Tuesday, December 27, 2011

In a nutshell

I think the easiest way to sum up Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) is like so:

Take Knights of the Old Republic, increase the amount of content by an order of magnitude, add repeatable dungeons, PvP, and the ability to play with your friends, and the result is SWTOR.

This is not a bad thing.  If the comparison is meaningless because you've never played Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR), you should.  It's getting a little creaky, but it's still a very fun RPG that drips with the essence of Star Wars.  A lot of the stories and characters in SWTOR will make more sense if you've played KotOR.

I think SWTOR is possibly the best game Bioware has ever made, and I've played every RPG they've made.  I've seen plenty of blog posts and reviews out there saying the game sucks, though most of the complaints boil down to "this is not the game for me" rather than "there is something fundamentally wrong with this game".

If you like Bioware RPGs and you liked WoW, SWTOR has a lot to offer you.  If you can't stand the style and gameplay methods used by either of those, then the latest Star Wars game simply isn't going to be for you.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Pondering quests and SWTOR's future

This will be a bit of a rambling post.  Shocking, I know, but bear with me here.

One of the things I'm really enjoying about Star Wars: The Old Republic is the ability to make choices within a quest.  Typically in an MMO you get one choice - to take or decline the quest.  Once you've accepted the quest, you have no choice in the way it plays out, you either achieve the required goals or you fail.  For example, in WoW I remember this quest on the Horde side where you were tasked with feeding a human prisoner some food infected with the undead plague for the purpose of turning him into a ghoul.  It was a fundamentally evil act, and while you could choose not to take the quest, if you took the quest your only option was to kill the poor prisoner, or fail.  I hated that quest.  The Horde weren't supposed to be evil, yet that quest required I perform an evil act or abandon the quest.  Additionally, in the days I took that quest (early in the Vanilla years) I'm not sure it was even possible to abandon a quest.

In SWTOR, many quests give you a choice further down the line, typically regarding how you complete the quest.  To use the WoW example above, SWTOR's version would prompt you with a choice when you got to the prisoner -- feed the prisoner the food, dump it out and say it didn't work, or help the prisoner escape. Whatever you chose, you'd still get some sort of quest completion, and you'd get to do it the way you wanted.  Things like that occur a lot in SWTOR, my Bounty Hunter switched sides during several quests and took a reward from his original target.  He's also tricked his quest givers a couple of times, pretending to give them what they asked for while actually doing something else.  For example, he was tasked with killing a native warrior who had killed a Hutt and bringing back his head.  When confronting the warrior my character was given the option to take the head of another warrior that had already been killed and spare the Huttsbane who was, after all, just fighting for the freedom of his people.  I accepted, and gave the slimy Hutt a head, but not the one he requested.  Quest complete.

This is the story aspect that is going to make SWTOR stand out from the crowd.  It's not that there's voiced dialog for all the quests (although that helps too), but rather than players have choices in many of their quests, choices that change how the quests play out.  That also helps replayability, since it means you can take the same quest with a different character, make different choices, and get a different outcome.  Is it a huge difference?  No, but it provides a solid illusion of player impact, something most MMORPGs sorely lack.

In other news, Massively.com posted an interview with one of the SWTOR developers today and he had this to say:
In other MMOs, the team moves on to other games or gets downsized. We've actually kept our team, and we're not working on anything else. It's a little bit different for me. Basically, when I finished with Baldur's Gate, I went on to Baldur's Gate 2, then I immediately went to Neverwinter Nights, then I immediately went to Knights of the Old Republic. But here I'm finished with SWTOR, and it's just more SWTOR. The whole team is that way. We don't have a secret project. It's nothing but new content for The Old Republic. We have teams working on new flashpoints; we have teams working on new operations; we have teams working on new game systems and on new space missions.
If that's true, if the entire SWTOR development team is continuing to work on SWTOR the game should get a lot of content updates over the next year.  If they can do that and stay profitable, it could make SWTOR one of the most frequently updated MMORPGs in ages and give it another edge over WoW.  Rift updates fairly often, but as many people have noted the nature of the content in those updates is somewhat predictable -- new elemental force trying to invade, special drops from rifts, new daily quests, special loot from a token vendor.

