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The Making of Star Wars: The Old Republic

December 20, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Did Zeschuk ever expect BioWare's productions to become this elaborate?

"When we formed BioWare, we weren't even sure we would be doing anything more than playing games in my basement," he recalls. "It's fair to say we've been more than surprised at how things have unfolded."

While the original strategy had called for Erickson to write the part of the bounty hunter, it soon became obvious that his full time job was just keeping all the plot threads together and keeping his writing team on track.

"Before we did any writing, we constructed 1,000 pages of documentation on such things as why Sith architecture looks the way it does, the history of wedding rituals on various planets, and so on.

"We are well aware that many of the gamers know the entire lore and will call us out on anything that isn't consistent with not just the movies, but the hundreds of books, comics, and other games about Star Wars. So it was important for us to become experts on all that."

"Though the game is now a trilogy -- with Chapters I, II, and III -- we are planning to keep it going for a fourth chapter -- and more," says Erickson. "That is my hope... that I'll continue to have a job here. The writing team has been hard at work on additional content because the lead time for content is quite long when you're doing AAA professional voice acting and such."

But additional chapters depend on the success of SWTOR and how quickly it can recoup its cost which was substantial. For instance, according to Ohlen, SWTOR "was the biggest localization project in history. Localization -- which is so expensive -- was done in English, French, and German, meaning that the hundreds of thousands of lines of voiceover had to be done in all three languages. We decided to go with French and German because those are the #2 and #3 markets in terms of revenue for a game. We might localize into other languages in the future, but I can't really talk about that right now."

Ohlen wouldn't give exact figures, but he described SWTOR as the most expensive game BioWare has ever done, and cost "about the same as other big AAA games, like Grand Theft Auto V and the current Call of Duty."

How long does Ohlen think it will take to recoup the cost of SWTOR? That, he says, is entirely dependent on how many subscribers sign on.

BioWare's parent, Electronic Arts, revealed on Dec. 5 that the game attracted more than 2 million volunteers for its recent beta test. Over the Thanksgiving Day weekend, the game saw more than 725,000 unique users.

"There are different levels of success and we have all the different models built out," Ohlen explains. "While we want to be super-successful, we also need to plan for not hitting all our targets. Can we then still be profitable? Yes, but it will take longer.

"While I can't give away exact numbers, I can say that we have plans for super success in the millions of subscribers... and then we have plans for if we have a much smaller subscriber base. While it would be great to get the kind of numbers that World of Warcraft gets, we don't have to come close to those in order to be wildly successful. We could be well below WoW and still be incredibly profitable."

[EA noted in February that the game will bring in a profit with 500,000 subscribers, and analysts expect the title to sell roughly 3 million copies within its first year of sale.]

Ohlen insists his goal isn't to beat WoW which, he says, is very much "a once-in-a-lifetime kind of game. While I'd love to compete with them, I'm fine with us just being successful and having our own niche. I don't think it's healthy for our team to be constantly comparing ourselves against another game. Especially since there's room in the market to have two big MMOs."

Current projections, he says, show enough success that BioWare is investing in the future and keeping the entire team of hundreds of people together.

"Unlike a lot of other game companies that, once they launch a game, downsize their teams radically, our plan is to keep the team together and continue to focus on building content."

Indeed, Ohlen says his experience has been that, once a game is finished, he always moved on to the next game right away, sometimes even before the game was done. But SWTOR will be different, he insists.

"There's no secret project currently being done in the Austin studio," reveals Ohlen. "We're very much focused on Star Wars, Star Wars, Star Wars for the foreseeable future."

But, down the road, does Zeschuk ever expect BioWare to tackle a project as big as SWTOR again?

"We've apparently been on record as saying that BioWare would never grow beyond 100 people, so you have to take statements about our ambitious with a grain of sale," he quipped. "It's hard to say right now what we may or may not do as far as future projects. We're really busy working on future SWTOR content as well as continuing to improve the service. This will never end."

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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Michael Gribbin
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I desperately wish I had time to scope this game out. It sounds really interesting from a player and design/development perspective. Luckily I have a few guys out in the trenches playing since beta to give me at least SOME idea of what's going on in there. They're having a blast!

Bart Stewart
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A couple of things.

First, no real criticism, but this piece is mostly PR for BioWare rather than information that's interesting or useful from a game development perspective. One of BioWare's perceived strengths is narrative, and from this story we learn mostly that SWTOR will, unlike its competitors, have lots of... narrative.

What we don't hear anything about is the design thinking by which this narrative strength is fused with MMORPG gameplay -- how does that work? Was it hard to do? What compromises had to be made with the gameplay in order to tell compelling stories? What compromises had to be made with storytelling in order to offer a game that current MMORPG players would enjoy while (one hopes) also attracting new gamers? How does the decision to adhere to MMORPG conventions in the class design distinguish this game from, oh, I don't know, WoW? We learn none of these things.

Maybe these questions were asked and will show up in a future piece. That would be appreciated.

The second thought is this: BioWare used the HeroEngine from (what was) Simutronics -- in fact, they were one of the first licensees. The thing is, the next big licensor announced after BioWare was Zenimax Online, the sister company to Bethesda.

So what might *they* have been working on all this time? ;)

Levi delValle
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Hold on Bart, first of all this is not the postmortem.

2nd of all there should be no compromises between story and gameplay, and further more the class mechanics are different. I suggest you try the game out and then try Wow out and then compare them. You still have the rolls of DPS, Tanks and healers, that has not changed but it allows for some customization with skill trees and a choice from level 10 to reach for an Advance Class.

For me I have played Wow from day one, Final Fantasy XI for two years, and now Star Wars: The Old Republic and I can say that the combat mechanics are different, though I would of liked the combat more if it was more like that of Dragon Nest from Eyedenity Games and Nexon.

As for your comment on the HeroEngine it is not uncommon for studios to use 3rd party engines to speed up production on the games. As for what they where doing all this time, I would have to say a lot of iteration, Usability testing, iteration, Play testing, iteration, Beta Testing, iteration, Stress Testing, iteration, prayer, release, postmortem, expansion pack per-production and prototyping.

Kostas Yiatilis
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I think Bart is talking about what Zenimax Online is doing since they got the same engine at about roughly the same time.