Tuesday’s big news all but guarantees there will be another MMORPG set in the Star Wars universe. You heard it here first.

Don’t believe me? Consider:

When the new trilogy debuts, with Episode 7 in 2015, there’s no reason to believe it won’t be accompanied by the same kind of merchandising blitz that heralded the Prequels’ release. There will be comic books, action figures, jigsaw puzzles, board games, LEGOs, lunch boxes…

… and video games. And there’s little reason to think one of them won’t be another MMO.

It is the future you see

Of course, it’s not as simple as snapping one’s fingers and making an MMO appear. Even if a deal were signed today to produce it, any MMO of this magnitude would require at least four to five years for development. That would put a launch in 2016 at the earliest.

Consider, too, the certain national-security-type secrecy that will blanket anything even remotely related to the Sequels. (Is that what we call them? There’s the Original Trilogy and the Prequels, so I guess that’s appropriate.)

The other merchandise mentioned above would need to have access to plots, images, and the like before the 2015 Ep7 release, so as to time their products’ releases with the first movie, but most of them are relatively small projects with shorter lead times meaning less of a chance of a security breach.

An MMO is another matter entirely. Hundreds of people would be involved in its development, over several years. Security aside, there’s the ability to work on the game itself when you don’t have a clear vision of the source material. I suppose a kind of general framework could be set out, involving guys with lightsabers and starships – but this is probably as good a reason as any as to why we’ve never seen an MMO coincide with a major movie release.

Since nobody is signing a deal today (probably), that also provides more time for the finished product to hit your PC. And more time means less reason for draconic security measures to avoid leaks. It all adds up to us not seeing this new MMO until at least 2017 or later.

But what film(s) will it be based on? If Disney holds to the old standard of releasing Star Wars films every three years, then Ep8 will be out in 2018 and Ep9 in 2021. A 2017 or early 2018 MMO release would allow the developers to use as much Ep7 material as possible, but expansions based on the later movies would probably be delayed until after those movies come out, for the same reasons noted above.

It might all add up to an MMO studio simply deciding not to bother with launching an MMO until after all three Sequels have come out, which would put it in 2021 or later. So we might be talking about an MMO that won’t be out for another decade.

Look at it this way: Peter Jackson started working on The Lord of the Rings movies in 1997, and the first film came out in 2001. Granted, this was in the very early days of MMOs, but we didn’t see a LotR MMO until 2007 – and the game follows the plot of the books, not the movies. So there is some precedent for this kind of delay.

But who’s going to fly it, kid? You?

So what company is going to make the new Star Wars MMO?

Technically, Disney-owned companies do make online games, mostly in the social and family-friendly circles. The most notable such asset is Disney Online Studios, makers of Club Penguin and Pirates of the Caribbean Online.

But that doesn’t mean they’ll try to develop it in-house. LucasArts made plenty of video games, but it licensed out two Star Wars MMOs. So I don’t think you have to worry about Star Wars: Club Penguin Edition.

Exactly who would take up this colossal chore is something we can only speculate on at this point. Chances are, it will be a major company, akin to Sony Online Entertainment or EA/BioWare. It could even be a company that doesn’t even exist right now, especially if the game doesn’t come out until the 2020s.

Or maybe it’ll just be Blizzard. World of Star WarsCraft, anyone?

Take your father’s place at my side

And what would all this mean for Star Wars: The Old Republic? Nothing good, probably.

There’s already the precedent of Star Wars: Galaxies being shuttered to make room for The Old Republic. It seems unlikely that Disney would want two competing MMOs for its most successful franchise, so as one enters, another would exit.

That said, SWG lasted eight years, and, on the time scales we’re talking about, SWTOR would still have another five to 10 years in operation. So it’s not going to be going anywhere any time soon – and based on the general reaction from fans, it might not be missed or even still in operation.

You want this, don’t you?

Finally, there’s the question of, “Will anyone play it?” After Galaxies – which wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea – and the mediocrity of The Old Republic, some folks might be hesitant to jump into a third Star Wars MMO.

I say, “yes.” There are enough fanatical Star Wars fans out there – and you’re probably one of them – that you’ll at least be interested. As doubtful as many were about SWTOR, it still sold two million copies out of the gate. That’s $120 million, plus whatever subscription fees people ponied up for.

That wasn’t enough to put a serious dent the $200-$300 million estimated budget, but it stands to reason that a game with a smaller budget could still generate enough interest to pull similar early numbers.

Whoever makes the game will have to overcome a mountain of skepticism, but once we see the first full-motion, 3-D, interactive, video – this is 2020-something, after all – of guys swinging lightsabers, we’ll want to know more… and more… and more…

And before you know it, you’ll be playing a gungan smuggler.

Jason Winter has held several positions in the tabletop and video-gaming industry since 1996, including writer, editor, marketing coordinator, and game designer. He's the former editor of Beckett Massive Online Gamer and almost considers himself competent in PvP. In addition to his work with Gamebreaker.tv, he also blogs about video games at http://jasonwinter.wordpress.com.

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