Old Republic, new wow?

As excitement grows about Bioware’s impendingStar Wars: The Old Republic“, pundits are once again beginning to talk about it’s chances vs Warcraft as the dethroner.

Lots of games have said they’ll dethrone WoW … I think I’ve correctly called on all of them :) I think pundits are making these speculations based on trending in past media, like television, single player games and (not-MMO) multi-player games.

WoW’s advantage is inertia. Moving MMO is more akin to moving house than changing channel. If you’re in a neighborhood where you know people well, have ties, maybe family, a good route to work, etc, etc; most people will find themselves putting off moving house.

The very large userbase means there’s always someone to draw you back at some point, or someone to connect with if you do return.

It’s what tends to tide people over through the rough patches and keep them connected with an MMO, is the neighborhood.

I think some recent changes, such as “Random Dungeon Finder” may have undermined that some, so I think the potential for unseating (but probably not dethroning) WoW is a little more likely now.

WoW wasn’t really “better” than it’s peers when it came out. If you go back and compare, most other games look pretty rough compared to LK these days, but then they haven’t had nearly the ongoing funding or the size of dev team continuing to maintain them.

What super-charged WoW’s success was a very sensible and pragmatic launchpad:

  1. The House: Blizzard. Huge public awareness in the gaming sector through their various games,
  2. The IP: Warcraft. Years old with a hand in multiple demographics of gamers,
  3. The Flirtation: A steady progression from single player to multiplayer games and online gaming services (battle.net) that prepared them for many of the challenges of taking it MMO,
  4. The Platform: Blizzard aimed low as far as MMOs went, seeking to advance their existing IP and skills into the sector; pre-BC WoW sucked in many ways – as an MMO – but it had a successful platform to build off of that kept people playing (*),
  5. The Practicality: By aiming to bring their platform forward, Blizzard was able to deliver a large amount of well-QAed content forward,
  6. The Finance: 1, 2 and 3 gave Blizzard plenty of its own money, but all of the above made it a smart investment and one thing WoW has never wanted for was funding.

(* And since so many of the consumers had never experienced an MMO, they didn’t know what a bum deal they were getting; this is why WoW didn’t kill the other MMOs as pundits were speculating)

SW:TOR can potentially replicate several of these. Bioware + Star Wars + KOTOR — that’s a large initial audience. The great thing about “Old Republic” is that it brings together the two halves of the Star Wars franchise in a way that George Lucas wasn’t able to do (a lot of division in demographics between the original 3 movies and the second 3).

I know from friends at Bioware and Lucas Arts that the development practices are likely to produce a very polished product. We know from Bioware that they are capable of producing some highly saleable storylining.

For me, the unknown quantity is their online experience, maybe Neverwinter Nights is their Diablo… But I don’t think of it as a success on anywhere near the scale of Diablo, and Diablo/Battle.net prepared Blizzard in physical infrastructure terms too.

SW:TOR faces two initial hurdles. a/ The stigma of SWG amongst Star Wars fans, b/ The stigma of Star Wars amongst the sort of “civilian” gamers that WoW has somehow vacuumed in.

SWG was actually populated by lots of people who really didn’t care about Star Wars. Instead, they found niches for themselves in Galaxies (especially crafting types), which kept them going for a long time until their friendships etc took them out into the game at large and they said “WTF?”.

I remember one SWG-friend, Lula Luvlee, who despised all things Star Wars, but loved Galaxies to bits as she tried out a few of the more obscure roles capable in SWG (she started out mostly as a dancer, but moved into interior decoration and other roles). She also dabbled in the larger game but it was a very slow progression as she was simply more interested in having fun.

The first time I went back to SWG before NWE, Lula and her in-game buddy were grinding to get her to Jedi. I seem to remember posting a video of my experience with hundreds of people camping the Jedi mob spawns in a sub-1-fps macro fest to try and get credit and rack up enough points.

It made me incredibly angry to see her being taught that “MMO” mean’t “slot machine with dolls housing”.

The amount of grind that SWG wound up with was just staggering.

If SWG had gone differently, it could easily have been the first WoW-scale MMO. Once the loyal Star Wars fan base was invested, the Word of Mouth would have drawn in people you wouldn’t expect to play on a massive scale rather than as a trickle. WoW is full of non-gamers (those I referred to as “civilian” before) and people who don’t like fantasy games (“but wow isn’t fantasy, is it?”)

So – while I don’t know if SW:TOR can actually usurp WoW, and infact I think probably only Blizzard can do that at this point, I think it will certainly finally meet Blizzard’s call for challengers.

6 Comments

Alongside a) SWG and b) Star Wars geekism, there’s also the Prequel factor aomngst Star Wars fans. Many of the guys I played SWG with were there because of the Original Trilogy, and SWG offered them a chance to ‘live’ in a world they’d loved since the 70s. As the Prequel and Jedi influences started to invade the SWG universe, their love for the game faded.

Games very much based in the Prequel world maybe won’t ever tap into that generation who grew up with the OT and now look at the PT with abject disappointment.

I have to agree with your assessment. I’ve tried practically every fantasy MMO that has come out since WOW. The longest to hold my attention was WAR followed by Aion. In both cases, the times I was most excited about those games were in the COW guild and playing with and amongst them. Inevitably, the games lost their luster and people drifted back to where they’d been before.

I’m back in WOW – again. And while it hurts my head to find myself here, I have so much time invested there in characters, professions, crafting materials and gold, its just too easy to go back there and tinker until the urge wanes.

“WoW is full of non-gamers (those I referred to as “civilian” before) and people who don’t like fantasy games (“but wow isn’t fantasy, is it?”)”

This really explains the baffling amounts of disdain many WoW players have for lore, ‘reading quests’, RP, and other elements that have always been so important in other MMORPGs. It always kind of confused me how much ‘anti-RPG’ vibes there are in this RPG.

Silky:

I’m not so sure, the KOTOR games did a pretty good job of bringing in both groups of fans, and it’s also set in an age that ties in very well with the most popular SW games like Jedi Knight etc.

It gives it the ability to be some of both without actually carrying the parts that each camp dislikes most :) It lacks Luke and Darth, but there’s also no Anakinstein or Jaja :)

Finally found the annoying tag that was causing WordPress to remove all the formatting every time it felt like it.

The problem with franchised MMO’s is that everyone has a preconceived idea that they will be either a Jedi or a Smuggler. The two hero’s from the game.

That to me is why you will rarely find a franchised game that does well. Warcraft doesn’t fit the mould because it has already been well thought out, much like a D&D franchise would work because the characters would be well balanced.

As for Old Republic? Meh, it’ll be like Star Trek Online…

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