Thursday, February 10, 2011

Star Wars vs. Azeroth: Blizzard and Bioware talk competition

As Bioware works on its upcoming massively multiplayer role-playing game Star Wars: The Old Republic, the company faces questions about just how well it can compete with Blizzard's entrenched World of WarCraft, and whether it can build a sustainable audience for the title.

On a DICE panel in Las Vegas moderated by Seth Schiesel of the New York Times, Bioware co-founders Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuck faced the big question: why do they think they can beat World of WarCraft, or at least provide something new to gamers?

The question was met with nervous laughter from the crowd, and an interested look from Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime, who was also on the panel.

"Obviously Star Wars is a big license," Dr. Zeschuk answered. He mentioned that Bioware has done Star Wars right in the past with the Knights of the Old Republic games.

"Anyone who plays the Old Republic sees that it's a Bioware game, the way we tell the story, the way we present it, the fact that you as the player do feel like you're on this heroic journey, and that's very powerful."

He mentioned that Bioware is not releasing the game to "beat" anyone, just to "place," and the audience will tell them how successful the game has been. It's a diplomatic answer.

Zeschuk also had warm words for Blizzard's ability to run an online service. "I have learned so much about how you run a service without yet running one, and how unbelievably complicated it is, and how scary that is," he said. "We have the Bioware quality in the game side of things, but we want to make sure the service has the same level of quality." He described World of Warcraft as a "machine," an international business of its own.

Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime offered some pragmatic advice for his competitors. "Bioware is a great developer, and obviously Star Wars is a very strong license. We think it's good for the MMO genre for additional MMOs to come out that are actually fun to play. I don't know that it serves the genre very well when MMOs come out and have all sorts of problems and players leave in frustration," he said.

His hope is that new players will come in, play Star Wars: Old Republic, and the smooth experience will help them become fans of online gaming. This might seem like an easy task, but it's one that many, many developers have failed at to date.

"So, you know, do a good job," Morhaime said, again drawing laughs from the crowd. It didn't sound like a threat, not really, but it didn't seem far off, either.

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