Marital Observations in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

As I previously mentioned, one of my Christmas presents to my wife was a copy of SWTOR.  It was a very last-minute purchase, spurned on by an off-hand comment she made during lunch one day about having liked the beta.  Now my wife’s never been one to fully embrace MMO gaming for the most part; she’s more predisposed to playing quick flash games and iPhone freebies more than anything else.  Yet she’s not oblivious to them either, having enjoyed a few months in WoW, Wizard101, and even LOTRO.  So why not?

It was as much an experiment as it was a present.  I was genuinely interested in seeing whether or not SWTOR could sell its story-centric game to a woman who, to my knowledge, has never once played a game for its story or even read a single quest in World of Warcraft.  I envisioned perhaps a few days of mindless grinding and then a loss of interest.

What I got was a woman who turned into a hardcore gamer overnight, spending her week of post-Christmas vacation plowing through Star Warsian adventures and raving about it.  Like, seriously, raving.

I tried to be as hands-off as possible, for the purposes of this experiment.  I answered questions when she asked and helped guide her through the character creation process.  She chose, and I have NO idea why, a male Sith Warrior to play.  To my knowledge she’s never played a male character, but I think she liked the tattoo options and the voice.  After that, I left her alone except to be a source of knowledge and an occasional helping hand through flashpoints and heroic missions.

She took to the gameplay pretty easily, and I think that’s where her previous experience with WoW helped.  I did have to explain some of the differences, like custom gear, advanced classes, social points, and whatnot, but the core was easy to pick up.

I think it took a day or so for the “story” part of the game to kick in.  She got a huge kick out of the quest choices, particularly when she could be evil and cackle about it.  Without concerning herself with the Light Side/Dark Side system, she eventually created a balance between the two as she navigated her way through the decisions.  But the real defining moment was when she got Vette, her first companion, because she started to identify with the character and the relationship between her and it.  Every day ended with her telling me some interesting moment that happened, and at dinner the other night she was regaling me with a lurid happenstance that sent her into peals of laughter to recall it.  She LOVED when we ran Black Talon that *her* choices prevailed and we killed the captain AND the general (she’s ruthless, this one).

In fact, every day over the past week she’s been begging me to play with her, and she roped her brother in as well.  I think I’ve done more grouping, both with family and strangers, in the past couple weeks of this game than I have in LOTRO in a year.

Now, argue all you want about SWTOR’s numbers and MMOness and all the other minutia we like to jaw about, but here is a completely unbiased mostly non-MMO gamer who has been entranced by this game’s story and characters to the point where she was staying up late just to see what happened next.  It’s just one example, but from my perspective it’s significant because not even WoW affected her like this.  Not even WoW had her dragging me into the game so I’d run some missions with her.  In her case, SWTOR is a success, and if it’s any indication of how others out there who’ve not really found an MMO to stick with in the past could find that this hits the right spots, then we might see some surprising statistics in 2012 indeed.

21 thoughts on “Marital Observations in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

  1. bhagpuss January 2, 2012 / 9:59 am

    That’s a very intriguing piece of testimony. I seem to recall an interview with someone on the SW:ToR development team where they said that they were pitching to a much wider audience than the current MMO playerbase. Looks like maybe they knew what they were doing!

    One thing that frustrates me as an interested observer of the development of the form is the inevitably self-selecting nature of those who write and comment about it. We hear the voices of developers, designers, producers and PR people on one side and hobbyists, bloggers, journalists and hardcore players on the other. Somewhere inbetween lies a mass of players (and outside that a vastly larger horde of potential players) from whom and about whom we hear very little.

    That’s the audience SW:ToR is presumably aiming for. I just wish we could hear what that audience thinks.

  2. ArcherAvatar January 2, 2012 / 10:24 am

    First, grats on scoring the major Hubby Points with the gift. 😉
    .
    Second, this pretty much confirms thoughts I’ve expressed before along the lines of; I’m a jaded gamer who has played MMOs for over a decade so SWTOR’s systems and mechanics are very old news, and not at all interesting to me personally, however, someone new to the genre coming to this game will probably enjoy it just as much as I enjoyed my early experiences in EQ, WOW, and Vanguard, and will get a much more refined, polished, and graphically superior “new” game to boot.
    .
    As someone who has already played the “new” MMO without ever having to pick it up, I’m still just looking forward to GW2, which is at least attempting to bring something truly NEW to the genre, and also keeping a cautious eye on TSW, although that game studio’s track record makes me much more dubious about that title’s prospects.

