So here's the deal,
I saw a particularly shocking piece of industry news today, so shocking in fact that it jolted me into writing for the second time in a week. Truly groundbreaking stuff. There also appears to be a blog being featured right now with a very similar title to this one, and I thought I might just take advantage of some of its fame and ride this perfect blog storm to more analytical shores. Confused? Me too. Let's rock this shit out.
I won't dilly dally like I normally do with this kind of thing; EA stock value has dropped 40% since January. Let's not just ride past that figure; one of the biggest publishers of games of the past decade is now 40 cents to the dollar cheaper than it was a mere six months ago.
Even more shocking is the fact that it seems that this is pretty much the singular fault of one of the more beloved development houses out there: Bio-we make fucking awesome games- ware. Yeah, holy shit.
It turns out that the massive failure of Bioware's The Old Republic
compared to how well it was supposed to do for the company is responsible - in conjunction with the leadership of John Riccitello - for the titan's fall, at least according to gameindustry.biz
. As that article aptly puts, this is hard to fathom when you combine the storytelling ability of Bioware with an IP as established and widely known as Star Wars and, if the article can be believed, one of the industry's biggest all-time budgets.
But if I'm honest, this isn't as surprising as all that, and in my eyes the fault lies not with Bioware, but with whoever chose them to develop a WoW rival for EA.
Bioware is known primarily for its strong, likable characters and enthralling stories. They brought these two elements out in force when making TOR. Never in an MMO have I cared so much about what was going to happen next; WoW was never able to string together quests so deftly as to make me genuinely curious as to what lie beyond my retrieval of many pelts.
Bioware told compelling stories with TOR, something rarely achieved to such a degree in the countless MMOs that preceeded it, something that, to be fair many, have asked for. And I played the Jedi Sage's tale with a wide grin from end to end. Bioware were somehow able to maintain good pacing in their plots alongside
the ability to choose the rate at which those plots progressed, which is a staggering achievement in and of itself.
The problem is - and this is a biggie - that next to none of these elements executed with great skill by Bioware are at all conducive to a strong MMO. Stories by their very nature have an end; at some point you will be able to look back on what you've accomplished and say "yes, here is where I plant my flag, for I have completed my conquest." By focusing TOR on story and characters, Bioware gave every person who dedicated any significant amount of time to that game a very clear and obvious point at which they could stop dedicating that time.
Now at this point, you're probably saying that EA's recent strife is indeed all Bioware's fault, but the point I'm trying to make here is that it was the selection of Bioware in the first place that was a bad move, and that's coming... well, now.
See Bioware has indeed been good at creating exceptional stories and characters since, well, Baldur's Gate, but something they've been lacking recently, at least in comparison to their narrative strengths, is gameplay puzzazz. As good as KoToR was, the combat was pretty much just okay, it took them three games to really lock down ME's gameplay, and we all know what happened with DA2.
If you're going to create a "new approach to online entertainment" as the Bioware site claims, you can't really leave your gameplay in the same realm of mediocre that your genre rivals have been in since the earls 2000's when you're setting up expectations using words like "groundbreaking" and "revolutionary" when referring to the rest of your game. It's just going to disappoint people.
My point here is that EA had a lot of evidence to suggest that this kind of thing was at least a possibility when selecting the developer that was going to bring them up against one of the industry's biggest cash cows. If you're going to go up against WoW, you better be fucking sure whoever made your gun gave you a freakin crate of ammo; six immaculately crafted bullets just aren't going to cut the Blizztard.
~ Om nom nom nom...