SWTOR – Did The Lore Choice Hurt It?

As part of writing my homage to the stylings of SynCaine when it was announced that Star Wars: The Old Republic was going to go free to play, I spent a bit of time looking for the right picture to go with the piece.

While I eventually went with another graphic, I was initially drawn to this piece which Google images was kind enough to bring to my attention.

Tortanic and the original cast

I really like the picture.  If it is yours, I apologize for using it without credit or permission.  I will happily assign credit where credit is due.  It is a master work of referential parody.

The reason I did not use it is pretty obvious; none of the characters pictured actually appear in the game.  That fact seemed to distract from the Titanic metaphor, and so I set the picture aside and went with another choice.

Later, I ran across the picture again in a folder of collected images on my hard drive and, in looking at it, I began to wonder if there wasn’t another message in it altogether.

If you were to make the picture correct for the SWTOR/Tortanic reference, what characters would you include?

Now, I fell off the SWTOR wagon pretty quickly in beta, so I may be way off base in saying that there are no of sufficient stature in the game to stand in for the original cast.  The game lore struck me as completely of Expanded Universe quality, which can be indifferent, and characters in such lore have a tough time breaking out enough to match even third tier characters who happened to be around for some screen time during the life and times of Anakin Skywalker.

Which makes a Star Wars MMO, where one of your key selling points is “Hey, Star Wars stories,” a bit more challenging.  Not that I think a Star Wars MMO has to trot out Han Solo the moment I show up just to get me to play.  That is crazy talk.

Okay, stop that you!

But looking at Star Wars games in general, those taking place in and around the movies out number those outside of that time frame by a fairly lopsided margin.  Just being original trilogy focused obviously doesn’t make a bad game good, but it certainly seemed to make some mediocre games more popular than they might have managed otherwise.

I realize that this ignores the popularity of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which is clearly the standard bearer for Expanded Universe games.  Certainly when it was announced back in 2008 that BioWare was going to be making what was essentially a KotOR MMO, there was quite a bit of cheering.  But were the cheers because the lore from KotOR was so good, or was it because KotOR was a good SINGLE PLAYER game regardless of the lore?

And I will also admit that eulogizing a game that was still, at last report, the second most popular subscription MMO in the US/EU, might seem more than a bit premature.  But even the stalwarts have to admit that the subscription trend was going badly and the decision to go free to play is the sort of radical change you do not make if things are going well.

All of which brings me around to my real question.

Do you think SWTOR would have been better, more popular, or longer lasting had it been framed in the lore of the movies as opposed to BioWare’s setting 4,000 years before the movies?

24 thoughts on “SWTOR – Did The Lore Choice Hurt It?

  1. Rohan

    The thing is that you don’t get Jedi or Sith if you set in the movie timelines.

    So advantage: You get more movie recognition. Disadvantage: you can’t play a Jedi/Sith.

    Wasn’t this one of the major stumbling points of Galaxies?

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  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Rohan – True enough, though I am not convinced that a set of mirror balanced classes necessarily helped SWTOR either. I was mildly disappointed when the Horde got paladins and the Alliance got shaman as well.

    Jedi were always going to be the problem in Galaxies. It was the actual reason I came up with for not buying the game when holding the box in my hand in Fry’s when it first came out. Everybody is going to want to be a Jedi.

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  3. HarbingerZero

    Absolutely not. The Old Republic Era is custom built to avoid the lore/game problems that crop up with the usual batches of OT games. If anything it helped the game to get to that number 2 (and falling) spot.

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  4. Mr. Meh

    The failures of the MMO weren’t on the story. No MMO has ever provided as good a story. Whether that setting was someplace else, it would not have changed the outcome.

    The failures were that they built no real end game. They took players interest keeping for granted. And mostly they snubbed the PVP community.

    Even if their goal was always to make a PVE freindly game and PVP was always secondary, then they sucked at keeping up the PVE as well.

