I’ve written about SWTOR before, illustrating my trepidation regarding the unholy marriage of Bioware’s storytelling and the relatively mindless MMO genre. Perhaps it’s just delusional, but I think I found a happy place to hope for in regards to the whole project.
Bioware loves story. I love story. MMOs as a genre aren’t amenable to strong stories, since they are ostensibly meant for players to tell their own stories, and they benefit from a static world that people can call home. Bioware has stated that their work on the SWTOR MMO will be the rough equivalent of several single player Bioware RPGs, with each class having a storyline.
What if they sold the game that way?
What if Bioware sold SWTOR like Guild Wars? The GW base game had six classes and a fairly strong storyline. Factions and Nightfall each added two more classes and another storyline. Eye of the North didn’t introduce classes, but had a story. Players would buy the game, and play it online, with no fee to do so beyond the initial purchase. It made sense; the game is highly instanced, and players see the story mostly independent of other players. There’s no justification for charging for what the industry laughingly calls “MMO” game mechanics when you’re largely playing a single player game that just happens to be online. (At least GW is honest about it, while other games, not so much…)
With GW as an example, what if SWTOR sold their game as a series of standalone products with no monthly fee? Players could buy the Jedi box, or the Sith box, and just go play the Jedi or Sith stories… with optional multiplayer MMO mechanics. If one class isn’t good value for the box price, lower the price to $20, or include a few classes like GW did. Say, a Light Side box, a Dark Side box and a Grey Box. (Neutral? Other? Fringe? What do you call characters in the SW universe who aren’t involved in the Force mythology? Mercenary?)
That’s a product I can and would support. Bioware tells stories well. MMOs aren’t a stage for such, but GW hits a sweet spot between typical MMO mechanics and strong narrative. (At least in the balance; I’m aware that there will be those who think the story itself is lousy… this discussion is more concerned with the potential of storytelling in MMOs and the monetization thereof, rather than story quality itself.) That’s part of why I’ve spent more money on Guild Wars than I’ll ever spend on WoW or any other subscription based game.
If SWTOR goes that route, which I feel is entirely in keeping with their design goals, I’m likely to pick up the game. If they go the Age of Conan route and try to shoehorn story into a typical DIKU-flavored MMO loot and level treadmill, I really don’t think that they will be the WoW competitor they hope to be. AoC and WAR haven’t been able to compete with WoW on even terms, and Bioware’s skill just isn’t going to be enough without tackling some core concepts differently, like the business model and core game mechanics.