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State of the Game Interview - Part One

Michael Bitton Posted:
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We recently sat down with BioWare Austin's Bruce Maclean (senior producer), Ben Irving (lead producer), and Charles Boyd (lead designer) to chat about the state of Star Wars: The Old Republic now that Knights of the Fallen Empire has been out for a few months.

MMORPG.com: We're a couple months out now. How has Knights of the Fallen Empire been received by players?

Bruce Maclean: Really well! Normally, we don’t talk about numbers, but we can even talk about numbers, because in our earnings call Electronic Arts released some information, which is that we’ve seen a 33% growth of our subscriber base. From the perspective of just numbers, it’s been good, but what’s really been awesome is just the player response. They came back, a lot of people came back like, “OK. Fine! I get a free level 60 character. I can jump right into it. Let me see what this is all about.” And they were really just blown away. They really loved the story. They loved it, that it was about them, about their character, and lots of folks said, “You know, I was skeptical about the return to BioWare storytelling, they nailed it.”

We got a lot of great response from our players on the return to BioWare storytelling, and right now, we’re kind of like, actually in the calm before the storm. The storyline in Knights of the Fallen Empire so far really just sets up the events that are coming in the rest of the season. We’re excited to see the player response to that. While KoTFE a labor of love, it was definitely a passion project for the team, what’s happening in terms of the story in the coming season, it takes it to the next level. We are waiting to start the next season after the holidays. We are two weeks away from the biggest moment for us Star Wars fans in a generation. Episode VII is what I’m talking about. The whole studio is going to watch the movie. Most of the people I’ve talked to also booked tickets before and after the studio viewing, so a lot of us are seeing it like three times. So we’re really excited about this. Everything looks really exciting. We’re caught up in Star Wars fandom, along with everyone else.

Chapter X coming for Fallen Empire is coming up shortly after the holidays. We started to talk about that and give players information about that. We’re excited to see how all that is received as well.

Charles Boyd: It’s a really exciting shift for us to kind of be moving into this episodic storytelling style. Chapter X will be the first one of those. We have several more following on that in the months after that. It’s kind of a big change for us and something kind of unique in the MMO space. Kind of moving towards that epic TV show kind of feel. Your decisions play out over time. And all of the decisions made so far, kind of coming home to roost.

Ben Irving: That’s the most exciting thing. Some players have talked about choices that matter and we’ve set a lot of stuff up in the first nine chapters. We’ve made all these decisions that maybe aren’t so obvious to you and the back seven chapters we’re going to release, and some of the decisions players made in the past are going to have them go, “Oh wow. I had no idea it would have that impact on the story this way.” It’s a really cool thing that people will be really excited about.

Bruce Maclean: As far as how the expansion went, there’s a lot of learning, too. This is our fifth expansion, our biggest, and we did a lot of things differently. One of the things that really worked well was not charging for the expansion. The expansion is free to subscribers. That was a departure from the way we’ve done level cap content increasing expansions in the past. That was very well received and very successful. There’s not a pay wall preventing a subscriber from getting to it. They can jump right into it. And being able to make a level 60 character has been well received, too. Another thing that went really well for us was the core world revamp. Now when you play, we’ve really changed SWTOR more than any previous expansion, because leveling up takes a fraction of the time than it used to with an epic story guiding you the whole way. That’s been really well received. A lot of people come in, they started playing Knights of the Fallen Empire, they played through the chapters and a lot of the chapters allude to your path. You’re a veteran of the Galactic Civil War. We’re seeing a lot of players right now going back and wanting to explore their origin stories, starting with a fresh level one character and playing through the revamped core game.

Charles Boyd: The whole thing feels so accessible now. Like you can really just come in with no knowledge or with some knowledge or with all the knowledge you ever had and it just feels like a fresh and easy to jump right in experience. And you’re doing cool Star Wars stuff right away.

Ben Irving: And that’s always the thing we talked about leading up to this. In a lot of MMOs, they just have you, “Hey friend! Come and join me in this game. And just play 300 hours of it to catch up.” And that was a big part of this, was trying to solve that problem.  You can start with your friend at level one and play the revamped core game like Bruce just talked about or just jump straight into the story at level 60.

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Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB