It seems like only yesterday we were talking about the fan rage surrounding BioWare's Mass Effect 3. (Wait, that was yesterday.) Now it seems they've got another controversy on their hands with another blockbuster game, but this time it's not about the story. It's about which gamers the company considers "loyal."
When BioWare launched their massively multiplayer online RPG Star Wars: The Old Republic late last year, it seemed they immediately had another hit on their hands. The game was well-reviewed and picked up 1 million subscribers in the first three days after its release. But not everything about The Old Republic was so rosy. Updates to the game have been flawed, causing disruption of certain game elements and leaving other promised ones out entirely. Many players, particularly those who've been playing since the game launched back in December, haven't been pleased.
So, as a gesture of a good faith and thanks, BioWare decided to gift its "most loyal players" this week with a free month of game time. That's cool, right? You stuck with us, it wasn't always easy, and we appreciate it, so we're going to let you play our game for free for a whole month. After the fallout over Mass Effect 3, it definitely sounds like a good customer relations move.
Where BioWare get into trouble is the distinction they made regarding who the "most loyal players" are. The developer announced this week that the free month of game time would be given only to "every active account with a Level 50 character as of April 12th, 2012 at 12:00PM CDT / 5:00PM GMT." That doesn't sound unreasonable, right? The game's been out for nearly five months, so the players who've been there from the beginning and devoted a good chunk of time to their characters should have easily reached level 50 by now.
The problem is that even though hitting level 50 at this point in the game's life is very possible, it's not a milestone every long-term Old Republic player has hit yet, for a number of reasons. Some players don't make leveling up their primary objective. They play MMORPGs for the interaction, exploring the servers and meeting people. Others like to play a variety of different characters. They build a good guy, a bad guy, a chaotic-neutral guy and then play each of them in turn depending on their mood. And then there are the players who love the game but are simply too busy to play it often enough to hit level 50.
While level 50 and up players are understandably happy with their gift from BioWare, those other players we just talked about have taken to the game's forums to vent their rage.
Here's what one gamer had to say:
"Good to know only level 50's matter. A free month would have kept me playing in the hope you would actually improve pvp. I'm not willing to pay you every month on the small chance you will eventually fix the broken pvp in this game."
"I'm upset that I'm not going to be able to receive my free month. I've been a subscriber since early access, but because of school and work, don't have the time to play all that often. I have a level 43 and 47 on different servers, and it kinda angers me that I wouldn't be able to get my free playtime even though I've been here since day one."
And one more:
"I've been playing a lot of different characters to experience the whole game, therefore I haven't reached 50 with a single character. My combined character levels are definitely more than 50. What about doing something for players like me?"
To be fair to BioWare, they did give all active subscribers (regardless of level) another free gift: an adorable Tauntaun ram pet. But that doesn't translate to anything nearly as wonderful as free game time.
So that makes two big gaming controversies in two months for BioWare. Now the question becomes whether we'll see a third on the horizon soon.