Maybe SWTOR Wasn’t Meant For You

This post is pretty much entirely speculation and thinking out loud.

I think at this point no one can deny that SWTOR has been incredibly polarizing. Quite a few people are enjoying it and will defend the game, and the folks who don’t like it… well, let’s just say they really don’t like it. I’ve seen people call SWTOR the “worst game ever made” and predict that it will be completely dead within six weeks of launch. They don’t just dislike the game, they hate it with a zeal that to my mind borders on fanaticism.

So why the strong feelings? Certainly part of it is just disappointment after a prolonged period of hype. Part of it, I think, is burnout with WoW-likes. But my hypothesis here is that maybe — maybe — part of the problem is that Bioware never intended WoW’s core audience to be the exact same as SWTOR’s core audience, and that makes people unconsciously angry.

Who is WoW’s target demographic? This, of course, is hard to pin down exactly, but I think you can make some assumptions by looking at Blizzard’s advertising campaigns, the features they bring in, and their corporate culture at events like Blizzcon. WoW’s target audience is straight white dudes, probably college-age, who are the Achiever and Killer types of players. Blizzard has emphasized things like raiding and competitive PvP over features such as an appearance tab or guild housing. In fact, they’ve always been pretty dismissive of guild housing as unnecessary twaddle, and until the recent downturn in subscriptions acted the same way about an appearance tab. Please don’t mistake any of this as derogatory — the straight white raidin’/PvPin’ dude market is large and historically critical to a business’ success, and I in no way blame Blizzard to trying to target them.

However, the unfortunate Cannibal Corpse video at Blizzcon last year just showed that Blizzard hasn’t put a lot of thought into their GLBT players. (I don’t attribute the video to maliciousness, just terrible cluelessness.) The company’s surprise at the reaction to RealID shows that they’re not good at thinking beyond their target audience, not to mention the fact that apparently as a female NPC the more important you are, the less likely it is that you’re wearing pants.

Okay, so: who is the target demographic of Bioware RPGs? I think it becomes a little more clear when you read Bioware writer David Gaider’s official response to a complaint that Dragon Age 2 was ignoring the “straight male gamer” demographic. (You probably read about this when it happened last March. The part most relevant to my post is this: “[Our games are] for everyone. We have a lot of fans, many of whom are neither straight nor male, and they deserve no less attention.” Bioware is pretty commonly considered to have a diverse playerbase, and to cater to some of that diversity. Part of the success of SWTOR is predicated on the company turning some of their diverse RPG audience into a dedicated MMO audience.

Perhaps SWTOR was designed with some of this in mind. The game shipped with personal housing (your ship), NPC romance, and appearance controls (orange moddable items), all things that Blizzard has written off in the past as being too frou-frou and not something their target market would enjoy. There are humanoid NPCs who are not white. Storytelling is definitely emphasized in SWTOR during the leveling process, and players are encouraged to create a bond between themselves and their character. Even I, someone who is usually far too cynical to truly role play, find myself coming up with little stories for Panacea’s background, or turning down a dialog option because it just doesn’t “seem like something she would do”. The game even launched without damage meters or a competitive PvP meta-game. People who play MMOs for the serious raiding or PvP experience (most Achievers and Killers) are unlikely to receive satisfaction on this front.

So why are people so angry about SWTOR? Perhaps it is in part because without even realizing it, they are angry that a game is not entirely oriented to their market and their playstyle. Perhaps the makers of SWTOR wanted to create a game meant to appeal to the Bioware target audience, who is arguably more diverse than the Blizzard target audience and who enjoys different activities. That’s not to say that there are NO straight white raidin’ dudes who play and enjoy SWTOR (this is absolutely not the case), but it is not a game that caters to that market almost to the exlusion of others.

Maybe, blogosphere of mine, when you sit down to write that rant about how SWTOR is the worst game in the whole history of the universe, you should take a moment to reflect that it might not be meant for you.

Author: Jessica Cook

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26 Comments

  1. I approached SWTOR as a Bioware enthusiast (I loved both the Mass Effect and Dragon Age 2 series) and as a long time WoW player. In a single player game, I will take my time and go through every nook and cranny. I was the player that hunted for the best weapons and armor in Final Fantasy (along with Limit Breaks). In multiplayer games, I look for every chance for the competitive edge for my ultimate goal — Winning. I relish in winning and working with players in taking down bosses.

    But here is a game that has a chance to combine both. And I found that I just wasn’t that into the story. I read through the dialog instead of listening to the voice acting. I was more interested in advancing to end game and seeing the challenges there as opposed to the journey. This seems to be where the mass appeal for SWTOR comes from — The story, the characters, the romance, you know, all that stuff. For me, it’s about the giant laser cannons, killing bounty hunters, or Mechwarrior-controlling Hutt bosses. In Flashpoints, I’ll just select any of the conversation points because I’m more interested in getting back to the actual game play then I am reading about what witty response should be delivered to some enemy who’s trying to make my life a misery. And that’s why WoW’s going to continue to be my flagship game of choice but I don’t hate SWTOR.