If Bioware can deliver solid content updates to the game every few months . . . then wow.  This game will have serious long term potential:  eight classes with unique storylines, choices with permanent impacts on characters, unique companions for each class, PvP, group instances, raids, and substantial ongoing content updates?  The first and last items on that list will feed into each other too - you reach the level cap, run out of things to do, so make an alt, and by the time they reach the level cap there are new things for your old character to do, and once you're done with that there are new things for new characters to do, prompting you to create another alt, that hits the level cap in time for new things for your old character to do.

Pure speculation of course, but the potential is there.  Here's hoping.

SWTOR: Seven levels of bounty hunting

Holy cow, there's a new Star Wars MMO?!
Unless you've been living under a rock you probably know the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic is imminent - just next week in fact.  Early access for pre-orders has started, and along with piles of other people I got into it yesterday.  Due to an unfortunate cancellation of our Tuesday Night Gaming Group I ended up having time to play, so created my Bounty Hunter, joined my guild, and started adventuring.

I didn't touch any Empire characters during my brief beta stint, and so right away I was struck by just how different the starting experience for a Bounty Hunter is from the Jedi Consular.  The entire feel and tone of the setting is different, and appropriately so, although my Bounty Hunter seemed to have to do a lot more talking before getting to the shooting than my Consular did.  New Bounty Hunter's arrive on Hutta to try and earn a place in the Great Hunt.  If you played the Knights of the Old Republic games you've probably heard of the great hunt - it's a bounty hunting competition the winner of which walks away with fame and fortune.  The Mandalorians are pretty into it.

You arrive on Hutta and make your way to a building where a team of bounty hunters are waiting -- your team.  They go on about what a bad ass you are, and indeed, all the conversation options and NPC reactions reflect your status as a bad ass.  You are a level 1 bad ass, but it doesn't matter, it works.  The fact that I'm playing a hulking Chiss with glowing red eyes doesn't hurt either.  Eventually you go out and start collecting bounties.  Yes, you're not killing random mobs (not at first anyway), you're killing criminals with bounties on their heads, or their minions.  In the first two hours of the game I've taken out several named bounty targets, double crossed several quest givers, crashed the financial accounts of a rival Hutt, and even freed some slaves.  What the heck, right? I'm a bad ass.  You slaves can go, I don't care.

So the Bounty Hunter story seems good so far, but how does the class play?

The Bounty Hunter is the master of combat options, and I'd say the combat style is one of damage and disruption.  I was bothered by the fact that Bounty Hunters/Troopers don't seem to pay any heed to blaster fire -  Jedi and Sith try to deflect it with lightsabers, and Smugglers/Agents take cover, but Bounty Hunters just stand there and take it.  Turns out they don't.  A Bounty Hunter's defense is a disruptive offense -- enemies who are on fire, trying to get explosives off them, or getting knocked down by rockets aren't shooting at you, and within your first couple of levels you can do all of those things.  Attacking groups of enemies became a thing of beauty as I'd open with an Explosive Dart which would stick to a target and distract them for 3 seconds as they frantically tried to claw it off.  The dart would then explode dealing a large amount of damage and knocking all nearby enemies down.  All the while I'm taking shots with my blaster, follow with a rocket when they get back up (which knocks them all down again), and finally use Unload on any survivors that have a lot of health.  Most of the time I could take out the whole group without them getting more than a couple of shots off.

I'll admit that even with that I still tend to try and stand behind cover.  It doesn't actually do anything of course, but it makes me feel better and lets me believe the combat is making sense.  I'll also tend to charge forward, which isn't as insane as it sounds, as the Bounty Hunter has a powerful rocket-assisted punch for melee so opening up with everything you've got and then charging to melee is a good way to deal with powerful targets.  Plus, in the real world it's harder to hit a moving target so running also makes me feel like the combat isn't just "stand there and shoot each other in the face with blasters".  The fact that so far all non-channeled abilities I have can be used while on the move is a big plus in my book.

