When Blizzard Entertainment first announced it was making a massively multiplayer online role-playing game back in 2001, many were skeptical. While seasoned in the genres of role-playing (Diablo) and real-time strategy (Warcraft, Starcraft), the developer was a novice in the MMORPG category. Would it be able to transfer the lessons from its Battle.net online gaming service to a persistent-world game? Or would its title wither in the face of more established franchises like Sony Online Entertainment's EverQuest?
Such questions now seem silly, looking back at the unparalleled success enjoyed by the title in question, World of Warcraft. With more than 6 million subscribers, the game was cited as the prime factor for VU Games' remarkable turnaround in fortunes. The long-ailing division of Vivendi Universal, which owns Blizzard, went from a $241 loss in 2004 to a $48.9 million profit in 2005--a whopping $289.9 million one-year jump in earnings.
With that kind of coin on the line, it's little wonder that other veteran developers want in on the growing massively multiplayer market. Today, BioWare Inc., one of the industry's most respected makers of role-playing games, announced it has already begun work on an unnamed MMORPG at a previously undisclosed location--its brand-new Austin, Texas studio. It is the first satellite studio for BioWare, which is headquartered in the Western Canadian city of Edmonton. It also recently merged its corporate hierarchy with that of Pandemic Studios, forming the new super studio BioWare/Pandemic.
Located in a longtime hub of game development, BioWare Austin already has a veteran management team in place. James Ohlen, BioWare's current creative director and former lead designer of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Neverwinter Nights, will become lead designer at the one-game shop. Richard Vogel, former SOE vice president of product development and a senior producer at Origin when Ultima Online launched, has also been offered a high-ranking position. Also on board is another MMORPG vet, Gordon Walton, a former VP at both SOE and Electronic Arts. The studio is also filling positions for programmers, designers, artists, animators, writers, and world-builders.
"BioWare is committed to a seamless collaboration between our two studios to ensure the same high standards of quality and creativity our dedicated teams have always delivered," said BioWare cofounder and co-CEO Ray Muzyka in a statement. "With our extensive heritage in the role-playing genre, BioWare Austin is extremely well positioned to innovate in the massively multiplayer online space for BioWare's valued community of fans."
BioWare revealed next to no information about its MMORPG project, omitting any mention of an estimated release date, platform, or setting for the game. However, the developer's track record raises all sorts of interesting possibilities. It has developed RPGs with fantasy and sci-fi settings based on original (the forthcoming Dragon Age) and licensed (the Dungeons & Dragons-inspired Neverwinter Nights) properties. Though it got its start in PC development, it has also been responsible for the popular Xbox RPGs Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire. It is also working on an all-original sci-fi RPG for the Xbox 360, titled Mass Effect.