Tradition states the blockbuster releases must date between September and November to take advantage of the pre-Christmas buzz just in time for Black Friday. But that shaky mold is crumbling. Lately, like in recent years, the most popular games have seen a range of release days, anything from Portal 2 in April to Red Dead Redemption in May. The reasoning varies with every studio, but developers are considerably more comfortable saving their games for a space in the release chart than drowning it amongst others in a short timeframe.
The average consumer doesn't get his/her shopping done until Christmas Eve (and for the tremendous slackers later Christmas Day). Therefore, a later release date is either to avoid the wealth of games released between that time, or the decision is purely economical. Thinking about Bioware's recent MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic, a project footing a reported $132 million payroll, December 20 was probably chosen for developmental reasons. Just nudging out before Christmas with any fixing to be done post-release.
Luckily, Bioware's first mass-scale project isn't just another "WoW clone". Even without seeing gameplay firsthand, clearly the developer set aside significant preproduction time to give the game its own identity. Thousands of characters individually voice acted is historic, and even the inclusion of decision trees pushes the capabilities of this genre forward. Veteran players don't usually pay close attention to plots, but since decisions affect the outcomes of quests, it's now necessary to listen. And all without having to read blocks of text!
Response has been overwhelming. With two hundred separate servers, a significant portion come with wait times. And long wait times, too. For some, a few hours. Naturally, the novelty of anything is too infectious and players desire to play for prolonged periods. Bioware seemed unprepared for the amount of traffic though, and even if first-week hiccups are common the MMO is off to a rocky start. But a game with such a grand scope is expected to have early problems, so the developer could hardly be blamed.
Bioware has long expressed interest in entering the MMO field, and Lucasarts presented it with the perfect platform. Anything Star Wars is bound to get heaps of attention, and the Bioware brand grants instant recognition from fans. It's a marriage of perfect equals, almost seems storybook.
The Old Republic is more invaluable to the future success of Bioware than people realize. Not only does it give the studio a taste of handling one of the world's most ambitious games, but more importantly, the experience of fashioning new worlds. I've long said how the next logical step for Mass Effect, if Bioware chooses to continue the franchise, is the MMO path. The success of SWTOR will signal whether Mass Effect ends next year or marches to greater things. To leave a well-crafted universe like that is an immeasurable shame.
52 weeks from now, I hope I'm not writing about how SWTOR inevitably crashed and burned. As things change in the new year (and I possibly get a computer that can run it smoothly), I might start playing. My last MMO experience was only eight months, beginning shortly after Cataclysm launched. I miss the daily grind of leveling, but also engaging with an unknown universe and meeting lifelong friends through it. Oh, the magic of massive multiplayer games.