Lowering expectations across the board

To say that the SW:TOR launch has been mediocre would be an understatement, and if you want to go so far as to call it a disaster, considering the amount of resources BioWare had, I wouldn’t argue the point.

And that’s SHOCKING to me.

Now the first time I heard mention of the 4th pillar being the key to SW:TOR is the first time I said the game is going to fail as an MMO and as an overall venture. That has not changed.

What has changed is the timeline of it all. I’m floored by the number of “not going to sub after the first month” comments I’ve seen. I fully, fully expected the first 2-3 months after SW went live to be nothing but “greatest MMO of all time” posts from everyone and their mom. Of EA declaring victory, of Blizzard announced MoP will be fully voiced, and of SOE getting hacked.

Man is that not the case. From the 1.1 clusterfuck, to so many people not being interested in alts, to comments about the amount of side ‘filler’ quests in the game and their (lack of) quality, to people not being able to find a group in the FIRST MONTH of the game, to the silly and embarrassing bugs, it seems that every day brings another joke-worthy news item from the face-blasters. You know its bad when you have the fans saying this is ‘normal’ in an MMO and that everyone should just be patient with BioWare. Are you kidding me? 300m and EA banking the company on you is not enough? And let’s not forget that Trion launched Rift somewhat recently and did not have nearly as many issues, despite having a fraction of the budget and former SOE employees on the team (in retrospect, that totally explains that whole security loophole issue though).

And all of the above does not change the fact that, bugs or no bugs, SW is still a failheap when it comes to being an MMO. It just also happens to be having issue as an sRPG as well. That I did not expect.

Which brings me to my somewhat revised view for the genre, and in particular the miracle known as GW2. I want GW2 to succeed, assuming it’s actually an MMO and not a WoW-clone. I want it to be at least good-enough that I’ll buy it and play it with the Inquisition crew from launch until whenever ArenaNet turns it into WoW. Not because I personally can’t wait for GW2, or because I think it will solve all the genre’s woes, but because an actual MMO game doing well is better than only having failheaps like SW out and… well, failing. Because maybe if GW2 does well, other devs/VCs will look at that and think “hey, maybe we should try making an MMO to cater to the MMO genre!”

Maybe.

50 Responses to Lowering expectations across the board

  1. “I fully, fully expected the first 2-3 months after SW went live to be nothing but “greatest MMO of all time” posts from everyone and their mom.”

    Sorry, my mom’s computer doesn’t meet the minimum system requirements for SWTOR. She had to stick with WoW.

  2. Bored says:

    I’ve never had an issue finding groups, I am curious what % of the population subbed however.Maybe you should find official facts of that before patting yourself on the back because of the number of “posts” you have read.

    • SynCaine says:

      Oddly enough EA is not responding to my email asking just how many people subbed. Not sure why…

      • Ulvheart says:

        Sub numbers have been upgraded to ~800,000 with sales of 2.2 million according to MarketWatch (part of the WSJ).

        http://blogs.marketwatch.com/thetell/2012/01/20/ea-bounces-back-as-analysts-defend-%E2%80%98star-wars%E2%80%99/

        Retention will clearly be the key long-term but the sales alone make it a financial success for EA given the outlay of $200M.

        • Vatec says:

          1. You’re assuming $200M is correct; I’ve also seen the number $300M bandied about.
          2. Even if $200M is correct, 2.2M boxes is still only $120-150M. 800K subs is still only $25M or so. With generous interpretations of the numbers, they’re close to breaking even. With ungenerous interpretations, they’re still over $100M short of breaking even.
          3. Breaking even is generally not considered a “success” in business. When you’d have been better off investing your money in CDs, you’re not enjoying “success.”

        • wloire says:

          @Vatec Not that I disagree with your sentiment but your calculations indicate that Bioware gets 100% of the sticker price on every box. That’s not nearly the case the case. At 2.2 million box sales it’s doubtful they have broken the 100 million dollar mark.

          It will completely come down to how many subscribers they can retain.

        • Vatec says:

          @wloire Yep, you’re right. Even if a lot of “boxes” were through Origin, or whatever EA’s online distribution system is called, my numbers were still too generous.

          Also, bear in mind, at the 30 day mark everyone still thought Age of Conan was a success, with close to a million boxes sold. And Funcom didn’t invest anywhere near $200-300M into AoC.

        • silvertemplar says:

          And don’t forget the amount of $$$ LucasArts is grabbing from all this…

        • Ulvheart says:

          That’s a very good point Vatec. If we use $60 as a guide per unit it doesn’t help as we don;t know if the Lucas cut is on sales or profits…

          I guess we won’t know if ToR is a financial success until we see BW announce their annual profits and even then it will be hard to tease the ToR figures out.

