When SWTOR announced free-to-play this week, several sites used the phrase “hemorrhaging subscribers” to describe the huge decrease in subscriptions from launch until now. A lot of people are walking away, myself and my husband, Ultraking (UK for short) included.
As much as we’d like to sum it up with a blanket statement and say “Everyone’s quitting because of X,” that’s just not reality. Everyone is going to have their own reason for leaving, and while we’re likely to see trends, nailing down a definitive answer is, in my opinion, highly unlikely.
Recently, UK and I were discussing (again) why, exactly, we’re letting our SWTOR subscriptions run out. There was the overarching answer that we “just don’t enjoy it anymore,” but that’s a simple and incomplete. We got to talking about what exactly that means for each of us. We talked about things our friends have said, comments made on Twitter this week, things happening with our guild, and I think at the end of it, we have a pretty good idea of an actual answer.
The first reason isn’t actually anyone’s fault. The fact is, people had a lot of expectations for this game. It had one of the biggest, longest-lasting fandoms attached, before fandom came with Tumblr memes and Twitter lists. You attach “Star Wars” to something, and people suddenly get excited.
It’s understandable, isn’t it? Most of us love Star Wars on some level. Fans get instantly nostalgic thinking about it, and it’s not uncommon in any fan group to want to escape into that every once in a while. Some do it through books, others through websites. Some RP, and others–well, we play video games. People have very clear ideas about what the Star Wars universe actually is (although they don’t always match up), and the idea of an MMO–as close as you can virtually get to being a part of Star Wars–well, that’s exciting.
The game was hyped a lot. I don’t think it’s Bioware’s fault for hyping the game any more than I think it’s the players’ fault for having high expectations. Some people are pleased with the game the way it is. Some aren’t. It just is what it is, and that’s okay.
The problem is, when you have high expectations, it’s much easier to be disappointed. I think in the case of a lot of people (UK included), the expectations pinned to the enjoyment of this game went well above and beyond what was actually presented. If you have this idea in your head of what Star Wars should look like and sound like and act like and then it isn’t that, you’re bound to be put off by it.
Reason #1: The game didn’t meet our expectations.
The game from levels 1-50 was incredible. I loved the immersion, I loved the story of my sniper. Without giving out spoilers, they took me by surprise a couple of times, and I felt like I was playing out a story in a book. It was awesome.
Then I hit level 50, and my story stopped. Really, it just stopped. The identity I’d sort of built for my character over the 50 levels no longer applied. It felt aimless, but I was excited to start level 50 Flashpoints and Warzones and Operations, so I shrugged and went on.
Not ever at any point after that did I feel like I was playing an agent. I was a sniper, yes, but I wasn’t an agent. Not really. I wasn’t special for being a sniper, I was just another dps.
Normally, this wouldn’t matter. If you look at WoW and most MMOs I’ve played, class quests are slim-to-none, especially at level cap. However, SWTOR put so much storytelling into the leveling process that I grew invested in the character of my sniper, and not having anything else after she hit 50 to carry on the story even a little bit left me feeling lost.
My husband had a bit to say on this, as well. He absolutely loved the Bounty Hunter storyline. The Great Hunt was awesome, and he really felt like a bounty hunter through the entire process. He was hoping maybe they’d have some quests at 50 that would be random bounties he could go collect, but there was nothing. He hit 50, and just like me, he felt like he wasn’t Ultraking, Grand Champion of the Great Hunt anymore, but just Ultraking the DPS and Offtank.
On top of that, once we capped out some of our companions, they became boring. I married Vector, and he still greeted me like an agent. I realize there are limits, but I wanted there to be some recognition that my story had happened. I got two letters from him, I think, and then our marriage fizzled, apparently.
Reason #2: The experience felt incomplete at the level cap.
All right, this is a completely nebulous concept. I’ve heard it said a lot, but each person who says it tends to mean something slightly different. “It doesn’t feel epic.” “It lost its epic.” “I remember when this used to be epic.”
I can only explain what “epic” means to me, and why I felt it was lacking in SWTOR.
It took a Twitter conversation and the full conversation with my husband to pin down exactly what my definition of “epic” is. What am I looking for; what quality is it that makes me say, “Whoa, this feels epic,” or “Eh, it’s missing the epicness”?
For me, it comes down to one concept: Epic is being part of something bigger than myself.
I’ve told this story before, but one more time in context: Six years ago, I had been dating my now husband for about 3 or 4 months. I visited him every weekend. Then one week, I had the whole week off of work, so I stayed around for an extra few days. Monday was one of his raid nights, and he asked if I minded if he played. I didn’t.
I sat there and watched him in Molten Core for a long time. He explained about DPS and tanks and healers. How the tank had to keep the boss from attacking everyone else, how the healers kept everyone alive, and how it was the DPS’s job to kill the boss. He showed me how he had to decurse; he explained Baron Geddon’s bomb.
I marveled at how 40 people could team up and do things in such a precise way to win a battle. It amazed me. Before the week was over, he asked me if I wanted to give it a try. He had no idea that I would get as into it as I did.
Leveling was epic for me. I had never played an MMO. The world felt huge, and I felt so little within it. As I played through the quests (and yes, I read them all), I got caught up in the stories. I felt like I was a small part in a big story, and I loved it.
As soon as I hit Outland, I wanted to raid. More than anything, that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a part of that experience; part of that teamwork, that fight that required us to work together to win.
I wanted to be part of these stories–Karazhan, Gruul, Magtheridon, Hyjal, Black Temple…I had experienced pieces of these stories all the way through the game. They all fit into a story arc I could follow from one point to the next. I could connect dots, see where the things I experienced in Hellfire and Shadowmoon and Netherstorm built up to these moments. I felt like I had worked my way up to these fights.
This–this quality–is what was ultimately the dealbreaker for me and SWTOR. Once I hit level 50, I wanted to feel that rush. I wanted all the pieces to fit together. I wanted to feel like I was part of something bigger, and I never did.
Flashpoints and Operations seemed like localized mini-stories for the most part. I couldn’t see a clear correlation between the battle in Corellia or my experience on Voss and killing Soa. I didn’t even know he was the end boss the first time I did the instance. In fact, the first time someone said “Soa” in vent, I checked my ops frames to see who Soa was.
Whether this is what kept me from feeling like a part of something bigger, or some combination of factors, or something completely different, that’s ultimately what I missed: I never felt like I was part of something bigger than myself.
I still feel that way in WoW. I still feel like killing Deathwing is a big deal. I feel like I matter. I feel like my guild and I team up every week and make something of a miracle as we wipe the floor mob after mob, boss after boss. I still get a rush when we kill a boss we’ve been struggling with.
I found and continue to find my epic in WoW. I didn’t find it in SWTOR, unfortunately.
Reason #3: SWTOR didn’t have The Epic.
Of course, these are my reasons for leaving. Well, mine and my husband’s, kind of mashed together. I’m sure everyone has a reason they left, and still others may find their epic in SWTOR and feel completely indifferent about Warcraft.
As an aside and an ending to this, let me /soapbox for just a second: everyone plays games for their own reasons. Just because someone likes a game you don’t like or hates the game you love doesn’t make either one of you wrong. It just makes you different.
Different is good. Live and let live; play and let play.
Search for your epic. Chi Cerca Trova–seek and you will find.