One of the most interesting design choices in Star Wars: The Old Republic is the incorporation of a Game Over factor. It's actually one of the first MMOs to do this, a point which makes me smile at the people who occasionally claim the game isn't innovative. SWTOR is a highly innovative game on the basic framework of WoW-style UI. No one has set up a character's progression in terms of story before and ended it but in this game you can progress through, say, the Sith quests and become a Darth. You even (apparently) get some kind of game over for now screen.
However, and this is perhaps something for the people who have been asking for innovation in MMOs to consider, this is not the innovation we were looking for (to paraphrase Alec Guinness).
SWTOR is a game that will do very well and be a pivotal game experience in many people's lives. It's clear that there are a lot of people in the community who never played WoW or any other MMO game before.
So SWTOR represents a new branch on the MMO tree, a different direction, a parting of ways with old notions of game design. What this game is, crucially, is a finite consumable experience. You can play it for a while, then you win. There's stuff to be going on with if you want to continue in the game world after winning like Huttball and Operations (aka Raids). But really you finish once you've done your class storyline and that's something completely new.
And it's not just the casual newbie gamer who can enjoy this. There's veteran gamers who this suits perfectly.
Tesh said today:
As much as I like Star Trek Online, I’m looking forward to finishing it and moving on. I suspect it’s similar to how I’d approach Star Wars The Old Republic, inasmuch as I want to play the story and then move on to another one.
Spinks too is highly immersed in her Sith Warrior's story:
The levelling game in SWTOR has been one of the best CRPG experiences I’ve had in any game since Planescape.
For me it's been different.
MMOs spoiled me for other games. I used to play games like Planescape, Baldur's Gate, Master of Orion in the 90s. After I moved on to online games, first Homm 3 and Diablo 2 then Star Wars Galaxies and WoW I found these offline experiences too shallow. It felt hollow making a trade in a space trader game when there's no one else playing the market, it felt silly to master a craft in a universe with no customers, it felt empty to slay a dragon in the privacy of my own private world.
I need to be part of something bigger.
Raph Koster once pointed out that the much-admired harvester mechanic in Star Wars Galaxies was basically the same as the (then) much-derided farming mechanic in Farmville. The point though, is that in SWG we were collecting materials to make something which would cause someone to win a fight which would effect the world in some way. Just as a clock is something more than a handful of cogs an online world can be something more than a single game mechanism.
SWTOR's story-telling is the most polished, most expensive and almost certainly the best game mechanism ever seen as part of a MMO. However its flaw is that it's not really just part, it's the whole MMO. I find myself not logging in because the game just doesn't grab me. This is particularly sharp when I (in my story) cause massive galaxy-changing events.
This feels pretty healthy to me because I see SWTOR as the launching pad for what I truly want - a genuinely diverse MMO market where it becomes standard practice to make games for a part of the market rather than the whole, for, say, military stategist grognards rather than just "every MMO player ever".
What I'm saying is SWTOR will be a success but it will also clearly alienate a significant market sector and leave us uncatered for, wanting to spend money but unable to find a suitable MMO to spend it on.
Because we need to be part of something bigger.