Hyperspace Beacon: What can SWTOR do to reassure a shaken fanbase?


In my column last week, I gave my honest reaction to Star Wars: The Old Republic’s ongoing move from BioWare to Broadsword. If you recall, I’m generally optimistic about this switch as I think it opens up some great possibilities and frees the title from some of the corporate deadweight that was dragging it down. Of course, not everyone shared my opinion (which is totally fine!), and no matter what stance you take, we simply won’t know for a while how this’ll shake out.

But would it be a bad thing to keep the conversation going? A lot of us still care about this game and want the best for its future. The question I have is, once the dust settles down and the reformed Broadsword team starts working on the next steps for SWTOR, what are the best moves to generate enthusiasm and confidence in a shaken fanbase?

I’m not so into my wonderful world of wish-casting that I am blind to the fact that this MMO has knocked its players around pretty hard, especially over the past half-decade. The Eternal Throne expansion, while initially well-received, eventually became a disliked albatross that the game couldn’t seem to shed. And then past that were skimpy expansions, bad business moves, content droughts, and underwhelming patches.

Now we’ve got a situation that’s bound to really unsettle a lot of folks by virtue of the sheer amount of change happening. You’ve got the transfer of a game between studios, the halving of the dev team, and the uncertainty of what’s to come. It’s certainly easy to assume the worst (well, the worst would be a shutdown, but still) and run in circles yelling about Death Stars falling.

I know that there are a lot of moving parts going on, and I don’t expect the dust to settle on this until the fall. We’ve got to give the team time to figure out how it’s going to function, Broadsword time to restructure, and questions of finances and ability resolved. But as that whole process trundles along, the SWTOR team has a huge job to do — it’s got to generate confidence and even enthusiasm in the game’s future.

Now words are easy to say and opinions even easier to have. So while a dev might be saying that there are great days ahead, a fan might react in cynicism and disbelief. Who’s to say until it’s proven one way or the other? Yet communication needs to happen, even if there are those who will dismiss every word that comes from the ex-BioWare team. I’m happy to see that the team’s already done this with a FAQ and some assurances about the immediate future of the game, but that should only be a starting point.

The devs need to be nakedly honest as the next steps are taken with this game. Blind loyalty shouldn’t be assumed, but rather the devs should come to fans with a potent mixture of humility and confidence. This is an opportunity for the team to step out of BioWare’s shadow and get fans fully on board and invested with the future of the project. Frequent reports, even if it’s just speaking about settling into Broadsword’s realm, will help to build those essential bridges of transparency and trust.

Beyond that, however, SWTOR is going to need to do something to rebuild its fanbase and grow it further. That’s going to require proving itself to the jaded veterans while also providing something exciting and noteworthy for potential players who are willing to be lured in — but need a good reason.

I think a good first step will be rethinking the business model. It’s the ideal time to do this, too, with the switch over to Broadsword. I don’t know how much EA is still calling the shots on monetization, but if the smaller studio has any say, it should use this opportunity to foster goodwill by improving the problem areas of SWTOR’s business model.

Then we need to be hearing more about content cadence. I still say a leaner team can create a whole lot of content for a game if given the right tools and freed from onerous constraints. I’ve heard a lot of people echo the sentiment that if more frequent patches require the game to ditch voice acting, that’s a trade-off that they’re willing to make.

For the first year, this could be enough. Keep the game running, improve its business model, make sure those tech upgrades stick, and pump out more patches than have happened in the previous 12 months.

Past that, however, SWTOR’s going to need to think bigger. An expansion would be great but probably not feasible, so maybe some out-of-the-box brainstorming is needed. How about new storylines that revisit older planetary zones? A brand-new class or even combat styles? Maybe check off some of the easier “most wanted” community requests while you’re at it?

What’s important for this game’s health is that it needs to stay in the spotlight with positive actions and direction. It needs to say what it’s going to do — and then carry out that vision to show that it’s a trustworthy entity.

When the mood strikes us, we jump into our T-16 back home, ride through the hypergates of BioWare/Broadsword’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, and post our adventures here in the Hyperspace Beacon. Now strap yourself in, kid — we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!
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