Another recent topic on Twitter has been hopes from Star Wars The Old Republic’s players for content from the game in 2014. It will be a year of many new game releases with new stories and worlds to tempt away the players of existing MMOs. Many of us hope this will bring out the A game in our current titles, while fearing they won’t have the resources, will or vision to bring it and compete.
As I think about new content in games and expansion packs, I find one of my big frustrations is being forced to work toward new levels in order to experience it. I get tired of my gear becoming invalid as my epic gear gets overshadowed by green quest rewards. I don’t need the XP bar to be turned back on in order to experience new story or lands, and yet that is the mechanism that most MMOs use to motivate players.
I understand how this happens. There are lore, story and an underlying conflict arc that have to evolve. You can’t always insert new content into the middle of the game and have it ignore where players are within their story experience and have it be relevant, and yet that is exactly the kind of content that players tend to love. Not trivial or non-relevant, but new, accessible to most levels and universally relevant to all factions. Trivial content isn’t the solution either, it only has a limited shelf life.
Let’s dissect the Rakghoul event in SWTOR as an example of the kind of content I think we need a lot more of. This was a very popular piece of new game content and spoken of with great nostalgia. It had its flaws, but overall there were some very smart things that the event did for the game.
- It came as a complete surprise which made it feel more realistic and more relevant.
- There were visible signs all around that this was happening.
- It was available to most players, not just those who had hit max level.
- It included a scavenger hunt which, while it wasn’t totally without flaws, was still interesting and rewarding enough to do at least once.
- It included gear that was unique and different, useful to most levels, and not designed to reward or replace only high level gear.
- The fights scaled to the level of the player, provided a means to gain XP, but weren’t designed specifically to increase level cap.
- There was story and cinematic content included with the event that didn’t contradict or invalidate the overarching Empire vs Republic theme, but was still interesting.
- It included a common enemy and could be done anywhere within the planetary and class story arcs as long as you could survive on Tatooine.
- It was fresh, it was new, and we resolved it.
This is the type of content that I would love to see happen a lot more in SWTOR. I don’t want to have to level my max level characters, but I’d love to see them have more chances to interact with the world around them, with interesting NPCs and particularly with their companions. While I’d love class-unique content for all, I know that isn’t as attainable. However, Makeb showed how all of the classes and both factions could experience the same content and still have a somewhat unique flavor to it. I just wish it didn’t include the gear treadmill and new levels and was re-playable for longer.
The Bounty Hunter and Gree repeating events do meet some of the benefits I’ve listed above, but their very nature makes them interesting and relevant for a limited period of time. Repeatable content does give more bang for the buck, but it is one of the facets of MMOs that I eventually start to loathe and eventually stop doing. So in the end, how much bang for the buck does it really provide?
The Chevin scavenger hunt event was also an interesting experiment in sudden, new, limited-time activities, but for some reason it fell flat and didn’t have the staying power or player investment that we saw with the Rakghoul event. I think it was how some of the activities were designed as well as the fact that they felt less important in the grand scheme of the galaxy. Some of the activities turned out to be more frustrating than fun. I just know that I have very few fond memories of that event, even if I do have a few fond rewards from it.
I don’t want a repeat of the Rakghoul event itself, but I do want many more events like it, things that happen despite the war going on that give the galaxy a feeling of existing outside the conflict. That is the kind of content that doesn’t require raising level cap, although I know that the storytellers have a lot more ground to cover in the Empire vs. Republic arc that has to evolve the game. I almost wish there were a way to include that evolution without including gear and level inflation too, but I know that isn’t easy or realistic. I do hope the game has both the will and the resources to compete in keeping players and gaining new ones despite the new games being released this year.