That said, there's a number of reasons that BioWare and EA's upcoming Star Wars MMO, The Old Republic, may have better than average odds of actually giving WoW a decent fight. I consider it being sci-fi instead of fantasy to generally be advantageous, and the fact that it's the most well-known and widely loved sci-fi universe ever doesn't hurt, either. BioWare's not Blizzard, but it's got excellent critical and enthusiast cache, and it's seen great success working with the Star Wars license in the past. Another unique angle that The Old Republic might have, according to a Shacknews report of EA's recent earnings call, is the absence of a recurring subscription fee, something that accounts for much of World of Warcraft's incredible profitability, and the allure of MMOs to publishers in general.
According to EA CEO John Riccitiello, the Old Republic publisher is considering a microtransaction-based model for the upcoming Star Wars MMO, though no further specifics were given. Based on what I've seen of The Old Republic's colorful, somewhat cartoony art style, I've had a sneaking suspicion that they were going more casual than the usual MMO, and an incremental pricing model like this would support such a theory. EA PR has since chalked up these quotes as a “misunderstanding,” though I'm not sure how one misinterprets a quote like this.
Other initiatives we've announced, for example [the] Star Wars online MMO, are mid-session games which are microtransaction-based. You'll be hearing more about those in the February [conference] call.
EA has shown its willingness to experiment with microtransactions and direct-delivery over the past year or so, though its track record has been spotty at best. I love that you can buy Burnout Paradise in its entirety over the PlayStation Network, and I see some great potential in Battlefield Heroes, but EA's practice of encouraging players to pay to unlock content that's already on the disc is unsavory, and the fact that it charges you $6 for the option to re-download PC games purchased through its online store just seems stingy. Hopefully EA's recent financial woes won't force it to be too evil with the pricing structure for The Old Republic.