Star Wars: The Old Republic Interview

With the full launch of The Old RepublicĀ a few days away, GameSpy interviews BioWare heads Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk about the "challenges, risks and rewards" of creating an MMORPG, with the two sounding very confident heading up to the launch.
GameSpy: Coming out of the beta, we heard a lot of really positive feedback, but you can't please everyone, and there were some disillusioned people who felt that The Old Republic sticks too close to conventional MMO formula, is too close to World of Warcraft, and isn't ambitious enough for them.

Greg Zeschuck: One of the first things to ask was how much they'd actually played it. We've seen some of that feedback, then we actually dug into the person, they'd played for 20 minutes and that was it. It's one of those things where you have to spend some time and commit to it to get it. Second thing, that would be true if we didn't bring a fundamental new dimension to the MMO space: the concept of story and choice.

The other thing that's been really interesting is the story element, because it's done so seamlessly and such a part of the experience. People forget that it's actually completely unheard of, never seen before in the space. The dialogue that's in the story, things that we do. They almost take that for granted, forget about that, even though it's incredibly innovative. At the same time, the other side of that is, we're not out to totally redefine how you use the mouse, you know what I mean? There's a certain level of established conventions of how it makes sense to play these games, that are tried and true.

Ray Muzyka: Going back a decade, two decades, the games in this space have built on a foundation going back that far. Conventions of MUDs and early MMOs have built on that, iterated and evolved it. This is an evolution in many respects, it's evolving the gameplay of the exploration and the combat progression. And it's revolutionizing a dimension that hasn't been as strong in some MMOs in the past, around choice and purpose and story, allowing you to take on a heroic or villainous aspect in a really cool universe, the Star Wars universe, several thousand years before the movies.

Greg Zeschuck: It's interesting, too, that being one of the complaints that people have. You don't seem to hear that in other genres, like the first-person shooter space. "You didn't innovate as much as this other one innovated!" It's all a fairly narrow channel of stuff. Whereas we actually are going into really unique spaces within this.

Ray Muzyka: We see that there's a lot of innovation, and one of the ways you can see that is, when you play The Old Republic for a while... This is something we challenge you to do, play it for a week or so, get engaged in it, get up into the teens and twenties, thirties, and then go back to another MMO. The innovations will be really obvious. They'll feel different in terms of the sense of purpose, the sense of destiny, the sense of your hero's journey. You want to know the story.

GameSpy: Would you say that once you go TOR, you can't go back?

Greg Zeschuck: Yeah.

(...)

GameSpy: For a lot of MMOs, especially at launch, the content is generally front-loaded, because that's where absolutely everybody is going to play. But then there's the hardcore MMO guys that stick with it and devour the late-game content, and they get to the end and wonder what else there is to do. Your fully voiced missions are really impressive, but are they replayable enough to keep those guys around?

Greg Zeschuck: There're a couple of elements to call out there. One, obviously, is the legacy system. We haven't talked about that too much yet. It's in the game now, something happens, you get to level 35 and you get to last-name your character. We've talked about, at really high levels, future stuff that's going to be attached to that. There're going to be things that will be advantageous for folks who make characters in a different class. From a pure content consumption perspective, if you played a Republic character from start to finish and an Imperial character from start to finish, the entire experience would be completely different. No stories cross over. Everything's absolutely different.

Then, once you start drilling in on more classes on either side, there's a fair amount of class content. A certain amount of your content is class content, a certain amount is what we call world content -- it crosses over with other characters. No matter what you do with your character class, there's always unique content for you to play. And then the legacy system is designed to reaffirm that. The other thing, too, there's actually quite a bit of endgame content in the game. One of the challenges for MMOs in the past is, they release games when they're not finished. There're unfinished sections, they didn't finish all the content, "We'll somehow get ahead of these guys who are level 50 and get that done before they get there." Which is utterly impossible, because what you discover about players today is, they will be much, much faster than you can ever imagine at getting to the end of your content. You can't skimp on the endgame content when you launch. The other thing we do, there's a lot of systems that players can drill on to optimize... These are all time-consuming.
And as an added bonus, here's a dead-on question from GameSpy with a kind of avoiding-the-question answer on the brand dilution BioWare is risking by having the label placed on unrelated studios like the one working on Command & Conquer 2: Generals.
GameSpy: BioWare is expanding very rapidly. There's some concern that the reputation BioWare has earned has kind of been spread too broadly. How do you plan to maintain the quality expected from BioWare across all these studios?

Ray Muzyka: I think it's an excellent question, maybe I can answer it in two different ways. One, we've grown carefully and cautiously over the years, always with a focus on our core values: The quality of our workplace for our employees; the quality of our products for our customers; Entrepreneurship and quality in our investment returns for our investors. All those are equally weighted, equally important. All the decisions, the big ones, for the studio and our evolution as a label within EA now are based on those core values. All in a context of humility, because we're being honest with ourselves every step of the way. We're not perfect, but when we make mistakes, we try and listen to the feedback of our fans, our employees, our investors, and try to improve.