Escapist Podcast: 008: Star Wars: The Old Republic & SCOTUS

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008: Star Wars: The Old Republic & SCOTUS

This week, we talk about Star Wars: The Old Republic and its possible effect on the MMO market. We discuss the US Supreme Court ruling on videogames, and we finish with some viewer questions.

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The Escapist Staff:
008: Star Wars: The Old Republic & SCOTUS

This week, we talk about Star Wars: The Old Republic and its possible effect on the MMO market. We discuss the US Supreme Court ruling on videogames, and we finish with some viewer questions.

Watch Video

MMOs have stopped trying, and that's the problem. The first generation of MMOs had to work hard to break through the incredulity of paying a subscription to play a game. And work, they did. Graphics aside, these early games had the feel of being in a world. In this sense, you weren't paying access fees. You were paying rent for your own little corner of this world.

Once everyone was used to the idea of paying monthly, the pressure was off. Each generation of MMOs since has actually seen a reduction in features. And those features that remain have been "distilled" (minimalized) until all that remains is barebones system (see: crafting).

And then The Old Republic comes along. And what are they trying to do? Creating a "cinematic" experience.... by putting everything on tightly-controlled rails. Something I know about cinema? I don't pay monthly for the same movie.

MMOs are now just single-player experiences. They bloat them by reskinning, renaming, and repeating some of the content (or by using random-drop systems to trick people into repeating the exact same content forever). But boil it down, and what do you have? A decent single-player game... for which you pay repeatedly.

Features MMOs have completely lost over time:

1. Involved crafting systems. Making choices regarding resources, making skill matter toward quality... basically, more than just a vending machine. Put one Copper and one Leather, get Knife.

2. Real player housing (and cities). Not hidden in an instance, but integrated into the game world. Not a rental space with a few locked "hooks" where you can hang pre-approved decorations. A house that you can decorate with whatever you've got in your inventory.

3. Robust skill-based systems. Not locking you into a class, and not just 15 different flavors of combat. Look at old SWG--you could be a bounty hunter and cook. You could be a pistoleer and dancer. Or you could double up on combat if you wanted. Actually, that leads me to:

4. Strong non-combat gameplay. There used to be so much to do in MMOs besides rinse-repeat combat or raids. If you wanted to craft, that system was deep enough to KEEP YOU BUSY. Not anymore.

5. True persistence. The ability for your character to leave a footprint in the world, even when you log off. The ability to feel like the character still exists, even in the off time. (I pay rent on my apartment, and when I leave the apartment for work, the landlord doesn't move all of my stuff to a closet and rent it out to someone else until I get back.)

6. Freedom. That's where The Old Republic comes in. Since being announced, they've shot themselves in the foot so many times. We've found out TOR will "feature:"

- Iconic roles for players to fill. (Read: a laughably limited class system.)
- Companions that enrich and personalize your experience. (Read: every smuggler gets a wookiee.)
- Exciting space combat. (Read: if you're really into rail-flyers like Starfox.
- Your own ship! (Read: which will be the same as everyone else in your class. Because.)
- Epic storyline! (Read: featuring a pre-made and pre-voiced character you rent from us, limited to one of two races, and one voice. Oh, and you "progress" through armor of our choosing.)

Seriously. Character, ship, companion selection are all this limited? In a modern MMO? That's called a single-player RPG. Gone are all of the features that used to define an MMO--except for the subscription fee.

The Old Republic is the swan song of subscription MMOs. And we're eating it up! To quote an accidentally-okay line from the abysmal third prequel movie: "So this is how freedom dies--to thunderous applause."

Nice Podcast. Personally I've never gone more than 5 hours into a 'typical' MMO. I however spent wayyyy too must time on games like Minecraft and TF2. This is probably because I get more fun out off short term goals leading up to something big than really short term goals leading to a goal to something that seem impossible. Although both these games have stuff which involves far long term goals which makes lower tier players feel bad (Hats). There's also involved crafting systems present in these games which is an important mechanism missed in MMOs, as mention in the wall of text above.

Multiplayer games will always have the issue of having players being imbalanced due to skills and time put into the game. I feel MMOs lifespans are shorten if this issue isn't tacked well. For example TF2 silliness and Minecraft expression of creativeness even though they aren't 'typical' MMOs.

Perhaps in the future, a company could setup an additional subscription service for the access to unlimited/near limited downloads for a setup similar to TESNexus. Of course, the game engine would have to be geared to easier, though possibly more restricted; modability.