  3. Buhallin January 2, 2012 / 11:43 am

    “I’m still just looking forward to GW2, which is at least attempting to bring something truly NEW to the genre”

    Up until TOR came out I was on this page as well, but having played it I think it doesn’t give Bioware near enough credit. The story element IS truly new to the genre. A lot of old-school MMO players seem to dismiss that, or the originality or effort of it, because it doesn’t involve button-mashing or because they don’t care about it. But the more I consider it, the more I think it’s a greater accomplishment than anyone realizes. The story effort is obviously big and pretty solid, but doing it all via cutscenes and voiceover puts it front and center for players who’d probably just skip reading the text, and draws players in. The MMO bittervets may not care about story, but dismissing it as nothing new is simply wrong.

    For my own spousal experience – my wife has played MMOs with me pretty actively for a long time, although never really hardcore. Her comment over the weekend was that she’s enjoying all the traditional grouping we’re doing, but she’s actually enjoying solo’ing through her story more. Our guild has several players who’ve never touched an MMO before, but are into this one and loving it. I think maybe the MMO old-schoolers are going to have to realize that Bioware didn’t make this game for them.

  4. Warsyde January 2, 2012 / 11:57 am

    Can I have some of whatever you slipped into your wife’s kool-aid? I’ll pay top dollar for a wifely gamer conversion serum 😉

  5. Gina January 2, 2012 / 11:59 am

    As an almost-50-year-old female gamer, I completely understand why she picked the Sith Warrior. He’s voiced by Steve Valentine (Alistair from Dragon Age). Also the character creator allows you to make some pretty hot guys. 😛 I also love Vette. Unfortunately, I can’t play that class or it’s mirror until they put a macro system in. I hate having to bind skills to more than about ten buttons.

    That having been said, I’ve been playing MMOs since 1995 with The Realm, and I have *always* wanted a story-driven one. That’s what got me into roleplaying. That this one has a story and is also Star Wars (and BioWare!) makes this game a dream come true for me.

    I think a lot of people who have previously stayed away from MMOs will love TOR, honestly.

  6. ScytheNoire January 2, 2012 / 12:13 pm

    Even as a jaded cranky old MMO gamer, SWTOR has it’s story hooks into me. Deep into me.

    No longer am I playing for that next level or that next achievement, but instead to find out what is going to happen next in the story, whether is be the world story or the class story.

    The game has a lot of problems, A LOT, such as the current LFG system, the broken Warzones, the meaningless World PvP, bugs, or that damn UI. But the story is what will keep this game alive for the time being. BioWare had better be working hard to fix all the problems, because once we consume all that story content, we’re going to start getting really jaded really fast. And you don’t want jaded cranky old MMO gamers in your game.

  7. Moxie January 2, 2012 / 1:17 pm

    I can relate to her. SWTOR’s story line hooked me, bad. I’ve never played a single-player RPG before, Bioware or otherwise, and during the beta, I wrote the game off as being too linear. It IS linear, but the story is REALLY, REALLY good, much better than any other MMO. It’s not really roleplaying as I’m used to, but it’s more like reading a gripping book. I’ve loved the humor and tragedy and romance and plot twists, and the addition of companions that you can actually interact/gain reputation with has made it even more engaging. I’m already planning my smuggler’s wedding ceremony. 😉

    The storyline has been enough for me to get hooked on yet another linear themepark MMO, even after I said I was done with that kind of game.

  8. Dorath January 2, 2012 / 4:51 pm

    @Warsyde

    “After that, I left her alone”

    That is key. Offer no advice unless it is requested. It is best to stay out of the room altogether unless your presence is specifically requested or you are bringing meals.

  9. AFK January 2, 2012 / 8:28 pm

    Great post. I wish I could get my wife to play.

    The story is a big deal. It can clearly pull in non-MMO gamers, and then start to turn them into MMO gamers. It’s funny, MMO veterans have been pushing devs to make MMORPG’s more solo friendly for years now. Bioware comes out with a, “single player MMO,” and the veterans are up in arms.

