Grab Your Towel, Don’t Panic
For most people, May the fourth was recognized as “Star Wars Day.” I was curious as to the date of, or even if there was, an international Star Wars day. According to reliable sources (yes, Wikipedia. Shut up.), it’s officially May 25th, per the city of Los Angeles. May 25th was the date of the release of the original Star Wars movie, long before it was ever subtitled “A New Hope.” If you look up May 25th on Wookieepedia, you’ll find a vast number of other Star Wars related milestones on this date. One other celebration of May 25th happens to be “Towel Day.” For those not in tune with British science fiction, the towel is the most important item you can ever have with you, according to the best-selling Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s with one of that book’s most notable quotes with which I’d like you to consider with me the recent shake-up of Electronic Arts’ release schedule and the much-talked about possible push-back of Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Now, I completely understand why nearly everyone has taken the news of EA clearing their fourth quarter release schedule of anything non-sports related quite poorly. Given the precedent that has already been set by the developers and publishers of SW:TOR and all the pushing back that has already happened, it’s unfortunately only too understandable. However, as mentioned on episode 39 of Mos Eisley Radio, there are several factors to consider that should not only diffuse any potential animosity towards them for the potential delay, but also make one wonder if there even will be a delay.
Firstly, I’d like to address the length of the development of this game. We’ve been watching the news trickle out of the developer studio down in Austin for nearly four years, creeping up on five. Compare this to when World of WarCraft was in development. Does anyone even remember when WoW was in development? For being such a cultural zeitgeist, for most it seemingly came out of nowhere. I’d wager that most of WoW’s 12-million players hadn’t been amongst those Blizzard loyalists who begged at the doorstep of blizzard.com for most of 2003 and 2004. Even for those of us who played every game they’d developed leading up to the release of Vanilla WoW, I don’t recall there ever being the fervor and foaming at the mouth that there is for TOR. Is it simply a matter of this being Star Wars? Or is it rather a matter of a change in the media and how any company deals with its public relations? If one were to look back at WoW’s development, or listen to one of their podcasts, they’d find that WoW took every bit as long to develop as TOR has. The groundwork of WoW was being built simultaneously to WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos and its expansion The Frozen Throne. With that in mind, one could make the argument that Mass Effect and DragonAge should be those analogous appetizers, filling as they are, to hold us over until we get The Old Republic.
Secondly, and this one will only be a quick follow-up to the first, we waited HOW LONG for StarCraft II? And how many WoW expansions did we get before we even had access to SC2 beta? I think BioWare can be forgiven for adding a few months on to the dev time in order to get the game where it needs to be.
More seriously now, any potential delay may not even be at the behest of the development team. Remember, there are three major companies with a tremendous amount of vested interest and capital in this game: BioWare, Electronic Arts, and LucasArts. Not a one of them wants to even let the most infinitesimal glimmer of failure enter in at launch time. BioWare has a tremendous amount of capitol with its fanbase that they can continue to milk with future titles; LucasArts has plenty of money, but their in-house developed games have not always brought the level of accomplishment and acclaim that their third-party titles have, as can be seen when one compares Knights of the Old Republic with The Force Unleashed; and Electronic Arts, while they certainly don’t lack for a following with their sports games, as a publisher, has seen a significant downturn in their yearly sales, with fans becoming less willing to shell out sixty dollars a year for their annual iteration of sports titles, as well as being luke-warm to some of their less-than-innovative titles (Dante’s Inferno and Army of Two, amongst others). In short, the team down at Austin is dying to release their game and be able to openly talk about it like the fans they are, too. Though, they most assuredly want their baby to be ready before it’s released into the wild.
A final point to consider is the game’s competition. Anyone thinking that WarCraft is the only title that will be vying for fans’ rather limited attention spans towards the end of 2011 is sorely mistaken. If there is anything that makes even the hardest of hardcore MMO players abandon ship for even a short time, it’s the fourth-quarter console extravaganza. Speaking of yearly iterations, trailers for Modern Warfare 3 have already been released; it’s a good bet that MW3 will likely drop the first or second week of November. The first trailer for Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception has already stated that 11.11.11 is the release date for that sure-to-be award-winning, blockbuster title. I just finished Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and I fear for when Assassin’s Creed: Revelation is released in November, because I may have to abandon EVERYTHING in life until I put the finishing touches on Altair and Ezio’s story arcs. There are so many other titles releasing in the post-summer season, including Elder Scrolls V, Resistance 3, Gears of War 3, Batman: Arkham City, Metal Gear Solid: Rising, and Rage, that I don’t think the average gamer will be able to play all the titles they want. We’ll all be forced to choose sides and MMO’s are such a precarious beast to deal with that they have to be sure that the iron is still hot, but not being thrust into the fight at the wrong time. Oh, yeah, almost forgot: Diablo 3. How could I have missed that one?
Finally, Bioware’s biggest opponent might have been themselves. Originally, they had slated for both Star Wars: The Old Republic and Mass Effect 3 to launch within three to four months of each other. Granted, there might be some MMO players who have no interest in ME3, and I suppose the inverse could be equally true, but I think it’d also be fair to say that, amongst scifi, rpg, and Bioware fans, there is an immense amount of crossover with that company’s three flagship titles. To make their fanbase split their time between two massive titles, or even, heaven forbid, be forced to choose which one to spend money on at a given time, it makes no sense, either in terms of drawing in as many people as possibly, nor even in stark dollars-and-cents terms. When both games were removed from EA’s release slate, ME3 was immediately given a relative release date in Q1-2012, while no further approximate date has been given for TOR. I think it’s reasonable to expect, therefore, two things: one, that they don’t want either title to perchance have a negative impact upon the other, and, two, that they’d like to avoid the fall-winter rush and maybe even get such a foothold in the market early on that the average consumer, who does not buy every major title at the midnight launch, will purchase and stay with TOR through the barrage of console releases and eventually will want a break from MMO’ing and jump back into the Normandy for awhile, only to return to the Star Wars galaxy.
After all that you might be wondering, just what does Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy have to do with this? Simple: “Don’t Panic.”