Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Is SWTOR Space Combat a Good Idea?

SWTOR all but announced over the weekend that their long rumored "super secret space project (SSSP)" is a new off-rails space dogfighting minigame (see Ootinicast for a detailed summary of the event).  This idea is pretty universally popular (see Werit) - does that make expanding the game this far beyond its current scope a good idea?

The big trade-off when adding a major new game feature is the time that the developers weren't able to spend developing something else.  When your game already has instanced dungeons for 4-6 players including a tank and a healer, and you go to add instanced content for 3 players with no class restrictions, you are building something that is plausibly of interest to people who are already playing your game.

By contrast, we have EVE Online's decision to expand their space economy game into a First Person Shooter spin-off (that was platform exclusive to the PS3 for no reason that I've ever heard explained by anyone).  I haven't heard how this effort has done recently, this idea has always faced a challenge because of how far it strays from both its parent and its new genre.  Why would someone looking to play a new FPS want their battles to be dictated and decided by people playing a different space combat game? 

SWTOR's project isn't quite that extreme.  Space dogfights are a major part of the Star Wars lore and movies, and the game was widely criticized at launch for including an on-rails space combat game rather than a more open system.  That said, the current system is also completely optional - I never completed a single space combat mission (I did somehow fail the first one I tried about three times before giving up on the system for good), and it's even access-restricted for non-subscribers. 

Thus, the question remains - if you weren't willing to play the game before, why would you want to put up with an MMORPG as a condition of getting your space combat game?  If you are a current player but off-rails space combat was an absolute must-have deal-breaker feature, wouldn't you have quit SWTOR by now?  More likely, the question of whether this was a good use of Bioware's time will hinge on its ability to extract more revenue from existing players.  The sale of cosmetic ship appearances in the cash store gambling packs is an absolute certainty, and it remains to be seen what else they will have to tack on in terms of sales of power and/or access to recoup their investment.  I wonder if the system will be as popular when it's more than just a teaser video. 


Shintar said...

Interesting question. There is a certain group of people that has been very vocal about wanting freeform space combat, but we don't really know how that desire is reflected in the overall playerbase. Me, I'm pretty much in the same boat as you and have no interest in playing in space.

Video Game Philosopher said...

One of my big problems with SWTOR was its on-rails space combat bit. I absolutely LOVED SWG's almost fully customizable space portion, and it was a lot of fun. I literally spent hours dogfighting NPCs and enjoyed every minute of it.

I would hope SWTOR would go to that sort of system, but their heavy reliance on the Cartel market and other problems with the game make it unlikely that it would be much fun.

soresu said...

I've always thought the on-rails space combat was a colossal waste of potential, and a disappointment in an ambitious MMO that promised to deliver the Star Wars experience. That, and I love flight sims in general.

So, even though my SW:TOR gameplay is sporadic at best these days, this makes me feel vindicated and happy. I hope the implementation won't suck, and I'll definitely check it out.

Yeebo said...

I honestly think it's a waste of dev time on a feature few of their players will care about. The current space system is a side game that requires an inordinate time investment to make progress in, that also provides very little reward to you apart from a title and some cosmetics. The new missions might be awesomely fun, but 90% of the player base will ignore them unless they provide decent rewards for the regular game.

Mooftak Jones said...

Actually there is a majority of folks who were forced out of SWG who didn't necessarily last very long (or even start) in swtor when it was the only game on the block. Why? Because the space was a joke. There are a # of folks like myself who won't sub to play the raiding game but would sub to have the chance to do free form space in a star warsy setting.

The problem really is that what swg vets loved about swg space was how diverse it was. Bioware hasn't really given "us" any reason to believe that they'll get free form space "right." My guess is it will either have an over reliance on the cartel market as the primary way to introduce diversity of craft/equipment, or be very limited in gameplay options (queue for missions as opposed to launching and flying around to different systems). Or both.

Hopefully they'll prove me wrong and greatly exceed my low expectations of limited gear, space hallways (like the planets are for ground play), and wallet soaking cartel market "features." At any rate, I'll sub to check it out and if it's decent I might just try to get my Saitek x52 back from a friend.