BioWare Mondays

BioWare, by means of the Dragon Age 3 questions feature, which graces the BioWare Social Network on a monthly basis, is asking which events and conventions fans think BioWare should be attending in the near future. Which isn’t really Dragon Age 3-related, but is still an important bit of outreach. BioWare are slated to attend a number of events already, but it’s probable that there might be a couple more that they should show some interest in. Also in Dragon Age-related news, the folks at Forbes have offered up a first impressions article concerning the City Elf origin story from a member of their staff who is playing the game now for the first time ever. (For reference, the Dwarf Noble origin story proved to be his favourite.)

Of course, the big news over the last week or two has been Star Wars: The Old Republic going free-to-play. It hasn’t actually made the transition to that model just yet, and will in fact be retaining a subscription fee payment model as well. But all the many rumours of the last few months have been, as it turns out, true: BioWare Austin’s $150 million Star Wars-themed MMORPG is going free-to-play in the near future. And (in a move that is of maximal benefit to gamers like me and — I assume — many others here) BioWare are making essentially the entirety of the game’s single-player stories accessible for free; it’s the MMO-specific stuff that will be fully or partly paywalled for free players.

The question, of course, is thus: what went wrong? Why did the last great hope of the subscription MMORPG model suddenly make the jump to free-to-play? Why is SWTOR considered to be in a crisis when it loses a few hundred thousand subscribers because its single-player component must unfortunately come to an end, while World of Warcraft can drop a million subscribers just like that and not cause the industry press to proclaim doom upon Blizzard? (Okay, that last question is kind of cheap, and even I know it. Consider it rhetorical, and don’t actually answer it.)

Did SWTOR fail? By some measures, yes. Some insiders claim that it was negatively impacted by its developers listening too closely to fan feedback during its alpha and beta tests. Shamus Young lambasted it for, in essence, being a game about an interface, rather than a game about events in the Star Wars universe, and some of his criticisms are certainly valid. The game has garnered many award nominations in spite of its supposed “failure”, and it continues to maintain a player base of over a million subscribers (at least according to the last figures I checked). That doesn’t sound like a failure…and perhaps (more than anything else) it’s a reflection of the mad state of the gaming market that a game of SWTOR’s calibre is regarded as having failed. (c.f. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning)

At any rate, the latest (and last!) community Q&A thread for The Old Republic was posted just last week. BioWare Austin are transitioning to a new social/fan interaction model, which will presumably be revealed alongside the actual free-to-play release of the game. There’s also some manner of event scheduled for next week, but no details at present about what it will involve.

One of the more interesting side effects of the news surrounding The Old Republic was the rumour that spawned shortly after the announcement, which initially suggested that both Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk were leaving BioWare, the game company they co-founded. That rumour was later pared back to concern only Dr. Zeschuk, but it was ultimately confirmed that he had only stepped down as the general manager of BioWare Austin, and would be returning to BioWare proper to focus on other games.

A lengthy video was posted a while back showcasing the BioWare development panel at SDCC, in which a variety of topics (many related to DLC) were covered. Worth a watch if you have the time, but be warned: you’ll need an hour. (This interview with BioWare developer David Mergele is also worth checking out.)

The next single-player DLC for Mass Effect 3, entitled Leviathan, was previewed by a handful of gaming media outlets recently, and sounds as though it will add some very challenging combat to the game, as well as another story element which will further modify the ending of the game. Another, later DLC — possibly involving the Omega space station — was also teased last week. Hopefully these prompt some of the 58% of players who never finished the game to return to it and give it another try.

Also on the DLC front, BioWare released the Firefight Weapons Pack recently, which adds many of the weapons previously available only in multiplayer matches to the single-player campaign.

Oh, and it looks like Mass Effect 3 for the Nintendo Wii U is still a thing, though it is apparently being ported to that console by a third-party developer. Destructoid got a preview of the port, and had quite a lot of positive things to say about its implementation.

Oh, and: don’t miss the Elder Geek’s retrospective of Knights of the Old Republic! Also, let it not be said that BioWare’s fans and artists lack for…er…artistic talent! From replica Mass Effect weapons to replica lightsabers to cosplay, there’s a lot of work that goes on surrounding what BioWare works on, and a lot of talented people contributing thereto.

Also: Do not miss this Mass Effect-inspired point-and-click adventure game. Just…do not miss it. Equally, don’t miss Erik Kain’s passionate defence of BioWare at Forbes; it’s a worthy read. Also, be sure to check out his follow-up article thereto.

And finally: This is an interesting read, a comment from BioWare’s community manager in the wake of an epically silly fracas over a My Little Pony image. What, indeed, is a community?