In 1996, Richard Bartle published a study of MMO gamers that eventually led to his 2003 book Designing Virtual Worlds, which was at the time the de facto MMO genre's design bible. Of course, this was before World of Warcraft hit the scene, but many of the principles Bartle laid out still hold true. In fact, if you don't believe me, take it yourself: GamerDNA still has an online test based on the Bartle study.
Bartle categorized players based on their interests in the game; I would like to do the same this year as I did last year for Star Wars: The Old Republic since it's a good way to measure the game against the average expectations of certain types of players. Bartle divides us all into Achievers, Socializers, Explorers, and Killers. I'll explain what each of those means as I discuss the different aspects of SWTOR. If you know what that means and so you have a point of reference, my profile is SEAK, which means that I interact with all types of players.
For fun, I've added a grade-card-style of rating system: A, B, C, D, or F. Just remember the information I give about that score counts for more than the score itself.
Under Bartle's scenario, an Achiever likes points. These are the people who like to see the numbers go up. I think all MMO players in some fashion are achievers. We like to gain levels or make our armor stats better or fill out little achievement boxes. It might seem as though I'm making light of this type of gameplay, but I'm not. Although I only scored 20% on the Bartle test for Achiever, I do have the drive to fill in some of the Achievement boxes.
Specifically, SWTOR did really well for Achievers when it came to events. Even with my low Bartle Achiever score, I couldn't help but fill in the boxes for the Rakghoul event or the Bounty Hunter event. The conquest system introduced during the Galactic Strongholds expansion was an extension of the base achievement system extended to the guild as a whole. Conquests didn't just introduce the gated guild content; they also rewarded players for their individual accomplishments.
The only reason I couldn't give the achievement system a higher grade is that the game would be better with more varied and dynamic events. The rakghoul event might have been in a different location each time, but the tunnels were exactly the same and so were the quests. It would have been a bit more interesting to change things up a little. I wouldn't turn down more events, either.
Many people who glance at the Bartle study believe that Socializers are roleplayers. It's true that roleplayers are a part of the Socializer sphere, but I don't believe that all Socializers are just roleplayers. I know many people who play MMOs because their friends do and they like to hang out with friends and play the game solely because of the social interaction. I know very few people who play MMOs completely on their own, but even those player are a fringe part of some sort of social circle.
Star Wars: The Old Republic would have likely received a lower grade in the social area if it hadn't been for the Strongholds expansion. Strongholds were an amazing boost to roleplayers and socializers. On my server in particular, there are roleplay events on a regular basis in Strongholds, and most of them couldn't happen the way they do without this expansion.
On the negative side, there is no chance that we will ever see anything like chat bubbles in this game, and the other in-game chat systems are rudimentary at best. And although the group finder pops are now fast because of the tactical flashpoints, it doesn't exactly encourage socialization. My suggestion for next year -- assuming chat bubbles are out of the question -- would be to include more games for players that include social interaction. I know Pazaak and Sabaac have been suggested, and I believe those kinds of games need to be introduced as soon as possible.
The name Explorer kind of gives away what these players look for in a game: secret, hidden places and exciting points of interest. It's easy to forget in a linear MMO to step off the beaten path. These players will step off the path no matter what kind of MMO the game is.
Because of the narrow, linear story SWTOR presents, it's going to be hard for this game to receive anything but an average grade. However, there are quite a game mechanics that encourage players to step off the narrow road. I'm not a fan of the datacron jumping puzzles, but there are some people who love them. And with each new map, there are similar puzzles. But I think this game improved its standing with conquests and event because they require you to explore the areas we would normally not explore if there hadn't been some sort of event or achievement in that area.
Although Killers in the Bartle papers like to pit themselves against other players, it's not just PvP in the MMO sense that excites the Killer type. Killers also like to measure themselves against other players and show off achievements in that regard. You'll find many Killers checking their status on leaderboards. For them, it's all about the competition.
I can understand the drive to prove that you are better than the next person. Not all that strive for that are looking to lower other people so that they can feel better. Some are just trying to better themselves. I believe there are two keys to making a game work for Killers, and although I might make this sound simplistic, I understand that it's a little more complicated in execution. The first key is pitting players against other players or providing opportunity for players to do so themselves. The second is to allow players to compare themselves against other players, skill to skill. Right now, there are multiple arenas for players to pit themselves against other players in Star Wars: The Old Republic, but the game falls way short on the comparision part.
BioWare has introduced systems like ranked rewards and leaderboards, but those cater only to one type of Killer: the type who favor arena deathmatches. And it's safe to say that not all advanced classes are geared to work in deathmatch. To top it all off, PvPers saw only one new ground map this year, and there have been no additions to Galactic Starfighter since its official launch at the first part of this year. The D- is well deserved.
From achievements in PvE to Roleplay to PvP, Star Wars: The Old Republic doesn't fare too badly for a game that's three years old. Last year, I gave Galactic Starfighter praise, but unfortunately, there just wasn't a lot of follow through. However, the game did turn the tide socially. For me, it's seemed to be in a slump. Heading into 2015, the BioWare team will have to pick up the pace to retain the high rating for Achievers and take on the tremendous job of bolstering the Killer side.
That's my yearly report for the game. What's yours?
The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your biweekly guide to the vast galaxy of BioWare's Star Wars: The Old Republic. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to email@example.com. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!