SWTOR Knights of The Fallen Empire Details

You’ve got to love E3 and the lead-up to it. BioWare have not surprisingly been busy behind the scenes working on the next large expansion for SWTOR and they’ve unveiled it in a big way to coincide with E3.

First, the trailer:

For mine, this is easily the best trailer for the game since Hope back in 2010.

Other details we know so far:

1. Release date is October 27th, free for all SWTOR subscribers. Subscribers will also get up to 7 days early access.

2. You can become The Outlander, starting the story at Level 60. You can also play your class storyline throughout. The new level cap is 65.

3. Subscribers get a bunch of rewards including Nico Okarr as a companion. He’s the guy you met in the Hope trailer. They also get a 12 times XP boost until early access starts October 19th for levelling between 1 and 50.

4. Eleven story chapters come with the expansion, with five on the way after that.

Check out the official Knights of the Fallen Empire sub-site for more details.

Over to you: do you think this expansion looks to be one of the more promising ones? What do you think about the more single-player approach this seems to be? Others are already saying it’s KOTOR 3. Would love to hear your thoughts.

Conjecture on Future of SWTOR


A reproduction of this Reddit post claiming to be inside knowledge of what’s happening over the next couple of years in SWTOR. Fantasy or fact – you decide:

Star Wars: Prelude to Darkness

A bunch of us ended up being privy to some meetings that were meant to be kept secret from us, so I should be safe and anonymous enough to share this information. I’m only doing this because I love this game and I think the plans to keep all of this secret until the last moment are only to the game’s detriment. I’m not actually a super lore-nerd, so I might miscommunicate some of what I heard—I tried SO hard to get this accurate and to remember as best as I could for you guys.

  1. EA and Disney have a brilliant plan for SWTOR. It will be upgraded to canon in the next expansion and will have some subtle tie-ins with Star Wars 7. (Specifically, a certain planet will be used and lord Vitiate will be an off-screen influence on the main villain of 7). The first step, although it won’t be obvious how, to SWTOR’s ending has begun in Forged Alliances.
  2. The storyline for SWTOR is going to end in about 3.5 years, and the sequel is already in development. These next 3 years are going to see an increase in funding as the game is brought back in line with initial expectations. There is a fun plan to let SWTOR run for as long as players want it to, with dynamic and scaling end-game content, but focus will shift to SWTOR 2. It will run on the Cryengine 3 Frostbite 3 (sorry I was excited and they look similar to me), so your first preview of how the game might look/run will be Dragon Age 3 later this year.
  3. The personal stories of SWTOR will continue in the next major Xpac, and they will each have an “ending”. YOUR character from SWTOR will appear in the as-yet-unnamed SWTOR 2 in various forms. Force Ghosts, holocrons, etc. As of right now, only one class appears to be able to survive until SWTOR 2 (Sith Inquisitor), but that might change. These will use your appearance settings and dialogue based on the actions you chose in the game. I will detail what I could gather about the plot later on in this post.
  4. There will be a newgame+ option added to SWTOR, some big bonuses for players who use it, and some major tweaks to the leveling experience and early planets. For example, coroscant lets you turn in most quests via holocalls rather than walking back. Newgame+ will be important as some characters that were not previously able to will become companions if certain story options are taken, and same gender romance will be added. It appears LucasArts was the one behind not allowing them in the first place. There will be some hefty rewards and updates to the original game that make going through newgame+ for that new companion romance feel less painful if you don’t want to. For example, a “rocket boots” type move for each class that is specific to each class (SI get to ride the lightning), and a class specific mount granted at level 15, that upgrades to a better appearance at level 30.
  5. The engine will be heavily revamped, and with the expansion, the game will be brought to consoles as a buy-to-play title with a cartel market. The goal will be to revamp all existing game systems so that everything fits nicely into place as one coherent whole game.
  6. New species—Torgruta, some other ugly thing

Gameplay/expansion features:

-Most level 60 content will involve cross-faction queues, when story appropriate.

-There will be some cross-faction planets where you can work cooperatively with the other faction. On PVP servers, you can flag yourselves PvP on these planets anyway.

-New action mode that allows mouselook and changes some of your move to macros to reduce your number of keybinds.

