November 29, 2021

On that “Free Old Republic” Thing…

I’ve seen a lot of complaints about it. But y’know, I actually don’t think giving away some free time is terribly bad. But it raises some troubling points.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to immediately change my tune and praise the game here. I am still firmly of the belief that The Old Republic is a long-winded, boring exercise in tedium and mediocrity with no artistic merit above suggesting we love everyone regardless of their looks or sexuality. It’s a game that cost an absolute bomb to make and looks like they cut as many corners as was physically possible to get it out there. When a game from two years beforehand – namely Champions Online – can urinate over it graphically from a great height, and be more fun to boot, there is something seriously wrong with a game.

That said however, there are clearly lots of you out there who DO like this game, and whether you can take advantage of the free time the game is offering or not, it’s a marketing ploy that does keep what is an average game dressed up in the tinsel of a multi-billion dollar franchise there in the forefront of our minds.

Saying that, there is an issue here and that is the current talk and rumour that this is to drive up the number of “active” users in order to fill some kind of pre-set quota that LucasArts set them. That The Old Republic needs to consistently hit targets to avoid being killed in an unceremoniously embarrassing fashion.

Now, hitting targets is something the games industry tries in many ways to hide – it came to the medias attention this week that MDK2 Wii-porters Beamdog were not paid because the game failed to hit a mandatory 6000 sales unit figure. That seems unreasonable at first glance, but the more you look at it the more you realise that isn’t as unfair as it seems.

The reason for this is that these people sign contracts to do this kind of work. They are asked to perform a duty, given funding and/or access to code and then set off to do their work, with the promises of a payload when certain conditions are met. Remember, this is very common and if MDK2 had sold the bare minimum, the people who would have been out of pocket in that scenario would have been Nintendo. And then they may not have wanted to work with Beamdog again either. It’s a delicate balance.

But if you sign a contract, lying about it won’t change the facts. You promise to do something and sign declaring it a legally binding deal, trying to cheat your way out of it by blaming others, or by artificially inflating your userbase when the number-checks are due, is only delaying the inevitable realisation that things are actually not working.

MDK2 WiiWare was actually really good. There is no sensible or reasonable explanation why this excellent game didn’t sell 6000 copies. The fact is that it just didn’t, and that is very depressing but it isn’t the fault of anyone – sometimes, these things happen. And they sometimes happen to good games and good developers. It is a shame this has soured relations between Beamdog and Nintendo, but that said, Beamdog signed the contract. They thought it was a good deal at the time.

And sometimes, they happen to games that need a slap across the face. BioWare created a game that cost too much and offered comparatively little different to cheaper alternatives. Inflating numbers to pass through a gateway to keep running it or please shareholders or just for bragging rights may sound like a plan, but it is them lying to themselves. It is denial. There is no real reason for it, and when it comes to two of the biggest names in gaming – EA and BioWare – it’s also childish and unprofessional.

Of course, this is conjecture. It could be that they are simply using it as a bit of a PR Stunt, one that didn’t go their way but when does a big corporation ever get away with a publicity stunt?

But most rumours are based in a very loose truth, and the truth is that contracts are funny things. You can hate on the results, but if you sign one you need to deliver on it. Publicity, promotion and quality are important. Resting on your laurels and expecting it to happen magically doesn’t generally work.

It wasn’t even until today I was aware of MDK2 on WiiWare. That’s the real problem for Beamdog. Someone didn’t promote it. If it was their job (and I suspect it was), then they have only themselves to blame. And for The Old Republic, having a big name is also no guarantee of big numbers.

Many still fail even after working their arses off on amazing projects – Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, MadWorld, Psychonauts, Grim Fandango – this is naming a few of the great games that were left to rot after flopping.

Sometimes you can’t stand on the shoulders of giants in order to laud over the world below. Because you haven’t really earned the right to be there – a lesson I suspect BioWare and Beamdog are struggling to learn, but they one day will realise that success has no guarantee.

Success is what you make of it. That’s something we can all learn.


I'm the big cheese here. Comment, subscribe, direct waves of hate at me - all the same. Just hope you've had some partial enjoyment here!

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