Revisting SWTOR Part 2

Getting back to talking about SWTOR has been really difficult for me. My feelings about everything is extremely jumbled and teasing these things out is not straight foreword.

Let’s Start With The Good Things

Nothing has really changed with the level 1-50 storylines, and they are definitely still worth seeing. The best way to see all of the storylines is to level with three other friends, each playing a different class. This way you won’t have to go back through leveling again (which can get pretty tiresome) and you’ll still see all of the storylines which interweave with each other in interesting ways.

When it comes to the Rise of the Hutt Cartel there is only one story per faction, and both are worth going through once. My recommendation would be to do the Republic story first, but it doesn’t matter very much. Making the content from this expansion available to F2P people is one of the better changes BioWare has made as it encourages less stratification of the player base.

The best change which has been made recently is the addition of Galactic Starfighter. For anyone unfamiliar with this addition, it’s free-form space battlegrounds. I had more fun in these battlegrounds than I have had in a long time playing and characters can take part in battles at any level because it’s the quality of your ship and your skill which matters not the lvl of your character. Here’s a short video I made soon after this feature launch where I was playing with one of my friends.

 And Onto The Bad Things

My biggest issue with SWTOR for a long time has been how they chose to run their F2P system. This aspect has gotten a bit better over time but I still often feel like I am being strong armed into giving them money. Most things can be bought with credits, but it takes a lot to get enough, especially as a first time player. I had a bit of a leg up because I had Preferred status.

The biggest annoyance I have with the F2P model they went with is it stratifies their players. Remember how I said the best way to experience the class stories is playing with friends? Well you’ll want to make sure everyone is either subbed or is F2P together. When I first started playing again I accidentally aggro’ed  too many mobs and sadly I died. I was quite happy to see I had the option to rez right at my body. Naturally I thought to myself “oh cool, I guess they let you have a certain number of rezs at your body now.”

The next day I was working on clearing a four person Heroic with a friend. We unfortunately pulled a pack we were trying to avoid and died. Much to my chagrin I had no option to rez at my body. There was only the one time. Just once. Now for my friend and I, this wasn’t a huge deal because he was willing to run back with me. If I had been running with a group of strangers  it would have been a bigger deal. Especially since the area to rez was outside the instance and there were a few mobs which needed to be killed before zoning in which makes running back take even more time.

Another issue with playing with friends who are subbed when you aren’t is they will level twice as fast. To even this gap out the F2P player will have to spend a fair amount of time playing on their own to just stay even with their friends. Some of this discrepancy can be mitigated by buying the experience boosts in the Character Perks Menu. There are six lines and each line only affects one area. To fill out all the lines all the way would cost 150,000 to 275,000 credits depending on which lines you buy. Alternatively there is the “Ultimate Leveling Bundle” which contains all the XP unlocks for 5,125 cartel coins (4,100 sale right now) which would run $$39.99 with a few coins left over.

Another thing which really rubbed me wrong is some of the restrictions on what rewards can be selected after completing quests. I don’t in general have a big issue with not having some of the rewards available. Quests have two level of rewards, automatic and optional. Restricting optional rewards seems fine, not awesome but definitely livable. However there were a few quests where both of the automatic rewards weren’t available to me, which just really rubbed me the wrong way. I mean an automatic reward should be automatic.

So is playing F2P really worth it?

SWTOR is still a lot of fun and like I said even if nothing else interests you seeing the class stories is fun and interesting. Though my recommendation would be to sub for a month or two and see all the class stories you want and then unsub. Playing F2P isn’t really worthwhile and more than likely will just be a frustrating experience for most people. Which is just all around sad because overall I really enjoy playing SWTOR. Their current business model just makes me resent giving them money.

Revisiting Star Wars: The Old Republic, Part 1

After taking about a ten month break from Star Wars: The Old Republic I have decided to go back and give it another look. Sort of see how the game feels at this point sort of thing. One qualification is I haven’t resubbed, I am getting the experience of a preferred account (with the benefit of having about 2k cartel coins from when I was subbed but not actually playing.

First here’s some background on where I was with SWTOR in the past. I pretty much fell in love with the game during beta. I loved the storylines and really loved the dialogues. Leveling was a ton of fun, I did it with a friend (consular), my husband (trooper), and I played a Knight. We were really impressed with the quality of the story telling and how we could follow each other’s class storylines. There were tons of bugs, but as a brand new mmo we were sort of willing to let those slide, none were game breaking for us.

After reaching max level we realized the hard mode flashpoints were a bit over tuned for fresh 50’s and that we could get just as good of gear through PvP which would allow us to start raiding. Raiding was a ton of fun, and there were some different and interesting mechanics to learn. Of course once you learned them it was much easier, but that is true of pretty much everything. There were some frustrating bugs, but we tried to not let those get to us too much. We weren’t a super hardcore guild or anything, we did some hard modes but it was always more about seeing the content for us.

Then some content lag happened. And then after new Ops were added and they didn’t continue the gear progression and it became harder to get people to show-up for ops. They felt like once we did it once there wasn’t much point to keep working on things or to try on a harder setting, and they really weren’t wrong to feel like that. There was so much potential for SWTOR which just felt squandered after awhile.

What did it for me was the way the transition to free to play was handled. I went into it with very hopeful feelings and it just ended up feeling like the people who were in control were bitter about the need to transition. It is easily the most restrictive model out there, and I can’t help but wonder if that actually costs them money. It’s one of those things which we can never really know for sure. Either way the whole thing rubbed me wrong and I quit playing and canceled my sub.

Let me be clear on one point though. It isn’t a case of me not liking f2p models, I am actually a fan of well done f2p games. My issue was completely about how they were implementing restrictions and communicating with their fans. An example of this failure to communicate properly was in the midst of announcing all the restrictions they posted something saying people shouldn’t be upset about the restrictions because they had considered not letting f2p people skip dialogue. Which was intended as a “see it could have been worse” but really just served as a “see how much the people running the show are out of touch”.

