Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Indiana Jones Online

Think Lara Croft without the boobs, but online, would that make a great MMORPG? Apart from the sad fact that it wouldn't sell without the boobs, Indiana Jones Online is just my desperate attempt to spin the same news that everybody reports in a different way: Bioware and LucasArts are teaming up to create a new game. And absolutely everybody assumes that it will be Knights of the Old Republic Online or some similar Star Wars themed MMORPG. Hey, what about Monkey Island Online, the only MMORPG where the combat is based on a parser of insults typed into chat? Not likely either? Well, then KOTORO it is.

Unlike Star Trek, where every single video game using the license totally sucked (good luck with Star Trek Online, Perpetual!), the Star Wars license has produced a mix of good and bad games over the years, with highlights from X-Wing to KOTOR. The only problem is that there is already a Star Wars MMORPG, Star Wars Galaxies, and it evokes a lot of bad memories in MMO veterans. In the originally released version you could play a Wookie hairdresser, but not a light sabre swinging jedi. That had solid lore-related reasons, but unsurprisingly players weren't so excited about the hairdressers and would have preferred jedis. Then the devs came up with a brilliant idea to make matters much worse, by introducing the probably most stupid possible system of letting people attain jedi rank: having them master five different random professions in a specific order. That not only forced people to master professions they didn't like, e.g. hairdresser, but also to unlearn mastered professions to have the skill points to start the next one. When SOE learned that in spite of all this bad design they still had some customers left, they decided to drive the remaining players away by completely rewriting the game in the NGE patch. That finally made the jedi class available right from the start, but changed the game so completely that SOE had to offer a refund for the SWG expansion which came out at the same time. Through all these changes SWG also battled against a bug count which was higher and more severe than industry standard. In spite of this rather bumpy ride, SWG sold over 1 million boxed copies, and still has an estimated 50k to 100k subscribers, down from a 250k peak.

Chances of a SWG revival are less than slim, and so making a new Star Wars MMORPG could actually work. If it was based on the old republic instead of the time between episode IV and V, having lots of jedi players would cause less of a lore problem. Preferably the new Star Wars MMORPG would also have space ships right from the start, a feature that SWG only introduced in the Jump to Lightspeed expansion. The Star Wars license is certainly strong enough to support a second MMORPG, especially if that game picks up some of the lessons of the SWG fiasco and the success of World of Warcraft.

But don't hold your breath, Bioware and LucasArts just signed the agreement and haven't even started working yet. Thus whether the game they will produce is Knights of the Old Republic Online or something else, the most realistic estimate for a release date is somewhere in 2012.

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