Former BioWare lead James Ohlen regrets not pushing SWTOR towards ‘Knights of the Old Republic Online’

Earlier this month, BioWare’s James Ohlen announced that he was retiring from the company where he’d worked for more than two decades, part of that as the creative director and lead designer for Star Wars The Old Republic, in addition to his work multiple other titles, including Anthem. At the time, he said he was taking a break from the video gaming industry to write RPG sourcebooks, which let’s be honest sounds like a lot of fun. He’s gone into more detail on Game Informer this week, explaining that he misses doing the “creative work.”

“[I]t was the early days of Star Wars: The Old Republic that I was really involved hardcore in the story design, game design, and all that,” he says. “I just wanted to get back to designing stories and designing games and doing things that I’m passionate about. When I look back at my career, the most fun I had from a professional standpoint was when I was designing stories, levels, worlds, and the game itself.” The bigger teams of BioWare weren’t leaving him the kind of space he wanted. “Working on the development of Star Wars: The Old Republic, I was the game director, which meant I had the most power, but I often felt like I was the captain of the Titanic and I could just steer it a teeny tiny bit if I put all my efforts into it.”

He also reassures those worrying about the impact on Anthem by downplaying his role there, as well as pointing out that BioWare’s work on Anthem doesn’t mean the studio is giving up on the kinds of games that, well, make BioWare what it is. And then he dismisses the idea that Anthem was EA’s idea and that BioWare is toast if Anthem fails. “BioWare is a lot different than all the other aspects of its business, so even if Anthem doesn’t do as well – and I think it’s going to be great – but if it doesn’t do gangbusters, I don’t think that’s the end of BioWare,” he says. “I think it will simply be a chance for BioWare to learn some lessons and apply it to the next game that comes out.”

Finally, there’s an interesting section on SWTOR too when Ohlen is asked what he regrets most.

“With Star Wars: The Old Republic I wish that I pushed a little bit more toward making it kind of Knights of The Republic Online rather than Star Wars World of Warcraft. A lot of the feedback that we got when Star Wars: The Old Republic got when it came out was, “Hey, we wanted Knights of the Old Republic Online,” something that was more similar to that than a game that was more traditional in the World of Warcraft sense. I can see where that was coming from, but I am still proud of where Star Wars: The Old Republic got to.”

Source: GameInformer

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Eban Smith

SWTOR on release was a proper mess.
Like most EA games it was released unfinished so instantly upset gamers and the games reputation took a big hit.
Server population numbers dropped massively in the first year and soon came the first of many mergers.
Bioware spent most of the 1.0 to 2.0 trying to mend the fences.
And I will say around 2.0 to 3.0 it was a good game.

But like others have said the game didn’t know what it wanted to be.
A MMO or a solo RPG it felt very confused.

Some class stories are great (call out to who ever wrote the agent story) but once you finished them the end game was weak.
And new content (much like today) was too slow at coming out.

Planets do feel bland and boring, there’s very little sense of life.
Put a day/night or weather system in for fuqs sake.
Get some npc’s moving around more, actually doing something.

EA killed the game when Anthem was decided to be created, they removed devs by the barrel load and Bioware Austin were starved of budget and manpower.
So we ended up with the god awful KOTFE/KOTET story and man did those expansions suck.

SWTOR the game that could have been.

Kickstarter Donor

EA killed the game

No they didn’t. SWTOR saw a nice spike in performance in the leadup to KotET, but everything since then seems to be downhill, and that’s all largely a result of BioWare decisions, not EA.

EA has pulled resources to help Anthem, but SWTOR has been in an iffy state since well before that, and it absolutely makes sense EA would prioritize a major, multi-platform upcoming title over a 5+ year old PC only MMO that’s struggled over the years and has especially struggled over the past few.

SWTOR’s problems rest soundly on BW’s shoulders. EA gave them all the budget they could need (reportedly at least $200M, but likely upwards of $300M+ between development and marketing), EA gave them plenty of time (IIRC around 6+ years), gave them tons of freedom to design it how they wanted (it was BW’s decision to clone WoW and license an early version of the Hero Engine). EA is shit in a great many ways, but SWTOR’s problems are largely not the fault of EA.

