Will Bioware’s
Upcoming MMORPG be Based in D&D's Forgotten

By Carl Cascone

It is virtually impossible to be interested in the MMORPG
industry without hearing the news announced by Bioware on March 13,
2006.  If you haven’t heard and consider yourself an
MMO aficionado, you need to stop staring at the stalagmites in your
humble cave and pay some attention.  

Simply put, Bioware - the heavy weight company that brought
Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate II, and Knights of the
Old Republic to millions of computer monitors and console screens -
announced they were working on an MMORPG of their own.  This
announcement had to send shivers down the spine of Blizzard and Sony
Online Entertainment.  Bioware is a strong company with strong
licenses, and any game they develop is guaranteed to cause shockwaves
through the MMORPG market.   

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Bioware is hosting a design contest to win merchandise
and a possible job at Bioware Austin.

Let us fast forward just a little bit over a year, to more
recent announcements.  Bioware, following in the footsteps of
one of its most valuable licensing partners, Wizards of the Coast, has
announced it will hold a href="http://www.bioware.com/biozone/articles/2007_world_design_contest/index.html">world
design contest.  Some lucky and
creative winner will have their technical prowess noticed by Bioware,
and will win a hoard of company merchandise, the premium Neverwinter
Nights modules, and in all likelihood a job in Austin, Texas. 
The winner for this will be announced in August or September, and I am
sure from that point on, if not already, development will achieve
hyperspace proportions.  Before this contest was announced
rumors were already circulating about a Star Wars or even a Forgotten
Realms MMORPG.

Whether you like them or not, both of these name licenses are
a colossus within the game industry from table top to
computer.  The Sony Online Entertainment-made Star Wars
Galaxies sports a fairly decent subscription rate, slowly gaining
ground from their loss post-NGE.  I am not sure of the sale
numbers, but all of Bioware’s Forgotten Realm games have
achieved the vaunted “PC RPG of the Year “award for
the year they were released, and some even the year after.

Despite the hopes of many Star Wars fans, the recent contest
announcement by Bioware points the spotlight towards a Forgotten Realms
MMORPG, and not a competing Star Wars title. Judging by the reaction to
Star Wars Galaxies, if a KotOR MMORPG was done correctly, it would
serve the death knell to the older Galaxies title.  People
play SW Galaxies because there is no other Star Wars MMORPG
available.  Trolling forums for information is a very
anecdotal way to gather data, but from what I read, speculation is that
about three quarters of Galaxies subscribers would switch to a KotOR
game.  Galaxies would make no more money and
disappear.  I am not a marketer, but I could not see Lucas
Arts renewing the Star Wars Galaxies license with such a harsh
competitor on the rise.  

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Blizzard and the World of Warcraft may be in danger of
losing their title as the champion of the MMO world if a quality MMO
comes out of Bioware.

However, there is also an argument that a similar situation
would occur with Turbine’s Dungeon and Dragons Online:
Stormreach. Although the game was based out of the Eberron campaign
setting and not the Forgotten Realms, I can’t help but see
the slow dissipation of DDO to a Forgotten Realms competitor. The
Forgotten Realms is a highly loved D&D campaign setting
– more so than Eberron – and Bioware is a heavy
hitter when it comes to beating out the competition.

After the contest announcement, Sony might be breathing a bit
easier and Turbine is probably holding its breath. There’s a
third party in this mix who also may be waiting for the true
announcement of the Bioware MMO, and that company is the reigning
champion of the fantasy MMO realm, Blizzard.  

First, take a look at the contest itself.  The rules
are that the prospective developer must develop a 20 to 40 minute
adventure level using the Aurora tool set from Neverwinter
Nights.  The Neverwinter Nights toolset can be used for just
about any setting, it does not have to limit itself to the Forgotten
Realms, but it might be a good indicator that Knights of the Old
Republic is not going to be the MMORPG that Bioware will create.

There is another factor to consider as well, and this comes
from the tabletop industry.  Wizards of the Coast has not
allowed any other companies to renew their D&D
licenses.  Dragon Magazine and Dungeon Magazine have been
called back to Wizards of the Coast from Paizo publishing, and the
Dragonlance license has been pulled from Margaret Weiss
Productions.  Yet Wizards is still allowing Bioware to
maintain their license.  Perhaps Wizards of the Coast is
anticipating a big seller.

These factors lead me to believe that Bioware’s
MMORPG will be a Forgotten Realms licensed product.  Bioware
could easily make their own MMORPG but with the tough competition of
Lord of the Rings and World of Warcraft, a Forgotten Realms MMORPG
seems to be the key to Bioware leveling the field and creating a grand

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Some of the most memorable fantasy characters have come
from the Forgotten Realms.

Carrying the Forgotten Realms label on a video game is a
virtual guarantee to first place sales.  In 1988 SSI was
granted the license for a Forgotten Realms PC game, called Pools of
Radiance.  This turned into an entire trilogy of games that
were released over the course of the next 4 years, and each on of these
games did very well on the market.  Baldur’s Gate
and its brethren that ran on the Infinity engine were also first place
sellers, and they took the game industry by storm.  

Forgotten Realms is an expansive game world.  Some
areas of the Forgotten Realms have more written about them than
countries in our real world.  This vast amount of information
allows for an MMORPG of depth that far surpasses any of the other
MMORPGs on the market.  The expanse of the Forgotten Realms
offers game developers a myriad of choices for setting.  I
doubt a Realms MMORPG would be limited to the city of Neverwinter or
the Sword Coast, when there is an entire virtual continent to explore.

The Forgotten Realms is the most logical choice for an
MMORPG.  The flavor of the realms is familiar to gamers, and
the environment has the potential to be completely immersive. 
The Realms already has a cast of iconic characters like Drizzt
Do’Urden, Elminster the Sage, and Storm Silverhand that have
made their mark on the fantasy genre.  

Bioware’s greatest chance of success – in
my opinion – is to create a Forgotten Realms
MMORPG.  This will guarantee sales, and will bring many
tabletop gamers who are not in the market of MMORPG’s into
its ever increasing fold.  In any case one thing is for
certain, no matter the license used, Bioware is going to produce a game
of superb quality.

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016