    What’s worse over, is they were given plenty of benifit of the doubt by the player base, and they ingored it. They moved too slowly on patches, they took too long for content, and most certainly ignored PVP so much, they ended up taking away from it.

    On top of that they couldn’t find a resolution for server transfers in any reasonable amount of time. You can’t ask for more player patience.

    If you went to BW in 2011 and told them, hey, within 6 months after release, you’ll have only performed 2 Live Events, backtrack your patches to balancing, you’ll have side stepped PVP so hard you actually remove Open World PVP from the game, and you actually lose so much population that you need to merge your servers but you didn’t think that far ahead and won’t be able to figure out a resolution for 3 months. They would have never planned to fuck up that hard.

    SWTOR is nothing more than a sad story of terrible execution.

    Now how off topic is my rant? I don’t think far.

    Because the point is, no matter what setting the game was, with the facts about the execution of the game running in the first 6 months, the MMO never stood a chance. No MMO will stand a chance with those kind of data points. Trying offering that reality to investors. Let’s see how many bite.

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  5. tms

    Short answer, no. As already mentioned, the big problem with the original trilogy timelines is that there are no Jedi/Sith running around. You could go post trilogy and have “New Order Jedi” but they are outside the trilogy timeline in the Expanded Universe. I guess you could try going to the “new” trilogy but still, there’s no Sith.

    Speaking of Galaxies, it’s big problem was that Jedi was an uber class compared to the rest which, I suppose, you could make an argument that it was okay if they had left them with perma-death but they didn’t. Groups could gank Jedi to keep the population low and dissuade care bears (like me) for wanting to be a Jedi.

    If you want them to be uber and not have perma-death, they needed to introduce other uber classes. I always thought that they should have added a Mandelorian Bounty Hunter and maybe some variation on the Night Sisters as evil force wielders to add opponents on an equal footing to the Jedi. This would have created an interesting “end-game” for level 80’s.

    As for SWTOR’s Free to Play model change, I think it might be the final nail in the coffin for the game. It’s just not designed to take advantage of F2P. If you give everything away (which the appear to be doing), what’s left to buy? End-game, as it stands, is not the draw. It’s the story line during level up that makes this game remotely interesting.

    SWTOR’s problem has always been the lack of a need for player interaction. You can’t have an MMO attract and keep large numbers of players if there s no incentive to keep playing.

    The only way I’ve seen that happen is where you require large guilds to tackle end-game content (original 40-man WoW raids) or where the player economy takes dedicated specialists to make it viable (Eve & Galaxies).

    Under these conditions, you have people playing the game actively building a guild/corp to get to content they can’t get to alone. Once in a guild, there is incentive to keep playing or lose the rank/status within the guild that you have worked so hard to get.

    This may also be part of the reason WoW is shedding numbers. You don’t need large guilds to play the end-game content any longer (to my knowledge) so it’s easier to walk away without feeling guilty that you are letting your guild down.

    SWTOR, intentionally did NOT incorporate these aspects to ensure interest from the widest possible audience and, judging from the initial numbers. it worked. Unfortunately, once people played through the storylines they were interested in, the left as there was very little to hold them.

    Just my opinion of course as I have no empirical data to back it up but I’ve thought a lot about why WoW, Eve and, to a lesser extent pre-NGE Galaxies have been as successful about keeping players coming back as they have.

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  6. dsj

    Why is it they had to go extended universe in the first place? Why is it that Galaxies had no Jedi at launch? —- Because Lucas wanted it that way. There are plenty of books that go beyond the last movie but with the games and or new media Lucas has made sure that you can’t produce anything showing events after Return of the Jedi. All of these games have suffered IMO because of the restrictions that Lucas has placed on the development of the IP. Because of the restriction essentially everything gets a “watered down” treatment and comes out looking like a pale shadow compared to what your imaginations pictures it should be after watching the films. Is there a single thing you can find in SWTOR that you don’t think of as having a better example from the movies in artwork. The reason they played up the voice acting is because it was one area that would actually hold it own in comparisons — not with other games but with the memorable parts of the IP.

