Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Lessons from Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR)

** Read my new post for an update on SWTOR's transition to Free-to-Play ** 

Word is out that the highly anticipated MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic is floundering. As Executive Producer Rich Vogel says goodbye to Bioware and subscription numbers dip, rumors are spreading about an upcoming switch to a free-to-play model.

In this blogger's humble opinion, SWTOR is a great game. I've been a huge SWTOR fan from launch, and i still play almost every day. It boggles my mind why this awesome game is doing so poorly, but there is one 800-pound gorilla in the room, which nobody seems to be talking about, that could explain much of the game's troubles.

SWTOR needed about 10 solid servers at launch, but the game launched with about 40 servers (don't quote me on the exact numbers), some with very nasty performance problems. Most players saw their home servers empty out quickly as players flocked en masse to a select few servers. Players who did not investigate the issue and make a server switch probably had the impression that the game was completely dead, and simply left. When you're on a populated server with good performance, this game is truly epic, and doesn't disappoint in a single way.

Imagine subscribing to an MMO that habitually freezes, crashes and glitches, then imagine 90% of your server population disappearing several months after launch, and you will understand what a large number of launch subscribers experienced with SWTOR. This combination can only lead to player attrition with such a large number of attractice multiplayer titles on the market and the horizon.

I think the main lesson to learn from SWTOR is to err on the side of caution when it comes to the number of servers at launch, and to never settle for laggy, glitchy servers for a AAA MMO. Adding servers is easy, but SWTOR proves that reducing the number servers to compensate for poor planning can alienate players and cripple a game.

Bioware has recently locked all but about 10 servers. Any new subscribers should have a completely different experience from those who subscribed between December 2011 and June 2012. So there is a ray of hope that SWTOR can redeem itself. But with so many gamers making decisions based on word-of-mouth referrals, Bioware is going to be hard pressed to convince new players to try the game. Short of coming right out and saying, "We messed up, but now our server architecture is designed to facilitate robust social play," I'm not sure if MMO fans will truly understand how well-designed this game is.
Read more about the current state of SWTOR in this Gamasutra article:


  1. I’ve been playing TOR for a year now and it is superb! I agree that it is a great game. It will definitely be more interesting now, since they’re going to make it free-to-play, which will definitely add more volume of people playing it, and will make it more interesting to interact with a lot of players.

    Fredric Falconer

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