Sunday, 5 February 2012

Being part of something bigger

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.


  1. I think you're implying that although EVE would fit what you're looking for, you want something different from that?

    How would your ideal MMO be different from EVE? Or is it more that you're looking for a change of scenery?

  2. Eve is fine and very much fits the bill. I still play Eve.

    However I'm not restricting myself to just one game and I'm interested in exploring other online games. Diablo 3 interests me particularly for the real money metagame. It rather reminds me of Magic: The Gathering. Domminus interests me for the 3 sided RvR. This Secret World interests me for the setting but will need some sort of infinitely unobtainable game mechanic to keep me.

    I think what I'm saying is that I don't necessarily want a single ideal MMO that I play for ever. I want a variety of MMOs that suit me.

  3. "I want a variety of MMOs that suit me."

    I'm with you on that. It's a big part of why I don't like the sub model. I'm not even against the finite story of SWTOR... I just would prefer to pay for it like any other finite RPG; single purchase of content.

    I actually like games that end; they let me move on to other games I want to play.

  4. Well, I finished my story as a Sith Assassin and dinged 50 this weekend (in that order - I was 48 when I hit the climactic quests and managed to do them). You get some nice cinematics as well as a couple of choices that let you give a sense of your character. What you DON'T get is a 'game over' screen. I had more of a sense of 'to be continued' and it's worth pointing out that with the story done (for now) I've still got instances, raids, PvP, dailies - in fact, everything that WoW would be offering me is there in SWTOR as well.
    What I'm hoping for is that Bioware will push out regular chunks of story in the same way that Turbine have done for LOTRO (only a bit more regularly than Turbine did after Moria...)

  5. @ Tesh it really matters to me that I choose my time of exit, rather than having it forced upon me by running out of game. Things like crafting feel rather pointless if the character is just going to stop at 50 and never be played again.

    @ Tremayne ok I guess it's a matter of confidence in the developer. If I hit 50 and saw a To Be Continued.. screen I'd be thinking it means you're finished until the Expansion which (based on WoW) could be a couple of years off. They may add more content in patches or have a better schedule rather like the way Rift does.

  6. I'm not there yet, but yes, the large scale of the class stories does make it seem that they need to be rolled out in large segments (Acts?). So that would lend itself to significant content expansion, which can be hard to do in quests at the level cap. I know--rep grinds!

    Still, I bet they know What Happens Next for the various stories and the greater story of the galaxy. I bet there's fun stuff to come before the first $40 expansion.

  7. Tapping into the need, which most people have, to be a part of something bigger is what drives most successful organizations.

    Stabs, I want to personally invite you to become a forum admin at my latest venture, a Private Diablo 3 Gold Forum. BTW, I wish you'd email me so that I could contact you personally instead of making comments on your posts!!!