I surprised myself the other night by absolutely trashing the final Space Combat mission, “The Impossible Sector” on my Trooper. In my last post about the mini-game, I said “I don’t find it overly difficult, even without all the right ship upgrades” and that was true at the time – until I unlocked the level 40 mission “Drexel Sweep”. Bloody hell that was hard – way overtuned in comparison to what came before and, considering that the tips screen suggests level 3 or higher components, I shouldn’t have found it so difficult even when with a complete level 5 loadout. “The Impossible Sector” stymied me just as much on every attempt when I first tried it and I gave up on space combat for a while in disgust. Coming back to it and I had no trouble at all completing it – so either they changed it in a patch or I was just being crap the first time around. Either way, it was fun.
Space Combat has very little to do with what I want to talk about though but it’s a good way of reminding myself that I enjoy the game and still have fun. It’s tricky, though, when there’s so much going on outside the game. This week saw the announcement that Drs Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk are leaving the company they founded to pursue non-gaming related careers and, not only that, but that they resigned back in April. On top of all that, players were stunned by the sudden server consolidation that happened a couple of days ago.
It’s hard not to feel a little trepidatious about the future.
I’m well aware that it’s easy to get all conspiracy theory about the Muzyka and Zeschuk’s departure but then the wording of their blogs has to raise some questions – Greg Zeschuk’s in particular.
I’ve reached an unexpected point in my life where I no longer have the passion that I once did for the company, for the games, and for the challenge of creation.
…I can state that I’m not going to be working in games for a while, and there’s a strong possibility that I won’t be back. After my departure I’m going to be spending significant time with family and friends, as well as pursuing some personal passion-driven projects related to craft beer.
This from a man who had a SWTOR logo tattooed on his arm shortly before the official launch. A scant four months later, he resigns – at about the same time that subscriber numbers were noticeably taking a real hit. There are, of course, many reasons why someone who has been in the same career for 20 years would want to quit and do something different for a while – the founder and MD of a company I was at moved on to new things after 10 years, even though the company was increasing its profits year on year – so it’s not unheard of. But then my old MD never used the words “pain” and “regret” in the opening paragraphs of his resignation statement.
There would probably be less conspiracy not only if SWTOR was doing well but also if EA didn’t have previous form in situations like this:
- In 1992, EA acquired Richard Garriot’s company, Origin Systems. In 2000, Garriot left the company and after several years of supporting and expanding the MMO, Ultima Online, the company was disbanded in 2004.
- In 1995, EA acquired Peter Molyneux’s company, Bullfrog. In 1997 Molyneux left to set up Lionhead Studios and by 2004, after 3 years of inactivity and no significant post-Molyneux releases, Bullfrog was assimilated into EA and ceased to exist as an independent entity.
- In 1998 EA acquired Westwood Studios, the developers of titles like the Eye Of The Beholder RPG series, the Dune RTS series, Command & Conquer and the classic (if flawed) 1997 adventure game based on Blade Runner. In 2003, after the failure of the Sci-fi MMO “Earth & Beyond” which they had developed, Westwood was assimilated into EA and ceased to exist as an independent entity.
- In 2006, EA acquired MarK Jacob’s company, Mythic Entertainment, developers of the popular MMO, “Dark Age of Camelot”. In 2008, they released Warhammer Online which, how shall I put it, did not fare as well as they hoped. In 2009, Mark Jacobs left the company and EA merged Mythic with Bioware to work on SWTOR.
I’d be a fool to deny that SWTOR – and Bioware – appear to be following a very familiar trajectory.
What about the server consolidation? Back in June and July, the first round of server transfers were made available and the old servers were subsequently locked with the news that, ultimately, all the old servers would be closed and all characters moved. No date was given. Last week it was announced that Bioware were working on new server technology to allow an increase in population – to create “mega-servers” if you will – and then, without any warning, consultation or fanfare and a mere 24 hours notice they implemented the server consolidation and shut down the old servers.
Many players, like Njessi, found themselves unexpectedly moved from what was once a target server to yet another new server and all the subsequent hassle of things like character name changes etc.
While I wasn’t affected directly beyond having to re-confirm my Legacy name, the terrible communication preceding the consolidation concerns me. Springing a sudden change on players is poor customer service no matter how you look at it. More than that, it puts me in mind of SOEs actions in 2005, after announcing, testing and releasing the NGE on an unsuspecting SWG playerbase. It’s not quite as drastic, of course, and it wasn’t unexpected in so far that we knew it was coming in theory – but there was never any announcement that more than just the original set of “origin” servers would be closed down.
On the plus side, players now have 12 character slots on a server.
What does all this mean? While the server consolidations were undoubtedly necessary, equally as important is keeping the good faith of the players who are left. The game suffers badly from word-of-mouth from both those who didn’t stay and those who have always denounced the game. The free-to-play conversion may well attract many more new players – and I hope it will – but poor customer service and surprise changes that piss off even the most ardent of fans are not going to improve perception of potential players. To do what they did in the same week that morale has been lowered by the departure of Bioware’s founders was a terrible move on their part and it doesn’t fill me or others with confidence that the future of either SWTOR or Bioware is in safe hands.
It’s depressing to read all the doomcasting about SWTOR and depressing thinking about it. This is when I have to read over the first paragraph of this post again and remind myself of two things:
- It’s only a game
- I still enjoy playing it
That’s all that counts as far as I’m concerned. I always said I’d carry on playing SWTOR until I stopped enjoying it and, while I’m dabbling in a couple of other things at the moment, that day hasn’t yet come.
There are a lot of changes coming along for the game, and we’ve yet to see how they all play out.
As a short green humanoid swamp-dweller once said, “Always in motion, the future is!”