I was mostly upset about things like having showing titles, unify colors, hide head slot, and quest rewards all behind pay walls. You might say unify colors and hide head slot are cosmetic so it shouldn’t matter if you have to pay for these things, but for me they are things which matter a lot. I like controlling how my characters look. The not being able to show titles is just inane. If you did the things required to obtain the title you should be able to show it. Same thing with quest rewards. You did the quest, why shouldn’t you have access to all the quest rewards?

So after many moments of facepalming and just being generally disappointed I called quits. However, now I have been wonder how the Imperial Agent storyline ends so I have decided to return and chronicle the experience as a preferred account here.

What Classifies A MMO As Successful?

A few months ago at a Media and Telecom Conference in New York Take-Two Interactive’s Chairman Strauss Zelnick commented on how they are pursuing online gaming and MMOs they just aren’t doing it in the US because MMOs don’t work here. To put some context on this Take-Two is known for games like Grand Theft Auto, BioShock, and Red Dead Redemption, so they aren’t exactly slouches when it comes to video games. I’ve had some time to really mull over my thoughts and feelings on this topic, so here is a consolidation of the most important points.

This is his exact quote:

We’re actively investing in online and MMOs, we’re just not doing it in the U.S. MMOs don’t work here. A couple of our competitors have found out that through very, very expensive lessons… at any given time 10 to 20 are successful in China and generating revenue.

There are a few weird things going on with this statement. The first and obvious question, why is he only thinking about the US and Chinese markets? I don’t know about everyone else but I sure know a lot of European and Canadian people who play MMOs, not to mention all the South Koreans who are also part of the larger Asian market. Maybe he just overlooked the rest of the MMO gaming world and happened to mention just the US and China. I really hope he didn’t intend to lump all the Asian countries in with China, and I REALLY hope he wasn’t intending to lump the rest of the world in with the US.

To support his claim Zelnick followed up by saying “How many MMOs have been successful in the U.S.? Two. World of Warcraft and EverQuest.” Now there is no arguing Everquest and World of Warcraft definitely are examples of successful games, but they certainly aren’t the only two. Eve Online is not only a successful subscription MMO but it also has been consistently growing throughout it’s lifespan (something WoW actually can’t claim). Another very successful subscription game is Ultima Online, and these are just two examples off the top of my head.

Additionally if you consider the fact he picked two sub based games it seems like for him the definition of success is having a sustaining and profitable subscription model. That’s a perfectly fine way to model success. It makes it even stranger he wouldn’t include Eve Online if that is his measure of success. It boggles my mind to consider how anyone can consider Eve Online to be anything but a success.

However, if that’s how he wants to define success then his choice of using China as an example of where MMOs are more often successful is really strange because the dominant model for MMOs in China is free to play. It’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges, especially when there are certainly more than two successful US MMOs if we include free to play and buy to play games.

Which brings us to the whole debate about how to judge the success of MMOs. With games like Rift and Star Wars: The Old Republic transitioned to free to play models does that automatically make them failures? Reportedly SWTOR has been doing better now after the addition of f2p than it was before, so it could be viewed as a success. However, the fact they had to change their model definitely can be argued as a failure. The same thing goes for Rift. Ever since they transitioned over the game has been booming, but I can see the argument for having to change at all being a failure. I am still not sure I would class either as a failure overall though.

If you start looking at free to play or buy to play games it can get even harder to tell what a success is since you can’t go off sub numbers. Guild Wars 2 has said a few times their gem store sales more than cover their costs and they have the most aggressive content schedule in MMOs currently. It’s really hard to see how GW2 isn’t a success. We are almost a year after the launch and they are doing so well they are focusing on giving content away instead of focusing on paid expansions.

In an interview with Massively Scott Hartsman (former Trion GM and CCO) talked about how the current business model for AAA MMOs is fundamentally broken and part of the reason is the development costs has risen exponentially over the last few years. While it might sound like a good thing companies are putting more money into MMOs, it puts greater strain on companies because it narrows the margin of error. We have gone from a model where a company could make mistakes and still have some room to cover.

In addition to the rise in costs player expectations have also drastically risen. It used to be a company could make a few mistakes but they could then learn from them and fix the mistakes and gamers would stick with them. Now it seems like as soon as a MMO has an issue a certain segment of players is out, and will go play something else. It’s not necessarily a bad thing gamers want more for their money, but it is another factor putting increased strain on game developers.

There is also something to be said for developers just not really being in touch with the MMO market as a whole. One example of devs being out of touch with the MMO community is SWTOR devs never expected people to play in one sitting for more than 3-4 hours at a time. I remember having a conversation with Cory Butler, Bioware Live Producer, at Pax East 2012 about that and being absolutely astonished. Even super casual players will have play times longer than that from time to time, and not being aware of something like that when you are making a MMO is a huge oversight.

It doesn’t end there either. Just in my general observations of MMOs in the last few years the standard life cyle is, a new MMO launches and tons of people buy it and start playing. Then a month or so later some percentage of players stop playing. Then the publisher sort of panics because for some reason they assumed it would just be clear sailing with no bumps in the road. Whereas, at least to me, it seems like they should plan for the drop off and have the ultimate goal to slowly grow the MMO over years. Instead it often feels like publishers just look at MMOs as quick money (after they launch) and if it doesn’t blow everything else out of the water they decide to abandon ship.

Personally I think the real measure of success should be if a game grows over time and if it is making enough to sustain itself. I get the argument about if a game lives up to expectations or not, but with publishers being so out of touch it seems a silly measure to go by. That goes double for living up to consumer’s expectations as well.