    Here’s an analogy. I’m Asian. I have rice every. single. day. It’s a staple diet. But every once in a while, I’ll get mashed potatoes. And I love mashed potatoes. Especially with gravy. Most of my caucasian friends take Mashed potatoes for granted and make fun of me everytime I make the “MMMM DELICIOUS” face whenever I go out for dinner with them. I like it because it’s something different that I don’t get to regularly chow on.

    Much of my sadness comes from the different bugs and lack of select features. I’m still going to play it anyway.

    Now I’ve got a high tolerance and threshold for bugs and features. I know that Bioware is going to work diligently to resolve and fix bugs and improve the quality of life for gamers (regardless of what their interests are). I will certainly wait. WoW had 7 years+ to add and cut down on issues. It’s only fair that SWTOR receive that.

    The question is if their player base is willing to give them that chance.

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  2. Well, I’m a straight white male, and I hated WoW so much when I first saw it that it’s one of the few MMOs I’ve never played. Then again, I’m more Explorer than Achiever and more Achiever than Killer.

    I’m also big Bioware fan. But I’m a big Bioware fan who hated Dragon Age 2 so much that it’s the first Bioware game I haven’t purchased (most of the gameplay changes seemed to be insulting my intelligence: apparently positioning a Rogue behind an enemy to backstab them is too difficult, so instead, when you hit the Backstab ability, it =teleports= you behind the enemy before executing; and, to make matters worse, you backstab them so hard they =explode=; words fail me).

    I’m also not a big Star Wars fan. And while I don’t hate TOR, I disliked it enough after two weekend betas to not bother purchasing it. Why? Because it’s too much like WoW.

    So, while it’s not enough like WoW for most straight white males, it’s too much like WoW for other straight white males ;^)

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    • I’m also third’ing the notion that Rift is the best AAA game out there, mechanically speaking. We were just talking about this last night in EmpireCats – I started talking about how I was just about ready to delete my level 16 sniper in SWTOR, ’cause it turns out Sniper isn’t my thing the way that Operative probably is (I love my Scoundrel). It’ll be the fourth 14+ toon I’ve deleted after finding out I didn’t like that particular AC.

      Beside that experience, Rift looks like a genius game in magical candy-filled pony land. The dynamic world events shine compared to The Ilum catastrophe as it currently sits (and all of Wintergrasp, I’m lookin’ at you too). The crew crafting system is really the only bit of SWTOR that, mechanically speaking, seems to be an improvement of sorts over anything in Rift.

      But I still can’t bring myself to go back to Rift. I loved Orphiel (no relation), the clockwork ponies, and the idea of crafted Ascended and the whole Defiant Thing. But Rift’s classes feel flavourless and (yeah, I’m goin’ there) soulless compared to scoundrels, snipers, marauders, sorcerers….

      It’s like Rift needed a single player game first, to steep us in the totally cool world and lore, afore it jumped into Big Kid MMO land.

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      • “The crew crafting system is really the only bit of SWTOR that, mechanically speaking, seems to be an improvement of sorts over anything in Rift.”

        Well… the dialog trees for quests is better, in my opinion, although maybe that’s too big to be covered by “mechanics”. Maybe I would have stuck with RIFT if I had been a bit more invested in my character. Also, I am so sick of fantasy dwarf lands.

        Defiance, the next Trion MMO, will be in a sci-fi setting and I’m hoping it’s otherwise as well-supported and engineered as RIFT.

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        • Yes, I wasn’t thinking about the dialogue tree and light side/dark side points (which is a mechanic to record the “biggest decisions” in a measurable way). I do like it better, although I hope they go a little farther with the “refuse quest” option. It’d be nice to make refusing a quest start to matter, as well. I’d also like less homogenization of companion reaction points – like, you’re tooling around with a slave girl and you enslave a bunch of people is worth 5 presents. It’d be nice to have some “deal-breakers” with your companions – things that, if you did them, you open up a quest ’cause your companion “leaves you” and you have to go get ‘em back. Or something. Video game design is hard.

          Trion in space? I’d be there. I’m not wedded to Bioware or the Star Wars franchise, although I like Bioware’s politics more than any other big-name gaming company I know of. I’m playing SWToR instead of Skyrim and FO:NV ’cause it’s where the people are.

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  3. Matticus and Vantec: Thanks for responding! There are totally a number of perfectly reasonable, game-related reasons for not being in to SWTOR. The game has some big flaws, and, y’know, to each their own. Honestly, I think RIFT is the best mechanically of all the AAAs. :)

    There’s just been a lot of vitriol around SWTOR’s launch, though, and I wonder if this is one of the reasons why.

