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Bioware and PR

Swordy's Avatar

06.15.2012 , 09:31 AM | #1
I say Bioware, but I probably mean EA in practical terms. Either way, somebody over there is MASSIVELY dropping the ball here in the PR wars.

First, a simple idea in the modern software business. In today's world, the quality of your product outside of user facing bugs doesn't matter. Doesn't matter is a bit strong, maybe it's fairer to say that something that used to be the driving force of all development twenty years ago is now relegated for the sake of practicality. Software is hard to make. Huge software is hugely difficult to make. Finding out all of the bugs and making the system optimal is too expensive (and in real terms, impossible). All software is constantly shipped at "good enough" quality; everything from your Operating System to MMOs.

The great thing about the distribution platforms/internet availability now, is that patching can be performed easily and directly to the user without prompting them to come to you. You can essentially take your "good enough" shipped product and make it "great" or more realistically, fix issues that you couldn't afford to identify in your initial budget. To me, this is a huge draw to playing MMO games - their ability to constantly make themselves better and to evolve in new and exciting ways.

But this goes back to the first paragraph. In MMO games, like all software, quality does not matter. The user's perception of quality is what matters. It doesn't matter how broken your game may be if you have a million people enthusing around the world that it's wonderful, people will use it.

The point of this, is that user perceptions of software are much more important to the success of a product than the actual product is, bizarrely. This is where great PR and customer's image comes in.

Now, why do people play MMOs?

The biggest reason is the ability to live in the same universe as their friends. If their friends go, they go too.

What do you think goes through the minds of gamers when they hear this from your Lead Designer:

“The MMO market is very dynamic and we need to be dynamic as well,” he says. “Unless people are happy with what they have, they are constantly demanding updates, new modes and situations. So we are looking at free-to-play but I can’t tell you in much detail. We have to be flexible and adapt to what is going on.”

I understand perfectly well what he seems to be saying there. He's talking about keeping his options open, looking at Guild Wars, Team Fortress 2, etc and their numbers as a wide indicator of a changing player space. He's saying that Bioware is a dynamic company and ruling out any options at this point is silly.

Now what do you think gaming websites which your non subscribers read will put as a headline?

BioWare is Looking at Free-to-Play for Star Wars: The Old Republic

Let me rephrase this. The biggest MMO of all time, with one of the biggest and best licenses in all of licensedom, has one of its senior figures talking about a change of business model after six months of operation. This may not be accurate but this is certainly how it looks. It immediately paints the game as a failure (which financially it is very far from). Do you people even have a PR department? I mean really? Can you ask them to stop flicking rubber bands at each other and start working please?

How about this for an answer:

Interviewer: "Dear Lead Designer, are you considering a free to play model in the future?"

EL: "Absolutely not. SWTOR has generated over a hundred million dollars in revenue in only six months. We're committed to our business and frankly, we are earning more money than Scrooge McDuck".

You allow your product to be mocked by gaming journalists when it's the third biggest MMO in the world and the second biggest in the Western hemisphere. You haven't even rolled out in the Asian markets properly yet. What happened to standing behind your own work? It is the red headed stepchild of MMOs and you never seem to be barking out about its greatness, every interview I read from your staff is murky and indecisive; full of buzz words and lacking in confidence. Thus the gamer becomes murky and indecisive.

If you do not believe in your own product, then why exactly should we?

This is just one specific and recent example but the problem stretches back to launch. Simply, people do not like you. They don't like EA for whatever reason thus there's a guilt-by-association going on with any EA product. The pre-launch idea of a "WoW-killer" whilst being the population of a small country behind them in subscriber numbers invites mockery. The game mechanics at launch brought little instant evolution into the genre and your meta-tools were non existent. There's still no API, there's no Off Topic section in the forum, there's no real community spirit anywhere because you haven't given us the tools to do it. Even the podcasts/vodcasts/3rd party sites that are numerous in the TOR landscape are all pretty much down on the game.

Nobody wants to tell their friends about this great TOR game that they play because they know it generates arguments. It generates arguments because non subscribers have gotten ideas in their head that this game is a failure and they see no point in making the large time investment into a game which is doomed to failure. And what do we get from Bioware?

"We're considering Free to Play".

If you could get your guys to actually sound enthusiastic about this game once in a while, if you could get your parent company to shout about the millions of dollars they earn from it from the rooftops, if you could draw a line in the sand and stop being the punchline of a gaming industry that is desperate for you to fail then we might all get somewhere.

I stopped playing the game after huge initial excitement, then came back in late 1.2 and have played 1.3 on the PTS. You have a good product. It has immeasurably improved from launch; it feels tighter, it feels less like hard work and more like fun. The play experience is generally good for a young MMO. But you are hugely failing to communicate this to other people either with the press strategy you are employing and the lack of buzz that you generate now. You need to hit this one out of the park to win and you're going for safe singles just all of the time.

You've got the product quality down now, it's time to work on the perception of the product and you can start by maybe telling people that for a game with a long term plan, you're not the bird that fell from the nest that you appear to be.

EDIT: For the record this isn't solely about the F2P comments but about a general malaise in the attitude when talking to the press at events or in interviews. In particularly, a complete lack of fighting spirit in the face of mindless criticism.

tekhiun's Avatar

06.15.2012 , 10:57 AM | #2
What about they calling server mergers "free character transfers" isn't that at least a decent PR move ?
Star Wars: Attack of the Cartel.

Daxxo's Avatar

06.15.2012 , 11:06 AM | #3
The original article that started this whole crap storm has been pulled from GameTM's site.

Halkyon's Avatar

06.15.2012 , 12:25 PM | #4
Lol, that pretty much sums up my thoughts on it. I never got to read the original article, must've been pulled super fast. All I've seen is snippets (possibly taken out of context? Again, can't see the original...) and immediately everyone is posting about Free to Play all over mainstream gaming websites.

Qishari's Avatar

06.15.2012 , 02:05 PM | #5
Hello all,

We do have a thread for this topic. Please continue your discussion in the ongoing thread: