‘Star Wars’ vs. ‘World of Warcraft’ – the gauntlet is thrown

When it comes to “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” the folks at EA who are publishing the massively multiplayer online game clearly have their eyes on a very particular prize: “World of Warcraft” and its 12 million subscribers.

EA wants those players to leave their online universe of orcs and elves for a new online universe filled with Sith and Jedi. And they seem to feel confident players are going to do so.

And as “The Old Republic” launch nears, the game publisher seems to be stepping up the “WoW” vs. “Star” Wars” trash talk.

In an interview with Industry Gamers this week, Frank Gibeau, head of EA Games, suggested that “WoW” is an aging game and that playing it can feel like tending to a “shopping list.”

“When I play ‘World of Warcraft,’ you go and get your quests, and you go and do your quests, but it feels more like doing a shopping list at times,” Gibeau said. “[Our game] is more about talking to characters, learning what’s going on, investing in it, getting emotionally attached to it. You can still go in accessible ways and grind out quests if you want, but at the same time there’s a higher-level story that’s carrying you through ‘The Old Republic.'””””

Meanwhile, speaking at the Goldman Sachs conference last month, EA CEO John Riccitiello said they expect “The Old Republic” to get “a big chunk” of the “WoW” market.

Riccitiello also said that the acting and dialogue in “The Old Republic” will make “WoW” look like a “silent movie” by comparison.

Oh snap!

Certainly it’s no surprise that EA is talking up their forthcoming massively multiplayer game. EA has said that “The Old Republic” is their largest project ever and that makes it a big and potentially risky investment.

But “Star Wars” is hardly a David to the “WoW” goliath. No, I’d give that title to “Rift”– the upstart MMO launched earlier this month which has been earning good reviews and a growing following. But, as a new intellectual property, it has an uphill battle to fight if it wants to steal away a significant number of “WoW” players.

“Star Wars” on the other hand has … well … “Star Wars.” And that’s going to help make it a serious “WoW” contender from the get-go.

Yes, some early hands-on reports suggest “Star Wars: TOR” does feel similar to “WoW.” But these are based on just a small sneak peek of what is sure to be an epic game – one that not only features fully voice-acted dialog (unlike “WoW”) but an epic story created by BioWare, a development company highly regarded for the storytelling it brought to games like “Mass Effect” and “Dragon Age.”

Meanwhile, despite having a lot to say about how their forthcoming game compares to “WoW,” the folks at EA insist “The Old Republic” is not a “WoW” knock off.
Gibeau certainly acknowledged that EA learned “lessons” from “WoW,” but in his interview with Industry Gamers he was keen to talk up the things that will make “The Old Republic” stand apart from its massively-popular competition.

“”It’s a sci-fi IP, it’s Jedis and Sith, you own your starship, you go to planets, you have the Force; it’s very different than orcs and humans and night elves and the rest,” he said. “On the first level, the IPs are highly different, the gameplay highly differentiated, and the stories highly differentiated,” he said.

In fact, he’s especially keen to point out that with “SWTOR” it will be “the first time an MMO has actually had a story.”

“We’re not being slavish or imitating them at all. We’re doing our own thing. We’re doing our own unique way,” Gibeau said.

All of this “Star Wars” talk aside, plenty of folks are betting that it will be Blizzard’s forthcoming MMO game “Titan” that will be the game that actually takes down Blizzard’s MMO game “World of Warcraft.

One thing is for sure, when you’re sitting on the top of the hill, you make for a very large target.