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

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.