By default, the service would only show MS(Or whoever) approved mods. The library of which would be grown from MS certifying the most popular mods from an opt-in no-liability mod library which would of course come with buckets of warning about incompatibility and/or inoperability with the game in question. So mods that sucked or that fill a niche would still be available but they would be hidden in the bowels of an opt-in section of the service, while more popular widespread ones would flourish; be certified and available on the front page by default.

Users who consistently made great, popular mods could even get a VIP status. Like a Producer on youtube; they would get a few extra permissions and priority queue spots for certification.

I remember back in the day I got addicted to Runescape, then I wrote an advanced macro player/recorder that eventually ended up playing the game for me. Then I quit and never touched another MMO. I will consider coming back when someone makes a game that (a) enriches my life and (b) can't be played by autopilot.

The difference between a PC and console are the fact that a console has specific hardware. That would make it easier to make mods for it, BUT licenses are much harder to get for that.

Scoop Divewalkler, that's awesome.

Guys, i think you misunderstood captain marvelous question/statment i dont think he meant that it was unfair that you might buy an item that increases your experience gain, but rather that if the developer includes such an item then they might design the game so that for it to be viable to play (not having to grind for hours perhaps) you need that item. Maybe increasing the experience needed between levels for instance.

They design the game to actually "require" the item to actually enjoy the game. Create a product, then create the need for it, ingenious in an evil way.

A whole lot about MMO's, and yet Guild Wars 2 has only been lightly touched apon in comparison to The Old Republic. Ah well, let's hope that won't be a disappointment.

Dastardly:
*snip*

You should take a real look at The Secret World.

Nocta-Aeterna:
A whole lot about MMO's, and yet Guild Wars 2 has only been lightly touched apon in comparison to The Old Republic. Ah well, let's hope that won't be a disappointment.

Not a lot of media people talk about Guild Wars 2. It makes sense, to a degree. SWTOR is Star Wars, it's EA, it's BioWare... those are three huge fanbases. Every gamer everywhere has some small stake in at least one of those groups. Guild Wars is still a general unknown IP (in spite of having a legitimate case for the second most successful MMO on the market). A lot of people have no personal stake in Guild Wars 2, in spite of the awesome things they're doing. Then again, they did mention talking specifically about subscription games... which GW2 is not.

I think the Escapist staff is just mad they weren't invited to ArenaNet's Press Day event the week before last. (/trollface) Thankfully, G4 was. Casey Schreiner and Adam Sessler were greatly impressed, and I expect GW2 to get a lot more media attention from them.

2xDouble:
You should take a real look at The Secret World.

I'm following it... but I'm seeing a lot of the same promises made regarding Age of Conan, and that game was a horribly disappointing and hollow experience. For instance, the player keeps (basically, housing for guilds) were so prescriptive and limited that it was actually worse than not having it at all.

(Think of it this way: If I'm starving, it's better to sit me at an empty table than at one with wax fruit, so you don't continuously draw attention to what is actually missing.)

With Age of Conan going F2P, I've already grouped The Secret World into that space, too. In that regard, I think they'll do much better. The experience can be smaller without being disappointing, because you're not paying big-world prices.

But rather than downsizing the fee to match the true state of modern MMOs, I'd rather see them once again raise the quality to match the $15/month price tag. Either one is more honest, but the latter is just more fun.

Awesome cast this week.

I forget who it was, perhaps Shamus or that fellow who writes gaming articles at Cracked, but the idea is out there that jobs will eventually utilize an MMO model to be [more] enjoyable to the employees. Most of my friends who play WoW have had the same realization - the fantasy realm oversaturates your desire to be in such a location and it becomes a job.

And after the QnA section I feel a little guilty about not being an Escapist Premium member or whatnot. "Where's my 5 bucks!"

Free to play games don't bother me at all because, as an adult, time equates to money, so whether I spend 10 hours in WoW farming a weapon or spend an hour at work getting the 10 bucks to buy a dlc weapon, it's the same. For younger gamers though I can see it being annoying. At the same time however those younger gamers are generally the ones kicking my rear because I can't spend 20 hours a week raiding.

I just wanted to say I love your show. However, can you all add some video? Please.

I don't need any images to like what you all talk about, but if I'm not paying attention while watching(listening) your podcast my coumputer goes to its screensaver and kind of has to start itself up again. It doesn't stop the Podcast, but everything else gets a bit messed up. You don't have to kidnap Alison from Extra Credits, (After her most needed operation and recovery. You're kidnapers not monsters.), and force her to make an hour long Podcast version of her work at Extra Credits....but can you at least put something there? Anything! Hell, can't you just tape yourselfs talking? At least put up a slideshow like the first ones! Please.

