The Old Republic vs WOW: Epic Fail?

The Old Republic vs WOW: Epic Fail?

It looks like Blizzard is taking on a role that’s always pleasant to see in the games industry: The role of a courteous competitor. Blizzard’s president, Frank Pearce, told MCV that Blizzard wants to see EA’s upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic MMORPG succeed because the MMORPG market in general can use a “shot in the arm.”

“This is a game that has an opportunity to grow the MMO market if done right and therefore is very important to the industry as a whole, not just EA,” Pearce said.

Mike Morhaime, Blizzard’s CEO, added “[Star Wars is] certainly a strong franchise and BioWare’s a great developer. We’ve talked about this internally and from our perspective we hope they make an enjoyable game because they’re going to bring in a lot of new players to the MMO genre, and those players’ idea of whether or not they like this type of game is going to be determined by that experience.”

Blizzard runs World of Warcraft, the current king of MMORPGs. The game launched in 2004 and boasts over 12 million subscribers. It’s reasonable to believe that Blizzard genuinely wants to see the game succeed: Competition keeps a market fresh, and besides, game developers just like good games–even if said games aren’t theirs. That said, Blizzard probably won’t be posting in-game ads for The Old Republic all over Azeroth. Will the game be able to draw players’ attention away from World of Warcraft​?

EA and LucasArts took the first correct step: They built their RPG around Star Wars. Few properties are more lucrative and recognizable than Lucas’s galaxy far, far away. In fact, Pearce told MCV that one of the bigger reasons behind World of Warcraft‘s success is that it’s an MMORPG based on a well-known property. Warcraft is indeed huge, and one can easily argue that Star Wars is even bigger.

Star Wars: The Old Republic is almost guaranteed to launch with a strong subscriber base for that reason. The real question is, can EA and LucasArts sustain that base? If someone is already paying for a World of Warcraft subscription, are they going to dish out for two games? If so, for how long?

Those questions will difficult to answer before The Old Republic is officially completed, released, and tweaked as necessary. But the game has a head start already thanks to a base property that’s brimming with fun and imagination. Blizzard has reason to hope that the game will succeed, as the subscription-based MMORPG genre is in desperate need of some new blood.

There might be a problem, however, if EA and Blizzard end up fighting over the same user base. Even if that turns out to be the case, Blizzard is pretty secure. It’s not likely people will dump their years-old WoW account and guild status in favor of a (ahem) clone game that simply uses Jedis, regardless of how popular and fun Jedis are. If it comes down to paying two fees for two similar games, The Old Republic will be abandoned in favor of the familiar.

If, however, World of Warcraft and The Old Republic offer two very different gameplay experiences, people will be far more compelled to pay for both games, and the MMORPG subscriber base will get that aforementioned shot in the arm.

And if all else fails for The Old Republic, there’s always the possibility of a transition to a free-to-play model. The transition might anger some loyal players, and we’re already familiar with the risks that can run (anger, hate, suffering, etc). Nobody said survival in the MMORPG universe is an easy task.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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