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  7. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    I do not disagree with comments so far, but I still contend that if you can’t come up with half a dozen recognizable characters from the game lore that players would recognize… and I can do that for WoW, EQ, EQ2, LOTRO, and (almost) Rift (Faceless man!)… then your lore hasn’t helped you, hasn’t create the bond with the game, that it should have.

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  8. tms

    If you’re going to use the “faceless man”, could you not content that the classes themselves are recognizable enough after the new trilogy? Everyone knows what a Jedi (2 classes), Sith (2 classes), Smuggler, Bounty Hunter and Clone Trooper are.

    You could even make the argument that Imperial Agent isn’t far from the Imperial Officers you see walking around.

    Do you really need to see Chewy or is a Wookie good enough?

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  9. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @tms – The Faceless Man is a specific NPC that is part of the Defiant storyline and is, as far as I can tell, only really faceless because he wears a big freaking helm. But that makes him an individual. I am not sure how that equates to classes.

    And no, classes are not enough in my opinion. If you walk away from the lore and all you can do is identify a generic bounty hunter… and the implication there is that all bounty hunters are alike… then the lore hasn’t delivered anything.

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  10. tms

    @ WA – Sorry, I’m not familiar with Rift but, since I don’t believe that it had any canon before the game (again, I could be wrong), I was assuming you were taking about “faceless men” (usually assassins and most recently from “A Song of ICE and Fire by GAA Martin) that have appeared in more general fantasy and, as such, was a generalized character.

    I stand corrected.

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  11. tms

    @WA – Sure not the same, but it’s a good song!

    Sorry… we’re hijacking your thread! LOL!

    /Jedi Mind Trick – Nothing to see here, move along, move along!

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  12. bhagpuss

    What, “White Wedding”?

    As for TOR it was the very fact that it has Star Wars in the title that led to me not even trying it at open beta. Which era they picked would not have changed that. Although I have played both SWG and Clone Wars…

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  13. Rohan

    I do not disagree with comments so far, but I still contend that if you can’t come up with half a dozen recognizable characters from the game lore that players would recognize… and I can do that for WoW, EQ, EQ2, LOTRO, and (almost) Rift (Faceless man!)… then your lore hasn’t helped you, hasn’t create the bond with the game, that it should have.

    Darth Malgus, Rikus Kilran, Satele Shan.

    Now, admittedly the remaining memorable characters tend to be in class-specific storylines, so they aren’t shared across the entire playerbase. But each storyline has characters that *every* member of that class would recognize and enthuse over.

    But maybe that proves your point. In SWTOR, you bond with the universe revealed in your class storyline, not the universe as a whole.

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  14. Aufero

    Hmm – half a dozen? I stopped playing SWTOR a couple of months back, (and I haven’t played the single player games that preceded it in years) so that’s a decent test at this point. Let’s see how many I can come up with off the top of my head: (minor spoilers)

    Bastila Shan: Still around in the game, as a sort of tech-force ghost. Gives advice on several occasions in the Consular storyline.

    Revan: Central character of the first single player game, one of the better storyline plot points in the MMO.

    HK-47: Everyone’s favorite droid from the first two games, constantly rumored to show up “soon” as a companion in the MMO.

    Darth Malak: Villain from the first game, no sign of returning.

    Kreia: Villain from the second game, (and one of the few decent villain characters in the expanded Star Wars universe) also no sign of returning.

    Satele Shan: Jedi moralist. Basically an excuse to have a living female lore character voiced by Jennifer Hale. Memorable mostly because she gets so much time in both of the Jedi storylines.

    Darth What’s-His-Face: Clearly intended as the most memorable leader on the Sith side in the MMO, utterly fails in that role. Let’s not count him.

    the Sith Emperor: So many story lines revolve around this nutbar that it would be tough to forget him.

