View From the Road

View From the Road
Five Reasons Why The Old Republic Is a Threat to WoW

John Funk | 11 Jan 2010 21:00
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If you're familiar with the MMOG space for the past, oh, five or so years, then the upcoming scenario probably will sound awfully familiar to you. Step One, new game is announced. Step Two, new game is hyped up as being the one to knock World of Warcraft from its golden throne for reasons A, B, and C. Step Three, new game comes out, gains modest subscriber base, fails to make much of an impact. Step Four, new game stabilizes quietly or sinks between the waves. Step Five, see Step One.

The cycle of "WoW Killers" from Guild Wars to Vanguard to Warhammer Online is well chronicled, and if anyone thinks that BioWare's upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic will well and truly dethrone Warcraft, then I've got a bridge on Coruscant to sell them. Of course, TOR won't kill WoW, but that doesn't mean it doesn't stand a chance to steal a hefty chunk of its subscriber base and come in at No. 2. SW:TOR has a hell of a lot going for it - and these are five reasons that Blizzard should be watching its back:

#1 - Fans: Now, when I say fans, I don't mean fans of Star Wars. Everybody loves Star Wars, sure, but if a massive pre-existing fanbase were all that an MMOG needed to achieve superstardom, we'd probably be writing about what games could possibly challenge the unquestioned rule of Star Wars Galaxies and Lord of the Rings Online. No, I mean BioWare fans - specifically, fans of Knights of the Old Republic.

If fifty million people like your franchise, but only fifty of them are gamers, a game based on that IP won't necessarily sell well. The millions of people who were fans of Warcraft when WoW came out were already, by definition, gamers - and with roughly two million copies sold, KotOR has its own sizable fanbase. These are people who know and like BioWare's interpretation of that era in that galaxy far, far away, and they are most assuredly gamers. We're not talking casual Peggle and Wii Sports gamers, either; they are the type of gamer to sit down and complete a demanding RPG.

BioWare has more people ready and waiting to give their game a shot than any other MMOG since... well, WoW. The more people who pick the game up out of the gate, the closer a given MMOG is to reaching that critical mass where people start playing the game because all of their friends are playing it.

#2 - Funds: BioWare is, as we all know, owned by Electronic Arts. Yes, the very same EA that is the second largest videogame publisher in the world, beaten only by rival Activision. EA's pockets are very, very deep, and there is more money being pumped into the development of The Old Republic than you or I could ever know. The voice acting alone is surely costing a very pretty penny, and that's just one part of the overall budget.

It's true that money put into a game does not necessarily equal game quality, but having the money and time to polish a game to perfection and hire talented designers certainly doesn't hurt. Oh, and if you think EA is just going to inject TOR with greenbacks during development and then fail to market it, you've got another think coming. When the game comes out, it'll have a marketing blitz unheard of for an MMORPG that doesn't have War or Craft in the title. Here's where brand recognition of Star Wars and KotOR does come in handy - I'd wager that while most people would see ads for EA's other MMOG Warhammer Online and think "Whathammer?" The universe of TOR is far more recognizable... and marketable.

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