There is a risk in being too big. Although the modern cliche is “too big to fail”, it is a term that originally referenced companies who were saved by Government money because their collapse would have resulted in unbearably devastation on the economy around them. In a short period of time, it seems this saying has been co-opted into the idea that once you get big enough, you can’t fail. Size = victory.
I know I’ve pointed out previously the massive risk that Star Wars: The Old Republic is for EA and BioWare. They get it right, it’s a lot of money, but there is also the sentiment that it is a sure thing. It’s Star Wars, it’s BioWare, you put the two together and the result just has to be great, right?
With the slightly confusing release of SWOR’s pre-order comes the opportunity to look at other issues facing this game that is going to be a major release, but may end up tripping down the stairs on its own oversized cloak.
One of the things that contributed immensely to WoW’s success was its low systems requirements. There have been tweaks over time, but even at launch WoW’s system specs weren’t that high. It’s one of the reasons that it became a game popular at internet cafes / PC baangs – if the PC was made in the last 15 years and still worked, it could probably run WoW.
SWOR’s minimum specs aren’t too excessive, but minimum specs tend to be like a car salesman’s promises: completely accurate until you actually try to start the thing up. Sure, it could work on those specs, but there is a big difference between ‘working’ and ‘playable’.
What isn’t listed in that pre-order system specs list is “hard drive space required”. That may be where things get fun. All that fully voiced content, all that 200 hours of gameplay per class – it all requires hard drive space. Gigs and gigs of space. So an older PC might technically be able to run SWOR, but it may not be able to install it.
Sure, hard drive space is cheap, but it’s another barrier to hurdle. Plus then there are the aggravated players who find out that they can’t play the game they’ve bought.
The reason I think it is an issue of concern for EA / BioWare is that HD space required is a pretty standard spec that somehow managed to drop off the pre-order information. EA / BioWare didn’t need to have the minimum specs 100% nailed down to list them – if they thought that (say) 20GB of HD space was needed, it would be easy enough to list it at 25GB and have that kind of wiggle room.
(I’ve looked around for somewhere official to indicate what the HD space requirement is. All I’ve found is what looks to be fan speculation of 12GB to 15GB, but if someone wants to point me in the correct direction I’m happy to revise the above.)
Keeping It On The Download
The other space factor to consider is bandwidth. This bandwidth needs to be considered in two areas: downloading the client through
Steam Origin, then the downloading of patches.
I don’t know how big the SWOR client is to download. From memory, Age of Conan was about 14GB as a download file, while Vanguard: Saga of Heroes was 20GB. (Someone else says that the AoC client is 25GB, which may be the more up-to-date figure.) So let’s say, with all that voice-over work, the SWOR client is much bigger, say in the 35GB – 45GB range. If you are in the US (or any other country where download limits aren’t that restricted) the only thing this costs you is time.
But in countries where broadband plans are limited to figures like 20GB, 30 GB, 40GB per month, a large client download is potentially a big barrier. Every extra byte over that limit can cost money, while internet speed for the rest of the month can be substantially reduced.
Although I’m not able to officially purchase SWOR at this time on account of living in Australia, my personal broadband plan is fixed at 50GB (having recently lifted from 30GB) per month. If I exceed that, my internet speed is lowered to 64kps and I’m charged AU$0.15 per megabyte uploaded or downloaded from that point onwards. From my point of view, if SWOR has a very large client I’m much better off buying the box than downloading it. Which I can’t do locally, so I’d have to import it from another country if I wanted to play at launch.
On top of that, downloading patches for SWOR would be a concern during launch month. If there was something like a 40GB client to download, plus a couple of patches of a few GB each – it is launch month after all – then the rest of my month’s internet access could be threatened. Not much good having a MMO if you can’t use the internet to play it.
Origin of the Fleeces
On one hand, I fully understand the positioning of SWOR as a major driver towards adoption of EA’s Origin service. EA wants to avoid being completely in the hands of Valve and Steam when it comes to distribution – and if there is a lesson to be learned from business on the internet, it is better to own the distribution service than to be a content creator (see: Google, Apple iTunes, Steam). SWOR is going to be the major release of 2012. Tie the two together and EA builds a (hopefully) solid foundation for itself.
But the fake scarcity, along with the “playing fans as puppets” vibe it gives, has a risk of backfiring. If Origin doesn’t work flawlessly (and it took Steam years to achieve that), or if players don’t feel they are getting a good deal, then it doesn’t necessarily take much to turn all that positive expectation into fist-pounding-on-the-keyboard frustration.
No-one likes to feel that they’ve been fleeced.
Sure, SWOR may have beaten EA’s pre-order records to date, but the hard part isn’t collecting money off people. The hard part is in the delivery of the product. SWOR is EA’s biggest game ever and will be the biggest MMO of 2012, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it is too big to fail.