Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Old Republic - Colossal failure now free to play

Many of you gamers out there may have read or heard about the failure of the recently released MMO game from EA and Bioware, the old republic.  Although not so much a failure to put the game out of service like APB was, this was just another subscription MMO forced to move to the free to play model to survive.

A bit of background though before we begin with why the game failed so badly.  Bioware of Mass effect fame had in its earlier days published a pretty good Star wars RPG simply titled Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic or KOTOR as many fans refer to it.  It was pretty good, got great reviews all round and even ported well to the PC where it saw even greater popularity.  This game put Bioware on the map basically, making it one of the top RPG developers in the west and seen as something of a trend setter for RPG games going forward.  They further proved their skill with titles like Jade empire and Mass effect.
Not the prettiest but WOW still has massive player numbers

A sequel to KOTOR was made, but not by bioware and although it wasn't a bad game it was rife with bugs and had a pretty sloppy finish due to budget and time constraints the developers had little control over.  Still KOTOR 2: The sith lords was also a pretty awesome game that aped the style of the original very well and even to this day has many fans working on fixing it by creating new content to plug the gaps so to speak.

Sometime before or during the development of Mass effect 2 EA games took a bigger share of Bioware and eventually took over entirely, adding the developer to its portfolio of studios.  Still despite the takeover, Mass effect 2 was an amazing game that pushed the envelope and continued a brilliant story, winning awards left right and centre before beginning work on Mass effect 3.

EA though had other plans and made a huge investment into Bioware to begin working on the next knights of the old republic title, this one though was to be a MMO title instead.  You see no other major publisher could hope to challenge the might of World of warcraft.  WOW was the most dominant force in the MMO market even after so many years of trading.  Many other titles had come and gone, each one being touted as a potential "world of warcraft killer".  It always amused me when major gaming sites would use that term as it made me think of it like it was some kind of saviour, riding in and slaying the beast to save the gaming masses.

EA put bioware onto the task of making the MMO, a genre Bioware had never worked in before.  They at least had a previous star wars MMO to look at and see what went wrong in Star wars galaxies.  Although it was older than WOW it still had plenty of fan feedback to see what they liked and didn't like in a star wars MMO game.  So Bioware creates a full time writing team of around 12 or so and begin to develop a story bigger than all of their previous games combined.  Hyperbole right there considering how the plots worked in the old republic.

EA sank nearly or a little over $200 million dollars into the development of this game.  I can see why they were so confident to do this.  Bioware had a great track record of excellent RPG games.  They had past experience with the star wars franchise.  They had an instantly recognisable brand and had an established fanbase of star wars fans and KOTOR fans.  This really looked like it could have been the fabled "world of warcraft" killer.  Bioware released some of the best trailers for a video game ever seen and frankly they put the previous three films to shame with how cool they were.  People got hyped, websites gushed over its potential, EA talked up a PR storm and the game came ever closer to release. 

Visually it was a weird middle ground of ugly and pretty
I had originally preordered the title several months back when the beta was first announced and players brought down the official site with so much traffic.  I managed to get in and was ready for some amazing Bioware RPG gaming.  What I got though was some of the most bland and uninspired gaming I have ever played.  Instanced sessions, weak combat mechanics, bland locales and animations worse than the original KOTOR.  Honestly it was a massive letdown.  The story was broken into segments for each class in an attempt to keep things more interesting and more fitting for your chosen profession, but this only meant the whole story was fractured and had little connection to each other.  The voice acting was decent and the cutscenes were ok but the core game was just bad.

Many players would have first complained about the graphics and yes they aren't anything close to impressive, but I let that slide since graphics don't make the game, its the content and what you can do with it.  Take minecraft as an example.  It looks like ass, but the things you can do are pretty varied.  Then compare games like Crysis, which look stunning, but ultimately shows all of the goods too soon and becomes boring fast.  Sadly  The old republic had no real redeeming features in its gameplay.  The mechanics were heavily borrowed from other MMO games and even some from its competitor WOW.

The thing is that nowadays no MMO should ever try to surpass WOW, they should be aiming to offer something different from WOW.  Even gaming sites like IGN will say new MMO's simply draw a few players away from WOW for a month of two before they go back to the behemoth from Blizzard, its all about maintaining enough players to keep aflot after the first month of play.  The old republic may have been the exception here had it been something different from the competition.  maybe if it had the combat from TERA and a few original quest elements then it could have been a real contender for the title.

It was only a couple of months before the old republic had begun shedding subscribers eventually losing 450,000 players.  The PR department tried to convince us it was the free month players leaving, but we all knew it wasn't just the 30 day players.  Their subscriptions continued to fall until last week when rumours began to circulate that its playerbase was under a million, a dire financial state for a game that cost so much money to produce.  In the same week it was announced that the game would become F2P or free to play.  It still offers the whole game for $14.99 and a severely cut down experience for those who play for free, but expect even this to be dropped when nobody pays the reduced subscription. 

So did the old republic even have an effect on WOW?  If it did it was only temporary.  You know the usual process of warcraft players leaving for a month to see what all the fuss is about.  They play the new media darling for a while before becoming tired of her to return to their digital addicition from Blizzard.  Diablo 3 has had a more negative effect on warcraft subscriptions compared to any of its MMO competition.  Guild wars was smart not to challenge the giant and instead focus on the no subscription model.  Guild wars 2 will continue this and keep itself afloat through regular expansions and microtransactions, thus making themselves immune to Warcrafts powers so to speak.

Ignore the extended cut and replace with online
So who does the fault lie with here?  Bioware?  EA?  The gamer?  Well none of them really.  Bioware was stretched to its limit trying to create a massive MMO to compete with the giant that is World of warcraft, while constantly being watched by their EA overlords.  It was their first foray into the MMO genre and really they didn't make a terrible game, just a generic one.  Maybe they should have focused on Mass effect more, or even made a Mass effect MMO.  The studios familiartity with their own IP may have produced a superior MMO. 

EA didn't really do anything wrong here either.  They picked a talented developer and threw a shitload of money at them to try and take the top spot.  I struggle to think what else they could have done to improve their chances.  EA are the only other publisher that can stand against Blizzard/Activision in the arena of mega budget game development.

The gamer can't be responsbile here either.  Sure many more could have bought and played the game, but in the end if the title isn't engaging or fun enough to play, then its bound to fail.  I personally think the days of subscription MMO's are coming to an end.  A world in the grip of a economic meltdown coupled with the rise of the free to play MMO will probably see off the old guard.  Even popular games like EVE will eventually have to drop its subscription model to stay relevant to new gamers, when all of the other choices out there are free to play with microtransactions.

There will probably be other big MMO games to come and challenge the king for its top spot, but unless they bring something so radically different, innovative and unique to the MMO genre that it changes it forever then I think we will be stuck with WOW for a few more years yet.

Thanks for reading and come back tomorrow for my TNA impact review.


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