I personally don't have much interest in The Old Republic right now, but I didn't have much interest in World of Warcraft until relatively recently either. The Old Republic looks interesting enough, but I haven't seen anything yet that really scratches an itch.
EA stated that they are limiting all presales so that they can control the starting experience for new players when the servers go live for everyone. This is certainly plausible; MMO's have a long history of rough launches. If EA launches a great game and manages the first few weeks well this will all be a moot point. However, I don't necessarily buy the reasoning.
From the perspective of keeping servers from crashing on opening day, there are dozens of ways to do this without limiting sales. There is exactly one way cutting presales off improves the first day; keeping people from seeing "unable to logon" messages. If EA has a legitimate concern that this problem, or problems in general would be so bad as to impact long term sales, I would say that EA has some problems they're not telling anyone about yet. Opening Day problems always lead to headlines and a lot of bitching, but I've never seen any numerical evidence that launch failures caused a more widespread problem getting and keeping subscribers. World of Warcraft has had several spectacular launch failures and is still waaaaay ahead of the pack in subscribers. So could the flip-side be true? EA is counting on a well-run launch drawing and keeping subscribers? I really don't see how. My argument in that case would be that you gain and keep players with the game, not the back-end.
From the perspective of identifying problems, that basically means that the first few weeks after launch are going to be an expanded beta test. Arguably a smart move, but I wonder why they don't do it they way several other MMO's have: open the beta up. Guild Wars for example, ran several "beta weekends" that were open to players who pre-ordered, players who got access keys from the pre-orderers, and also published access keys on several fansites. The only reason I can think of for EA to NOT do this is that they would lose enforceable NDA's with open beta's.
So, in my opinion, the best reasons for EA doing what they are could be accomplished in better ways. The question then becomes, why ARE they doing it this way? In my opinion, there's one VERY OBVIOUS answer. By letting out that presales will be limited for quality control (they're not announcing what the cap is) and stating that they don't know how long the QC process could take, you hopefully create a RUSH for pre-sales. Especially sales on Origin, EA's new online store thingy. Which EA is desperately trying to launch into a top-tier distribution system as quickly as possible.
It's also somewhat odd that presales began in July; EA announced that sales had exceeded 200,000 units in the first five days, but haven't updated that number since. And then a month later they announce that the presales will be capped. Obviously, one way to read that information is that presales have been SO big, EA realized they couldn't support the launch. This far out from launch. The biggest entertainment software company in the business just can't get enough servers online. And on top of that, if the presales were that good WHY AREN'T THEY SCREAMING THE NUMBERS AT EVERY CHANCE THEY GET???
I'm left with two possible conclusions. 1) EA is trying to boost sales. 2) This is, very simply, throw-away CYA PR. EA is expecting traffic problems at launch and is getting the message out they're trying to limit damage. Although I would argue even then that they could just come out and SAY, "we can't predict exactly what will happen when we stress the system at launch. We're doing the best we can, but there will probably be problems." I think customers would be accepting of that.
And so, in the end, I really have to go with the idea that this presale thing is all about increasing sales. I could be wrong. But I think that's it.
Me? I'm still trying to get into the Guild Wars 2 beta program. Or even get a pre-order.
Money is no-doubt behind this: Spurring pre-sales, throwing out press about it, all in the name of the mighty EA. That being said, it's certainly possible they're on the up-and-up and, if so, that doesn't say much about their tech or the people that are running such things.
Oh, and I'm still waiting for my GW2 beta stuff, and as for pre-sale... well, it's coming out "when it's ready" (quoted ad nauseum from the people that are working on it), so I'm not holding my breath at all. Best-case scenarios that there's a major announcement at PAX Prime coming up.
Yeah. I can't find it now, but I'm almost positive they had something about signing up for beta a year or so ago. May be wrong. ArenaNet was supposed to have playable demo's at Gamescom in Germany, but there was absolutely no news about it.
I really wish I was more excited for The Old Republic. I don't necessarily like everything LucasArts has done with the setting, but as long as I can take what I want, there's so much potential. Maybe that's what is bringing me down...that TOR is defining a particular era differently from what I would.