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Is BioWare trying to repair its brand?

Quick little thought for today’s (tonight’s?) blog post.  Greg Zeschuck shifted/moved/transitioned/whatever away from BioWare Austin.  Now it’s probably going to be called EA Austin.  We’re wondering if this is an attempt to help fix BioWare’s name, restrengthening its brand, by distancing BioWare proper from these (mostly) EA dealings.  BioWare has been attached to a lot of  games that aren’t necessarily ‘BioWare’ games, like assuming control of Mythic and becoming … BioWare Mythic?

SWTOR was a  hit to the studio’s reputation.  Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age 2 aren’t shining stars on their record either.  A lot of stuff is being branded under BioWare’s flag — a lot of stuff  that doesn’t belong there — and EA’s infamous taint is starting to show as the BioWare name becomes a name to slap on a box; Command and Conquer Generals 2 being an example.  You can’t discredit what BioWare made in the past, but the direction one of our most beloved companies has gone these past years is disappointing.

Hopefully this might be some signal that the powers in charge of BioWare are trying to plot a much needed course correction.

Server merges can be great for SWTOR

Given all the SWTOR server merging news out there, I thought I’d weigh in with my thoughts.  In my opinion, server merges are a positive action taken to correct a negative situation that only gets worse when left untreated.  No one likes to play on a server with a dead population; If you do, you’re weird.  People are needed to make a game like SWTOR fun.  Some of those SWTOR servers had almost no one playing during prime time.  In my opinion, they should all be merged down into a handful of servers bursting at the seams with players and the move should be mandatory.

These aren’t the days of EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, or Star Wars Galaxies communities.  Merging all of these communities together doesn’t change anything.  None of the servers developed differently, and the communities haven’t shaped anything in a game that focuses on the individual.  You have a highly instanced world with almost no interaction among players outside of their own cliques (guilds/raid groups).   There is little to lose when merging themeparks like this and everything to gain.  More people = More fun.

I think optional server merges, where people can leave and disperse willingly on their own to different locations, are far more detrimental than simply taking everyone from one server and putting them together with everyone from 10 other servers.  Giving players a choice in this matter only causes confusion, evident in some of the news site articles out there.

Server merges breathe life into a game.  General chat in SWTOR is likely bustling with a lot of optimism from players who are getting to feel like they’re meeting new people — or any people at all for some of them — in an atmosphere resembling that of the launch window.

Recent Events May Result in a Better MMO Future

The past month has been full of terrible things for the MMO industry: Pitch Black Games closed down and cancelled Dominus, EA laid off 40 percent of the SWTOR team, and 38 Studios closed down with what some are predicting as an industry damaging event.  Michael Pachter, an analyst who I actually enjoy watching, says that it may take years for MMO investors to come around again.  Scott Jennings surfaced to share his thoughts and said that these events are “killing the very concept of massively multiplayer gaming.”  I have been saying the very same thing for years.  Allow me to quote myself:

I’m still 100% predicting a MMO crash where all hope is lost until we look to the east on the fifth day and see Gandalf some developer bringing the industry back to its roots.

I stand by what I have said over the years.  I do believe that the industry will struggle.  I always thought it would be the players driven to their breaking point, but the McMMO publisher/investor woes and a highly publicized financial disaster definitely expedite things.

This is where I strongly believe, and predict based on what I know about these games and their development, that something good can come from these disasters.   When I stand on my soapbox and shout to anyone who will listen about MMO’s returning to the gameplay, returning to what worked, and MMO’s being about the core fundamentals that saw games lasting years instead of 3 months,  I am usually met with comments that resemble something like this: “Investors don’t want to put money into games like that.”    Well, it looks to me like investors may not want to put money into anything right now, and what better time to see the MMO fundamentals return than when smaller studios will have to focus on the niche gameplay mechanics instead of satisfying the masses to repay investors.

Older games were made on small budgets.  UO, EQ, DAOC, SWG, and many other older MMO’s from before this generation were created on smaller budgets, with smaller teams, yet lasted for years at a time and introduced what it meant to be a massively multiplayer game to the world.  I don’t subscribe to the doom and gloom that wants people to believe MMO’s are forever ruined due to these recent events.  I know there is always a strong foundation for developers to fall back on — and they will fall back on it well before they throw in the towel.  For length’s sake I won’t quote myself again, but I’ve written something on the subject of building upon what worked that is very relevant today.

Whether or not this actually happens, the MMO industry can’t keep going in this direction.  I choose a positive outlook because I believe it means we’ll see better games in the future; Games that focus on creating gameplay that actually resembles a massively multiplayer online role-playing game.

Mass Effect 3 Tomorrow: The Preparation begins!

Mass Effect 3 box artOur copies of Mass Effect 3 have shipped (yay for free release-day shipping!) and we’re anxiously awaiting their arrival.

I played ME1&2 this past summer at Graev’s behest.  I was reluctant to give them a try, but quickly found myself actually playing through them from start to finish without even wanting to play other games.  That’s rare for me when the game is singleplayer.  I loved playing them.

Graev is, at this very moment, “polishing up” his ME2 play-through to be fresh on the story and get in the mood, and I’m going to have him fill me in on the details since they’re already fuzzy for me.

We’ve heard a few rumors (no spoilers) that the decisions made in previous games don’t carry over all that much into the third game.  I played 1&2 on the PC, but ordered 3 for the Xbox 360.  I’m sorta hoping that it doesn’t matter now because I’m screwed either way.  Regardless, getting them both on the Xbox 360 allows us to play the coop together.  Coop, from what I’m told, does impact your story.

We’re both worried about the recent trend of Bioware games. Dragon Age 2 had good combat, but was turned into an entirely different game with a lot less abilities.  We were at Bioware’s Dragon Age Origins presentation during E3 2008 when they said that Dragon Age Origins was the beginning of the series about the origin of your character and made it sound like the rest of the games were going to build on each other. DA2 felt rushed, was full of retcons, and reused areas (blocked off paths with rocks to make the areas ‘different’).  DA2 should have been a side game called “Dragon Age: My Life in Kirkwall.”

ME2 straight up got rid of loot entirely and streamlined the weapon system to make  telling which gun was better very weird.  ME2 was also pushed into more of an action and less RPG direction. It wasn’t at all as disappointing as DA2, though, and like I said I really enjoyed the game.

Hopefully ME3 doesn’t follow the same downward trend.

I think I hear Graev doing vocal warm up exercises in preparation for the Kinect voice commands.

Copy, Gold Leader. I’m already on my way out.

"Copy, Gold Leader. I’m already on my way out."

The time has come to update you all on our SWTOR status.  I wish I had good or surprising news, but it appears my suspicions were correct: SWTOR is a tide-me-over game.  SWTOR falls into the category that I call “The 3 monther,” but it’s actually lasting under two months for us.  SWTOR is a tide-me-over or a game to play when you don’t have a more engaging or long-term MMO.

I bought the game to enjoy it as a Bioware RPG with multiplayer.  In reality, it’s a stereotypical themepark MMO with Bioware RPG elements tacked on.  The overall experience was still fun, and I do not regret my purchase.  I feel like I got my money’s worth economically, but perhaps was shorted on my expectations.  DCUO fell into this category for me.  I had an absolute blast for one month and loved it, but the game comes a screeching halt.  SWTOR is the same way, since I do not enjoy their end-game activities  enough to continue playing on a treadmill.

I’d like to just point out a few of my biggest issues with the game. [Read more...]