  10. Gazimoff January 3, 2012 / 2:56 am

    Really glad to hear your gift went down so well. My wife and I have been playing alongside each other since launch and it’s been an incredibly refreshing experience. We haven’t had this much fun playing a game in ages.

    Yes, I still have my thoughts about what will happen when the story barrel runs dry. But for now there is story to be enjoyed 🙂

  11. Rorik January 3, 2012 / 10:32 am

    It’s been awesome playing SWTOR with my wife. It’s managed to pull her away from WoW, which is astonishing. We solo quest a lot and then group up for the Heroic quests, which are designed really well. They’re more like mini dungeons than the typical “this quest dude is really tough and I need someone to help me kill him” from WoW.
    I knew Bioware got the questing right when my wife said (paraphrasing) that questing acutally feels heroic.

    If the “endgame” isn’t all that great, I’ll still feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth just by leveling/playing through the story.

  12. hordemaster January 3, 2012 / 2:28 pm

    Sounds like its a newbie friendly game. For now I am personally sticking with the old favorites, DAoC and may go back to wow before the panda invasion.

  13. snickeringcorpses January 3, 2012 / 4:07 pm

    Just playing the beta in its very last weekend, I found the first few levels of the Smuggler drew me in a bit. My chief protection against this game is its subscription price; were it available f2p, I’d be playing three games now instead of four. Or possibly fewer games.

    Your wife’s experience I think is precisely why Bioware was the right pick to make this game. Making a *relatable* story is precisely where they excel.

  14. snickeringcorpses January 3, 2012 / 4:08 pm

    three games instead of four? I meant four instead of three. Or possibly fewer if it pushed others completely out of the picture.

  15. SavagePK January 3, 2012 / 4:19 pm

    I just cant help but wonder about the staying power of the game after all the bright shiny 1st person/solo game story lines are finished.

    Being a MMO bittervet, when I watch streams of my friends playing, I just keep thinking that its all the same damn thing (minus the story) just wrapped in a pew pew package.

    meh, its prolly the bitter in me…

  16. Tim Dean January 3, 2012 / 6:29 pm

    Interesting testimony. Backs up my recent post that MMOs like SW:TOR aren’t made for “us” any more – http://www.tremblinghand.net/2011/12/mmos-arent-made-for-us-any-more.html – by “us” I mean old school MMO gamers who cut our teeth on UO, EQ, WoW and SWG.

    However, a couple of things: firstly, how will BioWare lure in this “broader audience” if they don’t self-identify as the kind of people who buy MMOs? Would your wife have bought it entirely of her own accord?

    Secondly: what about “us”? We’re still a massive audience (excuse the pun). But it seems few MMO developers are working on products that appeal to our tastes. And when games like SW:TOR come out, they can get a bad rap from the old school MMO crowd, thus turning others off the game.

    Seems we’re at an MMO turning point, and I don’t know if I like where it’s turning.

  17. kaozz January 3, 2012 / 7:37 pm

    That is awesome your wife has taken a liking to SWTOR! It is really great to be able to share a game you really love with people you love. I used the same tactic with EQ2 and the hubby a few months back, worked rather well, hehe.

    Hope you guys continue to have some great times with friends and family, somewhere far far away in the galaxy 😉 It really is a great game.

  18. Buhallin January 4, 2012 / 4:00 pm

    Interesting comments, Tim. Personally, I’m of the view that the “us” you speak of doesn’t exist any more. I frequently describe EverQuest as the best game I don’t want to play any more.

    If you look at the major slams against SWTOR, it’s largely the convenience features that people have come to expect from mods and the like in WoW. I went back to the EQ progression servers when they launched, and quickly dropped it into the box with my Gen 1 Transformers memories, marked “DO NOT OPEN EVEN UNDER THREAT OF NOSTALGIA.”

    But even to the extent that the “us” still does exist, I’m not sure that “us” will allow another MMO to grow. The expectations simply aren’t reasonable, and they’re far too disjointed. IMHO Bioware has done the right thing with SWTOR in making a game with broader appeal than the current MMO player base, because that player base is dysfunctionally nuts 😛 Nobody seems to want to remember it, but this is what WoW did – it brought new people into the space to get where it is today.

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