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Saving ‘Star Wars: The Old Republic': BioWare Works Hard To Revive Their Struggling MMO

Can BioWare Save Star Wars The Old Republic

When Star Wars The Old Republic made its much ballyhooed debut in December of 2011, many gamers were promoting it as the next WoW killer. While no sane game design company would make a game just to attract more subscribers than World Of Warcraft, BioWare had high hopes for their new game. Sadly, things did not go according to plan and now the company is engaged in a life and death struggle to save what should have been the next great MMO.

SW: TOR was an enormous undertaking involving 800 developers on four continents at a cost of over $200 million. The project took six years to complete including an extensive closed beta program involving thousands of gamers for well over a year of testing.

BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk delivered the ultimate one liner on just how complicated the Star Wars project really was for his company:

“Coordinating it all is like teaching elephants to do ballet.”

Teaching enormous pachyderms how to dance Swan Lake in a pink tutu evokes a wonderful image, but all joking aside, Star Wars: The Old Republic got off to a great start. Just weeks after launch, the game was closing in on two million subscribers and starting to recoup a large chunk of the company’s enormous investment. Then the bottom dropped out.

A few months after launch, SW: TOR began to leak subscribers like the German battleship Bismark, after the Royal British Navy began to shell the doomed warship into oblivion. According to most estimates the game lost about one million paying customers, dropping from a peak of 1.7 million to 700,000 subscribers in a matter of weeks. New content wasn’t delivered, World PvP was a disaster, the available PvP was repetitious and unbalanced, and there simply wasn’t enough endgame content.

The 200 million dollar question is, obviously, what can be done to save Star Wars: The Old Republic from meeting the same fate as its legendary namesake Star Wars Galaxies; another great game that almost made it?

At the time of SW: TOR’s release, the online gaming industry was undergoing an major rethinking of the subscription model for MMOS. One popular game after the other, led by Lord Of The Rings Online, Guild Wars 2 and Aion, embraced the Free To Play (FTP) model with a robust item shop. In an effort to save Star Wars The Old Republic, BioWare made the decision to offer players a free to play option and it went live November 15, 2012.

In addition to the FTP option, BioWare also consolidated several servers. Now there are more active players on every server but it is too early if the overall population is growing or simply forced together by the consolidation of servers.

While free to play is a wonderful option, SW: TOR FTP is designed to entice players to try the game and hopefully like it enough to become subscribers or failing that, convince players to buy access to the parts of the game they enjoy for a lower fee than the monthly full subscription.

Frankly, the FTP option resembles an all levels trial version instead of the full free to play offered by Guild Wars 2 and Aion. While there is nothing wrong with that, to fully enjoy SW: TOR you will eventually have to pay for a monthly subscription. Further more, the Cartel Market (item shop) really has very little to offer other than the ability to purchase monthly access to sections of game missing in FTP.

The other area of concern is, of course, the major issues that players had with the game from the beginning. Namely the lack of open world PvP, the lack of challenging raids and the need for new content on a regular basis as promised from day one. The game also needs to raise the level cap and we are hoping that will be done in the early part of 2013.

BioWare has tried to fix many of the issues. They introduced two excellent new areas, the Black Hole on Corellia and Section X on Belsavis. There are a bunch of cool new dailies plus a new warzone, new operations, new flashpoints, tons of new gear, and best of all, a new companion; HK-51, the infamous assassin driod.

However there is still no open world PvP and that is a serious flaw. The game would be so much more fun if we had a couple of areas like the original zone on Ilum where we could run around in giant zergs and destroy each other. It adds a whole other level of enjoyment to the game and it allows players to level up in PvP without having to play that god awful Hutt Ball.

Yes, BioWare is making an honest effort, but to be frank, if they really want to save this game, they should make it totally free to play with a robust and exciting item shop. That would allow everyone to enjoy all the content and if the item shop offers things that improve the game, people will spend money.

We can only hope that BioWare will be flexible enough to change directions if it will help the game succeed. A stronger Free To Play model combined with regular monthly content, open world PvP and new levels will go a long way to restoring Star Wars: The Old Republic to greatness.

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13 Responses to “Saving ‘Star Wars: The Old Republic': BioWare Works Hard To Revive Their Struggling MMO”

  1. Thomas Purcell

    This MMO suffers from the same problem most new RPG's have. Too much RP and not enough G. Everything is too easy and with the absolute zero enjoyment endgame, this game still has too many serious flaws to consider keeping an active subscription. Bioware, Lucasarts and now Disney should give players what they really want– a reinvention of the original Star Wars Galaxies game, sandbox style, but with the combat engine of a game like WOW or SWTOR. Then, and only then, will players come back to the Star Wars franchise in MMO gaming.

