Imagine you make games for a living. Pretty sweet, huh? But wait, it’s not all fun and booth babes, you’ve got some pretty thorny problems to solve — such as how to prepare for the biggest online launch in the history of gaming.
That’s the problem facing BioWare now as they prepare for the imminent release of its first MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic. And for project lead James Ohlen, the solution is twofold: first, make sure your infrastructure can take the heat, and second, actually play the game. A lot.
He’s thinking big, though – the goal is to get a score of 90 on Metacritic, which means the game needs to be near perfect. To that end, the team has been busy for some time in refining all the various mechanics that such an expansive game involves. That in itself is already a departure from how games are normally made at BioWare:
Mainly, most BioWare games that are new come together at the last like, four months or something like that. Usually they look like trainwrecks. When we’re showing them to the producers or publishers, they’re like oh my god, how is this game going to come together? And then it comes out, and it’s a 90 Metacritic game. But this game hasn’t been the same, it’s actually been in really good shape and playable for a long time.
Ohlen believes that “polish” is essential to getting that 90 Metacritic score. This involves making some calculated decisions about what to focus on, because trying to incorporate all the feedback the team gets from beta participants and changing major things around at the last minute is not a good use of time.
To aid in these decisions, Ohlen and everyone else at BioWare spends a lot of time playing the game themselves, sifting through the feedback and making sure that they are addressing valid concerns.
“That’s kind of a philosophy of BioWare,” Ohlen says, and adds that staying on top of all the moving parts of an MMO is daunting, to say the least.
“There’s a lot of things that we’ve never had to worry about at BioWare before,” Ohlen admits, referring to the logistics of making sure their backend systems can handle the traffic of launch day. And if they can get past this hurdle, they still have to deal with keeping those servers stable for potentially millions of players all around the world, and the logistics of pushing out new content that’s fully voice-acted over the span of years.
Ohlen says he has already learned a lot from the experience, including the importance of hiring good people and then giving them the freedom to do their jobs.
Star Wars: The Old Republic will be out on December 20, 2011 in the US and December 22 in Europe — just in time for the holidays.