I have to apologize for the ridiculously terrible featured image I made for this article. How else was I supposed to combine salt, coffee and SWTOR in one image? You try it! But, I digress…
One of the SWTOR player community’s buzzwords right now is the word “salty”, used as of late to describe the average veteran player’s depressed attitude toward SWTOR and its future. I heard the word first used to describe the sentiment on Bad Feeling Podcast, though I’m not sure if that’s where it originated. For fans of repeatable group content, it makes sense in light of Bioware’s recent heavy shift toward single-player story and away from activities that build and reinforce community. Sadly, the momentum in this regard has built up to the point where even some steps I have seen on Bioware’s part (that I personally consider to be in the right direction) have been met with derision and scorn.
I want to begin this post by acknowledging and affirming the greater sentiment of the veteran player community, many of whom are players like myself who have played the game since launch. However, for purposes of this post, I would like to challenge the chosen attitude and explain why I believe being overly “salty” is not only counterproductive, but even harmful to what we as the player community are currently trying to achieve.
Please read what I have just said carefully. I am not challenging what we are trying to achieve; I am challenging how we are going about it.
To begin, I encourage a certain amount of salt where salt is necessary. I am always for critical thinking, and in this ongoing relationship between ourselves as players/subscribers and Bioware as the company developing and supporting the game we all love and invest endless hours playing, there are bound to be issues that arise from time to time that warrant some critical attention. This situation is not the first challenge we have encountered over the last four years, and it certainly will not be the last. Yet I believe we choose our attitudes, and in this long-term commitment to this ongoing partnership that is SWTOR, my own personal wish is to see critical review conducted in a patient, helpful, and positive spirit.
To explain, Star Wars mania has officially begun with the release of The Force Awakens, and with it comes an influx of new players, many of whom are experiencing SWTOR for the first time. Of that number, the few who will dig in as we have and will commit to the game long term are seeking out the player community on the official forums, the podcasts, Twitter, the blogs and the SWTOR subreddit. My fear is that they will become discouraged at the general discourse as it is right now, and will decide to move on to a more positive culture (I have heard Final Fantasy XIV mentioned a lot in contrast these days). I cannot even begin to describe what a loss this situation would be for us as a player community. Not only would the playerbase shrink as a result, but the slowed revenue stream might ultimately end up threatening the game.
“So what?” you might ask. Well let me flesh it out: I believe that in proliferating a poor attitude, we have launched a double-pronged attack not on Bioware but against ourselves as a player community. First, disgruntled players quit. We all know that. We also know that disgruntled players rarely go quietly. So my concern is that new players who are exposed to disgruntled players’ venting will either learn to be disgruntled themselves or they will decide not to invest. We as a player community do not benefit from having fewer end-game players, and we have complained so far about the lack of new operations and PVP maps driving existing players off. It is therefore counterproductive to compound the retention problem further by having our own hand in driving new players off. Bioware is hurting player retention enough on their own; it would be a tragedy to see the player community playing its own role in hurting retention.
Second, while “voting with our wallets” by cancelling subscriptions en masse is certainly a viable, legal, free-market way to express displeasure with a company, it also threatens unintended consequences. Bioware is, after all, a business -a subsidiary of Electronic Arts– and it needs to make money. Less revenue means one of two things: (1) If Bioware gets to retain and reinvest its earned revenue, it will have less revenue to reinvest. Less revenue to reinvest means fewer developers, and fewer developers means management will have to prioritize where they assign their human resources. Since Bioware’s market niche is epic storytelling, they will no doubt double down on what they believe is their competitive advantage, and repeatable, end-game group content will only be further neglected. (Could this be how we ended up here to begin with?) Our actions are therefore counterproductive. Or, (2) if Bioware sends all of its income to EA’s coffers and receives every fiscal year a limited budget with which to work, the player community is punishing not Bioware, but EA (which may actually be more appropriate in this case because Bioware will only have been trying to make do with what little resources they have had at their disposal). Bioware’s budget will not change and they will be shielded somewhat from the financial consequences of waning subscribership. However, on the books it will look like SWTOR is just not generating enough revenue and EA might eventually decide to discontinue SWTOR altogether.
In my opinion, the second option is more likely to be the reality, so while I believe each player is free to express displeasure by voting with his or her wallet, I am not sure punishing Bioware/EA financially is the solution. So what then is the best strategy for pushing for change? That is the million-dollar question.
At this juncture, let me reference a recent Force Feedback submission to Ootinicast (from episode 244) from ElionD of the Epic Guild on the Shadowlands server, posted here with permission from Teo.
I could not agree more with ElionD’s so very well-articulated argument. Our attitudes are entirely our choice, so my suggestion is for us to begin with checking our attitudes. Please don’t misunderstand. I am in no way arguing we should cease emphasizing to Bioware that community is the defining characteristic of MMORPG gaming and that it needs to be reinforced vehemently in all aspects of MMO life. But I am arguing that we as a player community have a hand in defining and building our community too -and to date I feel our “salty” attitude is only further harming it.
Instead of saltiness I would advocate openness and honesty, smart arguments based on facts wherever possible, and, most importantly, patience. SWTOR is a marathon -a persistent Star Wars universe- and as long as it is generating its revenue it will continue for a while. If you find the game feels dry right now, scale back your time investment, make a polite plea or argument on the forums in good spirit and in good faith, and be patient. New operations will come back to the game at some point, I promise. If you can afford to keep paying the $15 per month while admittedly doing less, figure out how you can communicate with metrics: Raid log for now and take a break from story grinding with a view to invest more time once new group content is published. Actions in-game translate to analytics and metrics, and the metrics are Bioware’s primary go-to source for decision information. Consider carefully how what you are doing comes across in metrics, and fine-tune your actions to argue your case for you.
I love SWTOR just as much as any of you. Like you, I have invested the last four years in SWTOR, and I want to see it flourish. So for now let’s keep our chins up, let’s all partner with Bioware in helping make this a great game, let’s all forgive me for my terrible featured graphics, and may the Force serve us all.
Tags: Analytics Attitude Bad Feeling Podcast Critical Review Critical Thinking EA Electronic Arts ElionD End-Game Content Final Fantasy XIV Forums Metrics Ootinicast Ootinicast Episode 244 Operations Podcasts PVP Reddit Repeatable content Salt Salty Subreddit SWTORFamily the force awakens Twitter