Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bartle on SWTOR

The notes of Dr. Richard Bartle on Star Wars: The Old Republic are well worth reading. He doesn't go into too much detail, arguing that he actually makes a living by giving his opinion in detail, so it would be foolish to do so for free. But he makes some great major points.

Dr. Bartle's description of the endgame of MMORPGs is something I very much agree with: "Traditionally, while creating new expansions an MMO developer will try to keep players occupied by teaching them to dance through interminable raids that have gameplay bearing little resemblance to the gameplay it took the players to get there." And, not unlike me in my 1001 nights post, he notices that by having a class quest which ends at level 50, SWTOR has something closer resembling a game over screen than previous MMORPGs. Which leads both of us to exactly the same question: "The question is, then, what will players do next?"

But what is interesting is that Dr. Bartle has experience with MUDs that had a game over screen, and where people kept playing the game for years in spite of that. He says: "once you can treat the virtual world as a place like any other, you return because you like it there, not because you have a purpose there" And I think that this is a big thought, which game developers would do well to consider: Are these virtual worlds places to which we would return because we like it there? Or are we just playing with a purpose, striving towards an end that never comes?

My personal prediction is that SWTOR will fail to hold huge numbers of players beyond level 50. Some people will just recreate the same sort of raiding culture in SWTOR that they had in WoW, but that won't be millions. Some people will stay a bit, doing some minor endgame activities, but mainly play alts. And a large number of people will feel that they reached the end of the game and quit. Because, in my opinion, Star Wars: The Old Republic does not provide a place to which I would return because I like it there. Outside the linear stories I experience if I visit a planet at the right level, none of these planets is really interesting enough for me to stay. There isn't much to do on any planet outside your level range. Thus to me ultimately the planets aren't places, but more like scenery painted on canvas as backdrop to the theater piece I'm currently acting in. I'll stop here, because discussing how it could be done better is a whole separate post, which I leave for another day.

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