During SWTOR’s beta, the fan base questioned whether or not the two factions would have a balanced population come launch. Many fans worried that the population would lean heavily toward the Imperial side, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing now. Most servers are experiencing a higher Imperial population, somewhere between the range of 3:2 and 2:1. Choosing to make Republic and Empire the two factions was probably the most logical choice for BioWare, but there’s a risk in only developing two factions– that they won’t end up balanced.
Faction population balance is important in a two-faction MMO. With two balanced factions, players are able to experience a healthy, thriving community on either side of the game’s coin. Instance groups are easily filled, guilds always have a pool of players to recruit from, faction hubs are full of chatter and activity, and world PvP can, and will most likely occur. Without population balance, players on the least-populated side may become frustrated at the lack of activity, community, ability to find groups/guilds, and PvP options. This frustration may result in a faction switch, which creates an even larger population gap.
This is exactly the effect we’re starting to see on some of The Old Republic’s servers, and is most notably seen on PvP servers. Some players are switching to the Empire in order to have an easier time finding groups. Other PvP players are switching to the Republic side in hopes of finding more world PvP action. World PvP is hard to find on many servers that are currently Imperial-dominated, which is a disappointment to many players.
Due to players being disappointed, BioWare has announced that they will be adding in more same faction vs. faction warzones. This will grant Imperial players the chance to participate in more warzones and will result in less time waiting in queues. The downside to this, of course, is the fact that some of those warzones will be against other Imperial players instead of against their actual enemy faction.
That downside also has the possibility of snowballing down the road later on, when players stay on the Imperial side or switch back to it, thus increasing the faction population gap yet again. This same-faction Warzone idea is a solution to one problem, the issue with Imperial players and warzones, but it doesn’t address the real issue at hand. It doesn’t address the faction population imbalance, nor does it address the fact that BioWare realizes faction population is an issue at all.
And why is it even an issue in the first place? BioWare has obviously attempted to create balance among the factions, since the classes are mirrors of each other. Racial abilities have no effect whatsoever. The factions level at the same speed. The stories were all written by talented writers. Why are so many players attracted to the Empire?
The answer to this question has a lot to do with speculation and a good amount of player feedback. First off, let’s look at some of the story-based and aesthetic differences. In this era of the Star Wars timeline, the Empire has more power than in later story arcs. The Republic, in fact, is often seen as the underdog during the various game cinematics. The victories the Republic does have are often won by a thin margin. There’s nothing wrong in this portrayal of the Republic, but it’s possible that the overall appeal of the Empire is considerably larger due to these strong victories.
Along this same line, many of the Imperial aesthetic qualities seem to appeal to more players. Many of the Imperial armor sets are flashier and seem to display a tone of “I reek of awesomeness.” Granted, that’s a pretty passionate statement. Most Jedi wouldn’t find that statement appropriate. But for most gamers, looking awesome is definitely an appeal. Another small detail is the fact that Sith have more robe options available. Many of the Sith Warrior robes are hoodless, which is handy when the hoods can sometimes get in the way of certain hairstyles.
Some of the Imperial starships are more aesthetically pleasing than their Republic counterparts as well. Again, Jedi aren’t into creating fearsome-looking ships, but for gamers, things like cool-looking ships to cruise around in often matter. For some players, race was also a factor when deciding faction. The Chiss and Rattataki seem arguably a little more interesting when compared to the Mirialan and Miraluka. And while on the subject, let’s not forget the fact that deep down, most players think shooting purple lightning from their fingertips is somehow cooler than flinging rocks through the air.
And that brings up one of the largest reasons many players favor Imperial classes. The classes are mirrors of each other across factions, but that doesn’t mean their spell and attack animations are the same across the board. The Old Republic features a unique combat system that actually gives preference to the given ability animation over the ability queue. This means that in most cases, if the spell you are casting has a long animation, you’ll generally have to wait for that animation to fire off before your next ability begins, even if the GCD is ready and available.
This system is aesthetically pleasing in most cases, because it doesn’t allow animations to cut off early and become clipped. It also allows some of the more complicated lightsaber attacks, for example, to look great. But when it comes to certain classes, the animations can actually hold back the player.
It’s noticeable especially when comparing the Sith Inquisitor Shock and the Jedi Consular Project. Both are instant abilities, but the latter’s animation takes 1.5 seconds to actually fire off and hit the enemy. When it comes to PvP gameplay, this delay can make the difference between an enemy opponent throwing off a stun or another attack.
The delay is also noticeable when comparing the Trooper’s Mortar Volley and Bounty Hunter’s Death from Above. The Trooper’s animation has a 1 second delay upon beginning the ability’s animation, and the projectiles themselves are slower than the Bounty Hunter’s equivalent ability. The Sith Warrior’s Force Scream, another example, fires off quicker than the Jedi Knight’s Blade Storm.
It’s important to note that these animation delays aren’t always apparent unless both classes are tested and tried, and even then, may not be apparent to all players. BioWare has not made an official statement regarding these ability delays, but they are aware of the animation delay issue in general. For some players, the animation delays alone are reason enough to stray away from the Republic side. For others, it’s a matter of little significance.
There’s also the fact that many players enjoy the ruthless, passionate ways of the Sith and other Imperial classes. Some of the Imperial storylines seem less caught up in politics and more focused on action. This is partially due to the rigid Jedi Code, and partially due to the franchise itself. I’m personally of the opinion that both factions’ stories are fantastically fun, but everyone seems to have their own opinion in that regard.
In the end, all of these potential reasons adds up to a faction population imbalance. There’s no doubting the imbalance– popping onto any server and checking the population of both sides will quickly tell you it’s there. Now, the real question remains: What will BioWare do about it?
There are some possible long term solutions. BioWare could consider adding in more races, especially on the Republic side. A third faction could be added. This would make it possible for the two lesser-populated factions to gang up against the highest-population faction. For short term solutions, some unique Republic armor options could be added, or even an aesthetic quality that tracked a character’s light-side energy, similar to Sith Corruption. It could be called Jedi Purity or something like that, and could give light-sided players a unique glow.
Loot incentives for Republic PvPers could also be a possible solution to this problem. Additional valor, commendations, or even a bonus to experience may encourage players to help repopulate the Republic side. Some players think that a more drastic solution, like a hard faction cap placed on servers, may be the best route to go, but I think it’s far too early in the game for solutions of that nature. Other incentives should be attempted first, in my opinion. In the future, BioWare may also wish to consider free server transfers.
Faction population balance, at least for this moment, lies within the hands of players. Players seeking a more competitive PvP environment may wish to explore the other faction and encourage other players to do the same. Hopefully BioWare will begin to look at the population issues and ability animation issues in the near future, and we will begin to see real solutions for the imbalance.