Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Star Wars: The Old Republic - Performance and FPS Issues

This is a follow up to my previous blog at http://mallen22842.blogspot.com/2012/01/customer-service-and-star-wars-old.html.

Very recently BioWare's game director, James Ohlen, told Eurogamer that "most of our players aren't really having performance concerns".

Now, so far I have been very impressed with the game's class story lines (they are nothing short of awesome) and BioWare's attempt to stick to the lore of the Star Wars universe.  The game in general feels very much like a clone of World of Warcraft (talent trees, harvesting nodes for crafting materials, skill-click combat system, a horde [empire] and alliance [republic] faction system) with a few minuscule differences. This is not necessarily a bad thing because it is something the community is familiar with and... let's be honest, it works for MMOs.

But, something about the way BioWare has handled their customer service and the games overall performance has rubbed me the wrong way. To a point where I have lately been on the fence about  setting up a subscription and/or waiting for the dust to clear.

Mr. Ohlen claims that the players are not really having performance issues yet my own testing on both of my rigs, a "Horrid FPS" thread that seems endless, and the following images speak otherwise:




Those images alone contradict Mr. Ohlen's claims that there is an insignificant FPS and/or performance issue.  This easily ranks as the #1 community driven issue with the game at the moment. My assumption of this is simply by a visual inspection of the forum posts and reviews left on various websites marketing the product. This FPS and performance issue even appears to be superseding game crash issues.

This wasn't enough for me to base an opinion on though so I began researching the game a little further. What I found was interesting if not informative.

An article was written by HeroEngine on November 28th, 2011. This article detailed some very interesting facts about BioWare's initial contact with the game engine developers.



The key here is the statement "There are whole sections of code that is only roughed in and not optimized for performance or security.". That is right, not optimized for performance. Interesting... Now, BioWare claims that they had tons of engineers finish things up themselves. But did they actually hurdle the performance issues so clearly pointed out by the engine creator? Or, did they miss some fundamental piece of the equation?

The details given to the actual community leading up to the article at Eurogamer leave a contradictory taste in the community's mouth.  See some of the community messages sent out by BioWare below (which have been very obscure and have a canned feeling to them):






A couple of highlights to take note of. "The FPS issue is so varied, and any number of factors could affect it". But, you have already stated it is due to low-end computers and there really isn't a performance issue. And the answer relayed to me via Mr. Ohlen's public release is clear, upgrade your gaming rigs. It can't be a varied issue but, also not an issue.

And it should be noted that I believe the gaming community has a difference of opinion regarding what systems are low-end and not. BioWare should know better that if the computer meets your minimum and recommended specifications and still has an issue, that the problem is not necessarily the user's computer.

Another highlight. "I appreciate the frustration... I assure you it's being looked at." Again, it is very confusing as to what is being looked at if the implication is that the problem lies with the customer's computer. A contradictory statement.

Another highlight. "...based on the amount of forum posts and CS ticket volume in relation to the total player base population, most people aren't experiencing performance issues.". I implore you to review the masses of forum posts in the various screen shots above.

Mr. Ohlen implied that 5% of players are having this issue. Based on Baird Equity Research and an article posted by Massively by Joystiq on January 3rd, 2012 the game currently has roughly 350,000 concurrent users. 5% of 350,000 concurrent users is roughly 17,500.

Let's assume these users purchased the cheapest edition of the game (Standard Edition $59.99 US). We are looking at potentially around $1,050,000 US dollars in profit for a game that can't be played. Specifically what was expected of the product and what was received. And if those users cancelled their monthly subscription ($14.99 US), a loss of roughly $250,000 US dollars a month.

To me it is pretty amazing that this issue has been handled the way it has. I personally hope that BioWare gets the FPS optimized properly (see this article by HeroEngine about controlling FPS). And I hope that they can clean up their act when it comes to servicing their customers properly.

As always, this is simply my opinion and mileage may vary.