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Failure To Launch

Welcome to another week of Muscommunication! One thing that has been a fear of mine since I began following Star Wars: The Old Republic is the possibility that it might fail. This week we hit our 80th TOROcast, that is 80+ weeks of following a game that is still months away and I would hate to have followed it all this time to see it fall short. Let’s take a look at where other MMO’s have “dropped the ball” and talk about what SWTOR can do to not replicate them.

World of Warcraft

It seems that ever since the release of World of Warcraft very few MMO’s have been able to have a successful release and even fewer have managed to survive long after it. In that same vein no pay-to-play MMO has even come close to the subscription numbers of that monster. Interestingly enough, few people seem to realize that even “The King” had a shaky release.

What it did wrong

Blizzard did not do a very good job of anticipating just how popular their game would be. At the time there were a few MMO’s that gamers could play, Dark Age of Camelot, Everquest, Ultima Online; but as a whole the genre was fairly stale. World of Warcraft swept onto the scene, set in a very popular franchise and gamers flocked to it. The game was released on November 23rd, 2004 and sold an estimated 240,000 copies in the first day. That is almost a quarter of a million players, that is a large number of players even in today’s standards, six years later.

I was one of those players who was playing on day 1, and I should rephrase that, because “playing” is not actually something I did. With the immense server loads the game was horribly laggy to the point of being literally unplayable. This issue went on for at least a week before Blizzard was finally able to settle things down. Even after this, server stability issues were a common occurrence for quite some time.

What SWTOR can learn

Star Wars: The Old Republic has three things going for it. It is a Star Wars game. It is a BioWare game. It is shaping up to be a triple-a quality MMO. This game is going to have a tremendous amount players on day 1, I would not be surprised to see a couple hundred thousand. BioWare needs to make sure that their servers are ready to handle this load. Stress test, stress test, stress test. No one will be happy to come home holding their shiny new SWTOR only to learn that they can’t even play the game.

Star Wars Galaxies

Since the beginning of SWTOR there has been a large subset of players hoping that this game will be SWG2, they want SWTOR to be the spiritual successor to Galaxies. Well for all of the joking that I do about SWG, the truth of the matter is that the game was riddled with real problems, problems that caused SWG to falter. BioWare can take some of the good from Galaxies, I think it will do well in helping players transition from Galaxies to SWTOR but there is a lot more that they need to leave behind.

What it did wrong

The first and probably biggest error of Galaxies, and this is will not be the only time you hear about this problem in this article, was a “beta-state release”. What I mean by this is that at launch the game felt incomplete, it felt more like you were playing a beta than an actual game. An example of this is that there were many features promised at launch such as mounts, speeders, faction bases, etc. and many of these features took up to a year before ever appearing in the game. In this same vein the game was filled with bugs, well known bugs, which went for a very long time without ever being fixed and in some cases were never fixed.

Lastly, and this is not an “at launch” issue but is still a concern, is the constant changing of the dynamic of the game. Massive balancing changes, changing how combat works, etc. Anyone who follows MMO’s has heard of the CU/NGE sets of changes and how they ruined the game.

What SWTOR can learn

The first thing BioWare must do is to ensure that their game is complete before it hits shelves, but really, who is even remotely worried about this? BioWare has already shown us that they refuse to even give us tidbits of information on a game system until they are comfortable with it. Although it is irritating to those of us who look to their site every week for information, it is a smart move on their part. They know what they want out of this game and they are working to ensure that is as polished as possible.

This also bleeds into BioWare’s need to be cautious to not change their game too much. I believe this is another reason they are so careful about releasing information, they want to make sure they are set in a system before they tell us about it. Think how annoying it would be if next weeks Friday Update was about how they changed the entire Crew Skills system? Although it is important that they listen to user feedback they must always stick to their design and goals.

Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO brought something to the MMO market that I think makes it a great comparison to SWTOR, story. This is entirely my opinion but when playing LOTRO I felt very strongly like the game was a WoW clone set in Middle Earth, with the addition of story. 

