Are MMO Players Just Too Fickle?

I’ve had various thoughts going through my head lately regarding my current MMO, Star Wars The Old Republic. Thoughts about vanished guildies, low populations, MMOs, grind in games, end game content, etc. I’ve had a few Twitter discussions about what an MMO should aspire to, what it means to be an MMO, MMO vs single player games, and where SWTOR fits into that big picture. I’ve thought about the upcoming patch and some of the fixes it will bring, and whether the fixes offered will really stop the downhill slide yet. The end result of all of this pondering is that this is a really complicated picture.
The Harbinger Server

It seemed like an auspicious beginning!

Lets talk server transfers and what I will do with that option when it becomes available. I currently have two servers that I play on. The first server is The Harbinger which is one of the higher population servers. It has always been high population, even too high at times, which is why I have several characters and a legacy on a second server, Krath. So here I sit with one server that has a maximum number of characters on it, where I have a pretty high legacy level and it has a decent population; however, I’m part of a failed guild and haven’t seen any guilds that I really want to join (until today, more on that later I hope). I also have a couple of real life friends who joined that server and that guild so we could play together one night a week. I don’t really want to move to a low population server, and I’d need to leave a character behind to play with my friends, or talk them into moving servers with me. With legacy rewards and levels thrown into the mix, decisions about server moves become complicated.

Now lets ponder the fact that I have a second legacy of a different level with the 4 characters I’ve started on Krath. Krath has become low population, but we joined it with another real life friend who wanted an Empire side option. Originally our guild had said it would go to Krath on Empire side while queues were high on The Harbinger. That never materialized, but by the time we realized that, we already had invested time and energy in that server and our friend had already started his legacy and didn’t want to give it up. The transfer picture gets pretty complicated at this point when it isn’t just me and my husband, but also other friends.

Now suppose I’d like to move just my level 50 character who wants to run Operations, and has geared up through the original Hard Mode Operations, onto a server with an active guild and active Operations team. What do I have to sacrifice in order to make that move? I’d be moving her from a higher population server to a lower population server, so what happens if that server never gets a high population? I’m pondering all of this without even knowing what the cost might be for transfers and what that cost will cover. The developers must have these types of questions going through their minds, and more, as they ponder worst case scenarios. I’m sure there are plenty of complex situations, especially when an entire guild may be thinking of transferring.

Coruscant from Orbit is Gorgeous

Still A Great Big Galaxy Out There

Let move on to the bigger picture of why this has become necessary, that of people quitting the game. I love Star Wars, so I’m slightly biased, but I still think this is a great game. It solves a lot of issues I have had with other MMOs, namely hating walls of text, boring quests, lack of meaning in why I quest (kill 12 rats…), repetitious content, and lack of variety. Is the lack of a lot of end game content really so bad when compared to the rest of what is great about the game? Sadly enough, for a lot of people, it seems to be.

Paying a subscription and playing a game with other people seems to really require more end game for a large chunk of the people who started playing the game. Many of them don’t seem to appreciate that there is plenty to do while additional content is being built. I find it odd and very sad. I’ve considered other MMOs I’ve played and I don’t want to go back to those games and put up with their grind just to get the larger end game content, but I seem to be in a minority. Are people really willing to go back to grinding reputation, grinding dungeons, grinding PVP dailies, and boring meaningless quests just to get their end game on? It seems that many of them are, enough so that we’re seeing a sharp drop off of players.
Troll

Beware Trolls!

I actually think that while the group finder will help get some people back playing, it won’t help enough. There will still be a smaller pool of people from which to draw, and many of the people who are still playing aren’t doing end game content. Like me, many of them will be glad for an easier time getting into Flashpoint groups, but I’d assume most are entertaining themselves playing new classes and stories, rather than doing end game or even dungeons.  After all, we’ve all done them by now and much of the content is becoming repetitious. I am very glad that they are sticking to their guns in having the group finder stay within a server. Doing so means they aren’t solving the immediate population issues, but it shows that they are thinking long term. Not having cross server will make many unhappy in the short term, but in the long term, under the assumption that server populations will get healthier, it is the right choice. Bad behavior only gets worse when there is no recourse or consequences to behaving badly. We’ve all seen really bad behavior from people with no reputation on their server to risk. People would scream as loudly at having to put up with cross server jerks as they will at not having cross server pools.

Some have argued that those of us playing in small groups or doing new classes could be doing that in a single player game, but I doubt we’d get the richness of this experience in any single player game. We certainly wouldn’t get the promise of new content or dynamic world events without being in this game model. I really want the game to succeed and flourish so it can keep giving us new things, but it has to make enough money to be able to keep the quality and variety high. With “ok” Free to Play games out there, I think people are under the impression that they can get high quality without paying for it. That “quality” only takes you so far.

Decked out smuggler

Epic?

Some have also argued that the goal of an MMO is to get shiny purple gear, and that once you have that gear, there are no other real goals to achieve. They say the gear in SWTOR was too easy to get, and came too fast. If that’s true, then maybe most MMO players really do love grind. I very much appreciate that SWTOR strives not to make us grind, to avoid forcing us to repeat content over and over again in order to obtain nice rewards. There are many paths to power in the game and that is fantastic!  Maybe the rewards did come too fast and too easily for anyone who dedicated a lot of play time early on in the game. We had guildies playing almost 24/7 and they quit weeks ago.  For those who couldn’t play that many hours, I think the rewards have been at a pace that was much less frustrating than other games. The gear rewards feel attainable to those with less play time available.

It is a grim thought indeed that for an MMO to really succeed and flourish, it has to cater to the voracious content consumers who will only ever play one character. I have friends who have said that an MMO only starts for them when they get to max level. I always thought/hoped that they were in the minority, but maybe MMOs generally do attract the majority of people of that mindset. How do you make the process of getting to max level a lot of fun and balance it with keeping the max-level-only people happy? I can promise you, a game that isn’t repeatable or has a meaningless and boring leveling experience won’t make the end-gamers happy either. Every single one of the people I know who have had that mindset have ended up getting bored with their main character and eventually started playing alts.

Needless to say, with these heavy thoughts going through my head, coupled with news of Bioware Austin layoffs and the assumptions about what they might mean, I’ve been pretty depressed. I’m trying hard not to feed the gloom and doom or assume the worst. I have said in other places that I think SWTOR has an awesome foundation, high quality, and a bright future if we can just get through the current bumpy downturn. But I’m also someone who has seen wonderful shows I love, like Firefly, killed by meddling executives with only the great dollar on their minds. I know that things I love and believe to be worthwhile can be killed by those not willing to take risks in the face of dwindling profits. So while I hope that EA and BioWare are willing and able to take a long view for the game, part of me worries that they won’t. Heavy thoughts for a game experience with so many epic, goosebump-inducing moments.

In the end, I’m still having a lot of fun, I still haven’t experienced a fraction of the game content, and I plan to keep playing. I just hope they don’t pull a Firefly on me and end something special before it hits its full stride. Or maybe worse, put it on life support and forget about it. Instead, I still hope we get all of the new and exciting features and content that I know these creative people have in the works for us. I hope for a resurgence in players so we can all see the stuff still sitting on the wall of crazy. People should think carefully about whether the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. I think that grass is full of 12 dead rats…

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