If you follow me on Twitter, you already know that I’ve been very passionate and engaged in the reaction to Thursday’s announcements from BioWare regarding the future of Operations in Star Wars: The Old Republic. I was very unhappy with the announcement, mostly out of fear for the game’s health if people stop playing. I’m actually interested in the adjusted old Ops content because I’ve only raided in the current tier personally, but if my raid team dissolves who is going to run it with me? I’ve voiced a lot of these frustrations and fears on Twitter, but I’ve come to a more optimistic and rational mindset that I thought I’d share!
I came to this realization late Thursday night as I pondered why BioWare would make this decision to go over 12 months (again) without new Operations content. Of all things, an advertisement gave me the answer: Star Wars Battlefront. The game shares a parent company and intellectual property (IP) with Star Wars: The Old Republic. Based on the people I’ve talked to since E3, there seems to be a high percentage of SWTOR players that intend to play Star Wars Battlefront, so it makes sense for EA to implement a business plan to maximize revenues from the two games combined. The strengths and weaknesses of the games even seem to complement each other well. Star Wars Battlefront has minimal single-player appeal but offers beautiful, expansive multiplayer. Star Wars: The Old Republic on the other hand struggles most with satisfying players of group content, while offering the BioWare story that is touted so frequently as its best asset.
It does not make sense for EA to fund the development of two Star Wars games’ content that target the same type of player. The crossover rate just seems too high to ignore and EA would be able to quantify that even better based on player info required to subscribe or pre-order these games. The BioWare announcement makes sense if EA saw this coming and knew that a Star Wars Battlefront release would almost certainly pull away a meaningful amount of gaming hours from the raiding teams in Star Wars: The Old Republic, so it would be wasting development money to release a new Operation on October 27th with only 4-5 weeks before its other game cannibalizes play time from that content.
This is an integral part of EA’s business model, so it’s not a stretch to think they’d manage their Star Wars games this way. Their management team has decades of experience pacing sports game release dates, a great example is their timing of NCAA Football and Madden release dates each year. Both games feature American football and both college and professional seasons begin within a week of each other. But in 2014 the sports titles were released nearly two months apart. The business case is the same now. The crossover rate doesn’t have to be 100% to warrant this approach and it’s reasonable that this case also meets whatever that threshold is for EA.
This does not even take into account the level adjustment to make the existing Operations meaningful again by introducing a new gear progression based on revisiting content now scaled to level. As I said, this actually appeals to me because I have not completed most of these Operations, and definitely not at level. I know that many players have cleared them, but the response from my raiding team have been more positive than I expected, so my fears of mass exodus have lessened. If anything, the impetus is on us, the raiding community, to draw in more players. The best way to influence BioWare’s future decisions are to draw more players into Operations.
So where does that leave us? As someone who will probably play Star Wars Battlefront when it comes out, I’m look at new leveling content and refreshed old Operations in late October, followed by a new game full of multiplayer Star Wars battles in early December, then fresh progression content back in Star Wars: The Old Republic sometime in the first half of 2016 hopefully. That’s actually a content cycle that keeps me engaged in the Star Wars universe, just across two EA games. This was not what I wanted to see from BioWare for the expansion, but I can respect a rational business decision, even if I have to infer it rather than EA being open about it.
I’m less despondent than I was Thursday, but I’m still a little anxious. Until I see the new gear progression and the player retention success or failure I’ll still have lingering concerns on that level. At the end of the day, I’ve looked into the alternatives, but I love Star Wars and I don’t see better raiding options anywhere else right now for me. So I’ll be here playing and blogging for many months to come, but I’ll still push for “more” for this game I’m so passionate about because that’s important too.
It looks like I’ll be joining the guys on Ootinicast this week to discuss the announcement in that format, so tune in live on Wednesday at 4:30 PST or catch the podcast on iTunes or their website when it’s posted.
– Andrew | SWTOR Economics