James Ohlen talks about the role of superservers in Star Wars: The Old Republic
Star Wars: The Old Republic's Game Director, James Ohlen, was open to talking about most anything at E3 earlier this month. We talked about the potential of The Old Republic going free-to-play, and we talked about BioWare's supposed "superservers." We also tackled how changing population levels affect how they're designing their MMO that relies so heavily on other players.
We first broke the news that BioWare intended to implement super servers a little bit before E3. When I asked Ohlen about the supposed superservers on the show floor, he pained a big-picture plan of their strategy to keep population levels high and stable, which includes introducing new technology that their programmers are working on, like superservers.
"We have free character transfers going live on June 12th. We just announced that, and you'll be able to move your character from certain select servers to other specific servers so that will be a free transfer. That's our first stage in a multi-stage strategy we have for essentially dealing with some of the population issues that our fans are concerned about. That's our biggest concern, we know that we're a massively multiplayer online game. "Massively" means massive amounts of players all playing together, so we have a lot of plans there. We have our programmers working on some tech, that's probably where you heard about the megaservers, and it's going to help us really create that environment [with lots of players together]."
Ohlen mentioned that while dwindling populations was definitely a concern and top priority for them, it doesn’t change how they plan content and design the game for future updates. I asked him if the recent announcement of subscription levels dropping from the 1.7 million they were back in March to 1.3 million at the end of May affected any design changes in the future.
"Not really, all of our plans this year we already had locked in. Well not locked in, but we did most of our strategy early on in the year because content takes a long time to produce. So, Makeb was something we planned much earlier and we had to go through all the writing and then voice work. So, we're still a very successful MMO, we have a million plus subscribers. That's more than anybody else out there except for one, so we're doing well, and we want to continue to support all those fans."
Star Wars: The Old Republic currently sits at the number two spot for subscription-based MMOs, between World of WarCraft with over 10 million, and Rift who announced they had one million players back in 2011, but has yet to release subscription numbers since. As far as free to play games, it competes with titles like DC Universe Online, Aion, City of Heroes, Dungeons and Dungeons Online, Champions Online, and Lord of the Rings Online, all of which whose playerbase has grown since converting to the free-to-play model.
Ever the optimist, Ohlen mentioned that they're also prepared for a situation where player levels skyrocket for any reason. They built in systems prior to launch that could handle excess players in specific areas to alleviate server load and player lag. He joked that that would be a much better problem to have.