-Can use appearance changer on most companions, including species change.

-Same sex romance for most companions, including a few new romance options (Jaesa Lightside is one)

The Ending of SWTOR:

-Lord Vitiate has regained his power for the most part. His 300 year link to Revan allowed him to subsume Revan at the end of Foundry. (The two are now one, mostly integrated personality, although both sides will have chances to flash to the forefront). He has also been able to absorb power from the “deaths” of many powerful force users. (Spoilers: Darth Thanaton, for example, and Lord Baras if you’re on a Sith Warrior who didn’t spare him, same thing for Syo Bakarn and many other characters, Jadus, etc. You kill a lot of powerful Sith, and apparently the Emperor had their essences on tap. Choosing to spare various Sith will make Vitiate a bit weaker for your account).

-Vitiate has assembled a host of what are basically all the enemies that have been fought in SWTOR—Directive 7, some dread stuff, some cosmic horrors. Not all of them realize they are directly controlled by him, instead acting as puppets, but they serve his purposes.

-NEW CLASS STORIES: Each of the 8 characters will take on a major role in opposing Vitiate’s new attempt to absorb all life in the galaxy and become a God. Interesting, many characters and companions will appear in each other’s stories, and will make the dialogue choices that your character would based on LS/DS alignment. Some combinations will even have flirt options and such, which is fun, and some dialogue options will change based on how your characters are placed on the family tree (for example, rude options chosen if they are a rival, some indication of family/alliances/relationships between others. No, you wont be able to flirt with family, even if this is star wars).

Story spoilers:

The planetary story arcs will all deal with differing elements of fighting Vitiate and what he is doing. Many planets will be returned to for new level 55+ content

Korriban and Tython are important because Vitiate gets some powers from these planets, and some ancient droids/force-weapons.

-IA story will deal with infiltrating elements of the Republic AND Sith fleet that have been secretly taken over by the Emperor. A long series of manipulations will lead to the two sides of Vitiate’s stolen fleet fighting one another while the IA assassinates most of the leaders of Vitiate’s Navy.

-The JK storyline will be very dark, with one companion being forced back into Vitiate’s sway at intervals. The Emperor will also be closely connected to you, and try to take over your mind at times. This will lead to the Jedi Council trying to reign you in and keep you from going on missions—forcing the JK to ask mostly without the support of the Jedi or Republic. The JK will attempt to assassinate Vitiate and fail, losing a companion’s life. There will actually be a branching story where the JK can turn to the dark side if he is not already, or gain enhanced DS power. At least one companion will turn with you. The JK will then focus on defense—using powerful force artifacts to create barriers to Vitiate’s attempts to drain all life from the universe. These arcs will be assaulted by the most powerful enemies Vitiate can muster, and it will be the JK’s job to defend them. Vitiate WILL get to begin his ritual, and it will be the Jedi Knights job to protect the primary Arc—located on coroscant. Lightside choices allow the Jedi Knight to sacrifice themselves—they become a force ghost that can still take corporeal form. The Dark Side choice allows the arc to be destroyed instead, but the JK gains access to powerful dark-side alternative visuals for some moves.

-The Sith Inquisitor will hunt down various artifacts, force-users, and even some ghosts that are aiding Vitiate’s power. The SI will have no choice but to take this power for themselves, leading to visions that show the SI taking Vitiate’s place as sort of God. As the story progresses and Darth Marr is killed, you take over leadership of the Empire. You have multiple options to waste resources by attacking the Republic to your own benefit, or could allow for an alliance that leads to Vitiate’s destruction. The SI gets an option to take Vitiate’s place and become a cosmic force entitity—killing all those that Vitiate would kill, but taking the power for themselves instead. The SI passes off this choice to others by saying Vitiate did it.

-The Consular will lead the Jedi Council’s efforts in the war. You can make peace with the Empire or launch several surprise attacks and take some of the Empire’s forces for yourself. You will focus mostly on macro level conflicts, and getting all the chess pieces in place for the final assault on Vitiate. You will have the option to destroy Korriban.

