My relationship with Star Wars: The Old Republic is best described as “complicated.” The game launched at a time when I was still pretty early in my career, and with all the hype it had around its launch there was definitely a sense for me that I wanted to get in on this now because it was definitely going to be the Next Big Thing. Heck, I kind of resented the fact that at the time I was covering the widely disliked Final Fantasy XIV as one of my main focal games.
Anyhow, while there’s a degree of corporate nonsense wherein everyone is playing the ridiculous game of pretending like the thing that we know is happening may or may not be happening, we can all talk about the fact that… yeah, we’re going to see the game move over to Broadsword. And I have thoughts about that. Guess how many! Here’s a hint: It’s a whole number greater than nine.
1. This is a win for Broadsword
As has been pointed out before by no less than former BioWare dev Damion Schubert, investing in SWTOR makes a lot more sense for Broadsword than it did for BioWare or EA as a whole. That’s just the economics. But it’s also the biggest coup that Broadsword has snagged in terms of title. It gets a game that, in the broadest strokes, already has most of the expensive stuff done. The game already works, and it has a big enough userbase that they’re assured of some profits, and so Broadsword basically gets to reap the benefits of an existing profitable game at a smaller scale.
2. Maintenance mode fears are heavily overblown
Broadsword is not Gamigo. It does not pick up games only to shut them down or cease development while dragging out as much monetization as it can. Broadsword keeps its games going, and it has no reason to bring on any portion of SWTOR’s staff (let alone half of the people involved) if it just wants to quietly let the game coast.
3. There will be cost-saving, probably including voice acting…
That being said, yeah, I expect there will be a clear dividing line between the development eras. Broadsword makes money by running a tight ship, and everything has to be evaluated for its overall cost. And I’m not going to lie, as a purely mental exercise, adding in a whole bunch of voice acting for any update is going to look like the opposite of running a tight ship. That sort of thing is probably going to go away.
4. …which is honestly a good thing
SWTOR has good voice acting. It always did. There are better and worse performances, and having to listen to Corso Riggs is never a fun time, but that’s not because he’s being badly acted. (It’s because Corso is garbage.) But the fact of the matter is that voice acting is expensive, and… well, SWTOR has always been a solidly mid-tier MMO that has to be budgeted like it’s way more expensive in large part because of its voice acting. I’m not saying that the voice acting is the reason that, say, Legacy of the Sith was over in the time it took you to say the title out loud, but it sure hasn’t helped.
5. This has been a long time coming
That comparison there wasn’t entirely out of nowhere. The reality is that SWTOR has spent a long time in a space as a mid-tier MMO, but it inexplicably seemed to budget and pitch itself like it was a bigger player than it was. It spent a long time punching above its weight class, and while that is charming and not a flaw in and of itself, I don’t think the compromises it has made in order to keep that up really worked out on the balance. Getting moved to Broadsword is the better option because we have all known for a long time that it’s neither the first priority of BioWare nor big enough to be a top-tier player.
6. Big overhauls are probably a thing of the past
This ties into the whole “running a tight ship” point from before. Broadsword takes the title over and expects to be actively developing it, but it also doesn’t expect to be spending a huge amount of development resources on reinventing the wheel every few months – something that SWTOR has done multiple times with gearing, content ladders, and so forth. In other words, I hope you like the current state of the game’s endgame because I just don’t see the game’s development continuing to occasionally stop because now we want to do things differently from top to bottom. It seems unlikely.
7. Except a change in how content is produced
One thing that’s always struck me about how SWTOR runs its operation is that it seems to prioritize the least long-term content a lot of the time. We get bespoke story content that doesn’t last long and for many players is a one-and-done matter… and then we get very little in terms of content that we’re actually going to do reliably for any length of time. I kind of feel like Broadsword has a clearer idea of how to prioritize these things? That’s not to say that the studio definitely will, but it feels likely to me.
8. The monetization probably won’t change much
One thing I don’t doubt is that SWTOR makes money. It wouldn’t be attractive to Broadsword otherwise, and EA would’ve shuttered it long ago to shed the licensing costs. While I definitely think there will be some belt-tightening and adjustments to the overall business model, I also think that it’s going to be small changes rather than major shifts to the basic setup. It’s possible – though by no means certain – that from a player perspective it’s going to be more long-term content and no big new monetization asks, which would be a net win.
9. It’s a fascinating moment watching the industry in movement
As someone who has been writing about MMOs for 14 years, I can say SWTOR has been a time. In many ways it embodies the end of a certain school of design; intentional or not, it felt like one of the last attempts to just throw tons of money at an MMO to make it succeed. Sure, it wasn’t a disaster, but it was not The Big Thing after about five minutes. So seeing it move into a cozy retirement is also an interesting moment in terms of overall industry moves, and I wonder what this bodes for other games that are in the middle tier – not making huge amounts of money but also not losing money, not in maintenance mode but not in blockbuster mode either.
10. There will be a lot to analyze in a year
Seriously, there is going to be so much to say about how the game has developed in a year’s time, and I am here for it. I realize that if you are a player of the game, this falls far afoul of the “I do not wish to live in interesting times” meme, but sometimes it’s an honor just to be blessed with a gigantic sea change that you can really analyze the heck out of in a year’s time. Whee!