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Star Wars: The Old Republic, Coming (Late) in December

Electronic Arts and BioWare announce online roleplaying game set in Star Wars universe will launch before Christmas

BioWare's shot at an online roleplaying game, starring "a galaxy far, far away," will go live in December. That's right, BioWare and LucasArts have given Star Wars: The Old Republic the official green light for a Tuesday, December 20, 2011 launch in the U.S. (and two days later in Europe). Because? Best guess: Who wouldn't want to capitalize on the gazillionth re-release of the equal parts loved and maligned Star Wars films?

It almost has to be that, because launching just days before Christmas makes little business sense—you can bet the biz analysts are head-scratching about this one. Games typically launch weeks in advance of the holidays, during which bank accounts are emptied, stores shutter, and shopping grinds to a halt. Why wait until December 20? Or, better question, why not wait until early next year?

Who knows (aka "we'll find out soon enough"). In any event: "This is an incredible moment for everyone at BioWare and our partners at LucasArts who have dedicated their lives to build this extraordinary game," said BioWare mucky-mucks Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka during a European game conference keynote this weekend. "We appreciate the patience from the millions of fans who have been waiting for the game’s release."

If Europe seems like an odd choice of announcement venues, it's not, really: PC gaming (in the traditional, enthusiast sense) is bigger news across the pond, in part because PC gaming's proved more durable abroad, in part because Europe has roughly 200 million more people (than North America).

If you hadn't heard, it'll cost a whopping $60 for the base game and an incredible $150 if you want the collectors trinkets and in-game item exclusives. Like most non-freemium online heavy-hitters, The Old Republic will let you play free for 30 days, after which you'll have three payment options: $14.99 a month, $41.97 for three months, or $77.94 for six months. Pre-orders who've entered their pre-order code are "eligible" (note: not guaranteed) early access to the game (presumably through prerelease download).

Will The Old Republic deliver? Preliminary mega-sales to BioWare and EA, absolutely, because it's Star Wars, and even relatively bad games like Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (and its sequel) sold multimillions. In fact that seems to be the franchise's track record: Bad games, strong sales (make of that what you will, though I'm looking at you, Star Wars apologists).

As for the developer's responsibility, I was a fan of BioWare's PC work through Baldur's Gate 2. But with their subsequent games' poorly written stories and "new geek" celebration of old-school rule-playing, I haven't really been a fan since. That said, fingers crossed they surprise me, as well as the millions bored to tears with the elephant-sized orcs-versus-humans alternative.

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