          As far as being enjoyable to play despite occasional bugs – I can see me playing for 6 months, maybe more if interesting content keeps on coming. The new Koan flashpoint is a good challenge even in good gear with skilled players (on Hard mode) and bodes well if the pace is kept up.

          The raiding difficulty seems reasonable as well with normal mode being nicely balanced from start to end bosses and between the two current operations with EV being a lot easier than KP. We’ll see if Hard mode is sufficiently challenging to keep our attention.

        • brainclutter says:

          Why does everyone think that you break even when (box sales * price point) + (subscribers * monthly fee) = development costs?

          I’m pretty sure that 100% of the box sale figure does not count as pure profit…

    • x says:

      You sir make me laugh… define official facts…

    • saucelah says:

      Err um, here, let me help you in case the sarcasm went over your head. Syncaine didn’t say “no one is finding groups” or “official statistics say that 97.34% of players can’t find groups”

      He just said he’s seeing people say they can’t find groups.

  3. Antivyris says:

    I’m starting to think that perhaps the SWTOR people got the idea of the 4th pillar from looking to hard at F2P success. It’s almost like they thought you could keep an entire MMO crowd going on ‘shinies’, and that these ‘shinies’ would be even better because you wouldn’t have to pay extra for ‘shiny quest speech’.

    For a WoW clone, they seemed to have only looked at WoW and not played it. Anyone who has played WoW knows you really only read the quest text once. If it is memorable, you remember it, and if it is not memorable, you forget it. Either way, you skip the text. How they thought this wouldn’t happen with their very expensive voice-quest-text is beyond me.

    Sadly, the last MMO I heard of that really gave me hope died off, and that was by a small company named Simutronics (Game was Heroes Journey). It’s one of the other reasons I just don’t have a drive to play SWTOR. If Heroes Journey sounds familiar, it was the game the Hero Engine was designed for, and sadly they went from a game company to an engine company due to how much they could sell it.

    For anyone not seeing the connection, the Hero Engine is what SWTOR runs on. They’ve also opening it to be free to use, so here’s hoping an indy developer takes advantage of that.

    • pkudude99 says:

      Total agreement here. Even for “new” quests I’ve never done before on my main I tend to spacebar most of the dialog out anymore. On alts, especially if they’re the same base class, everything’s a spacebar. The voice stuff simply becomes an obstacle to the game.

      I do tend to let most of the class story quests play out to actually get the overall story, but all the “side” quests to go kill 10 foozles. . . no chance. Spacebar all the way.

  4. Ahtchu says:

    I personally don’t want to see GW2 come out prior to MoP’s ‘settling phase’. I want to see if the genre refutes more of the ‘WoW model’ as evidenced between the big budget SWTOR and the complacent WoW iteration 5. I’d like to see if sub numbers between the two drop.
    Then, I want to see GW2 launch, have some semblance of ‘world’ with ‘meaningful’ player interaction and impact, and sell like hotcakes.
    Without a dichotomous spread, too much room exists for the blind to remain so.

  5. Kobeathris says:

    I dunno, I figured when Tobold started sounding like you, or, rather, like your expectation of what a TOR player would sound like, that was probably a bad sign for TOR.

    • Jay says:

      Tobold is an entirely different kettle of fish to Syncaine. The guy desperately wants another MMO like WoW where he doesn’t have to do any work to find a decent guild to help him do Flashpoints and grouped content.

      Tobold utterly hates the fact he has to put work in to socialise with other players for groups. He also hates the fact his guild is not helping him do Flashpoints. Hence he is down on the whole game and has turned into a sadder dumber version of Syncaine. Tobold also refuses to even consider playing a game like Eve Online because it is “all too hard” and he might actually have to think.

      As for Syncaine he is a notorious game hopper and will drop a game as soon as be becomes bored or his fellow players don’t meet his hardcore standards. I feel sorry for his new Eve Online Corp especially once he does another disappearing act and his fellow players are left scratching their heads wondering where he has gone.

      • SynCaine says:

        “and has turned into a sadder dumber version of Syncaine”

        Hey thanks! …?

        “As for Syncaine he is a notorious game hopper and will drop a game as soon as be becomes bored”

        Aw and I thought we were friends?

        Just curious though Jay, any chance you can break down my MMO history for me? You seem to know a trend I’m not aware of. Thanks.

  6. Ulvheart says:

    I’m also looking forwards to GW2. It should be interesting simply to see what removing the ‘holy trinity’ from grup play will do to the feel of the game.

    As for your pronouncements of doom and demise for ToR I’ve yet to see you actually back that up with any useful data.

        • freakpants says:

          Yeah and San Andreas is played more than Starcraft 2. That is completely accurate data that is representative of the whole game community in the world.

