Note: If this post comes off as a little rambly, sorry. Lot of thoughts swirling in my head + a massive headache = not going to fully explain every last detail. Feel free to comment for clarifications.
I linked to a pretty harsh SW:TOR option piece yesterday, and Ravious over at KTR has a post + lots of comments about it as well. Tobold has a post up on this today as well, taking a slightly different take on the whole thing.
Ultimately all of this just further reinforces what most of us have expected all along; TOR is most likely going to be a pretty solid sRPG (especially if you are into the whole lightsabers thing), with the possibility that the sRPG is ruined by MMO concepts spoiling the fun. And for EA it makes sense to charge MMO prices for TOR, as a 200 hour sRPG is going to take people more than a month to finish, so you might as well charge more than just the box price (Especially when it cost you 300m or whatever to make said 200hr sRPG).
TOR to me is like Farmville when it comes to MMO discussions; both games have MMO aspects, neither game is actually an MMO, so the basics concepts and concerns just don’t apply.
What I do want to touch on today, which is somewhat related to the above (hopefully), is the 5% population of an MMO; the hardcore, the guild leaders/officers, the mod makers, the forum warriors, bloggers, etc.
The more virtual world your MMO is, the more important that 5% is. In a game like EVE these are the people starting the wars in 0.0. They are the ones organizing things in Empire. They are the ones on the CSM. They drive content. They make the game ‘work’. Remove them, and basically nothing happens, the world stops working, and people get bored/leave.
The ‘solution’ to not relying on that 5% is to have the game itself be the content driver. This is where solo questing/instances come in, where phasing shines, and where most ‘end-game’ somewhat dies. Simply put, the amount of ‘content’ the 5% can pump out will always dwarf the amount of content a dev team can put out, no matter how aggressively they patch.
Of course, months or years of ‘content’ is only important if your business plan relies on retaining players for that long. If your plan is to get people in and out over the course of a few months, you have no real need for that 5%, or for the content/tools they would require. I’d argue you quickly stop being an MMO when you go down that path, but the definition of MMO is pretty stretched these days.
Furthermore, it’s not a big surprise that the 5% consume content faster than the other 95%. I mean, the definition of casual is (partly) that they play less, right? So if you play less, you don’t need new content as often as someone who plays more. Is it really a coincidence that in 2004/2005, when WoW was booming, the majority of the additional content was focused on that 5%? If you retain/entertain that 5%, they in turn help to keep the other 95% coming back. If a guild leader stops organizing raids or guild events, guild members don’t have a reason to log on. If you can’t keep the hardcore crowd busy, who is going to design your UI with mods? Who is going to ‘beta test’ your new raiding content before the more casual crowd arrives?
This is not to say that ALL focus should go to the 5%, that would be silly, but I fully believe that in an MMO, losing the 5% costs you far more than just 5% of your total subscribers. The old “I’m quitting and taking my entire guild” joke does hold some truth to it. The ideal content addition would be aimed at the 5%, but would either trickle down (progressive raids, where the older raids get ‘easier’ due to better item access from higher raids or new 5-mans), or would act as a tool for the 5% to create ‘content’ for the rest (drawing a blank for an example here). And ‘content for all’ works as well (seasonal events or such), so long as you maintain a good balance. I feel that the AAA MMOs of late have completely lost that balance, and the damage caused from losing the 5% is not felt/seen immediately, especially if you offset this with (limited shelf life) solo content.