Star Wars The Old Republic Struggles To Regain Its Mojo

Gamers have known for months that Star Wars: The Old Republic (SW: TOR) is in trouble. Those of us who have played SW:TOR from the beginning have seen more of our friends and guild mates disappear from the game every day. Over the last seven months, since the game launched in December, 2011, many guilds have slowly faded out of existence, as most of their members cancelled subscriptions and quit playing.

Sadly, our worst fears were verified yesterday, July 25, 2012, with this shocking comment at the end of an article in Time Magazine. The article, by Time’s tech writer, Keith Wagstaff, concluded with this dismal statement about Star Wars: The Old Republic: “With EA’s (Electronic Arts) Star Wars MMORPG, The Old Republic, losing subscribers by the hundreds of thousands, now might be the time for World of Warcraft to get some of its mojo back.” While it is exciting to see MMORPGS mentioned in Time Magazine, this was not the sort of news gamers hoped to read.

Making matters even worse, the quote from Mr. Wagstaff was a retread of an earlier comment from Forbes Magazine, on July 18, 2012. The Forbes article, written by Paul Tassi, contained this discouraging comment: “Star Wars: The Old Republic has quietly faded into the background lately in terms of generating news. Last we heard a few months back, the game was shedding subscribers by the hundreds of thousands and considering a free-to-play option. Since then, all has been quiet.”

Emily Gera at The Verge tried her best to put a balanced spin on the situation, saying, “Star Wars: The Old Republic lost over 400,000 subscribers since February 2012; however at the end of March, 2012, it still retained a subscriber-base of 1.3 million users.” While this sounds like a high number of paying customers, no one can deny that losing more than 400,000 subscribers is a disaster in the making. Plus, as any active player will tell you, between April, 2012, when there were still 1.3 million subscribers and July 26, 2012, many, many thousands more players have left the game.

On top of all the lost subscribers and revenue, Gamasutra reported on July 17, 2012, that Rich Vogel, executive producer for Star Wars: The Old Republic, is no longer employed by Bioware. He left Bioware at the same time the company was announcing its second round of layoffs of employees who worked on SW: TOR. No one is revealing why Vogel left but SW: TOR has not only lost a large percentage of its paying customers but many of the people who helped create the game are gone.

All the bad news forces us to ask one simple question; will SW: TOR switch to a fully free to play business model? EA has already announced that the first 15 levels of SW: TOR will be free to play (FTP) and the bosses at EA are giving serious thought to making the game completely FTP. EA Labels President, Frank Gibeau, was holding his cards close to the vest, when he said, “We’re going to be in the business from a long term standpoint so absolutely we’re going to embrace free access, free trial, ultimately some day we can move in and embrace that model (free to play). It’s all a matter of timing and thinking things through. We have a great business right now and we’re not looking to make any abrupt changes.”

Mr. Gibeau can hardly be expected to pronounce a death sentence on a game that took 6 years to develop at a cost of over 125 million dollars, but the first seven months of Star Wars: The Old Republic are certainly causing a great deal of concern for the future. What ever decision the EA management makes, they should make it soon and let the gaming community know exactly how they plan to revitalize the game.

One can only wonder if going to a free to play model will solve the problem. There is much more wrong with SW:TOR than the fact that the game is pay to play. Despite an obvious need and months of pleading from the player community, the decision makers at EA and Bioware waited too long to get out the first major update. When it finally became available in April, 2012, there was very little new playable content and most subscribers were seriously disappointed. Just about every guild in the game was able to tear through all the new instances and flashpoints within hours after the update became available.

Players have several other serious complaints about SW: TOR. PVP (Player vs. Player) has yet to recover from the catastrophic failure of world PVP on Ilum. Space combat is meaningless, doesn’t connect with the rest of the game and the controls are awful. Instances get boring rather quickly and several of the bosses are just too easy. Perhaps Bioware thought the glitter and gloss of the Legacy system would keep players interested, but what the game needs is a massive infusion of stimulating content that really challenges the players.

To the credit of the game’s designers, leveling and questing in SW: TOR is a great deal of fun and quite well thought out, but it isn’t enough to keep player’s coming back for more. Once a player hits the level cap, the game quickly runs out of steam and becomes repetitious. As the saying goes, there’s the rub. To recapture the disgruntled players, the end game needs a complete overhaul.

Free to play may attract some new players but it remains to be seen if it will bring back the hundreds of thousands of disappointed gamers. We all had high hopes for SW: TOR and many of us were truly heartbroken when the game didn’t live up to expectations. We really wanted this game to be a winner. If Star Wars: The Old Republic has any chance to bounce back and rekindle the excitement the gaming community originally had for the game, the developers at Bioware need to come up with some amazing new ideas.

Frankly, I for one am not holding my breath. Many of my friends have said they seriously doubt they could ever be enticed into returning to the game. It would cost a fortune and a massive amount of work to redesign the end game content of SW: TOR. Maybe Bioware and EA can pull off a miracle comeback, but the odds are against them. SW: TOR will probably survive and remain somewhat profitable, but it isn’t the world-beater we all hoped it would become, when we first heard about Star Wars: The Old Republic, seven long years ago.