When it comes to facing off against MMO juggernaut World of Warcraft, BioWare cofounder Dr. Greg Zeschuk says the developer will be happy if its long awaited Star Wars: The Old Republic simply “places.”
“It’s not like we’re actually going out there to beat anyone,” Zeschuk said during the DICE 2011 keynote discussion. “We’re just going out there to place. And I think placing in this space is really, really successful, and the audience will tell us where we place.”
With genuine reverence, Zeschuk went on to say that, “WoW is our touchstone…We’ve been delving into social and smaller, but that doesn’t mean bigger doesn’t work. Bigger does work, big has worked, and, frankly, WoW is the biggest. From a pure revenue basis, it’s probably the biggest game ever by a country mile. It’s generated so much revenue that it’s become an incredible international business unto itself. So how do you compete with that? Well, that’s the interesting challenge.”
“We took it a couple ways,” Zeschuk explained. “One, like I said, it is a touchstone. They’ve established standards. They’ve established how you play an MMO. Every MMO that comes out, I play it and look at it, and if they break any of the WoW rules, that, in my book, that’s pretty dumb. If you have established standards, WoW has established them. Tens of millions of people have probably played this game, so this is an enormous audience.”
In terms of what Blizzard’s success means for BioWare as it moves into the MMO space, Zeschuk added, “In some ways, they cracked this market wide open. Some people who put a lot of time into it, some people who put a little time into it, some that aren’t actively playing. So we’re coming in…Star Wars is obviously a very, very big license. It’s something, when done right, and fortunately we did it very right with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic years ago, and it’s an incredible force multiplier on your efforts.”
Zeschuk went on to explain that one of the more satisfying results of the melding of BioWare’s design philosophies and the Star Wars universe is that, “Anyone who plays the Old Republic instantly sees it’s immediately a BioWare game. That story element, how we deliver story, the way we present it, the fact that you, as the player, do feel like you’re on this heroic journey is really powerful."
While BioWare is understandably confident in its storytelling abilities, Zeschuk admits the team still looks to Blizzard in terms of how to handle the Old Republic from a technical perspective.
"Hats off. I have learned so much about how you run a service…and how complicated, and how unbelievably scary that is. One of the things we want to have, we have the BioWare quality on the core side of things, we want to make sure our service has that same level of quality. That’s super important that we actually deliver that.”
Fellow BioWare founder Dr. Ray Muzyka joined Zeschuk on stage, as did Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame recipients Bruce Shelley, Mark Cerny, and, most interestingly, Blizzard cofounder Mike Morhaime, who had this to say about BioWare’s forthcoming leap into the MMO space.
“BioWare is a great developer, and obviously Star Wars is a very strong license.” After a slight hesitation, Morheim continued, “We think it’s actually good for the MMO genre for additional MMOs to come out that are actually fun and good to play. I think that is actually good. I don’t think it really serves the genre very well when MMOs come out and have all sorts of problems and people leave in frustration."
"So hopefully new players will come in, experience your game for the first time, and find out that maybe they’re fans of the genre. If they get frustrated and leave, maybe they won’t give your genre a try. So do a good job,” Morheim concluded, clearly directing his final comment towards the BioWare doctors.