29 December 2011

Restart vs. Extension

Gordon over at "We Fly Spitfires," raises an interesting question with his recent post.  First off, I commend him for his honesty about having a rather negative view of Star Wars: The Old Republic in general in prefacing his remarks.  A big problem with many opinion pieces is that so often the author attempts to hide or obscure their personal bias.  I find this just as dishonest in blogging as I would in more academic literature.  So I have to give Gordon major props here for not in any way attempting to mislead his audience.  He's not sold on SW:TOR and he makes no attempt to say otherwise.  So we as the readers can take that with a grain of salt as we look at his specific critiques.

And his critiques certainly have merit.  There is a lot of validity to his criticism of Bioware's decision making process and how that affected SW:TOR as a final product.  The emphasis on storyline and voice over was a deliberate decision and that decision had consequences on the game's final form.  Gordon believes that this emphasis resulted in the diminished quality of other aspects of the game such as combat, class diversity, and the user interface.  I can certainly sympathize with criticism of the UI.  It is easily the one thing about SW:TOR that I absolutely loathe and can't believe that Bioware shipped the game with a UI this poor.  If you read my SW:TOR review you already know how I feel about that.  But this isn't Gordon's biggest worry.  His critique comes down to the longevity of the game itself.

His argument is that Bioware spent too much time and effort on essentially crafting a single-player RPG experience and there is little incentive for players to play through the game multiple times as all the voice acting and cutscenes will rapidly become redundant.  This will lead to very quick "burn out" and result in few players sticking with the game long-term.  Again, his argument has some merit.  I have already experienced this myself to a degree.  As I said in other posts, I rolled multiple characters when the game launched so I could experience a variety of play styles and content.  It was a good plan, but I rapidly found myself unable and unwilling to play multiple characters in the same faction.  Yes the class story is different for each one, but this content only accounts for about 20-30% (my estimate only) of the content used to level.  The rest (all other quests, PvP, Flashpoints, heroic quests, etc.) are duplicated for all classes within the same faction.  So there is a high degree of duplication, and in this, Gordon has a good point.

Where we differ though, is how we think this will affect the game in the long term.  I think SW:TOR's ability to retain players over the long term is going to have a lot more to do with how it handles maximum level content (endgame) and expanded content (patches and expansions.)  SW:TOR already goes a long way to make you care about your character.  Thus it makes sense that the game would want to encourage you to continue investing in that character, not constantly creating new ones.  If Bioware can deliver fun and engaging activities for level capped characters, and provide a consistent source of new content, I firmly believe it can overcome the potential "burn out" and lack of replayability that the 1-50 content may come to represent.  And to counter the people that say that the emphasis on voice over will make adding content slow, I would remind them that Bioware and EA aren't stupid.  I am quite sure they have already planned for this and have the first batch of added content fully voiced and ready to go.  They invested in this voice over train and I guarantee you they have already accounted for that in their plans for future patches and expansions.

What it all boils down to is; which is more important to the average MMO player, or more specifically, the average player playing SW:TOR?  Are they more interested in creating new characters and replaying the game?  Or are they more interested in what they can do at the end to continue developing one specific character?  If the former is more important, then Gordon is correct and SW:TOR is looking at some problems within six months to a year.  If the later is more important, then the pressure is on Bioware to continue to deliver engaging content to keep players involved.  One of these can be fixed much more easily than the other.  At this point, there is little Bioware can do to make the 1-50 experience any different than what it is and what it will be.  So if Gordon's theory is correct, things could get rough.

What do you think?  Which is more important to you when you are playing an MMO? 

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