Five years in the making and with a hefty $50 million production budget, DC Universe Online was finally released today. And, as reported by the LA Times, there’s a lot riding on the game’ success. Sony Online Entertainment used to dominate the online-games market — their Everquest series predated World of Warcraft by half a decade — but more recent games failed critically and commercially, all while Blizzard’s Warcraft series expanded to over 12 million subscribers. DCUO certainly looks impressive, and its superhero creation system could be addictive. But the question remains: Can any online RPG beat back the World of Wacraft juggernaut?

As the Times profile indicates, DCUO is purposefully intended to be a bit more friendly to casual (read: non-geek) gamers than World of Warcraft. It’s set in a recognizably real modern world, and it prominently features DC mainstays Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. The look and feel of the game is comic book-perfect — legendary artist and DC co-publisher Jim Lee had a big role in the game’s design, and Blackest Night mastermind Geoff Johns was one of the principal writers. You could certainly make the argument that there’s a population of gamers who might be interested in an MMORPG, but who also find Warcraft‘s fantasy world impenetrable. Perhaps they’ll be intrigued by a game set in the movie-fied world of DC Comics (which, like Entertainment Weekly, is owned by Time Warner). And since DCUO is being released on the PS3, it has access to the console market, whereas Warcraft is still computer-only.

Still, DCUO hits stores just a month after Warcraft released its latest expansion, Cataclysm, which purposefully redesigned the early level-up system to make the game more approachable, not to mention more fun. (Unsurprisingly, huge sales ensued.) In a grander sense, it’s still unclear ifthe success of World of Warcraft has created a generation of people who enjoy playing online RPGs — or a generation of people who enjoy playing World of Warcraft. (Consider how Facebook’s success did not exactly lead to a bumper crop of competitive social networks. Once you have Facebook, why would you need anything else?)

PopWatchers, will you be playing DCUO? Are you excited by the idea of making your own superhero? Warcraft players, is there room for two MMORPGs in your heart, not to mention your bank account?