BioWare SWTOR post-mortem: it's more innovative than an FPS

"Even World of Warcraft doesn't get 10/10s hardly at all."

Labelling Star Wars: The Old Republic competent but not innovative is "unfair", BioWare told Eurogamer - the MMO does more than today's FPS and action games to push its respective genre forward.

"It's been a little bit of an unfair characterisation," SWTOR game director James Ohlen remarked to Eurogamer. "Because if you look at other game genres, if you look at a Battlefield or a Call of Duty or a Gears of War or even a Half-Life - those games use the same tried and true interface and the same tried and true game mechanics of the first-person shooter genre that's been around for 20 years.

"If you look at real-time strategy games, they kept the same tried and true interface and the same tried and true mechanics that existed for 20 years. Same with adventure games, same with platformers, same with fighting games, sports games.

"I don't know why the MMORPG genre is not considered to be a genre," Ohlen shrugged. "It could be that World of Warcraft has dominated for so long that people just think of it as just a single game genre.

"But it is a genre, and we wanted to appeal to fans of that genre - we don't want to turn them away by making something that's radically different. And we wanted to take the lessons that have been developed in that genre over years and years and years and basically refine them, much like other companies do with other genres.

"So, I don't know, it's just the way it is, but I don't see us as not being innovative. We're actually a lot more innovative within the MMO space than comparable games in other spaces like the first-person genre, the action genre - games like that."

Ohlen said the reception to Star Wars: The Old Republic, which touched down in December, had been "a little bit better" in the US than in Europe. "Star Wars [the brand] is a little bit stronger in North America than in Europe," Ohlen informed us.

Eurogamer awarded Star Wars: The Old Republic 8/10.

"We're very happy in the review scores; we've been getting basically 90s and 80s - the lowest score we have is an 80, on average we have a 90. It's been coming in about where we expected," Ohlen said.

"We did succeed in creating a game that's very fun and addictive, and I think that's what's going to make this successful."

James Ohlen, game director, SWTOR

"The expectations on what the game was going to be for a lot of people was kind of different to what we were building. We were building essentially a classic MMO with BioWare storytelling set in the Star Wars universe. And there were a lot of people out there who wanted us to reinvent the universe and come up with a game system that had never been done before. And that was something we weren't doing, so it was going to be disappointing for those people.

"We did succeed in creating a game that's very fun and addictive, and I think that's what's going to make this successful.

"The people who are playing the game, the reception we're getting right now - the desire to resubscribe is exceptionally high, higher than we thought it would be. We thought it was going to be high, but it's very very good. So we're quite pleased."

Was BioWare expecting 10/10s?

"I don't know. The thing about a massively-multiplayer game is even World of Warcraft doesn't get 10s hardly at all," Ohlen replied, evidently not referring to Eurogamer's WOW coverage.

"The thing about an online game is it's made up of so many systems, it's a combination of so many different gameplay mechanics, unlike a single-player game that can be very, very focused in the experience.

"It's different in an MMO where there's hundreds of hours of play, and I think that plays against getting tons of reviews that are 10s. But still we have got some 95s, we have got some perfect scores, some 5/5s. We have got them, it's just that it's not all over the place like you may see with Mass Effect 2."

Ohlen was lead designer on Dragon Age, Knights of the Old Republic and Baldur's Gate, so is used to high Metacritic averages. He's hoping SWTOR's average may creep up as more reviews tumble in.

"We knew that there was going to be people who wanted us to fail. But that's just the nature of the game. If you're going to build a huge game and try to go out to a lot of people, you're going to have people who just react poorly."

The user rating of Star Wars: The Old Republic on Metacritic is lower, however - but Ohlen was quick to explain why he thinks that is.

"Oh that's easy," he retorted. "Several of the designers were watching the Metacritic page when it finally came up and what happened was there is a community out there, and we don't know who they are - it could be a bunch of different people - who aren't really playing the game but have a vested interest in hating the game. And we saw literally hundreds of 0/10s come up within the first couple of hours of Metacritic coming on. So it was people who weren't even playing the game basically putting on that they hated it.

"There's nothing we can do about that, right?" Ohlen added. "We're a big target, we're a huge game, we have a lot of hype - we've been building up the hype for years. It's just kind of expected.

"We knew that there was going to be people who wanted us to fail. But that's just the nature of the game. If you're going to build a huge game and try to go out to a lot of people, you're going to have people who just react poorly."

Star Wars: The Old Republic is apparently the fastest ever growing subscription MMO, and had 1 million registered users after one week.

"I can't say specific numbers," Ohlen explained, "but we hit a million almost immediately and we've been growing since then. We've sold out in a lot of stores. We've obviously been having to put more copies into the channel.

"I'd say we're still rocketing right now. Every day the numbers continue to grow - we have more people going into the game."

Star Wars: The Old Republic has had regular bug fixing patches since launch. The game's first proper content patch, 1.1, is on the public test realm now. We'll tell you more about future SWTOR content later today.

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