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4:38pm on Monday, 9th January, 2012:



People keep asking me what I thought of Star Wars: the Old Republic.

Well, I thought rather a lot of it. Here is the page of my notes from when I reached level 50:

I produce that in the sure knowledge that no-one will be able to read it. You may be able to make out the number in the circle, though: 56. This is the 56th side of A5 paper I wrote notes on (I'm now on page 58). I show you this so you understand that I do have a good deal I could say about it.

However, I'm not going to say much for two main reasons.

Firstly, whatever I say will be interpreted as negative criticism by mischief-makers and people who want to see SW:TOR fail. I don't want to see SW:TOR fail, so I'm unwilling to provide ammunition.

Secondly, if I told you what I think about SW:TOR's design in detail, no-one would pay me to tell them. I want people to pay me to tell them, because that's part of my livelihood. Therefore, I won't be going into detail here.

However, there are a few points I can make that are both positive and general, so I'll try that.

OK, so I said that I was going to continue with my subscription for the game (which I didn't in LotRO or Rift) because I'm interested to see what Bioware will do with it. I'll now explain why I'm interested.

My grand theory of why people find MMOs fun draws on Campbell's Hero's Journey. To cut to the chase, it comes down to this: self-actualisation occurs when you accept that the game accepts that you've won. In most modern MMOs, the game never admits that you've "won" because the developers believe that if it did, players would stop playing and go off to some other MMO instead. Their preference is to keep players around for long enough that an expansion can be built to move the finishing line further away. Players either self-actualise through their own strength of will, or they get increasingly frustrated and drift away, or they become trapped at an earlier stage (typically that of planner/achiever) and keep going until they burn out.

Now this belief that players shouldn't get to "win" because then they'll quit sounds pretty logical, but the evidence from the old text MUDs that did let them win is contrary: players kept playing for years (in some cases, decades and counting) after they won. This is in keeping with Campbell's theory: once you can treat the virtual world as a place like any other, you return because you like it there, not because you have a purpose there. I've been saying for years that someone should make a major MMO with an end-point, and I was beginning to wonder if the concept of what an MMO "should" have as an elder game was going to become so ingrained that even if one of them did allow players to win, too many of said players would be too set in their ways for them to accept it.

Well, SW:TOR has only gone ahead and done it: it's told players that at the end of their class quest line their story is over. There are other stories, but your main one has come to an end. Congratulations, you've won.

The question is, then, what will players do next? Will someone who has worked their way through an epic (albeit corny) story "graduate" to a raiding end-game? Or will they start up a new character or two and repeat the process? More to the point, what does Bioware want them to do?

Traditionally, while creating new expansions an MMO developer will try to keep players occupied by teaching them to dance through interminable raids that have gameplay bearing little resemblance to the gameplay it took the players to get there. When they do add new content, it almost all goes at the high end; they may even inflate rewards at the lower levels so players can skip through it faster to get to the "real" game.

Bioware could take a radically different approach, though. They're in a position where they could keep the level cap at 50 indefinitely and add new content at the lower levels. If their rock-solid belief is that the core of engagement lies in the personal story, then they will add more story — which means more content for the player, not for the character. If you get to level 50 and want to start all over again with a new character at level 1, you're the kind of person they want. After all, if you liked raiding you'd be playing WoW anyway.

So will Bioware take the traditional route and add content for an ever-aging elder game? Or will they do something entirely different and create new storylines for the levelling game?

That's what I want to find out, and that's why I'm keeping up my subscription.

Referenced by Bottling It.

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Copyright © 2012 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).