Tuesday, May 8, 2012

400K Players Lost, Star Wars: The Old Republic Doomed?


I've gotten a ridiculous number of emails and tweets asking me what I think about the recent announcement by EA that the subscriber base for Star Wars: The Old Republic shrank by 400,00 (25%) last quarter. Rather than send a ridiculous number of replies, I decided to write up my thoughts instead. So, is the game dead? Is this slide going to continue until someone pulls the plug on the final three remaining subscribers? Are we all doomed?!?!

No. I really don't think we're doomed at all. If you look at all the official announcements, EA gives it a positive spin saying they're pretty much where they thought they would be subscriber-wise. Sure, this is good PR but it's good to see that they aren't overly negative and still have plans to continue developing new features to enhance the player experience. If they seemed all gloom and doom, well, that'd be a bad sign.

It's not a good thing that people have left the game, but I think it was something that was absolutely going to happen, especially with this title for a couple of reasons. Even World of Warcraft, the granddaddy of them all, has been losing players. So, what's going on?

I noticed something interesting when I was at PAX East last month. There were a lot of MMOs. They all looked really good with fantastic stories, beautiful graphics and trailers that were immersive enough to stop gamers as they passed and make them watch. But when you listened to the chatter as the trailers and demos finished, there was one common theme. "I don't have time for this one, too."

There are so many MMOs available right now that it's impossible to play them all with any kind of regularity. It's also financially difficult to manage all those subscriptions every month. I talked with a lot of people who had just left #SWTOR and they left for a lot of reason, but the biggest was a lack of time. They wanted to try other games and they knew they couldn't play them all so they quit.

This isn't the case for every player, though. The hype around #SWTOR was unbelievable. It was the must-have game last December and people who had never played an MMO in their lives were as excited as people who'd been playing World of Warcraft for the last seven years. The excitement was shared, but the expectations were very different.


I've talked about this on the Sith Heads Podcast with Michael Gaines. He is a hardcore, veteran player. He forgets more about playing an MMO in a day than I've learned in the last five months. His expectations were not at all the same as mine. We both wanted an experience that was innately Star Wars, but he had definite requirements that I didn't even think to want. It was a case of me not even knowing what I was missing.

From Mike's point of view, the game is lacking. He doesn't have the same types of things he's had before and the things that have been added that are unique, like the Legacy System, aren't appealing to him. At all. It's disappointing. Despite playing in the Star Wars universe, swinging a lightsaber and Force Choking his enemies, it hasn't met his expectations. This kind of player may have moved on to trying a new game, or is it back to an old one?

If you've spent actual years creating a character, playing with a guild, developing friendships and an in-game life, it can be hard to leave. Sure, it's nice to take a vacation and try something new, but many players miss the group that they know and love. At some point, they may decide that, although they like the new game, the old one is where their heart is and, eventually, they'll follow their hearts and leave.

So, who the heck is still playing? I am. Lots and lots of people are still playing. Roughly 1.5 million or so depending on which source you check. These are newbs like me who are relishing the experience of their first MMO being Star Wars, veterans like Mike that are still vested enough to want to see where it goes, and people who fall somewhere in the middle. They like the universe and how the game plays. They like the Legacy System. They're having fun.

It was inevitable that the overwhelming rush to play #SWTOR would also result in a rush in the opposite direction as the initial buzz and excitement faded. It's not over, it's just a work in progress. I mean, come on, if Luke had just given up after that droid zapped his butt on the Millennium Falcon, he'd have never been a Jedi. I'm willing to give this game some time, see where it goes, and just enjoy the ride.

8 comments:

  1. It's probably a common trend for any new MMO, or any game for that matter. Big surge of interest but only a certain percentage of those are going to persevere. It's probably exactly what EA expected and after this dip they will probably slowly increase their subscriber base over the years as they add more content. Me? I still play DDO. It's clumsy movement but I like it and all my friends play it.

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    1. DDO is still a solid, viable game, and what is clumsy about it? I don't play it anymore but it is a work of art in motion :D

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  2. I was a fairly hardcore WoW player for a number of years, then I got out of it for time reasons. Family was growing, no time for MMOs.

    That said when SWTOR came along, being a total SW nerd (even played the tabletop for 4 years straight) I had to get in. I don't play it as much due to those same time issues, maybe 4 times a week, probably logging a total of 5 hours, but I still greatly enjoy it. I love the more developed story lines, and I see myself having many years of exploring all the plot lines and builds. So for a casual gamer like me, it doesn't get much better than SWTOR.

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  3. Something else to think about, is the time of year. MMOs always lose in the summer and gain back in the winter.
    I'm not the huge Star Wars fan and I don't really care for games with guns, I'm a swords and sorcery guy, but I LOVE this game. I think it'll survive.
    I never expected it to have WoW numbers, but it's doing very very well. I think I'll be playing it and WoW for a long time to come.

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  4. The biggest mistake Bioware made with the game early on was having too many people spread across too many servers. It made the game feel empty. When millions of people were logging in, rather than increasing capacity on the servers, they just opened new ones. Now that the population's on the decline, people are having trouble finding groups to do flashpoints and such, myself included. I have yet to do a hardmode flashpoint other than Black Talon for this very reason.

    This brings me to point #2: no group finder. THis game desperately needs a group finder which is coming in patch 1.3, and it can't come soon enough. Without a group finder, people that play DPS roles such as myself with guilds that are dead just sit around spamming in the fleet when they can be out doing something while being queued for a group.

    So these two things are the game's biggest problems. As Nicole said, the game was awesome for me up until 50, and then I just went, "ok....so now what?".

    As far as the time problem goes, people will play the games that appeal to them for whatever reason. I still play WoW, I play EQ2 once in a blue moon, and I've been playing SWTOR, Tera, and GW2 beta, not to mention Diablo III. What's going to win people over is what's fun, where their friends are, and what makes the game appealing on several levels.

    This is a bad time to make an MMO. Too many A-list titles out there.

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    1. Lost 25%, eh? Yeah, when that leaves a million and a half, it doesn't mean SWTOR is doomed. It probably just means they need to jazz some things up.

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    2. Yeah, not getting to play the premium level 50 content after getting my first character ever in a MMORPG ever to level cap and not crap to do except certain times maybe Friday and Saturday. Oh darn, guess I'll just go and play with my other 7 characters :D

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  5. I think Rick and Jaz pegged it-- MMOs have a natural fluctuation in members. They need slow buildup past the initial burst of interest, and membership changes with the seasons (either because of school, work, or good weather).

    As for time constraints...I play Runescape. It's considered the red-headed stepchild of the MMO world, but I can play for as little as 15 minutes if I need to. I've had friends eagerly try to sell me on WoW, but I'm just not interested. Plus, I'm a Linux user. Support is always a mixed bag under Wine (yep, I just checked SWTOR at the WineHQ db just now).

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