My Bounty Hunter is level 7 and sitting in a Hutt's cantina earning some rest experience.  I don't have a companion yet, but have several Heroic 2+ (group areas) to explore, so I'm looking forward to tackling both of those things tonight.  So far SWTOR has been the most enjoyable MMORPG experience I've had in years.  Time will tell if it's my favorite MMORPG ever, or if the shine wears off as I play more, but either way I'm looking forward to a good ride.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Diablo 3 - Not sure what to think

According to my e-mail invite to the Diablo 3 beta I am free (and even encouraged) to discuss my experiences as much as I like.  So I'm going to, starting right now.

When I received my beta invite late last week I thought Blizzard and/or fate was playing a cruel trick on me, getting me access to one of my most anticipated upcoming games right as SWTOR (another of my most anticipated upcoming games) is about to release.  "Oh cruel fate," I railed, "I don't have time to play both!"
After checking the beta out over the weekend though, it's not looking like much of a competition after all.

I'm going to discuss the good and the bad of my experiences, starting with the good.

First off, the game runs very smoothly on my moderate spec machine, even with all settings at maximum.  Anyone who has ever played a Diablo game is going to be hit with a wave of nostalgia as you first enter the game world as the music and some of the sound effects are straight from the earlier games.  Combat is the smooth click-fest you'd expect, and loot is plentiful.  Experience seems to accrue at a reasonable rate, but not so fast that you feel like things are whizzing by too quickly.  It definitely slows down after level five or so, maybe too much, it's hard to say.

Some of the new features are really nice, especially the crafting system.  Rather than relying wholly on the randomness of drops and vendors, the Blacksmith has a list of recipes for items he can create.  The item itself has semi-random stats, but the items are blue quality or better, and you can choose which slot you need an item for.  Don't have a helm yet, or only a crappy one?  The Blacksmith can make you one, assuming he's learned the right recipe.  Crafting is paid for with materials acquired by breaking down magical items into their components along with a small amount of gold.  The Blacksmith can be "leveled up" by finding five recipe pages which can be bound into a Tome of Learning.  The Tome, along with some crafting materials, can be given to the Blacksmith to level his crafting skill, which in turn unlocks new recipes.  It's a nice system that lets you turn junk drops into something useful, and my Wizard has been making good use of it.  There are two more crafters in the game, but I haven't encountered them yet.

I also really like the change to character development that they've made.  As you level up you will learn new skills/spells, but you can't just use them willy-nilly.  Instead, you have a limited number of skill slots into which you place the selection of skills you want to use.  You gain additional skill slots as you level up, starting with one at level 1 and eventually expanding to six.  At the lowest levels it feels pretty restrictive as you don't have much to do with only two or three skill slots, especially if you pick a long duration buff as one of your skills.  Still, I like the system overall, as it has something of a Guild Wars feel to it, where finding the combination of skills that works for you is more important than cramming every skill you've got onto an expanded skillbar and trying to remember what they all do.  It means one level 20 wizard could have an entirely different selection of spells than another -- wizard A might toss magic missiles and arcane orbs, while wizard B electrocutes his foes after freezing them with a frost nova.  Most importantly, you can freely re-assign skills by visiting a shrine in town (or at the start of some dungeons) so you can experiment and play around with your build endlessly until you find what you like, rather than making permanent changes that can only be altered with great difficulty.

Another positive is that for the most part there are no class/attribute restrictions on gear.  Certain items are class specific, such as the Demon Hunter cloaks and crossbows, but anyone can wear that suit of plate armor if they are high enough level.  That was true in Diablo 2 as well, except in that game your mage would have to meet the strength requirement to wear the high defense armor.  In Diablo 3, they can just wear it.  This means when you choose your class you're just picking a playstyle, not a role.  If you want to be a plate wearing wizard that fights with a sword and shield, you can do that.  The stats on that sort of gear probably won't maximize your DPS, but you'll have loads more defense than the wizard using a wand and focus, and you don't have to gimp yourself by stacking strength to achieve it.  Good stuff.