What it did wrong

Now let me reiterate again that it is my opinion that LOTRO was a WoW clone with story, that is important. LOTRO made one mistake, it wasn’t as good as WoW was. The general gameplay, the flow, the combat, it was all just not as clean as Blizzard’s lovechild and so it made it difficult for some players to choose LOTRO over WoW. Story, unfortunately, was not enough to carry the game.

What SWTOR can learn

BioWare writes better game narrative than any company ever has, but as Yoda would say “Story a good game does not make”. No one will question that this games narrative will be amazing, BioWare needs to make sure that the MMO goodies are not only present in the game but

good enough to be competitive and comparable to the rest of the market. Story will mean a lot in this game but story can not and will not carry this games success. If I cared only about story I would read a book, not play an MMO.

All Points Bulletin

Grand Theft Auto the MMO, what can go wrong? Well, everything.

What it did wrong

Honestly this section should be renamed what it did right, because that would be easier to type, but I like consistency so I will try to make this simple. Frankly APB turned out to be nothing more than a skeleton of a real game hiding in MMO clothes. There was a whole bunch of stuff to do in the game, like, PvP missions (which had little to no diversity after more than a day) and change what clothes you were wearing and, well and that’s it. Interestingly I also never heard a single kind word about the actual gameplay, just lots of praise for the “character designer”. Maybe APB should have just sold that? All Points Barbie?

What SWTOR can learn

Well, BioWare could go ahead and release a game with some MMO content and not go bankrupt immediately following release. Those two would be a great place to start.

Global Agenda

Global Agenda by Hi-Rez Studios is a game that I personally had a lot of hope for. Samm and I were lucky enough to play the game at a small local convention in Philadelphia and it had a huge amount of potential and was so much fun to play. We thought this MMO would revolutionize the market, boy were we wrong.

What it did wrong

If there is one thing that Hi-Rez excelled at it was not coming through on promises. If you heard of all of the features that were intended to be in at launch you would have been as excited as we were. I was even in the beta until the end and I was thrilled, the game was fun in beta but man, when they turned on all of the other features this game was going to be great!

Then I played the game on launch day, and I was playing the exact same game I just played in beta. It turns out none of those promises were filled, in fact, months after release they still were not implemented. It isn’t until very recently that *some* of them have actually began to appear.

What SWTOR can learn

Don’t make promises that you cannot fill.

Warhammer Online

If you listen to our show, you know how much we have beat on WAR and it’s horribly disappointing launch. Samm and I followed this game for months prior to launch (much like SWTOR). I was even a guild leader in one of the largest at-launch guilds, I was primed and ready to go for failure. This game has an interesting tie-in to SWTOR since Mythic, the developers of WAR are now a part of BioWare.

What it did wrong

In one sentence, WAR was rushed out the door and even the uneducated gamer could see this. The game launched with 4 missing classes, horrendous class balance, more bugs than you should ever see in a released product, and all of the content beyond level 10 was generally accepted as being not good. One quick note on the class balance. WAR is built entirely as a PvP game, the worst place possible to have class balance. I actually ended up rerolling out of a class that I loved solely because it was completely useless in PvP, which again, was the point of the game.

What SWTOR can learn

People will complain whenever they announce a pushback, I applaud them. Please BioWare, do not release this game until it is ready. Ask all of your friends next-door at Mythic, they can tell you what happens when you release an unfinished game.

I hope these examples can give everyone an understanding of the hurdles in front of BioWare at launch. BioWare has made me very confident in their understanding of these principles. I have heard on more than one occasion a senior member of BioWare state that they know they only “get one launch”. It is important that BioWare does not rush this product, listen to tester feedback, and stick to their design principles. If they can look at the failures around them and learn from them we could see one of the smoothest and most successful launches in MMO history. 

Let’s all hope it goes as planned! I would rather Fo not have to write – Don’t Be Surprised if BioWare ****ed Up Their Launch.

I know many of you are MMO players too, what are your experiences with the failures of MMO’s? Maybe you agree or disagree with my own assessment of the MMO market, you can comment below or head to the discussion thread. Additionally, if you wish to comment on this article or have anything you would like to see in a future Muscommunication, email me! musco@torocast.com

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