With 12 million paying subscribers, World of WarCraft is the juggernaut of the massively multiplayer online game business. But Star Wars: The Old Republic is waiting in the wings to challenge WoW’s dominance of online gaming. After many years of development and rumors of an absurdly high budget, Star Wars The Old Republic is expected to launch later this year.

If the Star Wars game succeeds, it could generate huge revenues for Electronic Arts and prove that the MMO market is a real, competitive market, not one dominated by a single company that can defeat all rivals. It also means there may be more opportunity in the MMO market for other companies, such as Trion Worlds, which is launching its Rift: Planes of Telara MMO in March.

We talked to the founders of BioWare, the Electronic Arts division that is making The Old Republic, about the pressure they’re under to make this game a success. WoW has dominated MMOs for more than seven years and it just saw a huge revival with the launch of World of WarCraft: Cataclysm in December. With each expansion pack, WoW offers new innovations to its users, and Cataclysm sold 4.7 million units in its first month. That will help WoW retain its subscriber numbers and possibly even grow them.

But Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, co-founders of BioWare, say they can offer something new. They’ve got the license for the Star Wars content that everyone loves — something that Muzyka calls a “force multiplier” for the game’s marketing efforts. They are also integrating a lot of quest-oriented missions and a deep storyline into the game, much like BioWare does with its other epic games.

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As for that crazy budget rumored to be above $100 million, there has been no corroboration of that. On the company’s last earnings call, Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello said that the company is aware of rumors about the budget and they aren’t necessarily true. He said the company could make money on as little as 500,000 subscribers and that getting more than 1 million subscribers would be a highly profitable hit.

Even so, no one disputes that this is one of the most ambitious video games undertaken. BioWare is one of the few companies with the track record of success to pull it off.

Check out our interview with the BioWare founders below.