View From the Road

View From the Road: Five Reasons Why The Old Republic Can’t Touch WoW

John Funk | 18 Jan 2010 17:00
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Last week, I offered some thoughts on why BioWare Austin's upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic could be a genuine threat to Blizzard's gargantuan World of Warcraft - not as a "WoW killer" per se, but as the first game to really poke a dent in the Azerothian monolith.

There are two sides to every story, and every argument has a counterpoint. BioWare has an uphill battle against a firmly entrenched foe, and there's absolutely no guarantee that The Old Republic will be the dislodging salvo that some people are hoping it will be. The game probably won't fail - you don't need a million subscribers to be profitable - but this week we're going to look at why Blizzard has nothing to fear from BioWare's first MMOG.

#1 - The Black Hole Effect: Everybody knows what a black hole is, right? It's when an object reaches a certain critical mass threshold for its given density and collapses into a singularity from which nothing can escape, not even light - and from there, everything it collects only adds to that mass. MMOGs are like that, too. Because they are extremely social games, you play what your friends are playing. Once a game has gained enough subscribers to reach critical mass, people are likely to play it simply because all of their friends are playing it.

SW: TOR may have the credentials to achieve critical mass when it launches, but WoW had that, too - and five years to get bigger and bigger. If a gamer has a choice between playing with 5 of their friends in TOR and 20 of their friends in WoW, some might choose Star Wars but they will likely boot up Warcraft much more frequently.

Let's not forget that many WoW gamers have spent five years developing their characters, and they won't be so easy to throw away at the drop of the hat. It will be extremely hard for BioWare to chip away at WoW's massive playerbase.

#2 - Time Is Money, Friend!: Or, to be precise, time and money. The Old Republic may have EA's deep pockets backing it, but do you know who has even bigger pockets? EA's rival Activision, of course, which is in possession of the money-raking Guitar Hero and Call of Duty franchises. Oh, and we can't forget the money from WoW itself. If studio heads had the desire, Blizzard could throw more money at the development of a game than most companies could ever dream of.

EA may have delayed Old Republic to 2011 - a wise move, considering rushing a title out the door can be the Kiss of Death for MMOGs - but the company needs to see a return on its investment in TOR at some point. While BioWare's track record has certainly earned it some leeway on release dates, it's hard to imagine that the company possesses the carte blanche that Blizzard currently has to effectively tell its parent corporation, "Screw off, it'll be done when it's done." There will come a time when TOR must be released, while Blizzard can bide its time before shipping a new product. And speaking of new products...

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