Star Wars: The Old Republic is four months old, and as it matures players want to know what the plan is for the future. This month's Rakghoul plague event is a sign that BioWare still have a few surprises up their sleeves: but there are still question marks over the future of the game, and what will keep players logging in during the wait between updates.
It's exactly the kind of the scenario that breeds speculation, most of it of the "sky is falling" variety. We spoke to BioWare's Daniel Erickson about the future of the game and the challenges of responding to the community while sticking to the established content plan.
BioWare claim that subscriber numbers haven't dropped, but concurrent users at peak times have. This, Erickson says, is the reason why players are noticing a lot of 'light' server populations - and also why mergers are on the cards, but not a priority. According to Erickson, they're doing "anything and everything" to bring that concurrent users number up. "Nothing is off the table when it comes to making sure our communities are strong and active on each server."
The demands of building a fully-voiced MMO means that new missions and planets have to be planned far in advance - but that doesn't necessarily mean that BioWare can't change tack if the community demands it. "We're getting spryer all the time" Erickson explains "usually it's a question of priority and since we have separate teams working on different initiatives we can usually change priorities for a particular game update fairly easily."
It's in response to player demand that the focus has shifted to what BioWare call "quality of life features" - convenience updates like the Legacy update's Guild Bank system. The next priority, according to Erickson, is a "robust" group finder.
In our own guilds, the PC Gamer Mint Imperials and PCG Revel Alliance, the cap on membership has made overflow guilds a necessity. Mint Imperials member Bocephus suggested that in the future it might be possible to add a players legacy - all of their characters from a given faction - to a guild, occupying a single slot. Erickson was taken with the idea. "We'd actually never thought of this" he says, "but it's now on the list!"
Events like the Rakghoul plague outbreak, which ends tomorrow, are one of the ways that BioWare are looking to make SW:TOR an attractive place to return day after day. Erickson wants the game to be "not just a destination to see your friends but a place to log in just to see what's new." To that end, more variety in daily quests is also a priority. "Interesting replayable content is the top of the list of design prototypes going on over here."
It's important to BioWare that the Rakghoul plague is a one-off. "Events are, by their very nature, transient things that build a sense of history within the game" Erickson explains. "Later you'll pull out your red rakling pet and say, 'remember when the rakghoul plague hit.'"
Thanks to the PC Gamer guilds for their questions. If you'd like to get involved in our SW:TOR community, check out the forum.