    There are a few others I recall without consulting a reference source, (Like Carth Onasi, world’s most boring love interest for female protagonists in the original game) but they aren’t central to the game’s lore. Most of those are from the single player games, and a couple of them get next to no mention in the MMO lore, but I’d guess more than half the game’s players would recognize any of them without prompting.

    I don’t think game lore was the problem.

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  15. Yeebo

    I think Mr. Meh nailed it. Regardless of where/ when the game was set, I don’t think any MMO could have prospered in the face of the baffling ineptitude that Bioware has displayed. Bioware took way way too long to merge servers, forcing many players to play in ghost towns for months. There has been practically no new content in the nine months the game has been live. The last major bit of content they did push out was only available to players for a week (?!?), and barely advertised at all.

    I enjoy SWTOR, but I don’t think I’ve seen an MMO so poorly managed since I played WAR.

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  16. Pendan

    Having never played a KotRO game or read much of the history lore of the universe, the thing that struck me in the beta of SWtoR was how similar the technology is between the two times. 4000 year earlier and they still had the same giant triangle space ships, hover bikes, and jedi fight with the same light sabers. Was any technolgy progress made in the 4000 years?

    This made me skim over the history of the Star Wars Universe only to find the same story is repeated over and over with the Sith getting beaten back only to rise again. Boring loop.

    I did see one interesting piece of history that I think would be the best time setting for a game with something new. It comes after the movie time when an anti-technology, living weapon race attacks.

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  17. Carson

    World SWTOR have been better, more popular, or longer lasting had it been framed in the lore of the movies? It might have actually been worse. Everything about the game mechanics (raids, gear grinds, tank/heals/DPS) was SO un-Star-Wars-like and making the setting more in-your-face Star Wars might have made that even more obvious.

    With the Old Republic setting it was probably a lot easier to ignore this and just play it as a traditional EQ/WoW-lineage MMORPG in space.

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  18. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Carson – Interesting point of view, and I don’t doubt it has a ring of truth to it.

    @Pendan – For me, I kind of think the post-movies, Heir to the Empire, Grand Admiral Thrawn war would be a nice place for a game. Strategically, the rump empire and the new republic were on pretty equal terms, there were some big and recognizable names and places, and yet the is little enough written that there is room to make up the lore needed to support a game.

    Just a thought.

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  19. saucelah

    While I’m not much of a Star Wars book or comic person these days, I’m pretty sure there were Old Republic based comics that were not just marketing tools for the game, and since Lucas Arts has tried to keep lore consistent since around the early 90s, Bioware did have some constraints with this Old Republic game that didn’t exist with the previous two.

    That said, there is one series of Star Wars comics I read in recent years that I highly recommend as being the best thing to happen to the Star Wars universe since Return of the Jedi. Had it been the setting of SWTOR, I would have played even if it was basically the same game.

    The Star Wars Legacy comics, and the follow up Legacy–War comics, take place over a century after RotJ and are enthralling. And there’s even three factions. Good stuff.

    Luke’s ghost appears in the comics, so familiar characters or their, um, legacies or descendants could have appeared in the world. And I tend to think sequels are more interesting than prequels.

    Of course the answer to your question is: who knows? But I have a feeling, even if it takes 50 years, we have not seen the last Star Wars MMO.

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  20. saucelah

    Oh just saw your mention of the Zahn trilogy. Let me rephrase: Star Wars Legacy was the best thing since those books. They were good, certainly better than what George Lucas gave us later.

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  21. morgs

    Well lore wise it would be better if any of the characters where memorable. After levling I can’t name a single one…

    For wow I recall the main characters names…

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  22. Aufero

    @morgs – Out of curiosity, did you play any of the single player games? I’m wondering if the SWTOR lore was more memorable if you got all the callouts to KOTOR.

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  23. Anonymous

    i belive that picture was made buy george lucas as a present for james camron for when he made the film titanic

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