Star Wars: The Old Republic is just days away from celebrating its one year anniversary. BioWare’s first MMO has survived in the brutally competitive online role-playing market, but only barely. Electronic Arts invested unprecedented sums in the game it made to compete with World of Warcraft, but the world had already moved on to other gaming experiences by the time it released. Following myriad updates and a controversial re-launch as a free-to-play game, Star Wars: The Old Republic is ready to move into its first major expansion. Star Wars: The Old Republic—Rise of the Hutt Cartel will be out in Spring 2013.
“We know our fans want to keep experiencing the classic Star Wars storylines they love, and that’s what we’re delivering with the Rise of the Hutt Cartel,” said BioWare Austin’s Jeff Hickman, “The planet Makeb is shaping up o be one of our most breathtakingly beautiful settings and the clash with the Hutt Cartel is epic and exciting.”
In addition to the new planet and storyline, BioWare has raised the level cap for Old Republic players to 55, opening up new skills to players amongst the hundreds of thousands that quit playing the game earlier this year. That’s no exaggeration either. Between February and May of 2012, The Old Republic’s player base declined from 1.7 million to 1.3 million, and that was before Electronic Arts made the decision to make the game free-to-play in the middle of summer.
The decline in members was just one of The Old Republic’s troubles in 2012. Daniel Erickson, the game’s creative director, abruptly left BioWare at the beginning of October. He left the company just two weeks after BioWare founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk resigned from Electronic Arts. Those two were instrumental in establishing BioWare’s relationship with Star Wars license holders Lucasfilm and LucasArts, who experienced their own upheaval this fall when Lucasfilm was acquired by Disney.
To top things off, Star Wars: The Old Republic’s debut as a free-to-play game was so widely reviled by the game’s community that BioWare had to overhaul the new pay structure almost entirely within three weeks of the re-launch.
Rise of the Hutt Cartel is the first expansion for The Old Republic and it may also be the last. Since it’s releasing so soon after his departure, the expansion likely represents the last of creative director Erickson’s vision of the game. Since that vision didn’t connect with players in the first place, it may be for the best that the MMO head in a new direction in the future, but it’s up in the air whether anyone will be left to play by that time.