Yesterday Bioware announced that customers with a level 50 character will be getting a free month of access to SW:TOR.
In response a certain segment of gamers (a sub-section of those who play SWTOR and don’t have a level 50 character) got really angry. They’re pissed that Bioware values the level 50 owners over them.
I think Bioware’s mistake was wrapping this bribe (because let’s face it, this is a bribe) in a marketing angle. They called it a loyalty reward. I’m sure that’s not what it is. In fact, the title of this post is totally inaccurate because this free month isn’t a good deed at all. It’s an investment in SW:TOR’s future.
Here’s what I think is really happening:
Back at launch or even before launch, Bioware was talking up the story aspect of SW:TOR. Players wanted to know what happens once their character’s story was complete, and Bioware said they had a series of additional content planned to keep the stories going.
To the best of my knowledge, very little of this additional story content has materialized (I should note that I don’t have a level 50 character even though I’ve been playing since early access). I’m guessing the majority of the team has been working on getting version 1.2 out so the game has the basic functionality of other programs, like UI windows that you can move.
I’m betting that level 50 characters who aren’t interested in rolling alts are getting bored and leaving the game. Bioware needed to buy some time so they’re offering those players a free month to stick around while they aimed the team at delivering the next chunk of story content.
So I wonder what these angry customers would have thought if Bioware had said something like this:
To our level-capped players. We know we promised additional content to keep you engaged in our game, and we know we haven’t done a good job delivering that content. With Patch 1.2 out there we can now focus our efforts on extending your character’s story. This new content isn’t ready yet but it will be soon.
By way of apology, we are offering you 30 days of free game time in the hopes that you will stick around. We think you’ll find it worth the wait.
Would transparency have made a difference? I’m not sure. But by calling the free month a loyalty reward they definitely opened themselves up to very valid criticisms that customers who’ve been there since day 1 and have a gang of sub-50 alts are no less loyal, and in fact may be more loyal, than customers who joined in March and charged right up to level 50 on their single character.
Bioware’s logic must be “You haven’t hit 50, so you still have things to discover. These level 50 guys have seen it all so we need to bribe them to stick around.” but that isn’t playing well among gamers.
I wonder if we’re seeing the end of Beloved Bioware. Between the ending of Mass Effect 3 and SW:TOR in general, the developer seems to have gone from a company that can do no wrong to a company just like any other game developer: one that has both enthusiastic fans and vocal detractors.
Are MMOs the kiss of death? Blizzard was a beloved game developer before World of Warcraft came around. Now there’s definitely a loud Blizzard-hating group of gamers out there. Is Bioware going through that same transition?