The galaxy far, far away had a planet-sized staff.
March 7, 2012
"Do nothing different and you fail," states Dallas Dickinson, Director of Production at BioWare. He and Vice President of Production Richard Vogel spoke at this year's Game Developers Conference about their company's MMORPG, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and the challenges they've faced (and are facing still) in making a true competitor to World of Warcraft.
The goal was to design a game that could become a "genre leader," which translates into 1,000,000 or more active subscribers. To this end the team at BioWare started "with the world's most popular IP," aka World of Warcraft. The goal was to innovate in a few key areas, without alienating their core audience by reinventing the genre. To this end they focused on storytelling, cinematic combat, and a companion system – all tenants BioWare also felt were important to any Star Wars story.
Of all these design decisions, storytelling is what's stood out the most, making some players even tell BioWare they can't go back to Blizzard's MMO. And perhaps that's a direct result of how much work was put into the story. The Old Republic has over 321 actors, voicing more than 4,094 characters. It also features more voice over work than every single other BioWare combined. The story also takes place across 20 planets, resulting in over 200 hours of gameplay for each of the eight classes.
But all that content and work doesn't come without a massive staff. Here's a brief list of the staff numbers BioWare posted during their GDC panel:
140 Artists (Both internal and outsourced)
280 QA (Both internal and outsourced)
With a staff that size, it's no wonder the games development cost was reportedly $200 million.
But BioWare feels confident their investment has paid off. After what they call "growing pains," wherein they tried multiple internal structures to manage such a gigantic team, the team behind Star Wars created a structure involving other teams around the world.
One of the most important things both Vogel and Dickinson feel an MMO has to do to survive is never let players see "the horizon." Basically, they don't want players to ever detect the point where content ran thin, where it was obvious less emphasis or time was put into a specific portion of the game. After all, they know that in a world where free-to-play MMOs are common that they have to offer a premium experience. To this end they have teams dedicated to making new content, such as the upcoming 1.2 content patch.
The overall impression BioWare gave at the panel was a sense of security. The staff on hand seemed confident that they've been successful in creating an MMO that innovates on the genre, and gives the player the 200 hours of gameplay they set out with.
Do you agree? Does Star Wars innovate? Does it have enough content? Has the money and time spent on this monumental production seem apt considering the final product? Let us know in the comments below.