Hubris and Solipsism

And why Free-to-Play won’t save The Old Republic.

So, in the shuffle of Spring Cleaning and a rather busy but amazing time at work with a fantastic new project, I missed that the Bioware Big-uns, Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, quit over fan backslash over the Deus Ex Mass Effect 3 endings and the totality of Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Wow. No, not that WoW. Wow as in “expression of surprise and/or amazement.”

I once commented on the SWTOR boards that I couldn’t help the schadenfreude, due to the hubris shown by Bioware during the development and release of The Old Republic. At the time I thought it a bit of an exaggeration, mostly to highlight the fact that Bioware never wanted fan feedback over anything during beta, and claimed they didn’t need external beta testing at all. There were rounds of closed external beta testing, but players were informed of what they were expected to test, and negative feedback went completely unnoticed.

But judging by the reaction of the big bosses, it seems I was actually hitting very close the mark. They genuinely believed they could do no wrong. They actually were confident they had the formula down to appeal to millions without breaking a sweat. They were incapableof conceiving something coming out of their offices that did not meet critical acclaim.

sol·ip·sism/ˈsälipˌsizəm/

Noun:
The view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.

Their own likes and opinions were the only ones they could conceive.

I don’t think they ever even understood why the backslash was happening. During the SWTOR meltdown, and specially during the ME:3 meltdown, they hid behind EA’s corporate spin control. Then they quit. They lost the enthusiasm based on a few failures.

Taking some time off to get your bearings and do some introspection to find out what’s wrong with your creations is fine. Some people get writer’s block. Others get stuck in a rut. It’s hard. It takes some humility to do that, specially when you’ve spent years creating games that have been, in general, well received by your growing fanbase.

Quitting over the criticism, while giving off the vibe that you can’t do games anymore, and that fans are unappeasable, yadda, yadda, isn’t that. It’s, for lack of a better description, childish. We live in a Politically Correct world, where no kid should ever be exposed to negative feedback, never be told their work isn’t good enough, and never taught how to overcome failure. When they finally fail in the real world, the effects can be devastating. And worse still, the person will not have the mental tools to overcome the setback. Hence changes of career, “I can’t do this anymore”, etc.

I think this is the first time these two have had a serious setback since they founded Bioware. If you look at their Wikipedia Pages, their list of games is nothing short of fantastic. Until they hit the Dragon Age 2 snag, and everything went downhill.

You know what? Grow a spine, get some balls, and learn humility. It’s time to act like grown-ups.

“It’s easy for you to say, it’s not you getting the flames!” I hear the Biodrones say. Sure I have, I have a collection of rejection letters on all sorts of written submissions I can show you. I’ll even show you a silly NaNoWriMo project I have live that was flamed pretty thoroughly at ImpishIdea, go ahead and flame it! (although you’ll be hard pressed to make a flaming mix of anger, thoroughness, and wit that could surpass Stellar Jetman’s excellent burn). I’m quite aware of my limitations and what I offer. Do I care? Do I dislike when I try hard at something and I fail hard? Sure I do! Even more when I fail hard at something important, like what my livelihood depends on (which yes, has happened). But I’m only human, and I know it.

I don’t think these two did, until now. And they don’t seem to have taken well to their newfound mortality. Well, welcome to the real world. Life’s a bitch, and then you die.

Anyway.

What about SWTOR? As I mentioned above, I don’t think free-to-play will save the game, in the sense of “make the millions EA and Lucasarts expected”. Why?

“The subscription-only model presented a major barrier for a lot of people who wanted to become part of The Old Republic universe,” went the quote. If numbers are to be believed, about 40% of people who quit did so while saying they’d continue playing if it was free-to-play.

How did they say that?

When you cancelled your subscription, and were asked to give some feedback, there was a question that went along the lines of:

– Would you return if the game was Free-to-Play? (Yes/No).

Something like that, it’s been too long to remember the exact wording.

What’s the problem with this? The question, and answer, read very differently depending on whether you are Bioware/EA or the player. What Bioware/EA meant was:

– Would you play this game if it was limited and you had to spend money to buy different parts of it, thereby giving us even more money than you’d do with a monthly subscription, specially by buying stupid baubles and pets that can be made by underpaid contractors in Asia on their spare time for pennies? (Yes/No).

You can just feel the salivating, panting breath of the EAware beast thinking about all the money they will be making, thanks to how many people said “YES!” to that.

For the leaving players, it probably read something like this:

– Is the following description accurate? I’d never pay another red cent for this shit. (Yes/No).

Somehow, I retain a healthy amount of  scepticism over the notion that Free-to-Play will bring in the monies. The disconnect is just mind-boggling. Consider the famous Bioware Insider™ comment:

EA blames us and to some extent they’re right to. But it was fan feedback from the day we opened the forums that encouraged us to design it for the fans the way it is and that included making it more like Kotor then an MMO like Wow.

Go back and read my entries on the Sith Inquisitor, and imagine for a second that the original KotOR was like that.

Yeah. Hubris and Solipsism. They genuinely believe this shit plays like the original KotOR.

In a sense, I wish the original KotOR had been like that. Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk could have had their meltdown back then, Lucasarts wouldn’t have ruined Obsidian’s sequel by rushing them and forcing an unfinished release (yeah, remember that? Obsidian guys took the fan meltdown a lot better because they made an effort to understand), and someone could have had a shot at making a good Star Wars MMO with the $300 million that were tossed at this voice-acted failure.

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~ by The Sarlacc on October 15, 2012.

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