BioWare recently gathered together SWTOR’s executive producer Jeff Hickman, lead designer Damion Schubert, and community manager Joveth Gonzalez for a livestream Q&A focused on the newly launched free-to-play option and the future of Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to watch the Q&A live, but due to the magic of the internets I was able to review it all after the fact. I came away pretty encouraged by some of the things we heard during the discussion.
On the F2P front, anyone who is actively playing the game since it has gone free-to-play has definitely noticed a significant pick-up in the game’s population. Of course, BioWare was eager to play this up by highlighting that the growth has “blown away” their expectations. Spin? Truth? Who knows, but the game has definitely been livelier as of late; that much is certain.
It’s not all peaches though. We’ve heard many gamers lament the significant restrictions BioWare has forced upon free-to-play and preferred status players in SWTOR. I recently had a chance to pick BioWare’s Blaine Christine brain on a number of these concerns. BioWare has claimed that they would be listening closely to player feedback (and reiterated this during the Q&A), but at this point gamers have been antsy to see action on that front.
Fortunately, BioWare recently went on record to announce that preferred status players would receive two additional quickbars for a total of four. From what I can tell, this was received well by gamers who were understandably upset with the restrictions. Not content to stop there, BioWare went ahead and made a new announcement during the Q&A that is sure to be a crowd pleaser. Coming soon, preferred status players will have six character slots instead of the current two. Both the quickbar and character slot situations have been real sticking points for fans and I have to say I’m encouraged by BioWare’s agility in reacting to the feedback.
As far as updates to the Cartel Market go, BioWare seems to be aiming for more frequent updates than we previously thought. It still sounds like we’ll be seeing new Cartel Packs every couple of weeks, but it also looks like we’ll be seeing some form of update to the Market on a weekly basis. We’ve seen this already with the recent introduction of the Pilot Suit item set, for example.
Cathar, the new species coming to Star Wars: The Old Republic, will also be a Cartel Market item whenever it comes out. Interestingly enough, we learned that future development on new species will largely depend on how well the Cathar sell. The gist of it is that doing a new species is incredibly expensive for BioWare, so if you want a chance at ever seeing those awesome Nautolan or Togruta make an appearance in the game, you’d better make sure you’ve set aside a character slot in order to get your Lion-O fantasy on when the time comes.
The discussion eventually shifted over PvP, and more specifically, the oft-neglected open world PvP. I suppose this is better late than never, but apparently we can finally look forward to some new hotness on the open world PvP front coming as soon as February or March of 2013. BioWare’s Damion Schubert did say it would not be a reboot of the Ilum scenario as that just didn’t work, but that they feel players will like what they’ve come up with. Additionally, Schubert noted that this new open world PvP content represents some of the best world building he’s seen for the game yet and expressed surprise at how well the game’s engine (notorious for being unable to handle a large amount of players onscreen at once) is now able to handle open world PvP. I can definitely say I’m looking forward to put both those claims to the test next year as open world PvP happens to be my favorite form of fighting my fellow players.
We got a bit of a status update on Makeb, too. It sounds like the Makeb patch is coming along well as Schubert noted that the team has been going through the Imperial side and they may be at a polishing stage based on the language used. Supposedly, we’ll learn more about Makeb quite soon. The Makeb patch will also represent a ‘philosophical restructuring’ of BioWare’s view of itemization in the game. Essentially, the goal is to ensure that the drive for new items is still a satisfying form of progression without letting things spiral too far out of control as far as power disparity goes. This is important for a number of reasons, namely that it helps lower the barrier entry for endgame PvE and also ensures that players are on a relatively even footing in terms of PvP.
Probably the most unexpected development out of the call was the reaffirmation of the development of the ‘super secret space project’. Players haven’t been sure if this major space project was still in the works, but Jeff Hickman noted that he’d recently played the prototype demo and did his best to hype it up as something really exciting without giving any actual details. We did learn that whatever this space project ends up being, it won’t be appearing on live servers any time soon and it won’t be anything like the space game they shipped SWTOR with. That latter bit got me a wee bit too excited. Oh, how do I hate the space minigame.
Finally, the most disappointing news during the call centered on the status of the topics discussed at this year’s Guild Summit. Basically, it appears that a number of features or ideas discussed at that time may be on the backburner of sorts. This is a bit odd since guild features were described as priority one shortly after launch, which is why BioWare put on the Guild Summit to begin with. It’s hard for me to imagine why this shift in priorities took place. SWTOR’s current list of guild features is pretty bare and this is one area the BioWare could really stand to improve on in order to help cultivate a sense of community in the game.
The real takeaway from this whole event was that BioWare was exceptionally straightforward and upfront about all of the topics discussed. Obviously, the folks on hand couldn’t speak freely about everything given marketing considerations and the fact that somethings were clearly still in flux or early in development, but when it came to features that were further out than players would hope, BioWare didn’t really shy away from being blunt about it. Overall it was an informative conversation and something I’d like to see the team do a lot more frequently. Communication with the SWTOR playerbase has always been fairly poor and this sort of thing goes a long way towards improving on that.
What did you think of livestream Q&A? What were the most exciting and/or disappointing aspects? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!