With World of Warcraft holding the MMO throne, whenever I hear about a new massively multiplayer online game being produced a part of my brain wonders “why bother?” Clearly I do not work for Bioware (and with that line of thinking, I never will), as in just a little over a week since it’s launch date, Star Wars: The Old Republic is already attracting one of the fastest-growing player communities in the history of subscription-based MMO games.
Of course there have been plenty of positive reviews for The Old Republic, which won MSNBC’s “Best Multiplayer Game of 2011” as well as ratings from various consumer reporting outlets in the high 80's and 90's. And judging from the subscriber numbers, it seems like quite a few players agree with these reviewers.
So what are the numbers, you wonder? In a word, impressive; since the game’s launch on December 20, more than a million players have spent over 60 million in-game hours playing The Old Republic. Together they’ve created more than 850,000 Sith Warriors and 810,000 Jedi Knights, not to mention countless smugglers, troopers and bounty hunter scum. Perhaps the most troubling news for AI algorithms across the globe, over 3 billion NPCs have been slaughtered in the two weeks since The Old Republic officially launched. With over 260 millions quests completed and more than 44 million PvP battles, it's clear that Star Wars fans have been keeping pretty busy over the holidays.
It makes sense that if one game could have the potential to compete with the most popular MMO games straight out the gate, it would be The Old Republic. George Lucas' Star Wars mythos is famous (some might say infamous) for being broad enough in scope and subject matter to appeal to a diverse audience; The Old Republic capitalizes on that appeal by placing players in a galaxy far, far away and thousands of years prior to the original films. It's a game filled with familiar faces and ideas in a wholly new setting that players get to direct, and with a critically acclaimed developer like Bioware taking lead on design, the success of The Old Republic makes sense.
As with any new MMO, one has to wonder if the positive momentum will stick. Crafting a perpetually satisfying experience for players, especially players who spend countless hours with one game, is no mean feat. But according to a recent BioWare press release, Dr. Ray Muzyka, General Manager of EA’s BioWare Label and Co-Founder of BioWare, claims that “everyone at BioWare, EA and LucasArts is honored - and humbled - by the stellar response from our fans. We're going to work together closely with our community in the weeks, months and years ahead, continually serving our audience with regular delivery of compelling new features and content.”
Wise words for anyone hoping to maintain the interest of over a million people for an extended period of time. And if anyone can compete with Blizzard in the MMO arena, it's BioWare. But the lion's share of 2012 lays before us, and with the expected debut of well-known MMO games like Guild Wars 2, The Secret World and perhaps even the fourth World of Warcraft expansion pack Mists of Pandaria, let's hope we aren't overestimating their chances.