-The Bounty Hunter is the one who actually gets to kill Vitiate as he is in the middle of his Dark Side ritual. Building up to this point, you get to assassinate a HUGE amount of important characters in both the Empire and The Republic—anyone standing in the way of destroying Vitiate efficiently and effectively will be eliminated by you. The Voss will aid the BH in becoming resistant to force attacks prior to the showdown with the Emperor.

-The Sith Warrior gets the option to play in support of Vitiate, however, at the end of the story, he betrays and attempts to kill you, so you don’t actually get to help him fully destroy the Universe. There are some arguing internally for non-canon endings to allow some stuff like this. Basically, you will be wrapped up in the Emperor’s Orders and organization, and have the LS options to betray him as much as possible, at some cost to yourself, or the DS option to simply act as his hand. You will come under attack from MANY sides, including some aggressive attempts by the Sith Inquisitor and Bounty Hunter.

-The Smuggler will essentially serve as an evacuator, as many planets fall to Vitiate, you will extract essential personnel from both the Republic and the Empire—or just their information on how to defeat him. Helping a powerful light-side sith early on will get your ship the ability to ignore many of the force-barriers and powers Vitiate will use. You will get to save the lives of 2 of the other player characters at various points in the story and will get the option to have T7 join your crew. You will also seek out some of the parts and designs that allow the Arks that will resist Vitiate to be built, and be charged with some essential backups of information that will help rebuild the universe if all else fails.

-The Republic Trooper—this one is a bit confusing. The trooper is sent to help the Empire prepare for the attack, since the Republic learns of it first. The Sith Inquistor charges him with the defense of Korriban from one of Vitiate’s first attacks. The trooper gets multiple options to weaken the Empire, or keep their forces to help fight vitiate. Throughout the story, you basically earn the respect of Imperial Citizens, oppose and can even kill Sith Lords who seek personal power or craziness instead of fighting Vitiate, and you end up leading many combined forces of Imperial and Republic forces against Vitiate. Your character becomes the main reason the two sides can work together on the missions that are surprisingly successful against Vitiate, and which allow the other characters to conduct the business as they are. This character gets referenced in many of the planetary quests.

–So, basically, the way the story ends is that Lord Vitiate is about 25% successful with his plans. Most planets near the core experience significant loss of life, except for the ones that had force artifacts shielding them via some of the story lines, the ones that had some sort of protection via deception (IA gets a planet to pretend to be allied with Vit to protect it). The arcs are successful depending on light-side/dark-side options.

-Elder game content will involve rebuilding the galaxy, as the Republic and the Sith Empire have basically crumbled, and the galaxy will now be lawless.

-The final patch of the game will involve Warlords rising to power. This will be to set up the next Star Wars MMO, which will take place about 100 years later, in a time period where the Republic and Sith Empire do not exist as they do now. Players will instead choose between multiple factions that have various relationships with each other. The Republic will be a monarchy that exists mostly only on Coroscant with influence on few other worlds, but will be able to be partially restored as the next game progresses. The Sith forces will be divided into multiple factions.

-The coolest thing will be seeing YOUR character get imported into the next game. Some scenes will just be via recorded holos—such as the BH taking down Vitiate. But some of the characters will have a major role. The Sith Inquisitor character will remain alive and well due to absorbing Vitiate’s power, and will be a major player on at least one planet of the next MMO. The JK Force Ghost will be influential.

There’s so much more, but I’m tired from all this typing. Enjoy!

Haters Got To Hate



The Naked Gamer is a regular opinion column that strips back the superficialities and looks at the flesh underneath. If you’ve got a topic you’d like discussed, drop columnist Kris Green a line! If you like Kristy’s work, don’t forget she’s co-host of our Flash Point podcast.


The funny things about opinions, is that there are no right or wrong ones. This is why I label all my opinion posts very clearly. I am in no way thinking my opinion is the right one and I do constantly change them when new experiences and/or evidence becomes known to me. So I start off every opinion article with a big label which means everything below is purely based on my own thoughts and feelings at the time of publishing.

So with that in mind, one of my little pet hates at the moment is how quickly the internet twists words and meanings. Once upon a time, a noob was a derogatory term used to mean someone that thought they were awesome at a game but really sucked. A newb (short for newbie) was a new player. Now somehow a newb is no longer used and everyone just calls everyone noob no matter what they are (normally in a way of saying ‘go away’).

