Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Seeing SWTOR from different angles

I am somewhat of a medium core gamer. On the one side I do not share the hardcore gamers' belief that games are important, that they matter. I do not believe that performance in a video game is a valid source of deriving self-worth: Somebody whose greatest achievement in life is being good at some video game in my eyes is a pathetic loser. For me games are just games, a form of entertainment. On the other side I am not completely casual either: I play more hours than you would expect from a truly casual player. And I spend time reading and writing about games, which really casual players wouldn't.

Thus for me it was interesting to see how my wife reacted to Star Wars: The Old Republic. It struck me how she is much more of a typical casual player than I am. Discussion about signing her up for SWTOR involved arguments like on which weekend to open the account, as she wouldn't be playing during the week. And she was worried whether she could solo the game to the level cap, as she doesn't want to get involved with groups.

After trying SWTOR for an afternoon, my wife said that SWTOR was "more addictive than WoW", and wanted he own account. Meanwhile I got a CD-key from a friend who had a spare, so we'll set that up next weekend. But my wife also had some points of criticism for SWTOR: To her it seemed very linear. She was missing having a choice where to go to quest, and having the choice to do various "non-adventuring" activities, like fishing. I considered telling her about datacrons and space combat, but then decided that this wasn't an argument, as she is notoriously bad at the sort of jump-and-run gameplay needed to reach the datacrons, or the pew-pew twitch gameplay of space combat. There is a better chance that she likes crafting and the gathering nodes, which she hasn't seen yet on the starting planet.

While we didn't talk about it, it was very clear that any raiding endgame content for her was not a argument for buying a game like SWTOR. She played World of Warcraft for 7 years without ever raiding or even doing a 5-man instance other than in a duo with one of my high-level characters. And because she plays a lot less than me, monthly cost is more of an issue for her than for me. The monthly subscription business model favors those who play more, while the casual players have to bear a far higher cost per hour of entertainment.

While many hardcore players for years have lamented about games like World of Warcraft being "dumbed down" and "catering to the casuals", I don't think that the current model of MMORPGs can be made much much accessible to the mass market casual player. The monthly subscription business model requires a certain minimum degree of involvement from the player to not be a waste of money. And the dual structure of leveling game plus endgame is somewhat of a badly aligned hybrid pleasing nobody fully. A casual player would probably be happier with a version of SWTOR which had more planets and alternative story threads to visit, but a "game over" screen instead of an endgame.

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