It's not all sunshine and roses though.  The beta currently has some pretty severe server issues, which is strange considering the amount of experience Blizzard has in implementing this sort of thing.  They've been doing Battle.net for over a decade, and World of Warcraft since 2004.  They should be pros at this by now, yet most of the time the beta servers were crashed and I couldn't log in.

Part of the reason the game plays so smoothly is that the graphics look a bit dated.  Diablo 3's prolonged development time is counting against it here, as "modern" graphics pass it by.  The in-game graphics are passable, but I have to say the character graphics on the character creation screen (which is significantly more zoomed in than in game) are downright ugly.  The spell effects have so far also been pretty lackluster.  They're upgrades from Diablo 2 no doubt, but seem fairly flat.  I have yet to see anything that makes me go "wow".  It's functional, but uninspiring.

And that, sadly, seems to describe the game quite well - functional but uninspiring.  It's a well crafted game with some solid new features, and should be a satisfying experience for any Diablo veteran.  A couple of hours into the game though, I found myself getting bored.  As I worked my way through the levels of the Cathedral, it really started to remind me of Torchlight, which was a strange thing to note.  Torchlight should have been a game in the vein of Diablo, but it's passed its inspiration by and now Diablo 3 is a game in the vein of Torchlight.  Outside of the things I mentioned earlier, Torchlight already does most of the "new" things Diablo 3 is doing (such as mobs climbing out of the terrain, secret doors, destructible terrain, etc.) and the three dimensional dungeon levels feel almost identical.

This isn't really a failing for Diablo 3, I mean Torchlight was a good game and I enjoyed playing it.  Plus many of the new things it did are just sensible evolutions for the genre and it would be odd for Diablo 3 to NOT include them.  Nevertheless, it gave Diablo 3 a real feeling of sameness, like I'd done all this before and sapped the feeling of "new shiny" from the game very quickly.  I know the game is going to ramp up as you go along, and I'm sure it's way more fun when played with friends, but playing the first act solo was a bit of a let down.

Am I still looking forward to the game?  Absolutely.  Is the Diablo 3 beta going to compete with my SWTOR playtime?  Not a chance.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Moddable Gear

Before going any further, you need to go to the SWTOR site and read this.  It's a post by a SWTOR developer detailing the item modification system that exists in Star Wars: The Old Republic.  For those not in the know (which included me, btw) some pieces of equipment in the game are moddable, they have empty slots into which an item modification can be placed to give it stats.  It's sort of like sockets in other games, but far more central to the functioning of the item.  Sockets in other games were more of a bonus than anything, the mod slots in SWTOR gear are vital to them being useful.

Previously there were two types of moddable gear - gear that had nothing but mod slots, and gear that had some set stats and one mod slot.  The most recent patch has apparently removed most of the latter and created more of the former with the intent of making using mods more focused.  Since everyone gets some items that are fully custom through class quests we'll all be engaging in the system at least a little bit.  As a force user, your first lightsaber is a fully moddable piece of gear.

I think the system is interesting, and as long as mods aren't too difficult to obtain I think it will offer a viable and fun alternative to the typical gear progression system.  The fact that mods can be safely removed from gear is key, as it means really good mods can be saved and used on items you like the look of better, or saved for other items when you find an upgrade that would be better in it's current slot.  With similar systems in other games I have frequently agonized over using a really good gem/enchant/whatever for fear of getting an item it would be better on shortly thereafter with no way to undo my choice.  A fear that is usually born out too (as was the case with the +40 fire damage gem I slotted on my War in the North character's weapon, argh!).

The fully customizable items I've seen so far had quite a few slots, 3-4 if I recall.  Getting to build your own item with that many choices sounds like fun, and I'm sure it's a system I'll use as much as I can.  The fact that crafters can now create armor/weapons that are fully moddable will help.  One thing that isn't clear to me though is that it's been stated you could use a fully moddable item from level 1 to the level cap if you wanted simply by updating the mods slotted in it.  I'm assuming then there must be a mod that increases the dps of a weapon or the defense on armor?  Otherwise I don't see low level custom gear being very useful no matter how good the stat mods on it are.  I don't care that the lightsaber I started with has huge bonuses to stats if its base damage is still that of a level 9 item . . .