I feel the next term to go down the sink is ‘haters got to hate’. It isn’t exactly the best catchphrase in the history of the internet, but it used to mean when someone makes a negative comment for absolutely no reason. An example would be what I saw recently on the Rift twitter feed, when someone replied to one of their tweets with ‘I’m surprised this game is still around. Good job I guess.’ It’s like, really? really? You are tweeting on something you don’t care about just to show your utter disbelief that something you don’t care about it still around? What’s the point? How was that constructive?

The term used to be a way of blowing off someone’s opinion when that opinion was baseless. I can go around talking about everything I hate in the world but I don’t because it’s not constructive or useful. When I talk about things I don’t like, it’s because I want to talk about the reasons why I don’t like them.

Sadly now though, ‘haters got to hate’ really just means I don’t like your opinion and want to ignore it. Which in itself is fine. I don’t care or expect people to agree with me all the time. In fact I love it when someone comes to me and says they disagree and we can have a conversation about why. I find echo chambers to be frustrating and annoying, so please challenge me! I love changing my opinions, especially the negative ones.

I do offer this promise though. I am not going to change my opinion just because you believe I’m wrong. I promise that if you want to talk, I will listen and try my best to understand your position. I will not call you a hater just because you think I suck.

I always find it weird when I am labelled a hater just for having a different opinion. I’m not a hater – I hate hating things. I try and see the positive in everything but I also understand that I can write something which is 90% positive but the moment I get to the but section, it will be seen that I hate everything. We focus on the negatives and it’s really not a nice state to be in.

I spent years with terrible low self esteem. Not that I am loving myself completely now, and my ego still goes between nonexistent to low – but I am better. I know what it’s like to focus on the negative. I would cry after a performance review if my manager gave me even one piece of constructive criticism because that meant I sucked. It didn’t matter that they had spent 40 minutes praising me and only bought up one tiny thing.

This of course is an impossible state to live in. If we focus on our negative points all the time, then we will always be negative. If we focus on only improving the bad things about ourselves we will forget to celebrate the good. I remember when I first got into being active in gaming communities and got a regular section on a podcast. One guy came into the forums and just laid out a lot of crap things about my segment. Not that my bit was terrible, he was just a sound guy and well, my sound quality was crap. I knew then that I was ready to move forward when I listened to his advice, I removed all the bad things and just focused on the parts where I could improve. I couldn’t change my voice but I could change my equipment and I learnt a heap about sound recording.

I could have taken his words as ‘haters got to hate’, because let’s face it, he wasn’t actually being nice about my shortcomings. Instead, I focused on the positive things (even though they were unspoken) and worked with him to correct the negative. To this day I still use the advice he gave me to record podcasts, streams and videos.

Haters aren’t always hating for the sake of showing hatred. Sometimes we just need to look past our own defensive walls and see what is actually being said. If someone is just being a dick for the sake of it, then feel free to ignore it but just be careful about labelling people haters, because sometimes they are just people that passionately care.

I have experienced people hating on me for no reason that I can see or for other things like my perceived gender. I have also seen people hating on me because they are passionate about something or someone and I really love seeing that.

This world needs passionate people that are prepared to be seen negatively in order to improve our society. It is a fine line to walk and I am thankful for these people every day.

[This piece originally appeared on Kris’ own gaming blog]

SWTOR Player Housing: Like A Boss!

Now there's a nice place for a house.

Now there’s a nice place for a house.

Most of us need a place to call our own. Whether it’s decorated with works of art or discarded pizza boxes, a personal space is something many people are willing to spend time and money on. Player housing is no exception.

SWTOR has been missing such an amenity ever since its launch. For those of you who are yelling ‘your ship is player housing!’, let me just tell you why you are completely wrong, not to mention how you have completely misunderstood the concept.For a start, the game devs have admitted that any time a change on the player ships is required it makes them ‘cry’. Like a number of things in BW’s heavily modified (and in some respects broken) version of the Hero engine, making changes is tricky. The player ships are a particular issue because they have so many hooks for conversations and other aspects of progression. Changes cannot be made without risking the whole rat’s nest falling down around your ears. In fact you can only sit in chairs on your ship because it’s a frequently reset instance. If it wasn’t, you’d break the game and this is why sitting in the persistant world still can’t happen except as an emote.

