The beta of Tiger Woods Online wowed us. A full, slick golf game in your browser?
Intelligently connecting players by making the game fully online all the time? Have a hug, EA. You've proven the power of the platform and reinvigorated an ageing series. Nothing can go wrong. Hang on a second, what's that sharp thing sticking out of my back...?
The shift from beta to full game introduced a payment structure so abhorrent it made me shout at my browser when it popped up. Tiger Woods Online costs £7 a month or £50 a year for full access.
Why is this stupid? Golf is a static thing. The mechanics haven't changed for years: you swing and hit the ball. Hopefully it goes where it needs to. In fact, in TWO it's almost impossible to not place your shot vaguely where you want it to land. The challenge is in the fine-grain control, fighting against the wind, drawing or fading to land on the flat of a downward sloping green. But that's about it, and you can do all that in the two courses you can still access for free.
So what are you paying a £50 sub for? Unlimited access to all the fairways - ten full real-life courses. You also get a slew of points to spend on things like branded club upgrades and clothes to go on the meagre choice of four male avatars (no female characters exist - which is somewhat surprising considering the game's leading man). Points are an interesting currency: while the yearly sub gets you £10 worth of points to start off with, if you take out a monthly sub or play for free and fancy upgrading your kit with the branded gear in the club house, you'll have to buy them with real money. It makes sense that the free players are asked to pay (they can also access courses for a small fee), but the monthly subscribers are technically paying more for the same level of access as the yearly subs (£84 per annum vs £50), and yet they have to pay even more for the in-game currency? For every extra pound they ask you to spend, you have more and more reason to not pay.
It's such a disappointment. What was a shiny example of what could be achieved on the web when it was free looks unavoidably dim when you're asked to part with so much money. The courses are decently modelled, but nothing special. The golfers are off-the-peg models, with a few petty variations in apparel colour to give you the illusion of customisation.
The cost has been a clear shock to the community. When you play, you're automatically playing on the same course with whoever else is online, from anywhere in the world. You can see their shots and talk in the chatbar. The free courses are still thriving, but the paid-for courses are predictably deserted.
It's heartbreaking. TWO is a clear win for the technology, but it's been made to take advantage of the players as much as the platform.
A decent game hampered by a completely bonkers and ill-thought-out payment scheme. A bad year for Tiger.