We are not laughing with you!!
EA Q4 Report - SWTOR Drops From 1.7 Million Subs to 1.3 Million Subs
Hades Retail Launch SWTOR Review
I predict, on or before its 1 year mark, SWTOR will fall under 1 million subs because Q4 closed with thousands of accounts still technically active due to the free 30 days that came with Patch 1.2. SWTOR is a decent game, as I mentioned in my launch review, but they are also on pace to lose 50% of their 1.7 million subscribers due to inattention or outright neglect on the key issues listed in my review. MMO players give you six months to fix your game, and they leave in droves unless they have a solid action plan that outlines exactly what the devs are going to do.
Damion Schubert, Gabe Amatangelo, and whoever the brainiac is that is the Community Team Director (not manager) really have each done a fine job of running off customers. It makes no sense because all of these people have been in the industry long enough to have learned from the mistakes of past games (AOC/Warhammer/Aion). Let's examine the key things that have hurt SWTOR to date:
1. Community Blunders - Destorying It Through Bad Decision Making
Taking Away Guild Portal Pages
Prior to launch there were all these nifty guild portal pages, a way for players to search for guilds, a way for players to apply to guilds, and a way for guilds to manage members and applications. It worked very well prior to launch, it was perfectly viable as a guild support tool after launch, but some genius at Bioware decided it wasn't needed and they shut it down at retail launch.
Note to developers and newbie community directors.....Guilds are your core end game audience!!!!!!!!! If you don't provide them with a good set of tools to be able to grow and sustain themselves, then they cannot maintain over time to replace members who leave, and your servers become ghost towns. If you are not going to provide an in game method of guild recruitment and advertising, then the forum based guild portal system that SWTOR had pre-launch was the next best thing.
No Server Specific Forums
The decision to cluster forums instead of allowing each server to have its own forum is another retail launch issue. If you want to BUILD a community you need a place for that community to talk, organize, and recruit. People are not going to search 10 pages back in a set of forums where several servers are clustered together to find anything. There are pros and cons to having server forums, but if your game requires a community then you need a place for that specific server's community to thrive. The decision to cluster servers together in alphabetical order, PVP/PVE, just made the forums worthless to the average player.
No Looking For Group Tool
Waiting until the game is out almost 6 months before a looking for group (LFG) tool is put in place is a move that kills the community too. Right now a new level 50 in the game has to beg in general chat "X class LFG!!" a 100 times just to find a group for a simple 4 man flashpoint instance. People are only going to spam in chat so long before they give up, and shortly after that they'll cancel their subscription.
You cannot expect your endgame content to rely on people forming groups to access that content while failing to provide them with a reasonable way to find willing partners. Spamming chat leads to standing around, and standing around leads to cancelled subscriptions. In a recent Dev Question and Answer they said they were speeding up LFG tool development because they just now realized that level 50's were sitting idle spamming chat looking for groups, and they also had a realization that sitting around LFG might be boring for people.....lolZ.
2. Guild Features/Support
No Guild Purpose
Other than providing a chat channel and online roster, guilds in SWTOR serve no in game purpose except to clear end game content. There are no in game benefits that encourage or discourage players from being part of a guild in the game. There is nothing for a guild to own, no guild levels to attain, no guild mothership to build, nada.
No Guild Perks/Talents
SWTOR had a lot of comment about guild support systems prior to release as well as during their Guild Summit in March 2012, but this is the first game in a looooong time I've played that did not have any type of guild perk system. Guild perks are usually talents, banners, or temporary powers that any player in the guild can enjoy to enhance their gameplay. The most common examples are things that boost EXP to level alts, the ability to summon guild members to a spot in the world, rez a whole raid at once, etc. SWTOR provides absolutely nothing to enhance gameplay for guild members.
No Guild Recruitment System
As mentioned previously SWTOR provides no help to guilds, at all, with in game or out of game recruitment. Warhammer Online, developed by Bioware/Mythic, had in game recruitment tools two years ago, but SWTOR launched in 2011 had nothing.
If guilds cannot easily recruit in a game they die, as they die the primary vehicle players use to clear end game content dies with them, people stand around screamig "LFG!!", and eventually the server dies because there are no quality end game groups for people to join.
No Guild Server/World PVE Progression Rankings & Player Armory
In this day and age, PVE progression rankings are all the rage. Any modern MMO should strive to support PVE progression ranking systems, and there are tons of examples out there to use. Some type of player armory page like WoW has is also very useful, and should be part of any modern MMO's community strategy.
3. PVP - Fun Mini-Games, Bad PVP Mechanics
No PVP Rankings
No PVP rankings means that PVP in SWTOR is meaningless. People will only play meaningless PVP for so long before they get bored and quit. SWTOR promised to provide ranked PVP shortly after release, then 4 months later with Patch 1.2, and then they changed yet again to a "TBA Pleeze Keep Paying!" ETA.
No Cross Server PVP Matchmaking
Warhammer stubbonly resisted doing this with their PVP, and the end result was the small group PVP slowed to a snail pace. Trion put cross server matchmaking in for Rift, and PVP instance battles were always happening. Bioware followed Mythic's failed strategy of keeping everything within each server, and the result is painfully long PVP matchmaking wait times. PVPr's do not like standing around because that leads to boredom, and boredom leads to a cancelled subscription.
