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Bioware's Lack of a Decent Marketing Plan Hits the Boiling Point

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For anyone who has played the Old Republic since the beginning and has frequented the forums, there have been two things you could always count on: one, that BioWare would over-promise and under deliver, and two, communication would not be ideal when compared to other contemporary MMOs like World of WarCraft, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Guild Wars, and the like.

It was readily apparent when BioWare finally launched the Old Republic that they were new to MMO landscape, and their first foray into the genre was characterized by repeated, if not messy, attempts to communicate with their player base. At the time, the reception was a mixed bag, mostly due to issues that the first dev team openly admitted. Being new MMO development - they had botched the pacing of the game from Tatooine through the second act (in the devs own words), they lacked a group finder (a staple for any MMO game), there was a lack of endgame, and people were flying through content a LOT faster than anticipated.

As a result, attempts to communicate and interact with the community were sometimes clumsy given the state the game was in, and erratic. However, at least with the original development team, they were well-meaning and earnest.

Unfortunately, at some point a large number of layoffs occured, culminating in the co-founder of BioWare, Greg Zeschuk, ultimately stepping down and the game shifting to a hybrid free-to-play/subscriber model. Since then, communication with fansites and the community has all but dried up, making those early days seem like the Halcyon days of the Community Team with the players.

Indeed, some of the early critics of the new team were met with private condescension and eye rolls in Cantina Events as they brought concerns to the Q&A Table, and rather than appear to want to get information out to the fans, a simple message started to be subliminally delivered - "We aren't going to tell you about our game, but buy it anyway." The marketing team's new task wasn't to promote the game - it was to prevent the devs from revealing anything coming soon.

For many months now, fans have had to put up with near-dead silence about upcoming updates until it hits the public test server, unless it is a closed beta, in which case details will remain few and far between until near-launch.

To understand how this compares to other AAA MMOs, consider this - Blizzard has announced their expansion and provided more details for something still almost a year out than BioWare has for something launching in two months.

So then, it should have been no surprise to BioWare that when Eric Musco said to expect more information around GamesCom, that the natives got restless. After all, every person in the BioWare forums who posts represents someone who pays their hard-earned dollars as a subscription to the game to support it. These are the most loyal customers - the people who above all else, want to support - want to *believe* in BioWare.

Jagex, Ltd. (another MMO creator, for example), has officially recognized and listed "platinum, gold, and bronze" fansites that receive weekly updates from the developers, exclusive screenshots, artwork, and information about future updates, which they then publish and pass along to the community. These fansites are providing "free marketing" and generate much hype, discussion, and feedback for the game. The last time Bioware coordinated with ALL of the remaining fansites was in November of 2014, shortly before Hillary Nicole ceased to be the fansite point-of-contact and Courtney Woods moved to the writing team. If Bioware provided more information to fansites, then there wouldn't be a need to datamine every update before release just to obtain basic info about mechanics or changes in gameplay.

A marketing team more understanding of the needs of the community would have been front and center, and would have headed off any criticism at the pass, letting their loyal customer base know that they will need to adjust their timeline, and information will be postponed to a later time, with their condolences. That is how AAA MMOs handle their business after all, especially ones like BioWare.

But that didn't happen.

Instead, you hit the trifecta - after the week of the 6/15 announcement of KotFE, you had Eric telling people in a thread that they have a plan for scheduled, steady releases of information, which didn't happen. Then you had the "New Information around Gamescom" which also didn't happen. People were rightly starting to get up in arms, and turned to datamined posts for any tidbits of information.

And as that discontent was nearing a fevered pitch, what was told to people, to talk them off the ledge, to apologize for leading their paying customers on?

From Eric Musco, and I quote:

"This is correct! We will always try to avoid getting into spoilers but we will be talking more about how things like Companions and Crew Skills will be working. All in good time, soon™.
-eric "

No apologies, no explanations. Just a third time the paying player base being glibly told "Soon™" as if with a wink and a sly smile. Which of course set off a fire storm that led to some of the more vocal critics being banned from the forums on infractions less than what other people still posting now have done.

What's heartening is that, while I sincerely believe the Community and Marketing team thought they could silence the discontent by silencing the loudest among the critics, that did not save them from the criticism nor did it fade.

It finally built to a point where, if perhaps for no other reason than having been humbled if not truly grasping all they have done wrong by their own community, BioWare and Eric have put this post out regarding the Pax Prime Stream:

"I know there is frustration right now about the amount of information you have. We are actively working on gathering details around a lot of the questions you have and will start releasing them very soon. I will have specifics in the next few days, but you will start getting more details about some of the nitty gritty things with our live stream next week and beyond.

The very first time any level of frustration was acknowledged.

Followed by on the same day:

"I am fairly confident that someone will beat me to it (you folks are crazy quick when it comes to summaries), but after the stream I will do a follow-up in the thread which has some of the key things we cover. Remember that we also archive all of the streams as well so you are welcome to watch them after the fact.

This followed by three posts regarding the Live stream two days later, with details players want to know about what's being covered (companions), what isn't, and what to expect.

The shame here is that in order to get the Community Team to do what other MMOs do naturally, without near riots on the forums, the Community had to rally against the Community team and the Marketers, and show this was not something so easily silenced, despite what those who defend BioWare might argue.

This was a small victory to be sure for the community, standing up for itself, which finally got BioWare to do the right thing. What a shame that it took that to get what other MMOs trip over themselves to freely give to their paying players.

About the Author: Zion has been a gamer for 20 years, and an MMO player for 12 years, and was a former Munitions Senator and Player-Contributor to SWG.

About the Author
Author: ZionHalcyon