I was talking with a good friend the other day about Star Wars: The Old Republic. He is a long time gamer and a huge Star Wars fan, but when I asked him if he was going to play the game he surprised me by saying that he wouldn’t. In his opinion it is going to suck for the simple reason that everyone will end up playing some version of a Jedi. While I can’t disagree with this point, I believe that TOR will suck for many other reasons as well.
It is no secret that EA want TOR to be their WoW killer, and they will have to with a $300 million investment. Their method of competing with WoW has been to make WoW in space. Star Wars space to be exact. From everything that I have been able to read online and watch on youtube it seems that they are trying to make it as accessible as possible to players who are familiar with WoW. EA is not trying to reinvent the wheel, they want to play it safe. Sure they have attempted to make their own mark with features such as Flashpoint Missions and Crew Skills, as well as enough voice acting to fill 20 gig on your hard drive. But most of it is a straight copy and the question is, after six years is it still feasible to kill WoW by copying it?
Because lets take into consideration where a lot of players are with WoW right now. The two biggest issues with WoW in its current state are immersion and the community, as in there is no community and there is very little immersion, (witness the blue post where they stated that they want to make loot tables accessible at the start of instances. Check it out on Nils blog with some great points from him as well.) Blizzards answer to solving the ‘kill ten rats problem’ has been to place the player on rails via extensive phasing, scripted gameplay, and linear questing. This together with the LFG system has made players realise that the only time they are actually playing an interactive MMO is when they are using the auction house. There are a lot of factors at play that could conceivably result in WoW losing extensive market share in the future to another MMO. But not an MMO that is copying WoW, and particularly copying the ‘kill ten rats problem’ and the storyline solo questing as well. You don’t gain market share by copying something that is on the verge of not working any more.
But EA has chosen this path. Cataclysm’s sales must have surely gladdened the hearts of the EA executive management, but this is merely a short term indicator of where the MMO market is in the present time. The EA louse and his loveable ramblings aside, it doesn’t seem that EA has its finger on the ball when it comes to working out what the hell is going on even when it’s punching them in the face. And even if they do realise the situation, what are they going to do; change everything now? I am sure that TOR will ship a very large number of units on release, possibly even the most MMO units ever sold. But with EA not even sure if it will be a free to play model or a straight subscription, the meat in the pudding will be six or even three months down the track after release. And EA have a terrible track record of MMO publications, quite possibly the worst ever. With EA being a public company, and thus having shareholders who are both champing at the bit to get the product out and worried about their share price, you can bet your bottom dollar that EA is leaning on Bioware at every point. Bioware might make good games, but you can trust EA to stuff it up. There is also the terrible possibility that Lucasarts is involved in making this, or at the least is looking over Biowares shoulder and giving or withholding approval as they see fit.
And even if all of this doesn’t pan out, well, as my friend said, just about everyone will play a Jedi.