Thank you for your time.

p.s. The toast gun mod.....pure, tasty, awesomeness!

For its reload animation the character should drop the first toast, take out a full piece, and bite it into shape.

bunji:
Guys, i think you misunderstood captain marvelous question/statment i dont think he meant that it was unfair that you might buy an item that increases your experience gain, but rather that if the developer includes such an item then they might design the game so that for it to be viable to play (not having to grind for hours perhaps) you need that item. Maybe increasing the experience needed between levels for instance.

They design the game to actually "require" the item to actually enjoy the game. Create a product, then create the need for it, ingenious in an evil way.

It seems fair to me. The item that increases your experience that you have to pay for, not the gun you have to pay for. If the game is made so that without that item it makes leveling up impossibly slow then yeah that's evil, but I don't think that's the case here.

Also, I personally have never used those kinds of items in games that I actually pay for. At least not when I can just go and kill enemy after enemy in the same spot. However, I can see how the "nickel and diming" thing could go evil, but I don't think that is really a big issue in free to play games. In payed for games, that's different.....

2xDouble:

I think the Escapist staff is just mad they weren't invited to ArenaNet's Press Day event the week before last. (/trollface) Thankfully, G4 was. Casey Schreiner and Adam Sessler were greatly impressed, and I expect GW2 to get a lot more media attention from them.

I'm just now watching the g4 MMO report and I had no idea how far reaching the more influential events are. This is of course awesome in creating a persistent world and community building, but I see some posibillities for griefing.

But...but I NEEDZ TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO REVAN!

Seriously, that's only one of many things why I want TOR. That and the fact that it's as much as a successor to the KOTOR series as I'm going to get, and that I want to see what BioWare comes up with as it's first (and if it's good, hopefully not last) MMO, and the fact that I quit Galaxies quite a while ago and am very eager to see what a new SW MMORPG could do in this day and age.

Nocta-Aeterna:

2xDouble:

I think the Escapist staff is just mad they weren't invited to ArenaNet's Press Day event the week before last. (/trollface) Thankfully, G4 was. Casey Schreiner and Adam Sessler were greatly impressed, and I expect GW2 to get a lot more media attention from them.

I'm just now watching the g4 MMO report and I had no idea how far reaching the more influential events are. This is of course awesome in creating a persistent world and community building, but I see some posibillities for griefing.

There are some obvious griefing opportunities, but ANet is working very hard to prevent exactly that. For example, the AI that determines whether or not a character is participating is quite intelligent as AI's go.

If you'd like to continue this discussion, please come on down to the Guild Wars group. I'd rather not hijack the thread further, since a lot of other cool stuff was discussed today.

I think you missed the most important problem with cash purchase systems in MMOGs. A MMOG is, by its very nature, COOPERATIVE first and COMPETITIVE second, which means that to get the most out of it, you need to be part of a guild/clan/corporation/whatnot.
In a pay-to-play game, everyone fulfills the same baseline requirements. Apart from putting in more time, you have to make no choices affecting your real-world wellbeing. The relationship to your guild remains virtual and essentially without much potential for conflict. When cash stores come into play, however, you are suddenly subject to peer pressure as well as possible filtration by guilds who want to be "pro" and only accept players with a certain degree of OOC-costly equipment.
Cash stores are not inherently bad for the game, but they hurt the community by putting on it the strain of real-world cash expenditure due to peer pressure. Most real-live marriages are broken due to arguments over money, and virtual friendships tend to be far more fragile than that. Think about it - is this not far more destructive than the little harm it does to competition in MMOGs?

is anyone else having a problem with these buffering? thats 3 in a row now that just don't work on me.

Monsterfurby:
I think you missed the most important problem with cash purchase systems in MMOGs. A MMOG is, by its very nature, COOPERATIVE first and COMPETITIVE second, which means that to get the most out of it, you need to be part of a guild/clan/corporation/whatnot.
In a pay-to-play game, everyone fulfills the same baseline requirements. Apart from putting in more time, you have to make no choices affecting your real-world wellbeing. The relationship to your guild remains virtual and essentially without much potential for conflict. When cash stores come into play, however, you are suddenly subject to peer pressure as well as possible filtration by guilds who want to be "pro" and only accept players with a certain degree of OOC-costly equipment.
Cash stores are not inherently bad for the game, but they hurt the community by putting on it the strain of real-world cash expenditure due to peer pressure. Most real-live marriages are broken due to arguments over money, and virtual friendships tend to be far more fragile than that. Think about it - is this not far more destructive than the little harm it does to competition in MMOGs?

