New MMO: A Longer Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away …

Game developers LucasArts and BioWare announced Tuesday they have joined forces to create a new, massively multiplayer online (MMO) PC game. “Star Wars: The Old Republic” (“SWTOR”) is a story-driven game based on the popular sci-fi world created by George Lucas.

The two companies divulged a handful of details at a press event held at LucasArts’ headquarters in San Francisco. No release date was given.

However, the MMO partners did say that the game is set roughly 350 years after the time of “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic,” a previously released game. That would place it roughly 3,600 years before the events of the “Star Wars” films, the franchise’s central narrative.

“For a long time, we’ve wanted to return to the franchise in a grand way, and we felt that the best setting for it was an online world that would allow millions of people to participate in the experience together. We knew that the developer capable of working with us to deliver an engrossing story with a fully-realized online world was BioWare,” said Darrell Rodriguez, president of LucasArts.

Bringing the Force Online

Given the success of “Star Wars”-based console games, it was just a matter of time before an MMO was released, said Billy Pidgeon, an IDC analyst.

‘”Knights of the Old Republic’ has proved to be a very popular Star Wars game, so it makes perfect sense to base an MMO on that branch of the franchise,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Traditional MMOs are typically based on three basic gameplay pillars — combat, exploration and character progression. “SWTOR” developers are adding a forth pillar — story — to the equation, said Ray Muzyka, cofounder, general manager and CEO of BioWare.

The game’s timeframe — after “Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic” and before the “Star Wars” movies — is an unexplored period in the franchise’s lore. That gives developers, some of who have been working on the game since 2006, the ability to create a new realm for “Star Wars” fans to discover.

Players will be able to play as a Jedi, a Sith or a variety of other classic Star Wars characters. They’ll be able to define their own personal story, determining whether they will choose the light or dark side of the Force.

Gamers will have the option to befriend companions who will fight at their side — or possibly betray them, depending on their actions in the game.

A Growing Field

The “SWTOR” MMO will join a crowded field of immersive online games, some of which attract millions of players. Standout titles include “World of Warcraft” and “Warhammer.”

It should not, however, be hard for “SWTOR” to find and maintain a vibrant online community, given the talent the game developers have at their disposal, said Pidgeon.

“MMOs are very difficult to develop and launch, but LucasArts and BioWare have the talent and the skills to succeed. With this combination — LucasArts, ‘Star Wars’ and BioWare — players’ anticipation is going to be very high. Managing those expectations from beta to launch and into the first year will be a challenge,” he explained.

The growing success of MMOs bodes well for “SWTOR,” but that very success could see other games sent to the graveyard as competition intensifies.

“I think the success of ‘WoW,’ ‘Conan,’ ‘Warhammer’ and others proves that the MMO category will support dozens of quality MMO [games]. However, the bar for success is going to rise, and weaker MMOGs will continue to fail,” he concluded.


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