‘But you can customise your ship,’ I hear the stupid cry out. No. No you can’t. You cannot truly customise your ship in any way – placing a training dummy does not count, so don’t waste your breath. In fact if that is what you understand ‘player housing’ to mean, you need to look at Rift, Wildstar and any number of games to educate yourself. Just as an example, in DCUO the player housing includes an ‘Armory’ that allows you to save and quickly switch between gear builds. Sound enticing?

With the introduction of SWTOR player housing, the team has wisely started fresh. No pre-existing knots to work through, no muss, no fuss. Finally the RP community gets a little love, finally (I hope) players get somewhere to meet up on Raid Thursday, or whatever your schedule is.

Also, everyone needs to remember that we DO NOT KNOW what the expansion will be, only that it will INCLUDE player housing. It’s highly unlikely that half a dozen apartment options is going to be the totality of it.

Sure, we could always complain that the SSHP (Super Secret Housing Project) uses resources that could otherwise be utilised to create more Ops, Flashpoints etc. But this is an MMO, which means its players have broad and divergent interests. You can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t try. What you should do is pick your battles. I, for one, think this battle is worth fighting.

Simon is a long-time senior contributor to The Oceanic Gamer and also has his own blog

Massively: Are They F2P Snobs?


This post originally appeared over at Simon’s blog – do yourself a favour and check it out.

As a serious journalist, such questions are anathema. However since I’m not a journalist or even entirely sane, let me respond to this post’s title by saying “Yes. Yes they are.”

So what do I mean by ‘snob’? Basically it’s someone who wants to hang out with society’s cream, while diminishing those they feel are inferior. In this case Massively appears to think that any game that is not subscription based is inferior because none of its feature columns are established F2P hybrids. There are two exceptions, but they don’t really count. One is a sporadic column on LotRO, penned by a staff writer. The other is Star Citizen (yes it has a form of subscription) which still has enough anticipation buzz to warrant the cost of coverage.

So why has the talented and always amiable Larry Everett had to put the Hyperspace Beacon in a brown cardboard box and move it to a new home? Well in my poorly researched opinion it is either a case of too few people clicking to it or (more likely) that they don’t want to give SWTOR the elevated level of coverage.

I can only, and will only, speculate on the reasons behind that, but as the title of this asserts I believe it to be snobbery. Somehow Massively feel it drags their site’s prestige and credibility down by covering a game that many feel (incorrectly) is a failed enterprise. Better to cover games that haven’t failed (because they haven’t been released) or games of modest success but possess great kudos in the community (EVE Online).

In the meantime the Hyperspace Beacon is alive and well at http://www.hyperspacebeacon.com/ – or follow everyones favorite wookie on twitter @shaddoe​

The good news is Larry still pens a column for Massively about the upcoming (sub based) Elder Scrolls Online.

SWTOR Predictions For 2013

SWTOR Predictions For 2013Now that I’ve done the walk of shame regarding my 2 out of 5 success rate with my 2012 SWTOR predictions, I thought it was worth drawing together some predictions for the coming year.

Aside from my handful of guesses, I’ve also got some gems from my colleague Simon, so let’s jump in.

David’s Predictions

1. A further restructure of the SWTOR team at BioWare will occur in the first six months of 2013

I don’t think the ructions are over at BioWare and I think we’ll see a bunch more changes in staffing. Not the usual churn of staff, something more formal. You never know, the F2P move may be successful enough to force the change as the team grows. Or it could be the reverse.

2. Rise of the Hutt Cartel will be critically successful and a moderate commercial success

There’s already a lot of conjecture over how substantial SWTOR’s first expansion will be, but I’m being optimistic that it warrants the cost and that Makeb as promised will be a bunch of new zones with plenty to occupy. Story-wise I’m expecting it to be seen as a success, with a bump in player numbers leading to some moderate commercial success as well.

3. There will be no guild ships during 2013

Sorry, can’t see it happening – as much as we’d all love it.