        • Telke says:

          LOL @ citing xfire numbers

          someone doesn’t understand statistics
          hint: representative samples

          or in terms you’d understand, Syncaine:
          you’re a pro hardcore
          casual swtor kiddie audience don’t use xfire
          thus all xfire shows is that hardcores don’t like TOR; which was obvious from the word go

          also had a good lol at ~8,200 players listed on that page. wasn’t the sub number something like 800,000? oh noes, are xfire users the 1%?

        • Anti-Stupidity League says:

          Hey, look, no one’s playing Farmville. It must suck to be Zynga.

        • Ulvheart says:

          @ Telke – box sales of 2,200,000 so the sample is laughably small.

        • SynCaine says:

          You guys are totally right. I’m sure we will shortly find out that SW:TOR is killing it in terms of retention.

        • brainclutter says:

          The big thing that page tells you is that amongst Xfire users, peak numbers dropped by 25% from Jan 2 to Jan 22. I think that’s still a fairly telling sign of the direction the game is heading as a whole, even though the numbers won’t be perfectly identicle. It’s on a downward slide.

    • Antivyris says:

      http://massively.joystiq.com/2012/01/03/research-firm-swtor-has-350-000-peak-concurrent-users/

      215 Servers. That’s about ~1650 per server. Take the 1/5 Republic/Empire split, and that’s about 275 Republic and 1375 empire per server. Even a 50/50 split only nets you 825.

      With 17 planets, the leveling group would be split about ~50 per planet per side if we’re using the 50/50. 15/85 if we use the 1/5 (which it is like on some servers). At level 50, there are only two planets with real 50 content in open world, three if you count the 47 one. That means at max level, you have an average of 275 per level 50ish planet, and that’s expecting the entire population to be level 50, which it is not.

      Now, let’s add the fact that in order to group for a flashpoint you need to be in the fleet. Looking at just the simple numbers above, I can see how grouping could be difficult, as you have to choose between level 50 open world content, or standing around in fleet for a group. I’m on the side of anti-boredom here, people are not going to sit around spamming if they still have content to do. And if they don’t have content to do, I don’t see them staying long.

      Remember, any number other than peak concurrent users is kinda useless. It doesn’t matter if you have 2 million subs, if only 100k play the game at a giving time total, everywhere will feel like a ghost town, especially when you have worlds the size of the planets in SWTOR.

      Shrinking world size, adding in some kind of LFF tool, or allowing fleet chat to be accessed from all areas would probably do a lot in fostering a better community.

  7. bhagpuss says:

    As a non-participating observer I’ve also been surprised by both the amount of negative commentary post-launch and the number of apparently basic bugs and design issues that have surfaced.

    By far the most surprising trend, however, has indeed been the posts from experienced and willing MMO group-players saying they are struggling to find groups. It is never hard to find a group for a core instance/dungeon/group quest in an MMO during the first month after launch. It just isn’t. Even MMOs that are ghost towns a couple of months later manage to get that part done.

    I know some have been blaming it on the lack of an automatic Dungeon Finder tool but that could only explain why people were annoyed about the awkwardness of making groups for Flashpoints. If they still *wanted* to make those groups they’d be making them while bitterly complaining what a pain it was and how there’d better be a dungeon finder patched in like tomorrow.

    I can only surmise that there are very, very few players who actually want to group. Which does not bode well.

    Roll on GW2.

  8. Mite says:

    “I want it to be at least good-enough that I’ll buy it and play it with the Inquisition crew from launch until whenever ArenaNet turns it into WoW.”
    Even if I share the same concern, looking at how they respected their GW1 through all these years gives me a much needed sense of security.

  9. zocknoz says:

    just my $0.2: after reading so much positive and negative feedback about swtor i had to buy it to see for myself. unfortunately i only could play it for like 10 hours until my main computer died (no, it wasn’t swtor’s fault, it had problems before ^^). during those hours i just managed to finish the starting planet (more like a small map, like half the size tabula rasa had). on that map, playing from evening into the night, there were at most 70 people. and at night around 6am it dropped down to 5. even after a relog, as i was hoping to get put into a slightly busier zone to find a group to help me out. no luck, still five people :( i know that this could have technical reasons, but it did get me thinking. after the first planet when i got to fleet there finally were like 50 to 100 players in the same zone (can’t remember the exact number). oh, and my server is “bloodworthy”. i picked it because it wasn’t “full” but one of a handful of servers with “high” population. i know that’s no hard evidence, but i wanted to share. thanks for listening :)

  10. Gaugamela says:

    This is a funny post considering all the vitriol you had against TOR.
    At least there was another subscription MMO launched last year that was a success and it was Rift. Funny that you didn’t comment on their revenue numbers nor the fact that they obtained more 85 million dollars of funding from investment funds. Clearly a fail story when a start-up company makes that kind of money with only one game released and secures additional funding!
    For someone that also wrote so much crap about Rift without having played since the first 3 months I would love to see your reaction to that.

