make for a very good launch impression. They’re going to use the headstart as a way of gauging exactly how much hardware they need to support the incoming deluge. Remember, there are folks on the BioWare team who worked on Warhammer Online (remember that game’s early life? Eleventy billion servers at launch contracting to what, six, in less than a year?).

  10. Buhallin December 8, 2011 / 5:04 pm

    Entirely not the same thing, Remainen. If a flight changes and it ruins my vacation, that’s one thing. This is more like your company saying you can’t take vacation on the 15th, but you can on the 13th, and they’ll pay to cover all the changes. If you did absolutely nothing right now – never heard about the change, and logged in exactly as you’d planned for your vacation – you’d get exactly the same amount of playtime as you expected. There’s no disruption to your life. You’re going to be able to play the game exactly when you expected to, if not still earlier. The only thing you’ve lost is the chance to be at the head of the rush.

    And that’s really it. I’ll call BS on your “item stealing” example, because if you really think the 13th or the 15th is going to be any better than the 20th, given the number of preorders on this game, you’re… optimistic. Honestly, I expect them to be worse – with all the guilds allocating to that initial set of server, you’d be much better off waiting until the 20th and hopping on a freshly-launched server.

    But thanks for proving my point about how obsessive MMO players are.

  11. Harper Jayne December 8, 2011 / 5:27 pm

    Unless a miracle happens (Amazon slashing SWTOR pre-order price on their MMO and RPG day for example) I’m not buying anyway.

    Which is probably for the best because as an intense planner I would no doubt go crazy with the lack of hard details on when things will be happening. 🙂

  12. Bernard December 9, 2011 / 12:45 am

    Early access is a privilege.

    People who booked time off work must surely be first-time MMO players. I cannot believe that someone has played other games at launch would be surprised or frustrated.

    A ‘good’ launch will still include:

    -Queues
    -Some bugs
    -Additional latency
    -Competition for quest items

  13. Syp December 9, 2011 / 7:45 am

    @Bernard — Uh, have you *met* the MMO community? Taking time off work/school for launch day is a long-standing tradition for many, and no different than those that do the same for the first day of hunting season, football drafts, major movie releases, and the like.

  14. Asmiroth December 9, 2011 / 9:06 am

    The TOR fan-hype is at it’s height currently, even after the last two weekends of stress tests with insane lag and some hour-long queues. BW is still selling pre-orders with early launch as an incentive, which gives the impression that they are opting for a soft launch instead of a hard one – and you can’t blame them for it.

    They have a million pre-orders in the US alone (Rift had 50K). In all the years, we’ve never seen a launch this big on this side of the ocean.

    It’s interesting if you think about it. Sort of like watching BW and EA put it all on Black. Either they come out rich as madmen or this is will be looked upon as the day subscription MMOs died.

  15. Bernard December 12, 2011 / 2:32 am

    @Syp – It’s a tradition that results in a lot of tears and forum raging. Unlike the previous examples you gave, an AAA MMO launch is not an annual event. Every launch is different and has its own set of challenges.

    Seasoned veterans of MMO launches should be expecting launch day issues. To do otherwise would involve ignoring the history of MMO launches…

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