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  4. Agreed on Rift. I honestly believe it to be the pinnacle of the DikuMUD breed. The DikuMUD paradigm is deeply flawed, but there’s still room for good games in there.

    As for TOR, to be quite honest, I’d probably be playing it right now if it were based in the Mass Effect universe rather than the Star Wars universe. Or if the box price were $29.99 rather than $59.99+.

    It’s not that the game is “terrible.” It isn’t. To summarize my feedback after the first beta: It’s not a bad effort for a new MMO developer’s first effort in the medium. But it -is- A. a big disappointment given how many resources were poured into it, B. not one of my favorite intellectual properties, and C. the Fourth Pillar is going to be very expensive to maintain as far as implementing future content.

    I have very mixed feelings about the game. If it’s a huge success, it will help continue to define the MMO industry as the “WoW-like” industry. If it’s a huge failure, it might kill one of my favorite developers (Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate 2, KOTOR, Jade Empire, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect 2 all make it onto my All-Time Best RPG list). So I guess I’m hoping that the game will be successful enough to keep Bioware alive without dragging the entire MMO industry further down the “let’s clone WoW” path.

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    • I think RIFT made a big mistake by being set in a very WoW-esque fantasy world. Honestly, I would still be playing it now except the majority of my guild lost interest. :)

      My big concern is that if SWTOR goes up in a puff of smoke (which I don’t think it will, honestly), it will very likely make GW2 the last of the “big money” MMOS. That has some benefits — smaller developers are more likely to take risks and be innovative.

      However, for someone like me who is mainly a Social player I am unsure about spreading the MMO playerbase out over a number of smaller games. MMOs require a certain critical mass to be successful!

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      • Before the advent of WoW, no MMO had even brushed the one million player mark. Most never even got close to half a million. And at least three were considered quite successful in their day (UO, EQ, DAoC).

        If you took the ten-plus million WoW players and spread them across twenty small MMOs, each of those MMOs would probably still have sufficient critical mass to be “successful.” In fact, there are quite a few MMOs that seem to be holding up just fine with player bases well below a hundred thousand (Asheron’s Call, Vanguard, Age of Conan). Are they smash hits? No, but they do seem to be making enough money to keep the servers running.

        The key is to have realistic expectations and spend your development venture capital accordingly. If you don’t burn $200M on your game, you don’t look like a failure if you fail to break the one million subscription mark.

        As for Rift, I think the biggest mistake many players make is starting on the Guardian side. The zones and quest lines are terribly derivative. The Defiant side is not spectacular, but it certainly has more … “soul,” for lack of a better word. You’re a cyborg send back from the future and working for, in many cases, total wackos.

        Another thing is, because Rift is a theme park MMO, many players don’t even realize that they can just ignore the theme park content and play it like a sandbox. Rift actually makes for fairly decent sandbox play with the dynamic invasions and the quick, easy leveling through doing just about anything. At one point I had a guildmate who had made it to level with without leaving the starting zone (Terminus). He had leveled to 10 by grinding, leveled to 15 mostly through PvP warfronts, then started doing dungeons. The only reason he finally left was to finally start spending all the Plaques and Marks he’d accumulated.

        Yeah, I believe Rift is a little weak on the “world” aspects on an MMO, but I also find it to be very strong on the “game” aspects. Different people prefer different balances between “world” and “game” and not everyone enjoys the same “world” and “game” elements. But when you run out of “world,” having a good “game” to fall back on comes in very handy.

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        • It’s fascinating watching all the people who are coming out of SWTOR saying “you know what? RIFT was actually the best of the lot.” It’s been consistently overlooked, but now that the hype from the Last Great WoW-alike has abated, it seems like people are starting to reconsider it. I’ve heard they’ve started having a lot of SWTOR “refugees”, too.

          And, yes, echoing the whole ‘go Defiant first’ thing. Guardian-side plays like a duller version of the Alliance with a somewhat interesting religious gimmick. Defiant are chock-full of awesome mad science fun, like an entire faction built around the best parts of the Forsaken. The intro area is incomparably better, and the low-level questing—all I saw, sadly—seemed a fair bit better too.

          I’m seriously thinking about going back.

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  5. This is a very good post, but I must dispute that WoW is aimed or targeted at college-age straight white dudes. You’re not right about the age bit. I think that’s a fundamental misreading of what straight white dudes are like – I’m into my 40s and I love WoW, so do lots of older players that otherwise fit the straight white dude mentality. This is because *part of us* never grows up. Sure, we get jobs, learn to cook our wives candle-lit dinners, learn to remember bithdays and make small talk at dinner parties about the latest Jane Austen adaptation. But y’know, blowing stuff up never gets old. My dad’s the same and he’s in his mid-60s, he likes Blizzard games too.

