by Mark Pajor (follow on Twitter @mpajor)
For over a decade now, BioWare has been one of the leading RPG developers in the industry. Games like Baldur’s Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect have each been reported to sell millions of copies. Since Bioware is bringing their hallmark feature of deep, interactive story to the MMO world in Star Wars: The Old Republic, it’s no wonder that the company’s own fans are one of the major populations TOR wants to pull in. The question remains, though: Can a subscription-based, massively multiplayer game draw much attention from BioWare’s singleplayer fans?
Fans of Dragon Age, KotOR, and Earlier Games:
At their very core, most of BioWare’s games have a very similar combat system: “Classic RPG combat,” in which you click a key or press a button for an ability, and you watch your character do that action (dodging, aiming, etc. are either impossible or not twitch-based). Good news for fans of those games: the majority of popular MMOs, including TOR, also have classic RPG combat. For KotOR fans specifically, the choreographed Lightsaber combat should be very familiar. There will be definite differences in the way companions work, in comparison to other Bioware games – the fact that you can only have one with you at a time, for instance – but the presence of a Bioware companion should be very familiar territory for fans of these games.
Beyond the combat, the narrative structure is really responsible for drawing in and retaining these fans. KotOR and Dragon Age players will feel at home with the full voiceover, though the player voiceover may throw some people off if they haven’t played Mass Effect or Dragon Age II. While the voiced main character is seen as superior by the majority, it isn’t universally loved. Still, the voice acting, for the most part, and dialogue choices promise to be some of the leading features to attract these players.
Of course, despite all of these similarities, one must wonder if the subscription will prevent people from trying the game at all – but we’ll get to that at the end of the article. For now, we’ll take a look at the fans of another of BioWare’s franchises.
Fans of the Mass Effect games:
While the dialogue system is nearly identical to Mass Effect’s in SWTOR, the combat may be too different for Mass Effect fans to give it a chance. The difference between shooter combat and class RPG combat is quite blatant, and while games like Mass Effect move closer and closer to heavy-action combat where you control the character’s every move, SWTOR’s combat is bound to feel quite strange.
Mass Effect’s main draw, of course, has always been the writing and narrative delivery, combined with a strong sense of interactivity. On that front, Star Wars: The Old Republic is perfect for Mass Effect fans. From the Science Fiction to the romance subplots, much of what people love about the Mass Effect series is given a Star Wars-take in SWTOR. All of these elements should do a fantastic job of keeping BioWare fans involved once they’ve started the game, but it won’t mean much if they don’t buy the game in the first place.
Pay to Play, or Pay to Pay to Play?
Subscription gaming might not be anything new to fans of other MMOs, but people who haven’t ventured outside the singleplayer world have an understandable aversion to it. When they buy Mass Effect, they pay once and they can play it whenever they want. When they buy TOR, many feel that they’re paying for the ability to pay more money every month. The distaste for a monthly payment is likely to keep many of these players away.
Down the line, there’s little doubt that EA and BioWare will give out free trials, much as their competitors do. Slipping these into the cases of other Bioware games, like Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age III, might give some of those players the push to try the game. With the game’s focus on story and character development, a strong start could make the trial players very interested in where their story goes. Until then, though, the monthly subscription is likely to keep those potential players away from SWTOR.
Perhaps BioWare and EA will implement an alternative payment option – in ADDITION to the regular subscription – that is free to play with heavy, heavy microtransactions. But that’s a topic for another article.
Great article Mark! You really focused on Bioware’s strength and common thread throughout their games, story. Gameplay will be different than Mass Effect and Dragon Age, but it will have a different type of action, because there is no pause in MMOs 🙂
Nice job again Mark!
I’m not sure that the biggest question is whether they will be able to drag BioWare fans, but rather whether they will be able to convert two key groups: (1)Star Wars fans who like video games, but aren’t necessarily MMO fans; (2) former and current players of past MMOs who are tired of the current MMO formula and tropes.
In any event, I think you’ve defined the thread upon which all of BioWare’s (and in particular, SWTOR) success depends: story.
Nice article. I largely feel that Bioware shouldn’t have too difficult a time convincing single player gamers to try out TOR as long as they keep the story updates rolling in on a pretty regular basis for them to justify the monthly fee for the single player focused players of TOR. There is one additional option that may be possible.
What if TOR offered a few free to play servers separate from the rest of the servers? As we all know, the TOR story is divided into “Chapters” and all these chapters combined are about 200 hours of game play so they claim. So what if a free to play server offered the player content up to the end of chapter one in the story, then the player had to pay a fee to go onto chapter two of the story so on and so forth with the price depending on the size of the story update. In general, I have a feeling that this might be an acceptable model to more single player oriented people. Restrict access to the more “mmo” features like the AH, operations, or warzones unless the person wants to pay for access to those things, and just let the people experience the story. In the end, it would be similar to people paying for the box of say Mass Effect, then paying a DLC to continue the story if they felt it was compelling enough to do so.
I don’t know, it’s just a thought, but I think TOR is a unique case in which it may be possible for both payment models to work along side each other to cater to their unique audience.