Nobody needs to be told just how hard it is to launch and sustain a successful multiplayer title these days. When you're entering into the genre that is dominated by a handful of properties and companies, that task gets even more difficult. But the masters of singleplayer narratives over at BioWare know that even if the launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic goes as well as possible, the fan base will only remain if they're sold a service, not a product. With that in mind, it seems that the team behind the newest game has some solid ideas of how to keep customers happy.
It's not as if The Old Republic has an uphill battle on its hands, as over 2 million Beta players were willing to line up and see what the team had to offer. Betas are one thing, but selling a subscription-based online game means that players need to be convinced the money is worth it every single month. And while BioWare may be claiming that The Old Republic is literally 7 Knights Of The Old Republic games, that's probably not going to be music to many an MMO fan's ears.
In terms of the technical support for online servers that will only get more heavily populated by the day, BioWare seems to be getting of on the right foot. Besides staggering the release of advance purchases, the studio has also opened a 400-strong customer support office in preparation for any issues. But in terms of actual game content, The Old Republic's senior writer Alex Freed wants people to know that the team is already hard at work extending the game's lifespan.
Speaking with CVG, Freed wouldn't give any big details about the studio's plans for the future of the narrative-focused game, but did reassure some wary MMO players who may be doubting the longevity of TOR:
"I can't talk about specifics for post-release content. I can say yes, there are many people working on that content - MMOs live or die based on adding new content, refining old systems, adding new ones - all of that... BioWare understands that - we're not doing a single-player game where we put it out in the market and then just be happy that it's out there.
"We need to be continuously refreshing the game and inviting in people who may think that they've seen it all and addressing player concerns. We've got aggressive plans but at the moment... For obvious reasons I'm not going to say what those are and we always try to leave some flexibility there - it's not as if we've got a detailed five or ten-year plan of 'this is what's going to happen at every stage of the story'. But we certainly have ideas of where we want to go."
With franchises like Mass Effect and Dragon Age currently filling the company's coffers, it's not hard to see why some RPG-focused players may have their doubts that BioWare can deliver and sustain a competent MMO, not just tell a good story. That being said, the character customization we've seen looks to be far more robust than World of Warcraft, so that's a good place to start.
In terms of story, the team looks to have crafted a compelling story within the Star Wars mythology that should be faithful enough to keep existing fans happy, and familiar enough for newcomers to not feel completely lost, if this is their first MMO experience. Just knowing that more content is coming, and that the developers do have a direction they want to take their story-driven online world should be enough to keep some of the naysayers quiet for the time being.
What's your take on the emphasis on story being hinted at here? Does a narrative matter as much to your MMO enjoyment as the mechanics and depth, or are you looking for more of BioWare's signature style in a new genre?
Star Wars: The Old Republic will be released for the PC on December 20, 2011.
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