Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Should BioWare Attend PR School In Reykjavik?

To say that CCP endured some bad PR last summer over the launch of Eve Online's Incarna expansion might be the understatement of the year.  One thing that will upset players is unexpected poor performance.  For those who regularly read dev blogs, the fact that system requirements were increasing caused some stir among the player base.  Those who don't pay attention received a rude shock at Incarna's launch although I don't think anyone expected the compaints about players' CPUs melting when loading Captains Quarters.  Given that many players hated the idea of Walking in Stations, these hardware problems created fertile ground for the other revelations that came out at the end of June.  Given the bad press that led Massively.com to list CCP's problems as the fourth most important MMORPG story of 2011, one might think that other companies would take notice, right?

Maybe not.  BioWare is beginning to face a similar problem with Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Currently the player issues with poor frame rates is beginning to make it past the official forums.  Bloggers like Tobold reported during the early start period that computers that could run World of Warcraft at 80 frames per second had a very reduced frame per second rate when running SWTOR.  Now, WoW has the reputation of being able to run on a toaster, but Tobold and the commenters on his blog back up the comments being left on the official forums.

So are the official minimum requirements too optimistic?  Not according to BioWare.  SWTOR game director James Ohlen told Eurogamer:
"The thing is, for the most part, 95 per cent - oh I can't give you the exact percentage - most of our players aren't really having performance concerns," James Ohlen told Eurogamer.
"However, we know that it's important that there is a smaller group of people usually with lower end machines that are having problems in some areas. And one of the most important things for us to grow our service is to continue to bring in more players, including those players who only have low-end machines.
"So we have a client team, a team of programmers, whose entire job is to optimise the code, find out where some of the issues are, and then fix that up.
"Most of the performance issues are localised though," he added. "They're things that we can track down. I would call them bugs." (emphasis mine)
I started out writing this post wanting to compare CCP and BioWare's reaction to issues.  But excluding what happened with Incarna when people in leadership positions let their egos get in the way, CCP since I began playing Eve Online generally has owned up to poor coding and efforts like Team Gridlock's War on Lag are generally applauded by players.  But I'm still having issues wrapping around James Ohlen's response.  Let me sum it up using a little different language:
  1. BioWare sets up minimum system requirements.
  2. Players buy the game with computers meeting those requirements.
  3. The game has bugs that lead lower-end machines to have low fps rates (less than 10) in certain places.
  4. ???
  5. The players are experiencing a hardware problem!

And that is ignoring all the players complaining who claim to have mid- to high-end computers.

Now, in fairness to BioWare, CCP deals with a committed player base of techno-geeks who love watching the devs kill bugs.  SWTOR just launched and players will find it easy to walk away after their first month so BioWare may feel they can't admit to mistakes and are willing to see 5-10% of their players walk away after their first month as the lesser of two evils.

Before anyone thinks I am having issues with frame rates, I can report that out of the issues I have experienced while playing the game, low frame rates are not one of them.  So to all Eve players, if you can run Captain's Quarters, you can run SWTOR.  But having lived through the Summer of Rage, I get nervous when I buy a game and see a post like this on the official forums:
bump for the development team that failed in warhammer and have failed in swtor 
bump for using a well known broken engine the hero-engine 
bump for using this engine knowing full well it has massive fps an stability issues in crowded areas such as citys an quest hubs in mmo's
bump for pretending this issue doesnt exist 
bump for ignoring all the closed > launch testers that report this issue over and over again 
bump for the biased paid reviews of swtor that make no mention of the games issues
bump for the indian an mexican call centre customer support staff that have trouble grasping the idea of english an that ati drivers dont work on nvidia gtx 580's
bump for all the pc gamers fed up with EA branded products that are 95% console ports and the other 5% are unoptimised garbage using broken engines like this here hero-engine
bump for all the people who have joined the "never buying EA again" club 
bump for all those who run bf3 an skyrim on ultra @ 120 fps but cant get more then 30 in swtor on any graphic setting

2 comments:

  1. It's a thought-provoking point you raise about EVE's player base being more accepting of technical issues.

    It makes sense to me that an established MMO probably doesn't have the established casual "footfall" that a new entry to the market has, especially a high-profile big IP title like SW:TOR. I think this might explain why the complaints are less high profile. In the case of established titles like EVE Online with a stable player base, a bug is most likely just a tolerable irritant for most subscribers, given that they are established within the game and have reason to find a workaround.

    Conversely, a new game experience is generally not given that benefit of the doubt by players and disruption to their attempts to find a new gaming comfort zone can quickly result in vitriolic criticism.

    It's a sad truth of the intolerance of today's internet consumers.

    I'm not sure whether that is a reflection of the consumers or the developers.

    Thinkums none the less. Thanks for a great post.

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  2. "So to all Eve players, if you can run Captain's Quarters, you can run SWTOR." - not true for everyone.

    I can run Captain Quarters perfectly fine at full details. I can even play WoW in max quality and stream that with xsplit while mining or running around at the station in eve on the second monitor, without any problems at all.
    Skyrim? 1920x1200, full details, 40fps.

    But SWTOR? Well, it would be an understatement to say it has some performance issues. I'm running it with the lowest possible details because that is the only way to play without huge input lag/fps losses. And heavon forbid if I try to run anything else besides SWTOR!

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