It's becoming increasingly apparent to me that initial reactions to SW:TOR can be sorted into two camps: those who want to experience a good story, and those who want to play a good game. Now, I'm not saying the reactions are black and white - more of a slide scale really - but that where story falls on an individuals' priority scale is a good indication of how they're going to feel about the game.
There are a whole lot of parts to any video game, but if we're taking a huge, convenient meat cleaver, we could cut them down the middle and have "game items" on one side and "story artifacts" on the other. Most of the time, it's pretty obvious what goes where. Talent trees? Game stuff. Conversation options? Story ingredients. It gets murkier when you dive in deep, but let's keep things simple for the sake of this article. Two camps. Sliding scale of importance to the gamer.
For some gamers, a lack of innovation in button pressing is totally a - excuse the phrase - game-breaker. For others (present writer included), the nostalgia-inducing controls are more comforting than upsetting. It sort of lets us get the "game" stuff out of the way and focus on the unique aspects of the story and world.
This isn't to say that one is more important that the other. It's completely personal opinion. In fact, in that spirit, I want to like a recent article from Gordon at We Fly Spitfires. He's explaining his views on the staying power of the new game, and I think he does a great job of laying out his concerns... I just don't agree.
Well, that's not entirely true. I agree that there is a certain slice of gamers out there that will probably grow bored of TOR after several months. I think there are a good number of people that will find its not a flat out "revolution" in MMO gaming (and, let's be honest, it's not. It borrows a lot, and does a lot well, but it's not re-inventing the genre, though I do think it raised the bar significantly in some areas). But Gordon specifically states that he doesn't believe the game will earn its creators "stupid amounts of money," mostly citing lack of player retention as the reason.
To be fair, he's in good company with this opinion. I've seen it uttered - and well backed up - elsewhere. Yet, I feel like a most of those articles are only written from the point of view of a "gaming" gamer. I'm not ashamed to call myself more of a "story" gamer. I don't need or crave innovative controls or mechanics to deeply appreciate a game. I need one thing: a good ride. A solid story. Something to draw me away from reality for a bit and let me escape. And I think escapism is something TOR has in spades.
Having stuck with WoW for 5 years (and counting), it is not the revolutionary mechanical changes and improvements that keep me logging in. It's not really the story either. Rather, it's my feeling of investiture in my character and my guild; I don't want to abandon my warlock. I would argue that getting a gamer to invest in their character is the single biggest hurdle new games face when we're talking about retention, and that's something TOR does very, very well.
But, again, I'm biased. I'm totally willing to overlook a lot of the mechanical flaws. It's a great ride. I'm investing more with every hour logged in, with every cutscene, with every dialog option. I'm a Story Gamer. Gaming gamers are totally right to feel contrary. They prioritize differently.
Having made this case, I would extend my argument by asking how many folks do you think exist in each group? Are gaming gamers going to carry the day? Do story gamers represent a significant enough portion of the gaming world?
I think, personally, that there are more story gamers than gaming gamers these days. There are more people willing to forgive mechanics in the face of a story that pulls them in. And new gamers are being created daily by this new niche. WoW, when it came out, didn't just nab all of the existing gamers and call it a day. They went after new and untapped slices of humanity. They created a playerbase instead of just stealing one. They re-sized the meat pie and claimed the Lord's share. I can't help but think TOR is going to do a bit of the same. They have two trump cards: a great story and, yes, the Star Wars brand name.
Blizzard may be more recognizable to gamers, but Star Wars is more recognizable to pretty much everyone else. I have relatives who still have trouble finding a power button a computer, much less have considered any product from Blizzard. Yet, you better believe they've seen Star Wars. Or at least they're aware of it. How many Americans do you think exist out there that don't know what a lightsaber is? They may only be able to mumble something about "Luke Starhammer" or something, but I think it's pretty ubiquitous in the way only Hollywood culture can be. Will all of those people try out a Star Wars game? Hell no. But you better believe some of them will. Some that never considered trying World of Warcraft (though the table has undeniably been set by the mainstream success of WoW).
Still, I'm straying somewhat from the topic of retention. Even if new players are created and assimilated, will they stick around? Will there be anything for any of us to do in 3 months? A lot of that depends on BioWare and EA. They'll be hard pressed, I think, to keep up with the living behemoth that is a successful MMO. There will have to be content additions, and bug squashings, and server tweakings. But if they can, the money will pile up like snow on Hoth. If you have any doubts, just give George Lucas a call. I mean, Star Wars fans will pay for Jar Jar Binks (and complain about it, but pay we did). BioWare has to only do slightly better than freaking Jar Jar.
I guess I'm just saying: don't underestimate the power of the Dark Side.
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