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    • Fair point, Boxerdogs! I suspect Blizzard’s target market is probably something like 16-39 on paper, but I certainly gave short shrift to the older players. We have a lot of fellows who are over 40 in my guild, in fact. :)

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  6. I do think that there’s definitely an element of that in play, especially when you look at all the rants about how SWTOR is missing feature X, which is “absolutely essential” (to you maybe, certainly not to me) or how feature Y is a waste of resources and won’t hold anyone’s interest (while I’m loving it)! It seems kind of obvious to me that a large part of the “WoW crowd” (or dedicated sandbox players or whatever really) won’t care about these things, but then I think it’s foolish of people to expect that everything should be targeted at the exact same demographic (i.e. them).
    Shintar´s last post: Colicoid War Game

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    • Right! I totally get folks being all, “I thought I would like this game but I don’t and that disappoints me”. What confuses me is the whole, “I thought I would like this game but I don’t and now it is objectively the worst game ever made.”

      PS: Nice Colicoid War Game summary! I had heard that flashpoint was kind of different, and now I am prepared. :)

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  7. my greatgrandmother was native american and i play minecraft, so you’re all wrong.

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  8. Liore,

    One other sleeper game to keep an eye out is The Secret World (Funcom). Their game systems design looks interesting (that there s no leveling up, so to speak. I think.).

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    • Oh yeah, I recall seeing them at PAX last year! A couple of my guildies are pretty psyched about this game.. thanks for reminding me about it.

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  9. Cut. Scenes. The questing is just so incredibly boring to me. I enjoy the fact that there is a story for each class. I despise that I have to watch a cut scene for every quest pick up.

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    • Here’s your sign, i mean blog post. have a nice day.

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    • Erm, as I believe Nobody was implying… Maybe SWTOR wasn’t meant for you. :)

      (I do TOTALLY appreciate that you posted about your own feelings, though, and didn’t assume that everyone else could or should feel the same way.)

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  10. I don’t necessarily buy that WoW is aimed at young straight men. They’re the kind of people that pay to go to Blizzcon, certainly, but I’ve known too many guilds that are stuffed with people that don’t fit that demo to really believe it.

    I think it’s more that Blizzard really privileges tried-and-true, straightforward mechanics and polished presentation over storytelling and community. The Dungeon and Raid Finders are great, mechanically, but they do detract from the game’s community. They limit storytelling where it would intrude on their elegant system design; where storytelling exists, it’s on BLIZZARD’S terms, with little player interaction required.

    They limit interactions with the world—you can’t actually drop or move stuff, for example—because they don’t want players messing with their presentation. They don’t give players their own space or the ability to dye armor for the same reason: because they have rigid rules about what things are supposed to look like, and players would inevitably make horrible (if glorious!) messes.

    Nothing wrong with that. It’s a valid design choice. But it’s not really about gender, age, or orientation.

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  11. Interesting post and blog, just found you via Nils’ blog.

    Actually I’d say WoW isn’t so much made for the “straight, white dude” but by the “straight, white dude”. The infused character in the game is a result of the developers majority mindset/world view. The fact that heavy metal is so a part of it, the celebrities they use for the adverts etc.

    I’ve long given up on WoW as the lore has been butchered and debased by endless pop-references and puerile humour. However I don’t feel the need to write hate posts about it on every blog, forum or website I read. That’s the strangest thing, as you mention, about this phenomenon – SWTOR is almost like marmite (love or hate no inbetween) in the strength of reactions it invokes on Massively, Tentonhammer and even the blogosphere.

    For me SWTOR is so far great fun to play. I’m only at level 24 as I can only play very casually. The story-heavy missions are excellent, having choices to make really adds something to the standard ‘wall of text’ quest model. I find the planets to be immersive and well designed. I’m almost the opposite of the stereotyped WoW player though, I love the journey and exploration and couldn’t care less about rewards. I find the end-game model of tiered gear grinds to be boring.

    I’ve also followed the Rift discussion in this thread as I played and enjoyed Rift. Rift did game systems ‘right’, but got the lore and world building ‘wrong’ IMHO. SWTOR has it the other way around to some extent, which is much better for me.
    Telwyn´s last post: SRPG + MMORPG = win?

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  12. SERIOUSLY? Its the year 2013 they are releasing the first DLC and you CAN’T EVEN GET HELP FROM THE FUCKING SUPPORT TEAM!

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  13. No. I accepted that the game wasn’t meant for me, as I personally cannot stand Themepark MMOs any longer, no matter how they’re sliced.

    No. My anger stems from the game that WAS for me being torn down in favor of this wow-clone abomination. THAT is what fuels my hate and will continue to fuel my hate for SWTOR for the next decade or so.

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