EA is studying the initial days of World of Warcraft as it prepares to launch BioWare's upcoming MMORPG, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
The love-hate relationship between Activision-Blizzard and Electronic Arts isn't anything new: we've already heard both sides of the story in regards to launching Star Wars: The Old Republic (TOR) and how the upcoming MMORPG could potentially hurt/benefit the genre. EA seemingly has a lot riding on its shoulders right now, and it's naturally looking at the industry's flagship MMORPG – World of Warcraft – as a model on how to launch a massive, virtual world, and how to keep it interesting in the following months.
"We've actually studied WoW pretty carefully," CFO Eric Brown said at the Citi 2011 Tech Conference on Wednesday. "We spent a lot of time studying the first twelve months or so of WoW, and just to be clear here, when they initially launched, they did not launch in dual geographies. They went North America only."
Brown added that the TOR team is paying close attention to WoW's initial customers, and is applying that knowledge to the first wave of TOR subscribers. More importantly, the team wants to ensure the best experience possible in the initial days – including limiting the number of copies sold at launch so that the servers aren't flooded with new users to the point that gameplay becomes intolerable. As we've seen in the past, a horrible experience means a negative viral effect across the board (like Anarchy Online's initial launch), thus pushing away potential customers. Naturally both EA and BioWare want a positive "YOU MUST PLAY THIS!" viral effect.
"We really want to make sure that the first group of users into Star Wars has the best experience," he said. "For example, when they log on, they have instant access. [Even] when they're playing in a densely-populated world, the bandwidth and response time is excellent. So quality of service is really important to us."
As for the post-launch plans, BioWare has that covered, keeping in tune with its "rich, detailed post-launch detailed plan" for its crop of console games. "[BioWare] has built in a very extensive development plan to make sure there is enough content coming out in intervals," he said. "We haven't specified it, but industry norm is 18-24 months. And the idea there is to keep the game fresh and interesting for all of the players."
As seen with Blizzard's Cataclysm expansion for World of Warcraft, TOR gamers are expected to burn through the new MMORPG's content rather quick, and will likely wait on the sidelines until the next expansion pack is released. That said, BioWare may need to take Blizzard's new route of releasing short bursts of content to keep those gamers from cancelling their subscriptions until the next major release.