You casually dismiss time investment, but I've seen the same situation you've described a hundred times over in pay-to-play games for precisely just that. As I touched on in the podcast, vanilla WoW raiding, for example, had less to do with gear or skill and much more with time investment. Particularly, it was a measure of whether or not you could not only put in enough time to raid itself, but also could you put in even more of the necessary time to farm for the gold, materials and consumables you needed to get every edge possible.

Really both systems have their own pit falls.

Slycne:

You casually dismiss time investment, but I've seen the same situation you've described a hundred times over in pay-to-play games for precisely just that. As I touched on in the podcast, vanilla WoW raiding, for example, had less to do with gear or skill and much more with time investment. Particularly, it was a measure of whether or not you could not only put in enough time to raid itself, but also could you put in even more of the necessary time to farm for the gold, materials and consumables you needed to get every edge possible.

Really both systems have their own pit falls.

They definitely do. However, time investment is, in this case, a minor factor. In practice, being organized in a guild (used as a catch-all term for player organization in an MMOG) means that you have a certain required time investment to begin with. You have guild meetings, guild raids, and so forth, not attending which effectively leads to exclusion from the guild. It is essentially a sports team, a club where you have to show up to regular training to participate. And these events are also what leads to the major part of character advancement.
As for grinding gold, materials etc, my experience with UO, DaoC, SWG and WoW has been different. Essentially, the guilds I have been a part of always provided for their own. They supplied lower-level characters with gold, with weapons, items, reagents, whatever was required to be as effective as possible at any given level. With a cash-based economy, how could a guild still justify that? If you paid 4,99 for that sword you no longer use, would you give it away for free to a newbie within your own guild, or sell it for just the same price you paid back then to someone outside the guild?

Of course, I might have been particularly lucky, or my experience might differ from that of other players - myself being more of a casual gamer anyway - but in general, I think that at least the idea of a guild being a circle of equals helping each other make the best of their virtual escapades might be somewhat undermined by the notion of a cash-based in-game economy.

It should be noted, however, that I am aiming this at "pay-to-win" situations mainly. Paying for customization is alright, albeit not optimal in my book, and if games create a true "pay for faster advancement" scheme, I suppose that is fine as well. What I see as absolutely questionable and detrimental to the game's community are situations where exclusive items, sometimes even game content like instances/dungeons might be only unlockable for real-life money. That is where money kills community.

arghh another podcast that stops playing for me just over 2 minuets in whats gone wrong for me with this O_O??.

Hey, thanks for answering my question guys. It was nice to hear some direct feedback to one of my wondering-ments.

Alright, I want to listen your podcasts, but only one of them has EVER buffered beyond the one-minute mark, and this isn't a problem on my end.

Dastardly:

- Epic storyline! (Read: featuring a pre-made and pre-voiced character you rent from us, limited to one of two races, and one voice. Oh, and you "progress" through armor of our choosing.)

My head kind of hurts, so I think I'll just question the armour bit for now.

I'm sorry but that game effectively ceased to exist in 2005 with LA and its iconic NGE.

Lex Darko:
I'm sorry but that game effectively ceased to exist in 2005 with LA and its iconic NGE.

I agree that's when it took a dive. Strangely enough, though, they left a lot of the best stuff completely alone--ships and housing in particular. And later, they brought back a few things--creature handling and entertaining.

But they completely killed combat and individuality with the "profession" system, and those goofy "expertise" trees. And you're right, it's all LucasArts' fault. Instead of a game where you create your very own character, and then live as that character in the Star Wars universe... you're forced to be "Hero of the Galaxy," and you're meeting Han Goddamn Solo in the first fifteen minutes of play.

This problem has also crept into other aspects of Star Wars, like the novels. Everyone is so obsessed with dropping familiar little references (like "bantha fodder," when nowhere near a planet that might have banthas, etc.) or including canon characters (or their distant relatives. It ruins the universe. Seriously, how big can this galaxy be if everyone uses the same slang, and you run into the same four guys everywhere you go?

Nocta-Aeterna:
A whole lot about MMO's, and yet Guild Wars 2 has only been lightly touched apon in comparison to The Old Republic. Ah well, let's hope that won't be a disappointment.

The question was about The Old Republic.

2xDouble:
snip

I specifically call out Guild Wars and ArenaNet as doing something unique with their pay structure in the MMO space and potentially being an innovator in that regard.

Monsterfurby:
snip

I think you'll find that most free-to-play games, or at least the more successful ones, actually side steps most of your problems. Rarely do you see their micro transaction economies revolve around simply buying items. The micro-transaction based economy is most often completely divorced from the normal in-game economy. So you tend to see a lot more where your real money transactions simply open up more content, greater number of options or mechanics that are more assistance that straight boon. This helps to curb some of the potential situations and divides you mentioned.

