MMO bubble

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I have some mixed feelings about SWTOR going free to play. I am super excited that this means my nephews and brother-in-law are going to be able to play the game at last. I’m also very hopeful that people who played the game in the past with me will return now that they won’t have to pay to play necessarily. What worries me is that many others will take this as a sign that the game is dying and jump ship.

I played KOTOR I and II to death. I have a PC mainly so I could play KOTOR II since it never came out for Mac OS, and every time I’ve wiped the hard drive — until this most recent time — the first two things I reinstalled were KOTOR. This time, the first things I reinstalled were Origin, and thereby SWTOR, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age. This computer was last upgraded so I could play SWTOR as high-powered as possible.

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I played WoW almost as long as I’ve been with Bunny (staring with 2.1, The Black Temple) up until the Cataclysm expansion (4.0). I played it as long as I did partially for the game itself, but mainly for the people who played with me. When the SWTOR beta came out Bunny and I both let our WoW accounts expire. I slept very, very little those weekends, and still couldn’t do much because I had to work a lot the whole time. What SWTOR is to me is nothing less than KOTOR IV. Why IV? Because this book was KOTOR III. The Jedi Knight storyline picks up where this book left off, albeit a while later. The end mission for the Knight is to complete Revan’s mission from the very beginning, before the Star Forge was ever discovered. This hit all the right buttons for me.

It doesn’t take long to realize that SWTOR has its flaws, mainly being balance and end-game content. The phrase isn’t new, but “Come to the Dark Side: We have Cookies” has never been more true than in this game. The Empire stories are more fun, their outfits awesome instead of moronic, and the player base knows. Good luck trying to do PVP if you’re playing Republic. They didn’t do a lot of things WoW has added over the years because of how they wanted players to experience the game for the first time. Makes sense, but it was a bad move. A lot of the features we’ve gotten so used to in WoW are extremely frustrating to do without, and BioWare isn’t adding them in fast enough to appease everybody.

Today I saw that WoW for the first time since I’ve been playing has dropped to 9.1 million subscribers. This doesn’t surprise me because after SWTOR, I don’t think I could ever go back to an MMO that wasn’t fully voice-acted. WoW does the best it can, but sometimes it also tries too hard (The Harrison Jones content in Cataclysm). Telling a compelling story can be difficult, and most of the time quests in WoW just felt like grinding for the sake of grinding. Penny Arcade made the point best years ago. Sometimes the story was interesting, but mostly “go kill this,” followed by “collect 20 of that,” and “bring me this guy’s face.” Quest givers were lifeless more often than not. SWTOR is a vast improvement over this to me. First of all, the voice acting makes the quest givers far more interesting. I may still be going to kill this, but I’m going to kill this “because that bastard stole my research and is selling it to the Hutts.” It’s amazing what voice acting will do to mask away the daily grind. Compared to this, for me all of WoW is grinding for the sake of grinding.

The Bonus Objective mission system is also pretty awesome in this regard. “I need you to fix these six transmitters, and if you want to kill those 20 Mandalorians who fucked with them in the first place, that’s cool too.” So I have to fix the transmitters to complete the quest and continue the story, but the Mandalorians are listed as a Bonus, so if I’m bored with killing things I don’t HAVE to do it. Most of the time I still do these bonus objectives, but just knowing that I don’t have to do it to advance the story makes a big difference.

The other thing that WoW dropping to 9.1m subscribers got me thinking about was lifestyles. I sure as hell don’t have enough time to play an MMO anymore. I find time for SWTOR when I can, but playing WoW I missed out on a lot of other good games because WoW just took too much time. I wonder if MMOs in general are on the decline as more people wake up and realize their WoW main character has ONE YEAR of play time logged. If that game wasn’t more about the people playing than the game itself, I wouldn’t be able to see that as anything but a colossal waste of time. Even now, it can be hard not to see it that way, and more people I know are starting to think along those lines.

If you haven’t played SWTOR, look me up in the fall and I’ll tell you what server I use for my characters. Subscriptions may be optional now, but mine’s running strong.

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