I remember the day I finally threw in the towel playing Star Wars Galaxies. As a Star Wars fan fresh out of college in 2004 and new to the MMO genre, I began playing the game on the Eclipse server some time after the Combat Upgrade went live -and remained a player until well after the sheer devastation that was NGE *spits* obliterated the game -that devastating train wreck that left the player community bleeding out on an operating table. (If you were not a part of it, NGE is by far the worst thing to happen to any MMO in the history of MMORPG’s. I won’t detail the experience here, but the discourse remains readily available all over the internet for you to find yourself if you just go looking for it. People remain angry about it to this day).
Until that moment, I had loved every minute playing SWG. I was a proud cantina rat, spending easily far more hours hanging out in the Mos Eisley cantina with the dancers and other casual/social players than I should have. Still, I found time to squeeze in piloting both on the Imperial and Rebel sides, space mining, collecting and gearing out ships, and hanging out in Deep Space where all the nastiest dogfights were happening. To this day I still remember the joy of successfully systematically disabling and destroying a Corellian Corvette without assistance.
I trained in bounty hunting, ranging, pike wielding, and experimented with the various crafting professions like bioengineering, shipwrighting, droid engineering and armorsmithing. The Star Wars universe was so much more than being a Jedi! I spent untold hours searching for spots to set down my player housing, and then countless more decorating the interiors. I surveyed, planted harvesters and gathered materials copiously. I grouped up with friends and ran the dungeons. I built a jetpack out of pieces I acquired all over the place and raced around on my barc speeder finding points of interest. I played the market, making countless credits and losing them again. I even tried my hand at RP with Versatti and Imperial High Command (IHC). SWG was glorious! I loved every minute of it.
After NGE rocked the game, after all that time investment building my legacy, making friends and pursuing experiencing the game to its fullest, I eventually found myself alone. The game was a shell of its former self, and my group of friends had gradually fallen apart as a result of a sudden mass exodus followed by a slow but unstoppable social bleed. One night I realized that I just wasn’t having fun any more, and the time had finally come for me to make an exit of my own.
I am sharing this story because I want the SWTOR player community to know that I am intimately acquainted with what it means to invest incalculable time and effort in a persistent online world, acquiring things, achieving things and building relationships, only to have it all destroyed overnight by the company that runs the game. I have been there. Trust me, I know how it feels.
Now that I am heavily entrenched in SWTOR all these years later and have augmented my player experience with streaming, blogging and podcasting about the new game I love, I have found myself accused a time or two of being too positive about it. On one hand I want to assure my audience that I am sober-minded and that -trust me on this- KotFE is no NGE. But on the other, I do see certain similarities and can identify with those who are unhappy about the change in direction. Not everyone likes change, and sudden and drastic change in a game’s direction is hard for many to take. Still, I committed myself to being easy-going and constructive even at the worst of times, and I have been hanging on in hope, choosing to focus on the positive and not the negative, shifting direction with the game, and withholding my judgement until after having at least experienced the new product. In some ways I am very impressed. In others I am dismayed. But I have seen an MMO go to hell, and trust me, SWTOR just isn’t there yet.
The truth is, KotFE does represent a new and very different direction for SWTOR. To deny that is to be unrealistic. I still maintain my belief that new operations are on the not-so-distant horizon despite the doubtfulness and sometimes open mockery of others. Yes, we have heard a great deal of salty discourse from hardcore raiders of late while story players are enjoying their time in the sun, but I believe that sort of thing to be cyclical. I am not a hardcore raider by any means, and so I suppose it would be easy for a hardcore raider to tell me I don’t know how it feels to be left behind as a game changes direction. But by what I have outlined above, let me assure you I do!
Let me also say that I myself have been affected personally by the recent changes in SWTOR’s direction. I am no hardcore raider and I am certainly no hardcore PVP’er, but there are other modes of game play that don’t see much publicity that have changed too -modes of game play that I have enjoyed personally, and I want my friends to know that I have experienced some sting in the changes too.
For one, I like exploration. I have always marvelled at SWTOR’s environmental design and have tried to take it all in, from the tranquil peace and meditative atmosphere of Tython to the tumult, fear and oppression that seem to hang heavily in the air on Oricon. I have enjoyed the sheer vastness and emptiness of Hoth’s endless snowdrifts and the fresh, crisp mountain air of Alderaan. I have enjoyed the opulence and decadence of Zakuul’s architecture, the deep, sprawling, slummy-and-yet-strangly-technical undercity of Nar Shaddaa, and the ever-mysterious depths of Belsavis. I have burned my feet on Tatooine’s hot desert sands and have cooled my feet in the refreshing waters of Rishi’s archipelagos. In-game cartography has been a passion of mine and I have lost much of it of late to instanced play and to small worlds the likes of Yavin IV, Oricon, and Ziost where exploration tends to have been set on the back-burner. These worlds are beautiful and wonderful in their own way, to be sure, but they don’t measure up to the sheer gargantuan vastness of Hoth, Tatooine and Alderaan, ripe for hours of exploration.
I also love platforming and puzzle-solving and have enjoyed countless, often-frustrating hours pursuing datacrons all over the galaxy. I must have spent days on the Imperial side of Nar Shaddaa not to mention the very many retries making up for mistakes and miscalculations pursuing those on Makeb and Corellia. Finding those datacrons has been a passion of mine. But after Makeb, datacrons are a thing of the past. And while many saw it as a welcome and long-awaited perk, the opening of datacrons to the entire legacy represented a certain loss to me -a granting of the perks of putting in the effort to everyone who happened to have run them on just one character. It was the devaluation of a facet of SWTOR that I enjoyed as it was.
Until now I have spent my blogging effort trying to understand the complexity of game development in light of market forces and company politics. I have defended BioWare where I have felt they should be defended, and I have criticized them (I hope fairly and accurately) where I have felt criticism is due. I have made an effort to be positive and constructive even if some think me foolish and blind for it, and I have avoided exposing my own sense of loss that has come about as a result of the new direction of SWTOR not because I am a mindless BioWare cheerleader, but because I find very little value in participating in the echo-chamber of negativity. But I also want my audience -particularly my detractors- to know that my certain sense of loss is there too, and like many I choose to continue my involvement in SWTOR despite it, focusing on what has been gained rather than on what has been lost. Yes, I would like to see a return to some of the things I have enjoyed. But if they are no more, I have decided that I will give finding new things to enjoy about SWTOR a fair shot. And, ultimately, if I can find none or if my friends have all moved on, I will move on too. I have done it before.