4. Loss of oceanic servers

At best I think we’ll end up with one local server but i won’t be surprised if we lose the lot. If ROTHC is successful that may prevent the closure, so here’s hoping.

5. More players than the month after launch

This time next year I think that SWTOR will still be around and will have more players than it did at its peak in the month of two after launch in December 2011. The new subscription model will have had a lot to do with it, but I’m hopeful the content updates and bug fixes will continue to be regular and establish SWTOR as a longer-term MMO in the space.

Simon’s Predictions

Hmm… my crystal Death Star (Mk 1) suggested the following before it blew a hole in the Alderaan poster on the opposite wall and frightened the neighbour’s cat so severely it experienced both explosive diarrhea and projectile vomiting at the same time (and you thought dianogas were bad):

1. Subscriber grumbling about having to pay anything for the Makeb expansion as soon as everyone emerges from their turkey coma.

2. Decent player retention from F2P with better than projected earnings from the Cartel Market. There will be no sub or player numbers mentioned in any future earnings call, needless to say (but that’s normal after a title goes F2P).

3. New maps for existing Warzones mid to late 2013 (just a hunch)

4. GLBT romance arcs will continue to be conveniently forgotten (ask all you like, they’ll never tell)

5. Gradual increase in quantity and quality of content within game updates as EA/BW see uptick in profitability and player-base stability, and confidence in the product’s future gradually strengthens.

6. I will have finally levelled a character up to 50 by Jan1 , 2013


Now over to you: do you agree with any of the above? Do you have your own predictions you’d like to share?

SWTOR 2012 Predictions Review

taris3I love this time of year when I get to look back over the past 12 months and slap myself at how wrong I was with last year’s predictions. Let’s not draw out the agony any further and have a look at what were hits and misses from my crystal ball:

The predictions:

Expansion 1 will be announced

This prediction’s a bit of an easy one in that I’m sure planning is already underway. It’ll probably be the second half of the year when the announcement is made, and there’ll probably be a new race. A new class seems less likely though.

Well I got this right at least – although only just with Rise Of The Hutt Cartel only announced last week.

The 3-million player mark will be hit in the first half of 2012

This is the biggest risk I’m taking in that the number could be well under or well over that, though I doubt it. That said I’m fairly confident this watermark will be reached by July 2012, and then it’ll be a much slower growth trajectory from then on.

I think I should just shake my head sadly and move on yes?

Sensationalist journalism will dig its teeth in

Around February/March expect the first run of stories on people claiming SWTOR has taken over their lives / eaten their children / forced their spouse to taser them to stop playing the game.

Another big miss here – mostly related to the growth issue i.e. unless SWTOR hits 3 or 4 million users the sensationalist media is unlikely to kick in with a story.

Plans for a TOR movie will be announced

Either based on one of the novels i.e. Revan, or key story lines in the game, there’ll be at the very least hints thrown out by LucasArts or even Bioware/EA on movie plans. With or without Justin Bieber as Revan.

I won’t be a con-man and claim the announcement of Star Wars Episodes 7-9 count for this prediction given they won’t be set in the Old Republic era.

Australia / New Zealand launch

I have to throw in a local prediction here. The launch events will be in March in Sydney and Auckland as the respective largest cities in each country. One of the Bioware ‘Doctors’ will come for the launch, along with whichever community rep and/or developer that wins the lottery for the working holiday Down Under. There will be no flash mobs in full Star Wars kit riding kangaroos and kiwis. Well definitely no kiwis, as that’d be cruel.

Got this one right on the money – and my prediction of no flash mobs was a sure-fire one once it became apparent how low-key the event was going to be, although we did get to sit down one-on-one with BioWare’s Gabe Amatangelo.


So a 2/5 score: I reckon even Nostradamus could have done better but there you go. It won’t stop us making further predictions for 2013 – watch this space.

Over to you now: looking back over the past year, did things in SWTOR pan out for you like you expected they would?

Oceanic Soap Box: Remembering The Fallen

I thought that this week, we’d get a little sentimental. It never hurts to take some time to remember lost comrades – and it applies in the MMO sphere as well. What prompted me was the announcement over the past week that City of Heroes will be closing.

