The announcement of Star Wars: The Old Republic as a going concern for BioWare wouldn't have made anyone's 'biggest surprise' list. Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few years, the rumors of an MMO based in the setting of Knights of the Old Republic had to have reached your ears. The game's final announcement was more of a surrender than a marketing push.
What was unexpected, what none of the Massively writers were prepared for, was the accidental slip by EA head John Riccitello about the game's anticipated business model. Instead of a subscription fee, it sounds as though EA and BioWare will be collaborating to support the game with microtransactions. Whether they'll be charging a fee for a box and then only charging for additional content, or whether the game will be free to play is currently up in the air. The whole concept could be up in the air, of course, with EA fervently trying to retract the executive's statement after the fact.
Still, we can't really see wiggle room in the originally quoted text. We think EA's plans are probably leaning towards microtransactions, and we think The Old Republic is going to do extremely well for them.
What put this notice into the running is really the larger context. Microtransactional and RMT games have been gaining significantly in popularity over the last few years. "Smaller" games based on these business models have in some cases outstripped the player bases of more traditional AAA games. Announcements like this, the World of Warcraft re-customization service, and SOE's Station Cash program highlight the changing face of the MMO industry. http://www.massively.com/2008/12/16/massivelys-best-of-biggest-surprise-of-2008/