Wednesday, 19 June 2013

SWTOR in Australia

At the beginning of this month, BioWare announced that they would be turning off the Asia Pacific servers for Star Wars The Old Republic, and giving all those who play on those servers a free transfer to a North American server of their choice. It's been a long time coming, and seems to indicate that BioWare is trying to cut the costs of running servers for a game that has been slowly losing interest among the MMO community. So for all of us Australian gamers, what went wrong?

To start with TOR was delayed for release in Australia by BioWare. The rest of the world got the game on December 20 2011, over 3 months before Australians got the chance to purchase the game (1 March 2012). As we have seen with Microsoft's recent 180 with the XB1 (you can now game offline and it is region free), fans of a certain thing hate to get it released later than anyone else. Add to this the idea that gamers often have friends overseas who they play with and you have a recipe for disgruntled gamers who can't join mates on launch day, leaving them to play catch up. Throw in the fact that TOR was one of the most hyped releases of 2011 and you have downright rage from some fans.

Then there was the end game content. I don't think BioWare truly understood just how fast some people reach end game in MMOs. I personally have always been one of the type to take the time to see the sights in a game, levelling slowly, but I have a certain friend (you know who you are) who usually hits max level in games a heck of a lot faster than I ever could. His reports of the early end game? Bland, boredom and lack of any real content. As BioWare had chosen to completely voice act everything in the MMO, they also needed time to add more end game content, something that they struggled to do at first.

A report in April 2012 revealed that the MMO had likely dropped from 1.7 million subs to 1.25 million, as people were hitting the end game and finding a distinct lack of things to do. A few days later, and BioWare deployed the Rakghoul Plague event in an attempt to keep players logging in as peak concurrent user numbers dropped.

Finally there was the announcement of TOR going free to play in late July 2012. Usually a move that sets alarm bells off in my head, going free to play signaled that BioWare wasn't happy with how many people had remained subscribed and wanted to entice more people to play the game. Interestingly they didn't restrict the most highly rated part of the game, the fully voice acted story line of the character you play, opting to rely on cosmetic item sales and an optional subscription.

It has been an extremely rocky path for SWTOR, going from one of the most hyped games of 2011 to one of the fastest to lose subscriber numbers, culminating in going to free to play. Let's hope that other MMO developers learn from the mistakes of SWTOR, especially in the Australian market.

As always,

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