It’s an MMO that’s been around since 2004 and like any game of that longevity, it has a devoted following. All too soon it’ll become one of those games that we remember we ‘used to play’.

So on that note, let’s talk about games that have closed / become no longer playable. For me a standout is Raid on Bungeling Bay on the Commodore 64. I got to play at once for around 20 minutes at my parent’s friend’s house and spent the weeks (and months) afterwards obsessing about it. I’d still love to give it a try although I’m pretty sure I’d find it disappointing now.

Which games do you miss most? It doesn’t matter whether it’s PC/Mac/Console/Handheld/Online – let us know what used to float your boat!

SWTOR: Grinding The Gears

There’s nothing so embarrassing as trying to go up a hill in the wrong gear. You can hear the engine struggle and have to endure the amused smiles from passengers in other cars as they bomb past you. Unless you are a complete idiot, you will change down gears.

This is clearly BioWare Austin’s revised philosophy as BioWare’s Executive Producer for Live Services, Jeff Hickman, has pointed out in a recent interview with Zam.com.  Lets face it, BW has become notorious for offering up big promises of things ‘coming soon’ but for the most part it’s been a bad case of over-promising and under-delivering. It look like this is changing – hopefully.

While his responses include the usual soft peddle and PR spin where he tries to paint the move of offering a F2P tier as a considered move that’s part of a larger strategy guided by keen observation of the market place (as opposed to the market pushing them towards a cliff), he also offers some interesting morsels that will appear to hint at better days to come for the struggling MMO.

The first thing to mention is that Jeff Hickman overall sounds like a man who wants to make things right. If that is reflective of the general attitude in Austin then good things might be about to happen. There had been fears expressed by some that EA/Bioware might just throw token resources at the game to keep it ticking over but not put any great effort into re-energising it. However it sounds, to me at least, that a shift in focus and attitude has occurred and with it some actual progress.

The six-week update schedule, if they stick to it, should be achievable especially since they’ve already got a significant amount of content mapped out and built ahead of time according to Daniel Erickson. DC Universe Online manages updates roughly every month, so lets consider this a likely eventuality.

Now, onto Space combat. While many are vocal about this being an irrelevant and seldom touched part of the game, recent figures indicate that it’s popular.  While Hickman confirmed that hard mode missions would be available, he was decidedly evasive about any other developments saying only that there was a dedicated space team working on ‘lots of interesting things’. Granted that smacks of ‘coming soon’ but in the overall context of the interview it sounds more substantial to me. Apropos of nothing? Maybe, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say I think this sounds promising.

Then of course we have the much derided Great Acquisition Race. While many found this frustrating and far too short-lived, Hickman said it was full of foreshadowing and hinted at where the story was headed. Again, this at least confirms that Makeb, as a class-generic zone isn’t all we have in store. There is more story to come and for many of us, that remains the main attraction of the game. Once again, it sounds hopeful.

Granted, there’s nothing rock-solid here and SWTOR has plummeted from keenly anticipated WoW killer to being written off as ‘a miss’ in the last EA earnings call. But this may be a blessing in disguise. Perhaps now that internal and external expectations have crashed, the game has a little breathing space to consolidate, reappraise and rebuild without the intense scrutiny and pressure. Perhaps there’s less need for the vague promises that gamers always assumed were directed at them but were merely coded messages to the stock market. Those messages caused most of us a lot of frustration and while I thought I was beyond believing or caring, this interview still leaves me oddly hopeful.

Even with so much else in the market right now, SWTOR can still turn things around. It will never have ten million subs but it can find its niche. SWTOR still has a lot to offer and under the right leadership there’s no reason it shouldn’t continue to develop and mature into a game with a substantial, stable player community. With luck it might even evolve into the game it was always intended to be before EA pushed it out of the womb prematurely.

[Image via Free Images Archive]

SWTOR: How many Cartel Coins to the Drachma?

Money. We all need it, we all use it. Without money we couldn’t get what we need, or more frequently what we merely desire. As we’ve all learnt over the past few years, the value of any currency bobs about like a dead Gungan in a fast flowing river, so what type of currency you get makes all the difference. What can you buy with it? Is it a silver dollar or a Zimbabwean dollar?