Mods can be obtained as loot, as quest rewards, from breaking down equipment, or through crafting.  It sounds like a lot of possibilities, and hopefully it will be enough.  I suspect the crafting skill that creates mods will be a profitable one overall, as it doesn't sound as useful as crafting your own armor or weapons, but in the end absolutely everyone is going to be using mods at some point.

I also really liked that if you see an armor drop that looks cool, someone somewhere has the recipe to craft that armor in a fully moddable version.  If the system works well enough it will reduce the need for an appearance tab as you can track down the look you want and make the stats work by using mods.  I hate looking like a frankenstein's fashion monster in these games, but not so much that I won't wear that piece of ugly armor with awesome stats.  Being able to have the best of both worlds is something to look forward to, I just hope the execution is as good as the idea.

Tank Envy

One of my gaming friends is still playing World of Tanks pretty seriously.  Last night before our little group started its weekly session of Lord of the Rings: War in the North (which after a couple of weeks of play I'd still highly recommend as a really fun action-RPG romp if you can play it with friends and avoid the bugs) he was talking about his progress in WoT, and that he was just 8,000 xp away from the IS-7, currently the tank at the top of the Russian heavy tank line.  As in a tier 10 tank, as high as you can get in the game.

Hello, I'm the IS-7.  I'll be your bruiser for the evening.
He then started talking about his IS-4, and what a fun tank it is and how it really makes all the other heavy tanks he's played feel pretty feeble in comparison.  My heavy tank experiences have generally felt pretty feeble, so I couldn't argue with him there.  It got me to thinking though -- one of the reasons I started losing interest in WoT was that even though tanks would look like upgrades on paper, when you actually unlocked them and started playing they just weren't much fun, or somehow managed to perform more poorly than the tank before them thanks to being in a higher tier and fighting harder opposition.  That happened to me numerous times and left me feeling like I'd wasted all my time building up to the tank in question.  It happened with the German tank destroyer line, I got up to tier 5 and went "meh".  It happened with the US tank destroyer line, I got up to tier 5 and went "meh".  I'd say maybe I have a problem with tank destroyers, but I actually like the Russian tank destroyers.  Well, so far.  I got up to tier 7 in the US heavy tank tree and was really disappointed by the T29.  I have the biggest gun it can mount and still can't seem to kill much.  To date I still have superior stats with the T1 Heavy, a tank I thought sucked pretty bad.  Apparently not as much as I thought.

So hearing about my friend's experiences with the IS line of tanks shortly had me drifting into the realm of tank envy.  Why did I waste my time with the US heavy tank tree when the Russian one is apparently so much better?!  Not that I could do much about it even if I wanted to, my highest Russian tank is only tier 4, a long haul from tier 7 IS.  If only I could respec . . .

Yeah, why can't I respec?  One could (quite reasonably) argue that the research tree you progress down is no different than choosing a class in a real MMORPG.  If you get halfway to the level cap with a class and decide you don't like it, you're out of luck, you get to start over.  Why should WoT be any different?  Maybe it shouldn't, maybe the way they're doing it is just fine, though one can't help but think that it also serves to drive sales of premium time and xp transfers, something that likely generates more revenue over time than a respec token would.

On the other hand, it's not as if we have characters in WoT, it's just a technology tree.  There's also the issue that Wargaming.net keeps shifting things around in the trees but doesn't reset where you've spent your xp, which can lead to some odd and/or annoying shifts to your progression.  The other thing to consider is that a normal MMORPG offers the possibility of different content if you start a new character.  Maybe a new starting zone, new class quests, new abilities, etc.  That's not the case in WoT.  If you start over to unlock a new tank you'll be doing exactly the same deathmatch maps as you were before, and all tanks have the same "abilities", they just have different stats.  You might switch from a slow tank with heavy armor and a big gun to a faster tank with thinner armor and a smaller gun, and doing so will result in a change in your tactics, but it's not as if that T20 can deploy mines while the IS can call in an orbital strike.  They all have a single gun of varying capability and drive around on the map shooting at things.

