It's history lesson time. In 1996, Dr. Richard Bartle, who earned his PhD in artificial intelligence from the University of Essex, wrote a paper analyzing the different types of gamers who play massively multiplayer games. At the time, these games mostly consisted of MUDs (a genre Bartle helped create), but there were certainly enough data from Bartle's study that could be ported over to MMORPGs, which is exactly what Erwin Andreasen and Brandon Downey did in 1999 and 2000 when they created the Bartle Test. Since then, the Bartle Test, which breaks up online gamers into four general categories (achiever, explorer, killer, and socializer), has been used as a standard in discovering which online games players would enjoy most.
Why bring this up? Well, we are about six months into the second year of Star Wars: The Old Republic. The first year was fraught with high expectations and slow delivery. Many failed attempts at greatness made the first year of SWTOR a bit of a downer. However, in this second year, in light of the ever-changing market of MMORPGs, the Star Wars MMO took steps to put itself on a better path. Using the Bartle Test as my litmus test, I will break down and grade this year's performance so far.
Achievers win this first part of the year. April introduced Rise of the Hutt Cartel along with the achievement system, which gave us rewards for doing practically everything. For those who like to watch a number get higher and higher, this new system provided a legacy-wide achievement number that we could compare to our friends' achievement numbers. The current number of achievements sits at 30,685. Most players I know haven't even completed a third of them.
Although the achievement system is probably the biggest positive for Bartle's achiever, it isn't the only thing the achievers won this year. For the first time since launch, we can watch our level bar rise above 50. We have a Collections UI that gives us a visual representation of the loot we've scraped from the GTN or Cartel Market. We gained new gear sets, new mounts, new pets... everything a completionist would love.
The only real downside for the achiever this year has to be in the specific achievements, mostly in PvP. Now, the achievements within the warzones are fun and silly at times, like the "party-crasher" achievement for killing people with their party jawas out. The ones that concern me the most are the PvP achievements outside the specified PvP areas. On PvP servers, everyone is already flagged, so it's fine for those kinds of servers. However, on PvE servers, some completionists have been attempting to exploit the PvP flag system, like jumping in a group of mobs to get the enemy player to accidentally click on them. I've also seen a buddy system used where a player will flag and then run into an area to purposefully die. When a friendly player revives the player, it flags that player and now the revived player's opposite-faction buddy can now kill the newly flagged unsuspecting player.
I usually score really high on in exploration. I love to wander aimlessly, learning more about a given area in both function and lore. This feeds directly into my roleplay events. I enjoy crossing into areas that I'm not supposed to. And I love the additional areas SWTOR gave us this year.
Although the Gree event earlier this year focused on achievement, it also gave us new reason to head back to the western ice shelf, which had been abandoned since BioWare gave up on revamping the open-world PvP zone there. During the event, we had new monsters in new caves and a huge open area to the far south begging us to check them out. Then when Rise of the Hutt Cartel launched, not only did we gain a brand-new planet, but the macro-binocular quest and the seeker droid quest introduced us to parts of the existing planets that we might not have seen.
Unfortunately, I cannot give an A for exploration because the playthrough of most of the quest lines leads us on a straight linear path. There really isn't much reason for us to go down a path that doesn't have a quest marker along the way. Secondly, travel between areas is either very long or very short. Most people would give positive points to BioWare for cutting the fly-through taxi sequences, and although I think they are great when doing Makeb dailies, the fade-to-black sequences just make the explorer in me want to know what I'm missing.
Although the Gree event on Ilum's western shelf won the achiever and explorer category, it failed miserably in the killer category. Killers look for competitive, player-generated content. Be they group vs. group or one vs. one, killers want to feel that they have conquered one group or another. Killers can be friendly about it and are not necessarily gankers and griefers. These players just love the thrill of attempting to outwit their opponents. The revamp of Ilum did not offer that at all. When it's more efficient and rewarding to cooperate with the enemy than to destroy him, killers will find another game to play.
On top of the Ilum failure, BioWare has not introduced any other ways for the killers to compete. There are no games that pit one team against another team in a timed trial nor any minigames that feature non-violent competition. I'm really disappointed that many of the changes made to the combat system focus on the killer-type, but the development team continues to fail at providing this type of player with solid content. Even with all that concentration on class-balance in PvP, we still have Advanced Classes that don't fit well in PvP situations.
Later this year, BioWare plans on introducing a content specifically focused on PvP, but given the team's track record, I have my concerns. Hopefully, the devs can raise their grade in this category before the year's end.
Socializers like to do things in teams. They like to communicate. It is far more enjoyable for them to complete tasks with a group of friends than with a group that is efficient. Most roleplayers will fall into this group. Although I like to complete tasks efficiently, I definitely want to complete the tasks with a group that has fun and interacts well. I score extremely high in the socializer category, whether I like to admit it or not.
Although achievers are most outspoken about them, flashpoints and operations fall within the socializer's scope of enjoyable activities. And BioWare has really stepped up in terms of interesting gameplay and group coordination in the new flashpoints and especially in the operations. The amount of coordination and teamwork need to complete the new operations has risen far above the previous content. And if that were the only thing expected from a socializer in an MMO, then BioWare would certainly get an A from me.
Unfortunately, SWTOR lacks many other tidbits that would make communication and person-to-person interaction more enjoyable. Of course, the added emotes are very nice and fun, but placing them behind a paywall adds to frustrations. Additionally, those emotes are not really interactive but more look-what-I-can-do. Socializers also like to sit at tables or relax and talk. Unfortunately, BioWare has taken no strides to make that aspect of the game more enjoyable. In fact, if you count the relaxation unit from the latest Cartel Pack, then the developers have slapped RPers in the face. It proved that BioWare could give socializers tools to make the game more fun but refuse to do so.
Although I based my opinion on what I know of each group, I obviously don't fit each category. I score SEAK on the test. I'm interested in hearing others' opinions with different Bartle scores. So do me a favor before letting me know which grade you'd give: Take the Bartle test on GameDNA and post your score in the comments as well.
The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your weekly guide to the vast galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently in production by BioWare. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!