Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Star Wars: Free to Play

Everyone seems to be piling on Star Wars for going free to play. I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing; though it is clearly not what people trying to keep making money off it wanted. Subscriptions are down. With competition for free to play coming from Guild Wars 2 in a few weeks (and The Secret World taking their slice of niche, story-seeking players), Star Wars needed to stop the bleeding.

That's before we even look at the panda in the room.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the idea of free-to-play games. They are not, necessarily, worse games. I can think of a lot of games that people pay to play that I would never consider doing. I really do think that free-to-play or "Freemium" style games are really the wave of the future. Even The Secret World seems built around the idea of that being a possible future path, with the monthly content updates being built into subscription packages/discrete content purchases like in DDO.

I think we can expect interesting things in this developing design space. I see places like Kickstarter being other avenues for content delivery as well.

Star Wars, however, was pretty much destined for this fate. Its strengths are not really MMO-centric. It inflicted tedium on its players when traveling beyond the normal barriers. Worlds got dull very quickly, and grouping was often a painful experience for anything except instances. This is one thing World of Warcraft did right and that TSW is trying to mimic. These games are trying to remove barriers to the game.

Star Wars, at times, forgot it was a game. Orbital stations had no role in the game; they were just there to add atmosphere. That's fine; you can have great atmosphere without getting in the way of players trying to play your game. The cardinal sin of game design is this: Interfering with your player's ability to move, interact or experience the game. Note I do not say the game world. You can have games that don't even try to create a world, or create a very limited "world."

You can also have games where atmosphere is solely what sells the game. Fallout 1 and 2 are, as purely mechanical games, middling or average. Once you layer on their atmosphere and world, they become amazing. However, a great atmosphere or world, like in Septerra Core, can quickly become immaterial when the player needs to fight with your "world" to do what they sat down to do: Game.

The biggest way to do this is with a sudden genre shift. Any time an RPG (excluding Mario RPGs, for obvious reasons) throws a platform or jumping puzzle at you, that is just unfair. Xenogears screeches to a halt mid to late game because it becomes a plodding mess of mazes, unfun combat and random encounters. The disc that is just story cutscenes interspersed with action/combat set pieces is infinitely more fun than the rest of the dungeon.

Circling back to Star Wars: Too much of the game felt like that. I constantly was feeling I was putting a lot of effort out for not a lot of reward. The story segments felt cheap and clunky, such as being forced to recruit an alien who had threatened to kill me repeatedly because they couldn't come up with a better idea. Each main planet, I would hit a feeling that this just was not worth the effort I was putting in. Progression was happening, but it was not happening organically. I was constantly having to use the auction house (a giant chore in itself!) and waste time zoning back and forth.

Star Wars crumpled under the weight of trying to create a world, not a game. You can do both. But, if you want to make a successful game, you have to remember that the verisimilitude of the world sometimes needs to sacrifice things for the game. Take a look through the Secret World to see how to make that work.



While not being a political blog, I do ping the media when it screws up. Playing a song like "Stupid Girls" when talking about a female politician... that's pretty stupid. Then you get the constant rush to blame the right when violence happens, paired with the constant being wrong about it, probably exemplified with Brian Ross (who somehow still has a job) accusing the wrong man of being a mass murderer. Then we have the whole Krauthammer thing that just came up with Politico not bothering to fact check the White House. Let's not forget that Fox and CNN got the Affordable Care Act decision wrong. Quite possibly the biggest Supreme Court story of our life times, and they could not bother to read to the end of all the freaking documents they were given.

Journalists, people writing and producing the news: Stop being freaking lazy.

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