Gamescom: SWTOR's Jeff Hickman on Free-to-Play

When I met Jeff Hickman at Gamescom earlier this month, I got the impression that the look of focused determination he wore would be more suited to a battle cruiser captain. But for BioWare’s Executive Producer for Live Services, and the man at the helm of Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR), such attention is warranted. In navigating his team through the rapidly shifting MMO landscape, Hickman hopes to attract newcomers to the game while offering subscribers a premium experience.

Besides a long look at payment models, Hickman and the team have also reassessed their approach to new content. While content updates will be slimmer than the large patches we’ve experienced previously, BioWare now hopes to deliver fresh gaming fun every six weeks. He also suggests that players should look closely at these updates if they want a hint of where the SWTOR story is heading.

I started off by asking about where the idea for SWTOR’s free-to-play option came from, and what influenced the team in deciding to offer it alongside the existing subscription. Hickman explained that, while they’ve been aware of what other MMOs were doing, it was player feedback that encouraged them to choose this route.

Gamescom: The Gallery

Alas, Gamescom is over for another year. If you didn’t manage to make it to the world’s biggest gaming expo this year then fear not. In between racing around the Koelnmesse, playing some incredible games and interviewing some fantastic developers, I also managed to snap a few shots of the impressive booths. Over the next few pages, I’m going to take you through a selection of the best booths on the show floor.

Gamescom: Raid on New York

I stand at a subway station, the grey tile and fluorescent lighting providing a pale backdrop for a small handful of commuters stranded at Hantell Street Station. A news report echoes around the entrance hall, streamed to a huddle of sorry faces crouched around an iPad. The reporter has no idea what’s going on. But then again, no one does. 

The ground shakes, dislodging streams of grit and dust from the ceiling. I decide to press on; ignoring the half-hearted pleas from one of NYPD’s finest, heading down the steps to the Seventh Avenue Line. There’s no service today, not any more. The loudest noise on the platform is coming from two German tourists arguing with each other. Something about Dusseldorf.

One of the subway trains has made a mess of the Downtown end of the platform, bursting through the roof and into the daylight above. Sensing an exit, I dash through the middle of the mangled train car. Emerging above ground, I’m just in time to see Air Force jets scream above. Sounds of the military are all around, with tanks rolling through the city streets and helicopter gunships circling nearby. Whatever’s going on, it’s big. It’s going to take a big team to take it down.

Gamescom: Razer Deathstalker Ultimate

When was the last time you really looked at your keyboard? Sure, you might glare at it angrily when you fail to stab that crucial hotkey or mess up an infuriating jumping puzzle. But most of the time it remains largely ignored, an invisible slab of plastic protrusions that act as an interface into our virtual worlds.

In order to make our keyboards more useful, there’s been a growing trend to attach small displays, providing anything from health and mana in MMOs, to a running count of the number of unopened emails residing in our inboxes. These tiny LCD screens can be a real boon to those of us without a second monitor perched on their desk.

Entering this arena of beefed up button boxes is the Deathstalker Ultimate. Representing the top of Razer’s range of keyboards, this sleek, low-profile keyboard sports a whopping 4” LCD display, which also doubles up as a digital trackpad. Using the Switchblade technology unveiled at CES last year, there are ten LED keys supplementing this micro-monitor, each of which has a tiny screen sitting beneath it. Your fireball key can finally have a picture of a fireball underneath it.

Gamescom: Taking a Peek at NVIDIA

Let’s face it: as MMO gamers, we’re usually pretty poor at upgrading our PCs. Compared to our FPS playing brethren, we try to eke out as much life as possible from our components. When it is finally time to buy a new base unit or bundle of parts, we try to stretch our cash as far as possible. Considering our tendency to splash out on mice with more buttons than the average calculator, it’s surprising that we’re less inclined to think inside the box.

During Gamescom, I had the good fortune to meet up with NVIDIA representatives and check out their latest collection of hardware, from brand new desktop and laptop chips to the latest in mobile gaming. I also managed to get a close look at some of the latest games and MMOs running on this new kit, so that I could see for myself just what a difference it makes. From multiplayer Mech-fest Hawken to contemporary MMO The Secret World, the results are stunning.