Which brings me to the bright and shiny new currency, Cartel Coins, that are part of BioWare’s new brand of bling to retain existing players and win back some of the jaded masses. By their own admission, they are struggling to keep people’s interest, either because players have become bored with the existing content, the game doesn’t play the way they want or offer the playstyle they like. Even worse, new games like Guild Wars 2 or upcoming expansions for existing games (WoW, Rift) are proving far more enticing.
The idea of rewarding those of us who are sticking with SWTOR with a rapidly increasing pile of virtual dosh is a good one and they’ve given us a rough idea of the sorts of things we can buy,  but they’ve given us no idea of our money pile’s relative value.

First of all, lets get a rough idea of how many coins you may have in your pocket when F2P and the new store finally hit. By my admittedly wonky math skills:

SWTOR goes free to play ‘this fall’, that being a period between Sept 22 and Dec 20. Pandaria comes out Sept 25. While I doubt BioWare are thinking that F2P can compete, they may still release it about the same time in order to reduce or mitigate churn. However it may be they wait until after this (perhaps for strategic reasons – or perhaps because they won’t be ready), but at a guess it would be late October when they can get a little more traction in the average gamer’s hummingbird attention span. After all, any uptick in numbers (F2P plus subbed players) they can get in the approach to and during the holiday season would be good news to report in the February Q3 2013 earnings call, since F2P subscriber numbers could be counted as forecastable income through micro-transaction earnings.

Back to my earlier point, assuming that you have been a paid subscriber  from Jan 20 2012 (after your free 30 days elapsed) through to say Oct 20 2012 you will have 150 coins per month up to Jul 31 (6×150=900) and 200 per month (3×200=900) after that, until F2P occurs (e.g. Oct 20). If you got the CE there’s an extra 1000. So what will 1800 (or 2800) cartel coins buy you? That’s the big unknown and the septic splinter in my dewback’s foot. Will it buy you a set of orange armour? Half a dozen stims? A vanity pet and a title? A mega awesome 200% mount or a 90% one that looks like a lawnmower and kicks you off whenever a level 10 trash mob gives you a dirty look? -cough- Grand Acquisition Race

Anyone who remembers the fine promises of the Collector’s Edition vendor will recall that not only did they never put anything new or interesting in there (EVER!), they actually took stuff out. Can BioWare be trusted? Not based on previous performance. I’d like to believe them, I’d like to trust them, but I can’t muster the strength anymore. In any case the entire premise is consistent with much of BioWare’s communication lately: broad promises with little detail. Perhaps by the one year anniversary we’ll all look back at the first turbulent year and smile knowing that all is now well and the worst is behind us. I’d like to think so.

To sum up, the real question is this: can something be an incentive when its value or worth is a complete mystery? Is this just a poorly defined carrot offered to those on the fence while the Devs and number crunchers scramble behind the scenes to work out how the hell this is all going to work? Or is this part of a considered strategy?

It’s an impossible question to answer, which is why I’m not going to try, but speculation is fun, it drives Reddit contributors insane and at the very least this is a matter that I think we all need to consider. If you are still playing the game and loving it, the cash donation of Cartel Coins is icing on a delicious cake. If the cake is starting to taste a little stale though, no amount of icing is going to help.

Oceanic Soap Box: Guild Wars 2 Eve

This week it’s a bit hard to ignore the huge MMO launch on our doorstep. Guild Wars 2 launches for some tomorrow afternoon, and for the rest three days after that. So let’s make that the topic for debate this week.

Will you be jumping into GW2 at launch? Will you be playing it at all and if not, why not?

For mine, I’ll be there Saturday afternoon to check things out and to start levelling but for me GW2 is going to be a casual thing. Something I jump in and enjoy once a week or so.

What about you?

SWTOR Suggestion Box: F2P as saviour?

Ok I promise this will be the last SWTOR Free to Play post for this week, but it’s an obvious topic for some more discussion. Specifically, is the change going to affect your relationship with SWTOR? Will you be playing more, less, don’t care about the change?

My best guess is that there will be some growth as a result, but a guess is all it is. So educamate me: do you think this is a new dawn or the start of the sunset. Jump in!