Prologue – MMORPGs: The Golden Goose

I find my lack of faith disturbing.

Today the most anticipated video game in history, Star Wars: The Old Republic, will hit hard drives around the world, and the air of excitement is thick. Unofficial numbers peg the development budget well north of 100 million dollars, with some claiming upwards of 300 million. Regardless of how successful TOR is, one thing is certain: video games are a big deal, and they’re only getting bigger.

One genre of games that has grown with a particular frenzy in recent years is Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs). Thrust into the mainstream by news footage of hordes waiting in line for new releases, and commercials featuring the likes of William Shatner and Chuck Norris, World of Warcraft is the most successful video game in history – not just the MMORPG genre. It’s grossed well over ten billion dollars during it’s seven year run, and counting.

So it’s no surprise that as World of Warcraft gobbles up over 150 million dollars a month, other game developers are desperately trying to tap into the ever growing MMORPG market.

Enter our heroes:

Electronic Arts – A mammoth soup to nuts video game maker with their hand in every cookie jar in the gaming world. Developing, marketing, publishing – Console, PC, mobile – they are one of the few who have the near unlimited resources to take any game of any type from idea to screen.

Bioware – On the shortlist of best game developers ever. Their resume reads like a greatest hits list of the RPG genre: Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect. They have a real knack for creating truly great games. A common theme among their titles, what much of their greatness can be attributed to, is their storytelling. Immersing the player, bonding them to their avatar, creating emotional investment in the ebb and flow of the game – story is their trademark.

LucasArts – The video game branch of the Lucas empire. Defacto owners of the most ubiquitous fiction IP ever. While their track record is checkered, one of the few homeruns they’ve hit was KOTOR, a Star Wars based RPG developed in conjunction with Bioware.

At this point, dear reader, if I wiped your memory you could no doubt put these pieces back together.  The arithmetic is simple. EA will absorb Bioware leaving them mostly autonomous, filling their gaps in infrastructure needed to create an MMO, a truly massive undertaking, while LucasArts advises on the Star Wars-y-ness of the endeavor. The brains, the brawn, the universe.  Star Wars: The Knights of the Old Republic will be an epic, story driven MMORPG destined for greatness.

Yet, I have a bad feeling about this.

Creating a successful MMORPG is very difficult. The list of reputable names in the industry who have tried and failed spectacularly grows every year. Even prior success creating an MMORPG doesn’t necessarily mean the studio’s next effort will float (see: Star Wars Galaxies, Warhammer, Tabula Rasa). What World of Warcraft possesses, that specialness, that unique magnetism that has captured the hearts and minds of millions of gamers, is very elusive.

What follows here on this blog will not be proof of TOR’s inevitable demise or any claim of insider knowledge. It is also not meant to dissuade anyone from purchasing the game or lessen the experience for those who do.

What follows will be a series of articles about MMORPG game design philosophy and the choices that were made by EA/Bioware/LucasArts, the team developing the most anticipated, biggest budget game in the history of the universe. And how they got it all wrong.

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One Response to Prologue – MMORPGs: The Golden Goose

  1. Pingback: Episode I – Why the Story Pillar has a Weak Foundation | whyswtorwillfail

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