How would you like to live in the Star Wars universe? That was the offer made in 2003 to gamers purchasing Star Wars Galaxies, an online game set in a galaxy far, far away.
However, like a Faustian bargain made in The Twilight Zone, the offer proved too accurate. The problem with simulating life is, if it is too real, it’s not interesting. Living in Galaxies proved to be mundane. Sure, you could eventually gallivant around the stars like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. But you had to pay your dues in menial tasks like delivering letters and hunting space rabbits.
In the end, Star Wars Galaxies was about as exciting as doing your taxes. The game was lauded by some for its depth and complexity. You could choose from many professions, stake out a homestead, and even join a player-controlled city with trimmings like politicians, taxes, and law enforcement. The problem with all that art imitating life was, after coming home from real life’s daily grind, logging into a game to meet similar obligations on another planet just seemed redundant.
A decade later, we have a new online Star Wars game which succeeds where Galaxies failed. Star Wars: The Old Republic, like the film series on which it is based, wastes no time yanking the player out of this world and into an action-adventure with high stakes and familiar themes. Most impressive, the game is accessible to the casual gamer and those who have never played its type before.
The Old Republic is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), which is a fancy way of saying that lots of people play in the same virtual space at the same time. The most successful game of the genre to date is World of Warcraft, a title noted for peaking at over 10 million monthly subscribers and ruining marriages.
The way these games work is by vesting the player into a character of their own creation, and laying out a steady diet of quests and achievements to keep them playing (and paying) month-after-month. The player gains experience points by defeating enemies, finishing quests, and exploring the game world. These points eventually earn promotions from one level to another, which opens up new quest lines and access to new equipment and abilities. Many tasks require cooperating with or battling against other players, which creates a social element often as alluring as the game itself.