Dear Ask Massively Guy,
What exactly are "they" smoking over at the Skywalker Ranch, or wherever it is that LucasArts has set up shop these days? "Star Wars: The Old Republic will be bigger than World of Warcraft" ?!?!?! Is Jar Jar Binks working in their PR department?
- A. Soberman
At first, I didn't think this email was serious. Only the most naive and hopelessly optimistic game developer would announce a game, then claim it will dethrone the reigning King of All MMO's before the public even sees the first teaser trailer. If Lucas and friends are good at anything (and these days, I have my doubts), it is setting expectations which bend, but don't completely break, the rules of credibility.
Then I read this and a little of that. After nearly passing out from laughter, I decided to take a closer look at their statements and see if they have reason to be optimistic, or if they're growing illegal plants on the back 40 of the Skywalker Ranch.
Let's take the arguments one-by-one, shall we?
"Just look at the base of Star Wars fans, plus what BioWare can do. Trust me: we want to win. EA's reputation is for wanting to win."
Let's look at what EA can do, shall we? Do the words "Earth and Beyond" mean anything to you? Sure, EA has a hit right now with Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, but it is way too early to give the final verdict on that game just yet. As for BioWare, I don't doubt that they make a good game, but to put their "record setting sales" in perspective, Knights of the Old Republic sold less than 300,000 copies at launch. Age of Conan beat that easily, and many have dismissed that game as a failure. (Unfairly, to be sure...)
"When World of Warcraft came out, everybody thought, 'No, the market is only this big, because that's as big as EverQuest was.' Blizzard showed that it could be much larger"
When WoW came out, EQ was the biggest game in a genre that boasted few alternatives. Aside from Dark Age of Camelot, Ultima Online and City of Heroes, what else was there? Today, there are a large number of mainstream MMO's vying for player's loyalty. In fact, SWTOR won't even be unopposed in the arena of "Star Wars-based MMORPG's" unless you believe that every single person playing Star Wars Galaxies is going to pack up and move to the new game, and I'm betting that Sony won't give up those subscribers without a fight.
"I think this game has that potential, with a premiere developer behind it; with a clear differentiating feature being story and something that's very compelling, and being a feature that's true to BioWare's expertise as well as the Star Wars brand; plus the power of the Star Wars brand, which is still doing very, very well 30 years after it started"
A premier developer who has never developed an MMORPG before. It would be different if Cryptic or Blizzard or even Sony were behind this title, but we don't know if BioWare's success in the single player RPG arena will translate well into the realm of the MMO. I admit that their success in prior Star Wars-based games is reason for optimism, but it's not a sure thing by any stretch of credibility.
Story as a differentiator? You mean like the story elements in Age of Conan? Lord of the Rings Online? Since I am assuming they aren't foolish enough to mean that they have a story and other MMO's don't, are we forgetting about Star Wars Galaxies again? The "Star Wars brand" wasn't enough to save previous games from being critical and popular bombs in the marketplace. If EA and BioWare are banking on goodwill towards the Star Wars name then they should have released this game 10 years ago.
I'm not trying to dismiss EA's and BioWare's enthusiasm for their newest project, but it is unreasonable to think that they will have the kind of success that World of Warcraft has enjoyed. From a pop-culture standpoint, Star Wars is old news. While there are many fans out there (myself included...) who enjoyed Star Wars as a child, it isn't the "something new" that is going to capture and keep my attention for very long.
If SWTOR shows off some new game play features and has some elements that I can really sink my teeth into as a gamer, then it might have a chance at being successful, but if they replace a sword with a lightsaber, and a fireball with "Force Lightning", then I'm not going to remain interested for very long, certainly not long enough for the game to grow into something that rivals World of Warcraft.