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Star Wars MMO: Explained

EA Games president Frank Gibeau on the company's plans to publish another MMO title alongside Warhammer Online

As the number of high quality MMOs published increases, and the revenue from a successful venture there for all to see, one of the biggest announcements in the past few weeks was that BioWare is creating a new MMO based on the Star Wars license.

Here, EA Games label president Frank Gibeau explains some of the thinking behind the decision to put out another title to sit alongside Warhammer Online.

Eurogamer What are your first impressions of Star Wars: The Old Republic?
Frank Gibeau

I have very high expectations of this project. If you look at the Star Wars universe and how powerful it is and you combine that with a developer like BioWare that's never shipped something less than a 90-rated game, it's a pretty powerful combination. Then you land that right in the MMO genre, which is red hot and has a lot of opportunity in front of it - million and millions of players are coming to that category, and that's kind of what we're betting on.

Eurogamer How would you describe EA's current strategy as far as MMOs are concerned?
Frank Gibeau

We started the category about 10 years ago with Ultima Online, so when it was very small in fact we created the category and it was very small for a very long time but pretty lucrative as you get subscription business on top of a retail business and then lots of new companies came in. It boomed in Asia. World of Warcraft came in and popped the category even larger. We just launched Warhammer Online in September, it's off to a very fast start. So we believe in a direct-to-consumer connected play experience for our customers so we're going after the MMO category pretty strong.

Eurogamer Isn't the new Star Wars MMO a competitor for Warhammer?
Frank Gibeau

Well, as much as Need for Speed is a competitor for FIFA. They compete in the same genre of videogames but they're very diverse customer bases. The Warhammer customer base will overlap to a degree with Star Wars, but obviously you're bringing in millions of new customers with the Star Wars universe.

Eurogamer The thing about MMOs, as compared to football games and driving games, is that a FIFA fan is quite likely to also own a NFS game and play that over the course of a weekend, play both games. Whereas MMOs - people tend to pick one and stick with it for a long time...
Frank Gibeau

I think that in Asia you see more participation across more games, in the West traditionally it has been fairly monogamous in terms of you would basically look up one MMO and stay with it. What we're finding now is people are jumping in and out and having multiple accounts, so I'm fairly confident that when we are in a position having SW and WH in the marketplace, the market category's going to be very big at that point and there will be plenty of room for both to be successful, as well as for competitors like WoW and City of Heroes. I play WoW a lot, I really like it.

Eurogamer Blizzard's recently been quoted as saying players who dropped WoW to play Warhammer are already coming back. Is that something you've observed?
Frank Gibeau

No, actually our player numbers are increasing, so I don't know where they're getting that data. Our numbers are doing great. It's booming, both in Europe and North America. We haven't launched in Asia yet so that's going to be a big opportunity but it's one of the fastest-growing MMOs in the history of the industry and we didn't see our numbers cap out or slow down - they're continuing to crank.

So given WoW is also tens of millions subscribers right now there's a lot of room to manoeuvre there. and I think there are some people that have both and they're going to hold on to both and play both, because they have very different creative centres. WoW is very much a player-versus-environment game and Warhammer is a lot more realm-versus-realm and player-versus-player, so people will dabble in both.

We have a lot of WoW players in Warhammer right now but we also have a lot of people that don't play Warcraft and are coming in from Ultima and Dark Age of Camelot and frankly are new to the category, because they like the Warhammer licence. It's obviously got a very big following in Europe and we're doing extremely well there. In North America, we're doing great.

Eurogamer Do you think Star Wars: The Old Republic has the potential to match WoW in terms of subscriber base?
Frank Gibeau

You know, the thing you learn about an MMO is it's a long term business proposition. Ultima's been in business nine years, WoW's been in business a few years now. We're taking the long view on Warhammer. Do we look at the overall category size and see what they have successfully created? Absolutely. Do we covet that? Absolutely. Am I going to predict that? Absolutely not.

Eurogamer Are you planning to produce a console version?
Frank Gibeau

We're definitely looking at the opportunity to bring the MMO experience to console, without question.We have nothing specific to announce, but that is a platform and a technology we're extremely comfortable with and we understand. The challenge is really working out the quality of experience and service, and then how does a subscription model work in some of those platforms?

There's a lot of work you need to do in terms of understanding how a videogamer consumes those types of product, versus somebody who's on a PC.

We've got this product and we've got Warhammer at play, so we're trying to look at the primary research required to understand how would you deploy it, what the client size looks like, how big is the back-end, what the play experience looks like... Once we've got some of those questions answered, we'll be able to decide which is the right play to go after.

Eurogamer When you talk about bringing MMOs to console being considered, are you talking about Warhammer and Star Wars specifically?
Frank Gibeau

They're both under consideration. We're not really in a place to commit or announce anything specific with regards to those.

Frank Gibeau is president of the EA Games label. Interview by Ellie Gibson.

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