So should WoT have a way to unspend your xp in order to shift it into new research areas?  I don't know, such a system would certainly be controversial (to say the least!) and run the risk of flavor-of-the-month tanks.  Nevertheless, if such a system did exist I would almost certainly take advantage of it, even if it cost real money to do so.  My time is far more limited than my funds.

Monday, December 5, 2011

SWTOR: A few pet peeves

I think my ramblings about SWTOR have overall been quite positive, but I do have a few issues with some of the design decisions they made in the game.  They're not really serious issues, so I'd have to classify them as little more than pet peeves.

The first regards the monsters/npcs out in the world.  They just stand there doing nothing.  All the time.  They don't wander, they don't drift, they have idle animations and that's about it.  I thought we were past the age of obvious xp buckets sitting around waiting for someone to tip them over.  The humanoids aren't that bad, as their idle animations often involve them doing something, but the animals are terrible.  They just stand around and sometimes shuffle their feet, or snort.  They don't eat, they don't move, and even the completely passive "critter" variety don't run away when you approach.  The game is otherwise quite immersive and technically impressive, so I find it quite jarring to see all these listless animals standing about waiting to starve to death.  It's 2011, is that really the best we can do?

I mentioned it in another post, but the heat seeking blaster bolts really annoy me.  It's especially bad since most guns shoot a stream of shots rather than singles (like they mostly did in the movie) so you get this clearly defined arc that bends and twists as the target moves.  The flood of shots itself is fairly jarring.  How about reducing the number of bolts fired at once and making them travel faster?  That would reduce the lunacy significantly.  "But then the screen won't be saturated with blaster shots and shiny special effects all the time!" That's kind of the point.  If it was good enough for the movies and KotoR, it should be ok here too.  Blaster fire should look like blaster fire, this is Star Wars not Ghostbusters.

I understand they have to make sacrifices in the name of gameplay, but the appearing/disappearing vehicles really bug me.  It's one thing in a game like World of Warcraft where you can handwave it away as magic, but there's no magic at play here, and the technology of Star Wars does not include teleportation, solid holograms, or matter replication.  Why does that speeder appear out of nowhere, and disappear in a shimmer like a deconstructing hologram?  Couldn't they have designed the taxi pads with a hangar that your character goes into then flies out on a vehicles, then flies into another hangar on the other end.  The effect would be the same, but the visuals would be more immersive.  Or heck, do something that WoW has already done, and have the vehicles sitting out on a landing pad and when you click one you jump in and fly away (leaving another one behind, but it's still an improvement).  For personal "mounts" I'd like to see characters activate some sort of comm device and then have the vehicle of choice swoop in from offscreen, then fly off again when done.  Darth Maul did it, dammit.

 Why do some classes (Jedi Knight) get to turn in class quests via a communications device, while other classes (Jedi Consular) have to trudge back to base on foot and talk face-to-face?  On the one hand I actually liked the interaction the Jedi Consular had with their NPC, it made the story feel more engaging.  On the other hand, it took forever to get through the starting area due to all the trudging compared to the Jedi Knight.  How about a special "return to NPC" button that will automatically take your character to the appropriate story instance when you're ready to complete it.  It can go away when you're higher level and have more transportation options.  It's not teleportation, it's . . . I forget the cinematic term for it, but a scene switch in a movie.  You're assumed to have made the trudge back on foot, you just don't have to experience it.

So, anyone else have some pet peeves?  I think I've gone on about it long enough myself.

Friday, December 2, 2011

SWTOR: The WoW Killer?

Many people are positing that Star Wars: The Old Republic will kill World of Warcraft, that EA-Bioware expects it to kill WoW, and that it will be a complete failure if it doesn't kill WoW.  Then there are people arguing the flip side, that SWTOR can't compete with WoW, that WoW will kill SWTOR, and that nothing will ever dethrone WoW.

To put it simply, I disagree with all of those positions.

