Thursday during the keynote panel at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas, BioWare's Greg Zeschuk admitted that Blizzard's World of Warcraft has established MMOG standards in which BioWare will follow with Star Wars: The Old Republic.
"It is a touchstone," Zeschuk told the audience. "It has established standards, it's established how you play an MMO. Every MMO that comes out, I play and look at it. And if they break any of the WoW rules, in my book that's pretty dumb. If you have established standards, WoW established them."
Zeschuk also admitted that it will be an "interesting challenge" to compete with World of Warcraft, noting the MMORPG's overall size in regards to its international reach and the yearly revenue it generates from subscribers and in-game purchases worldwide.
"In some ways they [Blizzard] cracked this market wide open," he said. "Obviously Star Wars is a very big license and it's something that when done right--and it's something we did right with KOTOR (Knights of the Old Republic) years ago--it's an incredible force multiplier on your efforts. We've added things so that anyone that plays it knows it's a BioWare game."
BioWare's apparent take on Star Wars: The Old Republic is to launch an established, stable realm in the market rather than unleash a Star Wars-based mammoth (Bantha) out to take down World of Warcraft and other MMOGs. "The audience will tell us if we have a place," he said.
Also present on the keynote panel was Blizzard's Mike Morhaime. He told Zeschuk to "do a good job" with the Star Wars MMOG. His take is that The Old Republic may bring in MMOG "virgins"-- those that previously never considered playing a subscription-based MMOG. If those new players try BioWare's epic and walk away discouraged because of bad gameplay or instability issues, they may not give the genre another try. Naturally if The Old Republic rocks and new players decide they're newborn fans of MMOGs, Blizzard and other publishers/developers will likely reel in a new customer in the long run.
"BioWare is a great developer and obviously Star Wars is a very strong license," Morhaime said. "We think it's good for the MMO genre for additional MMOs to come out that are actually fun and good to play. I don't know that it serves the genre very well when MMOs come out and have all sorts of problems and players leave in frustration."
Star Wars: The Old Republic is expected to launch in Q2 2011.
This applies to ALL genres in gaming, not just MMOs: the FPS we compare others to is whatever is most popular, so we've seen shifts from referring to FPSes as "Doom-clone" in the mid-90s, to then comparing games to Quake, then Half-Life, Unreal Tournament, Halo, and most recently Call of Duty.
However, I'm not quite sure if The Old Republic will actually be truly competing with WoW: in some ways WoW's already hit its peak: that happened around two years ago, when it FIRST hit 12 million subscribers. (I notice that the Google ad right now mentions this number) Since then it's drifted downward, but has lifted back up to 12 million thanks to Cataclysm's release. A look over the history of popular MMOs show they start with a strong growth slope, followed by a peak, with some "leveling off," followed by a more gradual decline, at 1/3rd to 2/3rd of the rate they climbed. Hence, as WoW originally grew at around 3 million a year, (going from 0-12 million in about four years) it's going to start declining at around 1-2 million users a year.
TOR won't be instantly a "big player," at least if Bioware is to succeed: all MMOs that saw an initial hyper-growth period with a fraction of a million subscribers in the first month all peaked more or less instantly, which meant folding within a year. (remember, an MMO's peak comes almost always around 20-30% of its lifespan, so a peak at 1 month means a 3-5-month life) Assuming that TOR is to grow into the multi-millions range, it's going to do it gradually, taking years. If it follows WoW's pattern, even if it DOESN'T peak as high, it won't be until late 2015, by which WoW will have dropped to around 4.5 million users. (I predict WoW to shut their doors entirely between 2018-2020)
So perhaps, trying to model after WoW to make the "next big thing" might NOT be a good idea, since if it IS the next big thing, WoW won't be really around in the same commanding position. However, I'll admit the other side of the coin: a game has to START with success... And right now, we're in the year 2011, where WoW has been king for about 6 years now, ever since it bumped off Lineage. It'll be interesting to see what the future landscape of MMOs looks like in a few years from now.
1. The auction house. Please, for the love of God, enable proxy bidding like ebay.
2. The subscription scheme. Don't charge for expansions (updates to the game.) It divides the community and makes people angry when they're already paying $15/mo. Please don't retort they're a business and they're in it to make money. There is plenty of money to be made w/o charging for expansions.