Monday, October 24, 2011

Your Sixteenth Assignment: 11 Million Pandas

Control, Agent Ancestor reporting in.  I have reached the enemy compound and am setting up long term surveillance.  The architecture is ... peculiar.  Inhabitants seem to be peaceful for the most part, though preparedness is high.  They look slothful, but seem to be physically very strong despite their rather ... cuddly ... appearance.  Observations to follow this message.

Lock and load, agents!  Bioware's biggest rival has absolutely blasted a warning volley over the bow.  The boys from Irvine, CA have served notice that they are still the subscription MMO juggernaut and won't take Bioware's newest game lying down.  I wouldn't be surprised if Metzen and Morhaime wrote dirty messages on the cannon rounds to the Doctors.  Blizzcon just wrapped up ... and boy howdy was it a show.

If there's one thing Bioware can learn from Blizzard, it's how to organize a show.  Blizzcon this year was just amazing (as opposed to the weak show last year).  So much info was pouring out that it reached critical mass inside the first hour.  Mists of Pandaria.  Annual Pass.  Diablo 3.  Heart of the Swarm.  Just tons of stuff coming out.  I fully expect the Doctors to put on their own show, perhaps called "Bio Break" or "Biocon."  There's just so much fan-generated goodwill that comes out of these events that it'd be silly not to host your own (once TOR gets enough of a fanbase, say 2-3 million subscribers).

'Great, ok.  WoW is putting stuff out.  What's it to us?' you ask.  Well, fellow agents, Mists of Pandaria is a very subtle, very precise strike at Bioware.  MoP looks to be a story-driven (in fact, story was mentioned multiple times during the announcement) expansion.  Metzen spoke of placing dungeons in the world that made 'sense' and fit thematically.  They were designed to work with the landscape and provide epic storylines.  Sound familiar?  You'd almost think that Daniel Erickson was up there himself.  Story and plot have become the new buzzwords in MMO development; everyone is falling lock-step behind Bioware in touting the immersion and plot of their games.  Blizzard is no exception.

In fact, if you look at what's being offered by MoP, you could almost call it a casual-friendly environment that aims to bring back the fun of Warcraft, and thereby increase subscriber count.  In this sense, they have utterly succeeded.  Blizzard knows that they have some serious competition on the horizon with TOR, Guild Wars 2, TERA Online, etc etc.  By skewing away from the 'uber serious' vein of Cataclysm and instead taking their players to a magical, whimsical world filled with kung fu pandas, they separate themselves from their competitors.  WoW returns to the quirky, fun game it used to be.  It's a brilliant strategy, really.  Position yourself as too much fun to let go and you retain your playerbase even if they drift to other MMOs.

So, what can Bioware do?

Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Bioware has done everything it can, and done it to perfection.  Everyone knows that the moment TOR drops that players will be lined up around the block to get in.  It's the gorilla in the room.  It's the white elephant.  Everyone knows it's coming and no one can do a damn thing to stop it.  TOR has moved into position as the preeminent MMO for serious gamers, while Warcraft has very solidly put itself in to the casual-friendly MMO that prioritizes fun.  Warcraft has always been sort of jokey and hokey, and that's fine.  That absolutely has its place in the world (and I even appreciate it).  TOR is for serious adults only, however.  There are no hokey quests to collect poop or gather up injured critters   Sure, you'll have your lolkidz show up and go Dark Side for the 'lulz.'  But the majority of gamers who will be attracted to TOR will be serious-minded people who want an adult, thematic experience that challenges them in all areas of the game.  And I think both Bioware and Blizzard are ok with that.

So can 3 million jedi and 11 million pandas coexist?

We better hope.

Fly safe, shoot straight!  For the Glory of the Empire!

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