Slycne:
I specifically call out Guild Wars and ArenaNet as doing something unique with their pay structure in the MMO space and potentially being an innovator in that regard.

And it is greatly appreciated, sir. Thank you. /salute

So, uh, no offense, but this is it from now on? Just these 4 same people on every future podcast? No more Yahtzee? Or any other of the video contributors?

When it comes to mods on consoles I think titles like LBP represent the limit of mods that the console manufacturers will be prepared to accept onto their systems and networks. They're almost certainly not going to allow mods to games that don't support modding and they're definitely not going to allow any mods that require direct access to the OS.

TL;DR - Mods will come to consoles but they'll never have the flexability of PC mods.

I'm still cautiously optimistic about TOR. Original mechanics? Don't make laugh. Good story? Probably. Excellent franchise? You bet. Will I enjoy it? Most likely. Provided I have a job by then.

As for Muh-more-puh-guh (thanks Yahtzee ;) ) trends in general, this may be the last subscription MMO. you can't ignore the boom in free-2-play and online store models. It can be a little shady at times as far as what's sold vs. what's given and it's effect on the gaming experience but I think it's proving to be a more recession resistant and enduring model, even if it doesn't rake in the dough as much. Grudging acceptance sums up my opinion on them. It's nice to be able to buy more content at my pleasure instead of fearing the internetz debt collectors though I feel icky buying pixels ontop of the billions I already bought instead of paying with time and effort. Maybe it's not so bad. We'll see.

I really enjoy these. Wish I knew enough video game nerds to have these kind of discussions D:

On the mmo industry I don't think it's dying as a genre, but I do think wow sucks up much of the attention allotted to genre as a whole.

Tor isn't the only upcoming mmo people are watching, there a few coming out of Korea including TERA, C9, and NC Soft's Blade and Soul but all those games have an real time action based combat system unlike wow and more like Vindictus.

And about SWG. I started playing that game with my guild after we left MxO (Matrix Online) in the summer of 2005. I was playing a Bounty Hunter and was about to started buying my RIS armor when the NGE started up.

The best thing about SWG was that it realized that not everyone could be Han Solo/Lando/Luke/Boba Fett/insert "iconic" character here.

It just doesn't work, Age of Conan tried the same thing, it had an entire single play story line. Trouble is, if everyone is the "chosen one" then no one is special and your story ceases to have meaning and/or relevance.

Dastardly:

(I pay rent on my apartment, and when I leave the apartment for work, the landlord doesn't move all of my stuff to a closet and rent it out to someone else until I get back.)

Of course he does. What, you think he'd leave you a note or something? He just does a very good job of putting everything back where it was so that you never notice.

I'm about halfway through the podcast, and I have to say that it is fun as always. I'd also like to say that the person who said 'Timmy said it was fun' when talking about working at EB games (sorry about not using his name, I'm horrible with names) sounded exactly like Mike Birbiglia for a moment.

Anyways, love the podcasts, and they're one of the main reasons I'm considering getting a pub club membership so I can download them. As for MMOs, I don't really care that much for them just as I don't care for multiplayer in general. The talk about raising children was interesting though.

Dastardly:

- Iconic roles for players to fill. (Read: a laughably limited class system.)
- Companions that enrich and personalize your experience. (Read: every smuggler gets a wookiee.)
- Exciting space combat. (Read: if you're really into rail-flyers like Starfox.
- Your own ship! (Read: which will be the same as everyone else in your class. Because.)
- Epic storyline! (Read: featuring a pre-made and pre-voiced character you rent from us, limited to one of two races, and one voice. Oh, and you "progress" through armor of our choosing.)

Seriously. Character, ship, companion selection are all this limited? In a modern MMO? That's called a single-player RPG. Gone are all of the features that used to define an MMO--except for the subscription fee.

Well, nice job editorializing the game's features with your own opinions. You're also fabricating information for the sake of defaming aspects of the game ("renting" a character? two races? One armor progression? Where is your information coming from?)

I agree that MMOs have lost some of the "virtual world" qualities of years past, but they've also become vastly more dense and complex in terms of graphics and world-building. WoW showed us that a themepark game can be extremely successful, TOR is aiming to show that a themepark MMO with real storytelling can be successful. Mass Effect wasn't a hit because shooting aliens from cover was somehow a new thing. It wasn't successful because it had top-notch animation (it didn't); it was successful because of its focus on storytelling and creating a world.

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