This is where we get positive, for those with high hopes for Star Wars: The Old Republic. BioWare, a company with long and deep experience and a sterling repulation with RPGs and none of that with MMOs, gets a lot of technical proficiency and code specifically applicable to MMOs brought in-house, such that they no longer have to develop these themselves, or farm it out. I strongly suspect that Mythic assets will have a minimal effect of gameplay design on SW:TOR, but a lot of influence on the less visible technical side of things.
One is tempted to say that the WAR server code and architecture will be brought over whole cloth into SW:TOR, which changes made on an ad hoc basis. The same type of server architecture, which I am tempted to call “WoW-like”, which has served WAR so poorly, is likely to be a near-perfect fit for SW:TOR, at least as I imagine it to be: a story-oriented game, which makes it strong in PvE, with reasonably robust PvP on the side, something Mythic is also good at. I expect simple, useful, but not mechanically potent crafting systems, a ‘world’ large enough to meaningfully explore, and a progression system that will be considered lightweight by the “hardcore”.
Sound like anything we know? Some other existing, successful title, perhaps?
But hold on just a moment – I’m not suggesting what you probably think I am, that SW:TOR will be a “WoW clone” in the usual sense. It may be, but I suspect that it will be just different enough to feel fresh and underivative. What I’m suggesting is that BioWare was in a similar position to that of Blizzard when they were developing WoW – a company with an exceptionally strong reputation for producing quality products rather than MMOs in particular.
The ugly truth is that MMOs are often bad games compared to their non-MMO counterparts. Those of us who love MMOs tend to gloss over this fact, but it’s true; the wider marketplace is much less forgiving than the MMO subset, which has been known to keep terrible titles around for ages. The MMO marketplace inculates some very bad habits in its providers, dependent as they are on a continuing subscription stream. This is why virtually all MMOs include lots of grind with carrots at intervals – they need us to stay subscribed – and those that don’t use something other than a subscription model. Grind is not considered fun even by most of the MMO audience, who put up with it for the sake of the massive mystique, and would be seen as intolerable by players of, say, Mass Effect, to the extent that it appears in WoW, which is in some respects the least grindy subscription MMO.
This is why we should not be surprised if BioWare makes SW:TOR a non-subscription title; because it gives them freedom to make a better game, without the incentives that keep people chained to their PCs for days on end, month after month. Blizzard suceeded by concentrating on gameplay more than massiveness, and I suggest that BioWare is in a position to do the same. Maybe they’ll muff it, as Mythic allowed the great potential of WAR to slip away. But they’ve got a better chance than anybody else right now, and it just got better still.