The Game Developers Choice Online awards exist to give folks in the gaming industry a chance to highlight and celebrate the work of their peers in online games. This year's award ceremony took place last night in Austin. The full list of winners includes nods to Diablo III for best audio and League of Legends for community management, but the game that comes up most often in the list is Star Wars: The Old Republic.
The Old Republic took awards for Best Online Technology, Best New Online Game, Best Online Visual Arts, and Best Online Game Design. Clearly, to industry peers, the TOR team accomplished something special. And at the beginning, it seemed that players thought so, too.
The game launched to accolades, and had hugely engaged players. Players lauded the nature of its story and world-building, straight out of BioWare's Knights of the Old Republic, a 2003 fan favourite. The Old Republic sold about two million copies right off the bat and enjoyed a healthy 1.7 million subscribers for its first month.
Since its first month live ended, though, SW:TOR has been the picture-perfect example of why the word "beleaguered" exists. By July, the game was down to well under a million active subscribers. It's making a transition over to free to play in the not-too-distant future, but in the meantime, its most recent major update, in 10 months of being live, was patch 1.4 — and neither it, nor the three that preceded it, contained any of the promised major content updates that players have been waiting for.
When players began to bail, EA could have taken one of two routes toward the game. They could have doubled down, with more resources applied to add content to the game and retain and attract subscribers. Or they could have decided it was doomed, written it off, and consigned it and its dwindling population of loyal fans to the shadows. They took the latter route. Layoffs at BioWare Austin began in May, followed by the departure of one executive after another.
Players who saw something worth enjoying, in the early days of SW:TOR, weren't necessarily mistaken. The industry peers rewarding EA and BioWare for the game they built and launched aren't mistaken. But a massively multiplayer online game needs constant support. It needs content, and for a heavily story- and instance-driven game like The Old Republic, hoping players will treat it like World of Warcraft and just keep logging on to get more stuff isn't a viable long-term solution.
Seeing game developers recognise the potential Star Wars: The Old Republic had in its technology and its launch feels like a sad reminder, a glimpse into an alternate universe of what might have been. Hopefully the game can recapture some of its lost potential when it completes its free-to-play conversion. If it can attract players, and get more resources devoted to adding game content, maybe The Old Republic can still come back from the dark side.
3rd Annual Game Developers Choice Online Awards [GDC Online Awards]