    And even though I find your rants against TOR funny, I am saddened that you want TOR to fail. Right now the pay-to-play model is endangered and if TOR things will only get worse in that area of the MMO genre. And somehow I don’t find free-to-play sandbox MMOs very enticing…

    I just hope that alongside GW2, TSW will also prove to be a success even though that one is a dark horse considering Funcom history.

    • spinks says:

      I’m mostly curious to see Syncaine tie himself in knots so as not to be vitriolic about GW2 (which will also be a themepark game featuring a lot of the things he dislikes.)

    • SynCaine says:

      When someone reports revenue and not profits, ask yourself why. Then ask yourself why they are getting additional funding while merging servers. Then keep in mind their one game last year sold at $50-$60 per box initially, and now can be purchased for $5 on Steam.

      The sub model works. Only problem is it only works for games that are MMOs. Not many of those around of late.

      • Gaugamela says:

        They are getting funding from investors. Not loans. That means there are investors interested in putting their cash in Trion.

        And in case you don’t remember Trion initially got 100 million dollars to release three games. They spent 50 to get Rift plus all the hardware structure prepared.

        Are they profitable? Maybe not, but the fact also is that they are a start-up company and ask any investor if a start-up company that has 100 million in revenue isn’t atractive.

        Your vitriol would be much better directed against free-to-play games than against theme park MMOs.

  11. dsj says:

    The reason the experienced players are having trouble finding groups is the lack of the LFD key … if they had been experienced at games like UO or EQ they would know that the chat box is for more than Chuck Norris jokes.

    • Vatec says:

      Except Tobold (one of the bloggers SynCaine is referring to) specifically stated that he spent hours at the Fleet spamming for a group. I may not agree with him often, but he’s neither an idiot nor a liar. If he spent hours at the Fleet spamming “healer LFG whatever” and got very few bites, I would venture to say that -something- is very wrong with that picture.

  12. coppertopper says:

    When SWTOR drops below $40 it will be some of the best 1-2 months of gaming you can get. Its a Bioware game and seems to succede on a Bioware game level. Maybe not so much on an MMO level yet though….

    GW2 – beyond the combat itself, which looks to be the best combination of action & MMO, the main gameplay seems to encompass what Rift did best which was allow players to come together fluidly to kill monsters and get loot without any drama. Can’t wait.

    • SynCaine says:

      SW will be a nice $5 Steam sale purchase, I agree. Hopefully they have off-line mode enabled at that point.

      • Anti-Stupidity League says:

        It’s pretty excellent single-player game already, while waiting for Mass Effect 3. At the moment I feel like I really want to level up all the classes just to see all class quest stories, they’ve been Kotor/Dragon Age level so far, which is all fine and well for me at least.

        If you cannot afford to pay 60 bucks and 15 a month or three for an excellent single-player game, then sucks to be you. Some of us can.

  13. Ephemeron says:

    Back in 2006, it seemed that everyone on the Internet was spewing concentrated negativity at PS3 (“Giant Enemy Crab, LOL!”) and singing praises to Wii. Yet if we look at how these two consoles are doing now, we’ll see a different picture.

    It’s not the negative (or, for that matter, positive) feedback itself that matters, but the developers’ reaction to it.

    • wloire says:

      … I’m pretty sure the Wii has still to this day sold more units then the PS3?

      • Rammstein says:

        Sure, maybe the Wii has sold more units, but Sony was selling the PS3 at a loss, so that evens out.

        /sarcasm

    • Gaugamela says:

      Business wise the Wii was a superior product to the PS3 and more successful.
      Now Nintendo can release a new console that will compete better with it.

  14. Gesh says:

    “Of EA declaring victory, of Blizzard announced MoP will be fully voiced, and of SOE getting hacked.”

    HAHAHAHAhahHAahaHAHA, that was a good one! :D

  15. Bronte says:

    MoP voiced. That is rich!

    And in an article recently, an analyst said the true cost was in the ballpark of about half a billion dollars…. sheesh…

  16. turnbullr says:

    Seems like bad MMOs can do WoW well now. We definitely need an MMO revolution.

  17. zocknoz says:

    i like how many comments this post has gotten =]

  18. Bernard says:

    “I want GW2 to succeed, assuming it’s actually an MMO and not a WoW-clone. I want it to be at least good-enough that I’ll buy it and play it with the Inquisition crew from launch until whenever ArenaNet turns it into WoW.”

    I wanted GW2 to succeed too.

    However I’ve already cancelled my preorder in anticipation of the emphasis on Casual Calvin and his drooling WoW-tourist friends.

    I feel happier now that I’ve taken a stand. No doubt ArenaNet and the MMO developer community will now see how important it is build a proper sandbox.

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