Ben Stone

Ehh if anything it was too much like KOTOR Online. The individual class stories were great, but not sustainable, and when it stopped it felt really jarring.

Compare that to say ESO where they can continue to pump out story content because they don’t need so many variants.

Also the non-story parts were so dull comparatively, it just felt like a chore to grind between them. It would have been better as a single player or co-op game in all honesty.


And that’s assuming you got a class you liked the gameplay of that had a story that was actually decent. I got the consular: gameplay ok, story…boring and predictable as crap.


So bascially KOTOR 3? That would make it even worse (from an EA perspective) as players would consume the single-player content and leave the game.

EA would never let that happen, that’s why we got World of Star Wars instead.


Most players did consume what there was of the story and left the game though. I think if it had been closer to KOTOR3 *or* closer to World of Star Wars that they might have kept a much larger percentage of the players. But where they were in the middle? Neither group of potential players were particularly thrilled after the first few months.

Kip Braunstader

very sad to see him go…loved bioware so much
the wow play style skinned into starwars was disappointing..but man those class story’s…i really treasured those ..we will never see anything like that again i think


I would say that may be true for those people that were playing until f2p, but for those who joined after f2p the game was just fine in 2012, but around 2014 they decided than it was time to charge the same for less of what people enjoyed, and it has been downhill ever since.

At one point they decided to remove old content to funnel players into unpopular new content, BW just know what the players want better than the players themselves, and the lesser number of servers with less and less people proves them right.

Most MMOs fail at launch, but many fix their mistakes and move on, some to a kind of success that the current SWTOR wish they had.

If they bothered to create a new species or a new class (they could re use the current story just give them new abilities) they would see a player influx for sure, but i guess that if they keep making ops and pvp for less players eventually it will be a success, typical BW logic.


Nobody really was asking for Star Wars WoW, but that’s what it turned out to be because EA wanted a cash cow MMO and they already failed once at that with WAR.


Are you kidding? When KoTOR2 released practically everyone was saying – if you made this an MMO like WoW – which had just released a month earlier; you’d clean up…

And that was when Lucas Arts tried turning SWG into a WoW clone; and when that failed, they went to BioWare and basically said – Hey we’ll hire you to make a KoTOR style MMO with WoW mechanics; and they started that in 2006.

5 years and a few months later we had BioWare (bought out by EA in the interim) and Lucas Arts launch “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic” – which EA was 100% CERTAIN would bury WoW and make them piles of cash. Remember, the earnings call just prior to launch had them detailing how fast they could ramp up server capacity to handle everyone that would be paying through the nose to play SWToR…it was a lock…

Then REALITY hit; and the layoffs and transition to F2P started, and the rest is history.


Would’ve been great if he said captain of the TORtanic.

Kickstarter Donor

Was at the launch along with the expensive collectors edition which is in my loft covered in dust.

I built a guild from the ground up 2 years prior just for swotor, but the poor engine choice, small zones and then the final nail for me was the the legacy system which destroyed the factions, we were darkside but had people rolling on the light side and making their own guilds on the opposite faction to continue the legacy, at this point I gave in as it was pointless.

I have been back a couple of times but it’s just an embarrassing F2P penny pinching mess and I can honestly say Galaxies was the better star wars game!

Sony made a few big mistakes but not as bad as bioware did with this wasted this opportunity.

I was sad to see Galaxies close and shed a tear as I had some great times there, when swotor closes I most likely won’t bat an eyelid and that sums it up for me.

John Artemus
John Artemus

SWG was hemorrhaging subs at an alarming rate, which is why the NGE happened. Even if SWTOR never launched, SWG would have been shut down.

Nostalgia makes people think back at the game with fondness. But SOE destroyed it. The game was a train wreck.


Out of 41 mmo’s this game remains my biggest disappointment all around. There was and is a lot more wrong with it than just taking a non-Kotor direction with it. They had an engine that couldn’t even handle the features they’d developed, Ilum, it doesn’t get any worse than that.

Kickstarter Donor

SWTOR is a PVE ship with PVP’ers at the Helm… the Titanic was an apt descriptor Mr Ohlan.

Iceberg ahoy Captain…