So The Old Republic is due out in 33 days, and it’s still under an Non-Disclosure Agreement. I am not in the beta, and I have not played the game, which means I have more freedom to talk about it than people who have played the game.
This is an incredibly cynical move by EA. It boils down to, “We believe this game will be poorly reviewed, so we want to delay that for as long as possible in order to trick the maximum number of people into buying what we know will be a substandard product.” We are long past the point where most publishers are furiously trying to build hype. The silence itself is is a kind of admission of guilt at this point.
I sympathize with BioWare, I really do. They’ve always been a story-and-character based developer. The decision was made that they would make an MMO, which is like asking Alfred Hitchcock to write a romantic comedy. I don’t care how talented you are, there is such a thing as a creative person being wrong for the material they’ve been given. BioWare is right for Star Wars. And Star wars is right for an MMO. But BioWare is not right for MMO development. Or at least, they’ve never shown a real affinity for the sort of development needed to develop a top-tier MMO in a world where everyone must compete with WoW.
I would love to be wrong about this. The Old Republic is my favorite period in the Star Wars mythos. BioWare is one of my favorite developers. They’re taking a chance and bringing a story-focus to a genre which has too often treated story as an afterthought. If this would pan out it would be such an incredible boon and an affirmation of my particular taste in entertainment. But I can’t escape the fact that this NDA business is pretty damning.
The NDA isn’t really controlling the narrative. People are talking, and opinions are being formed. If anything, the NDA is silencing TOR’s potential defenders. People who hate the game and no longer want to play it will happily violate the NDA. After all, who cares if you get banned from a game you hate? The people who might like the game don’t want to burn that bridge. Either those fans exist and the NDA is keeping them from joining the conversation, or they don’t exist and EA is using the NDA to hide the fact that everyone hates the game. The NDA is either self-destructive or predatory. Consumers should be wary anytime they find a producer that doesn’t want people to discuss their product.
Another odd thing is that I’m just not seeing a lot of advertising for TOR. This is the launch of a big-name MMO. Internet rumors pin the budget for Star Wars: The Old Republic anywhere between $100 million and $300 million. We should be in a media deluge right now, and I can’t remember the last time I saw an ad for the game.
At this point fans usually jump up and say, “You can’t judge a game before you play it!” (Which isn’t true. If you value your gaming dollars you will judge games very carefully before you do something reckless, like pay money for them.) But according to EA, once you play it, you can’t talk about it. So I guess nobody is allowed to judge the game?
Dear EA: Lift this silly NDA and let the conversation happen. The harder you squeeze, the more websites will slip through your fingers.
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