Little Action / Out of Control Crowd Control
SWTOR PVP mechanics should cause both Damion Schubert and Gabe Amatangelo to hide their heads in shame. Damion worked on Shadowbane, and SWTOR is Gabe's first big time MMO as a PVP Designer. Instead of fun paced PVP action we get a system where Crowd Control (CC) immunity timers either don't work, or they work so poorly as to make people think they don't work at all. If Warhammer should have taught PVP developers anything, it should have taught them that people cannot stand to lose control of their characters
In SWTOR PVP you spend 80% of your fight stunned, knocked down, yanked across the map, force choked, and stunned again. Your immunity timer kicks in just long enough to take 2 steps, and then the whole CC process starts again if you are even still alive at that point. PVP damage is so high that the average player (Pick Up Group = PuG) might get to mash 3 buttons before being destroyed or CC'd to death.
I cannot for the life of me figure out how Damion Schubert, with his PVP design experience, could have let SWTOR PVP mechanics be done so poorly. It was also ironic to read in a post release Dev Question and Answer article where they discovered how popular PVP was, but then take forever to make it mean anything or design in cross server matchmaking schemes.
World PVP Fail
SWTOR tried to imitate WoW's Wintergrasp and failed miserably because the game engine cannot handle it. Instead they should have put in instanced PVP that supports 50 vs 50, provide some objectives to fight over, and then provide a worthwhile reward for participating.
4. Overall Game Design - On You Bioware
Is SWTOR A Solo or Multi-Play Game?
It is supposed to be a multi-play game that can be solo'd, and I suppose it is until you reach level 50. At that point, for your character to progress, you become entirely dependent on finding groups or guilds to clear content that is impossible to solo. If you cannot find groups of guilds easily, you get frustrated and quit.....which at least 400,000 people have done to date.
The main lesson for any game here is that you have to have enough in game and out of game community resources, tools, etc for people to be able to easily find groups to clear end game content. Instead of blaming the loss of subscribers on casual players leaving, they should have blamed on the fact that they did not provide any worthwhile way for people to organize in SWTOR. Neither casual players nor hardcore players are going to sit around spamming chat all day trying to find a group.
Dumb Lockout Timers
Lockout timers are stupid, and even dumber when you have a very limited menu for end game content. When SWTOR launched there were only two dungeons, Eternity Vault and Karagga's Palace, and the lockouts were basically a week. If you ran 16 man versions of these dungeons, you were locked out of the 8 man versions. If you ran Nightmare mode, you were locked out of Hard Modes.
All this does is create more difficulty for players or guilds to form groups. Billybob can't help Fred 5 days later because he's still locked out of the dungeon. Fred can't find anyone else to help him, gets frustrated, and quits the game.
Once again....lockout timers, beyond 24 hours, are simply stupid.
Gear, Mobs, and Itemization
Instance trash mobs are boring because they don't drop any cool loot so the only mob kill to really look forward to is the boss kill. If the new instance, Explosive Conflict, bosses drop rating 146 gear why can't some of the trash mobs drop rating 142 or 143 gear to help bridge the gear check issues that people have when moving from one raid tier to the next? Useless trash mobs that drop nothing or virtually nothing useful just make a raid boring. Again Trion's raids in Rift did this, and helped to create a gear bridge for people.
The itemization in SWTOR also does not make a lot of sense. I am a DPS sorc in Rakata gear, and some of the black hole vendor gear is a major downgrade to even buy. Why would I grind black hole commendations to buy a piece of very inferior gear? Why can you not buy weapons and other things on the end game gear vendors with tokens? Too many things about the logic of SWTOR's end game gearing up system don't appear to make any sense.
5. Concluding Thoughts
There are may other things I could get into, but to me the things I've outlined are the main issues that have caused player population decline. They can say they have 1.3 million players as of March 30th, but we all know that server populations are way off and that the 30 free days for April was just a way to pad the numbers until the 6 month mark.
Merging servers, while needed, will not solve this game's problems. Only putting priority behind creating or fixing the content I've outlined can rebuild player communities, give purpose to PVP, and give purpose to PVE. Everything else is just putting lipstick on a pig, and the question becomes one of how many subs are they willing to lose before they do the types of things I've suggested.
For the record I love the Star Wars: Old Republic Universe setting, and I plan to play SWTOR for some time to come. But I also believe in honestly stating what the issues are with the hope that someone.....somewhere will address them before the game goes into a permanent death spiral. Bioware can still say they had the biggest launch in MMO history and nearly 2 million subs. But just remember that not long ago AOC and Warhammer boasted the same thing, and lost 80% of their subscribers within the first year. You can have the best launch ever, but if you don't make your game fun and compelling then no one will stick around to see those wonderful miracle patches.
Time will tell if Damion and his devs can turn this title around, but it isn't like guildmasters like me didn't tell these guys what features were important from Day 1. Decisions have consequences, and to date Bioware's decisions have cost them 400,000 subscribers and counting.
Darth Hades signing out!