With the release of The Old Republic rapidly approaching, I’ve seen many examples of old MMO discussions popping up all over various gaming forums. It’s the argument about how you cannot compare a completely new MMO (In this case SWTOR) to a long running and established MMO (In this, and most cases frankly, World of Warcraft).
The latest example I saw was on a big gaming site forum where a user was stating that the “looking for group” (LFG) solution that SWTOR currently has is very bare bones when you compare it to WoW. While WoW streamlines the process of finding groups to an extreme degree (too extreme for the tastes of some players even), the SWTOR tools for finding groups are much more basic, largely consisting of providing you with a chat channel and ticking off a flag that indicates to anyone looking at the zone population list that you want to group.
It did not take long before people started angrily complaining that the thread author was being completely unfair in comparing SWTOR with WoW. Their argument was that obviously WoW has been out for 7 years now and would have a lot more features than anything you could expect from a game that was just about to launch. The SWTOR defenders did not argue that the way that SWTOR handle grouping currently was in any way a better solution than what WoW does, simply that it was okay for BioWare to release SWTOR with a sub-optimal LFG tool set and then eventually patch in a more fully featured version at a later stage.
There are many variations of the above argument, with different features being called out and different new MMO’s being compared to established ones. But the basic premise of them all are that it is unfair for players to compare one MMO product to another, if one of the products has been around for a long time.
It’s an argument that is bizarre to me. When SWTOR comes out it is going to be competing against WoW in its current state, not what WoW was like 3, 5 or 7 years ago. It’s going to be a full price MMO, so to a consumer they will be able to buy and subscribe to either WoW or SWTOR for around the same price. Does it really make any kind of sense to turn a blind eye to the issues of a game simply because it is new, if it’s offering an inferior experience to an existing and comparatively priced product?
If you try to apply that logic to another product it’s clear that it doesn’t make much sense. Let’s say that a new car company just launched its first car. They decided to price the car at around the same level as a large BMW. But their car didn’t have ABS, no power steering, no climate control and the front passenger door would occasionally fall off if you turned too hard into a corner. Obviously no sane customers would pay for this car. No consumers would say “ah, well they don’t have all the decades of experience with building cars that BMW do. I’m sure they’ll eventually figure out how to make sure their doors don’t fall off”.
It seems to me that this kind of argument is all too often used by people that are already so emotionally invested in a new or upcoming game that they feel the need to defend “their” game by any means. Even if its by using logic that is so poorly thought out that even a Scientologist would shake their head and go “now that is just dumb”.
There is one important point that I want to make, though. While I think it is completely fair that players compare MMO’s regardless of their age, I am *not* saying that all MMO’s necessarily need to match each others feature set 1:1.
When WoW came out it could not match the most popular western MMO of the time, Everquest, in every way. Everquest was a big established MMO with several expansion packs under its wings and many years of polish. But WoW managed to offer an experience that was different and compelling enough that it didn’t matter that Everquest had some features that WoW did not. The overall experience of playing WoW was simply more enjoyable than playing Everquest, despite this disparity of content and features.
Likewise it is entirely possible that SWTOR will not need to have as streamlined a LFG tool as WoW does to match or even beat the success of WoW. Perhaps the deep stories will mean more to players. Or perhaps players will be overjoyed by the companion system. The point is that an MMO can still beat out another MMO even if it is missing some features. In the end it is all about the overall experience for the players.
I just wish that people would stop trying to “protect” new MMO’s from criticism by saying it’s “unfair” to compare them to MMO’s that have had years of post launch updates. At the end of the day players will play whatever game that presents the most fun experience to them and no one is going to care if the game came out in 2011, 2009 or 2004.