The Old Republic isn't going to kill World of Warcraft, no single game ever will.  World of Warcraft is too big, and too many of it's players aren't MMORPG gamers, or even gamers, but rather WoW gamers.  They don't play anything other than WoW now, didn't play anything before WoW, and quite possibly won't play anything after WoW.  Blizzard's behemoth is going to die though, but it will be the slow death of a thousand cuts as people leave for a multitude of reasons and recruiting replacements gets harder and harder in the face of all the other options out there.  SWTOR won't kill WoW, but it will take some of the game's subscribers, and provide viable competition for future recruitment of new subscribers.  Kill WoW?  No.  Wound it?  Sure.

I don't think Bioware expects to dethrone WoW either.  After all, they seem to be hoping for a million or so subscribers, which while hefty by most standards is still only a fraction of WoW's subscriber base.  Anyone officially with Bioware or EA trying to claim SWTOR will kill WoW is just trying to drum up publicity.  Games that seriously claim to be WoW-killers suffer some serious negative publicity when they fail.  Yeah, I'm looking at you Warhammer Online.  Bears bears bears.  Bastards.

I think the argument that SWTOR can't exist alongside WoW is equally erroneous.  If a game like WoW had existed ten years ago, then maybe I'd agree that both games couldn't survive due to WoW's enormous market share.  The MMORPG gaming audience has grown dramatically in the last ten years, thanks in large part to the runaway success of WoW, and we know that the number of people currently subscribed to WoW is far far lower than the total number that have ever been subscribed to WoW.  This is a huge potential market for the game (past subscribers of WoW) as SWTOR will be immediately familiar and comfortable to older WoW players, while bringing the power of the Star Wars IP to the table.  It's not at all hard to imagine SWTOR bringing in a couple of million subscribers without affecting WoW's current subscriber base AT ALL.  I think it will take some subscriptions away, I'm just saying it doesn't have to.

One other thing that I think many people aren't considering when it comes to SWTOR and WoW co-existing is that there's no rule that says people can only subscribe to a single game at a time.  This isn't a binary situation, it's not IF SWTOR = TRUE, THEN WOW = FALSE (and vice versa).  Consider that the average age of MMORPG gamers has been gradually increasing over the years.  The last statistic I recall seeing placed the average age in the 30s, maybe even the 40s.  You know what else increases as age increases?  Income.  Ten years ago most people playing MMORPGs were college students with time but no money, and maintaining a single subscription at a time was probably all most people could do.  As the average age of MMORPG gamers increases, the average income of MMORPG gamers can also be expected to increase, and thus the potential to subscribe to two games at a time also increases.

The downside, of course, is that free time tends to decrease, which would be an argument against multiple subscriptions, except that games like WoW aren't exactly chock full of new content on a weekly basis.  Why continue to sub to WoW for six more months until the next content patch when you could switch to SWTOR, then switch back. Not a constant multiple subscription, but over the course of a year it would amount to much the same thing. I can also easily imagine a growing number of gamers with steady incomes electing to play both games in order to maximize their gaming time.  Most people I talk to who still play WoW only seriously play it a couple of days a week, and spend the rest of their gaming sessions mucking about killing time.  They could very easily be playing SWTOR on those days instead.

Only time will tell, but I think the market is ripe for another big, successful MMORPG, and SWTOR isn't releasing against a whole lot of competition here.  When was the last AAA MMORPG release?  When is the next one?  They've got a wide open window of opportunity here.  I think the market is ready, it's up to Bioware to not drop the ball.

That other SWTOR post . . .

Isn't happening.  I spent several days scouring my hard drive for all the beta screenshots I took and couldn't find them.  Like many others, the screenshot functionality apparently didn't work for me.  Since the screenshots were integral to the whole post, the post sort of evaporated with the screenshots.

I'm not ready (yet) to jump on the conspiracy bandwagon that the virtual item in the CE of the game is required to enable taking screenshots.  Rather I suspect the holocam (or whatever it's called) will let you take virtual screenshots that are stored and viewable in-game.  I can't believe any non-idiotic developer would completely disable the ability to take screenshots of their game without a virtual item purchased with real money.  They'd lose massive amounts of free word-of-mouth advertising if people can't show screenshots to their friends or post them on blogs, facebook, etc.