Star Wars: The Old Republic is a special game to me. Like many of you, I’ve poured hundreds of hours into BioWare’s expansive MMO over the years, thrilling to the voice acting, the cosmetic fashion shows, the moral choices, and — this must not be denied — the Jawas. I think it’s the only long-term MMO that I’ve played where I still have and adventure with the first character I made on launch day (that would be my Chiss Agent, Yeti).
But just as the MMO news cycle can produce unpredictable stories, MMOs can sometimes generate unforeseen revivals (especially on the personal level). We started to see some interesting movement in SWTOR this year, such as a 64-bit client, work to move the game to cloud servers, and the arrival of Update 7.3. That, as they say, got my attention and had me starting to think about coming back to the game.
Yet it was the completely out-of-the-blue announcement that SWTOR was changing hands from BioWare to Broadsword that firmly pushed me in the direction of a return. And I’m sure that this could be seen as a weird reaction, right? The transfer of development and the downscaling of the team certainly seems to have frazzled some people, and I wouldn’t blame you if you felt that way. There are a lot of moving pieces and a great, big uncertain future for this once-prominent MMO.
That’s not me, though. Contrary to feeling worried for SWTOR, I actually feel a swell of optimism for what’s to come.
For starters, the news could’ve been far, far worse. If this title were circling the drain, EA could’ve declined to extend its license or invest any more into it. We could’ve heard word of a sunset or a true maintenance mode where the servers were kept on but only one or two people from the team left to make sure the blinking green buttons didn’t turn to solid red ones. Another horrid possibility would be EA offloading it entirely to a company like Gamigo that would neglect development in favor of milking any residual profits until finally shutting off the lights.
But it’s more than just relief at avoiding the really bad possibilities that made me excited to play this MMO again. When it comes down to it, I find that the real answer is that this game was ill-suited to where it was. Let’s be honest: BioWare hasn’t been that thrilled at having to support a live-service game like SWTOR for a long time now. The studio rarely touts it and is clearly more interested in creating single-player CRPGs. Yet it found itself “stuck” with SWTOR and slowly strangled the title as a result.
Star Wars: The Old Republic didn’t have much of a future at BioWare. That’s where we need to accept to frame this whole move. It’s not that the game’s going to a smaller studio or losing half its team; it’s that the game is escaping an environment that wasn’t nurturing to its very being.
If this weren’t the case – if BioWare really were the best place for SWTOR to thrive – I really don’t think we would see developers come out and voice support for the move. If we strip away studio names to describe this transfer, SWTOR is going from a company that didn’t care about making it to a studio that’s absolutely enthusiastic about MMOs and their preservation. That’s the bottom line, there.
The final element that tipped me over the edge into logging in daily for a few weeks now is that this whole move feels “right” to me. I know, feelings are deceiving and apparently anathema to Jedi and their dating lives, but there’s something in my gut that is giving a thumbs-up to this. It feels like SWTOR is finally accepting what it is rather than aspiring to what it can never be.
I mean, obviously BioWare was hoping that it would’ve had another World of Warcraft on its hands when SWTOR launched. And while there was a brief, brief window when that looked like a possibility, it quickly settled into a upper-middle-tier MMO slot and stayed there ever since. SWTOR can’t be a Top 5 MMO and looks foolish if fans or the studio tries to promote it as such. But it absolutely can be a stellar mid-class title if it embraces this truth — and that’s what I’m seeing happening here.
A leaner, hungrier team cut loose from an apathetic environment and planted in a studio that’s sure to be eager to see this succeed can do a whole lot with less. I’m an avid Lord of the Rings Online player and have seen what a small, passionate team can do to make a contemporary mid-class MMO shine. This can be a fresh “do over” for the team, and I’m truly excited to see a potential renaissance brewing for SWTOR.
Maybe I’m too optimistic, and maybe you’re snickering at me. All I know is that instead of this news pushing me even further away from this MMO, it’s served as a lasso to rope me back in and become truly excited about playing it once more. So here’s to the future of SWTOR — may the Force be with it.