  2. Thomas James

    This game was always bad. People are 'dancing' around coming up with advantages and disadvantages and discussing how the game can be 'fixed'. But at the heart of things, this game was just poorly developed. The writer of this article feels far too out of touch, if you like the game, carry on playing it, there's nothing wrong with that… but you can't 'restore' TOR to greatness when it never was great, or even good. Poor writing, poor settings, no innovative character development (talent trees etc), poor endgame, terrible pvp relying pretty much on knock backs, to be honest the whole thing was a shambles… I understand people liked the companions aspect of the game, but it took away from the feel of the adventure. Other things, like, having all the shuttles for the dungeons in one place in the fleet, it takes away from the feel of the game, the fleet was just a giant shopping centre.
    You can't comment on sales figures because, at the start, people bought the game to check it out, but when people realised it was just an all-round bad MMO, they stopped playing. That peak in subscriptions is just people checking out the game.
    Also, stop talking about GW2, that game has no place in this article. GW2 is buy-to-play, the model consoles take on. When you buy GW2, you get the whole game. Free-to-play means you don't have to buy a reatail copy and there is an option for subscription. There a difference between B2P and F2P, micro transactions aside, you don't have to purchase a retail copy of TOR anymore.
    I think it's pitiful what BioWare has done with their free-to-play model. There are too many restrictions and it just feels like they're not the company they once were, EA has far too much influence over the decisions BioWare have to make. Which is why the F2P build TOR has taken on is so restrictive, it feels like BioWare hasn't made the money back on the most expensive game ever, and EA has forced them into the situation where 'it's free-to-play, if you don't really want to play'.

  3. Anonymous

    Mr. Wolff Bachner, You missed the truth and actual facts of what happened with this game. Look at the posts in the forums and newsgroups. I started playing as Beta pre-release, played for weeks into the release. Things went well at first and then started crashing with Error 9000. I have a print off of over 100 people who, within weeks of the game open sales started getting booted off with an error 9000 and after reporting it to the Developers were told it was the players machine not the game servers. We attempted many things that said to fix it but none worked so we said fix that error 9000 or else. All we got, to the most part, was the "Droid" response that made things worse. Why play a game that kicks you out over and over every few minutes. I could play one night for a couple hours no issue. Then the next night, ever couple minutes bang, lockup, disconnect and error 9000. Log back in and again, bang, disconnect and error 9000. Play next night and in a group would be fine but one of the group would be doing it. Over and over he would lockup, bang disconnect and get error 9000. As I said, I was beta, and enjoyed the game, so I even offered to do a fresh install on two of my home system's and try it as the only thing on the system. What did support, when they finally answered instead of the "Droid" response say? It was always my system had an issue not the SWTOR server. They would not admit that something in the start of going full time caused the game to not be able to handle so many players to it would start dropping some. Like many others I got sick of paying for a game that I could not play and not get a real response from the people about a fix. I must have "messed" with my system at least 5 times per them and it being my issue and again and again error 9000. I play three other online games without the error, they kept saying, no it's this setting on your machine, and then it would happen again. I got tired of that and quit. For about 4 months every few weeks I would get a “hey come back” email from them, only, no fix, still something on my machine was wrong and causing it. The game was great, fools behind it that would not admit the issue and work on the fix was the cause of the failure. It was NOT the poor content or failure of them to give updates that started and drove the downfall.

  4. Daniel Best

    You need to check your facts. SWTOR had 1.3m subscirbers after 6 months and only dropped to 700k some months after that. Bioware also said they only need 200k subscribers to be profitable and we have no idea how F2P affects that.

    Most MMOS shed players like that (WoW being a major exception) and SWTOR did so less steeply than some others which are still going after four years or more.

  5. Nikola Borisov Kasabov

    Its you actually that need to learn your homework before talking nonsense. EA stated they need 500k subs to break even. And 1mil subs to be profitable "but nothing to write home about" EXACTLY AS THEY STATED IT. I doubt that by the end of Feb 2013 "AAA" SWTOR will have more subs than "niche" EVE. Earnings call quote – "Last year we announced that the breakeven point was roughly 500,000 subscribers." http://investor.ea.com/common/download/download.cfm?companyid=ERTS&fileid=587660&filekey=dd5a6d27-4a63-48f5-929b-e232c4f57536&filename=EA_Q1_2013_Transcript.pdf

  6. Daniel Best

    You are right, it is 500k not 200k, a very bad typo. However you left out the important bit from your quote:
    "First, the game many of you have been tracking closely, Star Wars – The Old Republic. Although it launched well, subscriptions have been on a declining trajectory and
    have now slipped below 1 million. Last year we announced that the breakeven point was roughly 500,000 subscribers. While we are well above that today, that is not
    good enough. The message from players exiting the game is clear — 40% say they were turned off by the monthly subscription, and many indicate they would come
    back if we offer a free-to-play model."
    "Well above that today" and it confirms my point that the claim that it dropped from 1.7, to 700k in a few weeks is ridiculous, it was over 6 or more months.
    I never said SWTOR hadn't been dissapointing, just that it wasn't as catastrophic as this article makes out.