Why Star Wars: The Old Republic Failed
Posted on Thursday, August 2 @ 09:10:00 PST by Jonathan_Leack
Star Wars: The Old Republic has been yet another wild ride in the world of MMOs. When it released last December it was quickly met with critical acclaim and over a million sales accounted for. Around that time its subscriber count peaked at 1.8 million players and it looked like BioWare had a hit on its hands.
I was one of many who invested in the Collector’s Edition and thought it would be the long-awaited game that would help me shelve World of Warcraft for more than just a few months. After playing for about a week it started to sink in that the game had some design flaws, some of which were polarizing. Admittedly no game is perfect, but for a game that had in the neighborhood of 200 million dollars invested in it I expected more, and apparently I wasn't alone. After fewer than eight months it has already been confirmed as a free-to-play title, making it one of the quickest MMOs in history to hang its subscription hat. It almost doesn’t even make sense… or does it?
Combat that could use more cowbell.
If there’s one thing I continually see MMO developers get wrong it’s with combat design, and SWTOR was no exception. It’s questionable whether or not the decision to adopt the HeroEngine sealed the game’s fate, but BioWare underestimated how valuable smooth combat is. Throughout beta and for months following launch there were a series of threads that continually broke the forum post limit regarding the game’s noticeably unresponsive combat, and reasonably so. Although the game’s main feature is its voice-acted cut-scenes, a lion’s share of the game experience is spent battling Stormtroopers and other popular Star Wars characters. The last thing any gamer wants to do is spend hundreds of hours playing a game that isn't all that fun to play to begin with.
90% story, 10% everything else.
The game’s greatest asset is also its biggest weakness. The narrative experience is fantastic, and one of the most ambitious in video game history, but it's clear that BioWare gave it more emphasis than anything else. Anyone who grew tired of the story was left wondering where the rest of the game's six-year development cycle went. Even the environments were bland with massive corridors filled with nothingness. Given that a lot of people got their money's worth from enjoying the story but weren't interested in playing past the first free month, SWTOR would have made a much better single-player title.
Can I get another glass of features, please? Actually, make that 10 glasses.
My second biggest complaint at launch was simply how many features that should be considered standard in today's climate were completely missing. Not including a group finder for almost a year is questionable, but denying players the ability to customize or alter the UI in any way, shape, or form is mind boggling. The group interface was difficult to deal with—especially for healers—and if you wanted to make adjustments you had no options. Similarly, macros were missing, so anyone expecting to be able to bind assist and focus macros was simply out of luck. Anyone who figured they’d mod the game to get around these shortcomings was shocked to find that SWTOR didn’t support mods, so everyone was placed at the mercy of the game’s dated feature set.
Sweet, I hit 50. Now what?
In the same regard, content at launch was slim. Sure, a large portion of the leveling experience was fruitful, but at endgame the experience was hardly captivating. BioWare had to scramble to throw together patch 1.1.0 to keep hardcore players satisfied, but it wasn’t enough. More importantly, the game’s fantastic voice-acted cut-scenes faded from existence at endgame, so to many people it just felt like they were playing a severely underdeveloped World of Warcraft clone.
Hey, where is everyone?
If there was one major, preventable mistake BioWare made after launch it was how they addressed the game’s overwhelming demand. I’m sure it made sense at the time, but adding over a dozen servers to desaturate the crowded servers was a step too far. Once a portion of the community was burnt out, which didn’t take too long, what was left were a couple high population servers and a ton of others that were ghost towns. What compounded this issue was the game's lack of a group finder or cross-server interaction. Even a good chunk of subscribers who enjoyed the game quit simply because they weren't able to reliably put-together groups and engage with other players.
Another rushed EA MMO.
The biggest reason for its failure, and what caused all of the issues listed above, is that the game was rushed out the door by EA. This is the same tale that murdered Warhammer Online, a game that was supposed to shake the foundation of the genre. Given how much EA invested in SWTOR it’s understandable that they wanted to see some turnaround, but sometimes patience is everything. If SWTOR had launched today in its current state which has a more polished combat system, hours of new content, and a more competitive feature-set, you can bet it wouldn’t have gone free-to-play in less than eight months.
SWTOR’s failure extends farther than just the wallets of EA or the pride of BioWare, it affects one of the gaming industry’s most lucrative genres. The $14.99 pay-to-play model has become extremely unappealing to investors after seeing one MMO after another hit the wall of reality. While World of Warcraft, RIFT, and a few other MMOs still stand, many of their brethren have fallen in battle. To them I say rest in peace.
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