Gamasutra is reporting that Rich Vogel, the executive producer for the MMOPRG Star Wars: The Old Republic, has been fired. This comes amid rumors that the publisher is looking at “Free to play” options for the game and that they’ve lost around 400,000 subscribers in the last few months.
None of this comes as a surprise to me, sadly. I beta tested the game back before it launched, and I found it to be very impressive. I thought it had a lot of potential, and while it would never be a WoW-killer, I figured it would carve out a good niche. It had a great license, a good interface, wonderful voice acting and plenty of room to grow.
Then launch day happened. 45 minute queue times occurred just to log into the game. Ok, that was somewhat expected, and the wait times diminished after a bit, but it did certainly sour some people on the game. It also seemed to have inspired BioWare, or their parent company, EA, to add way too many servers to the game.
I played for the first month or so after launch and then lost interest. It’s hard to pin down exactly why. The game was decent enough, and the stories were amazing, but there was something lacking. I was certainly unimpressed by the lack of a random group finder, and the length of the first Republic instance (90 minutes to complete it? Seriously?). I also wasn’t impressed by the lack of a guild bank, and while I initially liked the crew skills, I soured on them when I realized that it would take me over an hour to level a skill from zero to sixty.
So I went away. I went back to WoW and the guild that I was running there. I forgot about The Old Republic. Last week I decided, on a whim, to get back into it, and I was mildly horrified.
You wanna know how much trouble the game is in? When I logged onto my server there were two (2) people on the planet of Coruscant, including me. This is like logging into WoW and finding that there’s only two people in all of Stormwind. There were only 21 players in the Republic faction that were online. Then I learned that BioWare was offering free transfers from certain servers to others (in fact, they’d give you in-game gifts if you did it), and had locked off the vast majority of their servers. Currently there are only twelve left for players to create characters on.
When I actually started playing I noticed that some of the problems I’d had before, like the lack of a group finder and a guild bank, had been fixed, but the crew leveling remains slow. The character leveling also remains slow. In WoW you can level a new character from 1 to 10 in about an hour. This creates a feeling of excitement and fun for new players and allows experienced players to quickly get out of the starting areas and into the wider world. I recently leveled a Jedi from 1 to 10 and it took about five hours or so. If you’re a player who is completely new to MMORPGs, this might be a very discouraging experience.
It also takes way too much effort to get a “mount”. You can push yourself to level 20 in WoW in a few hours of concentrated gaming to get to level 20, and then spend just a few gold and you’re riding like the wind. In TOR, you have to get to level 25, and that takes…well, a lot longer. Many more hours, at least. They’ve added a “sprint” feature into the game, but it still takes way too long to get anywhere without a speeder, and it’s especially odd when you consider that you can pilot your own starship at level 20, but have to wait until 25 to ride something much smaller.
I also noticed that the first Republic instance takes as long as ever (and I had to start it three times before I was able to finish, due to technical errors on the game’s end). Plus, as I said before, leveling the crew skills takes way too much time. Then there’s the (still limited) selection of races and classes, though they’ve added an option where, if you get to level 50 with, say, a Sith pureblood, you can then create any class using that character. Today I was running around with someone playing a Chiss Jedi, which was kind of neat.
BioWare needs to fix this game. They need to speed up the leveling at lower levels. They need to give you your mount for much cheaper and you should get it as soon as you get your starship. They need to cut down the run time on that first instance. They need to expand the types of alien races you can play.
But none of this will fix the fundamental problem that this, and almost all MMORPGs, has, and that’s that they aren’t World of Warcraft. Say what you will about the game. Say that it’s been nerfed, and that it’s just for kids, and all that, but as you say it, bear in mind that the game has about 10 million subscribers. Everything that they do right, everyone else copies. The few things they do wrong, they tend to fix. They’re very good at mixing in a friendly, welcoming attitude for new players with end-game content to keep experienced ones happy.
For TOR to succeed, they’re going to need to be more like WoW. If they don’t, they’ll join a long list of titles, like DC Universe Online, Lego Universe Online, Sims Online, EverQuest, and others that are either gone or orbit the second-tier black hole with no chance of ever returning to greatness.