THQ is “misguided”…

Earlier this week, Brian Sinclair over at GameSpot.com posted an article about Brian Farrell’s comments at a presentation at the Lazard Capital Markets Investors Breakfast.

Farrell, the CEO of THQ, was asked why none of the major publishers have done much in the MMORPG market. Instead of saying something along the lines of “well none of the big publishers really have a clue, and if they did get into the MMORPG market, they would screw it up more than it already is” he actually said the following:

“I think what you will not see THQ do is come out with another fantasy-type game. The other thing we’re thinking is these things tend to have a window. Right now that product is World of Warcraft, so the idea would be to time something for when that product is going to be on its downward slope. To come out with something competitive now I think would be misguided for anyone, including THQ.”

Wow. Thank’s a lot Mr. Farrell. I feel like you just PK’d a lot of venture capital interest in new mmorpg projects. I also think you dodged the question. Ok, maybe you did answer the question and your answer hasn’t been quoted anywhere online yet, but for the sake of my post here, I will assume that your quote is your answer (ok, non-answer).

The question was about why the major publishers aren’t doing much in the MMORPG sector (obviously, since Blizzard has been so phenomenally successful with World of Warcraft). Instead of answering with some points about why you think that the major publishers aren’t doing much (if anything) you pretty much take a shot across the bow of every mmorpg publisher and developer on the market and call them misguided to even think of trying to be competitive with Blizzard.

Holy cow. Them’s a fightin’ words!

Your point of view here is what is misguided, and I think it is pretty clear that you (and THQ) do not understand the MMORPG market at all. Simply because World of Warcraft (“WoW”) is successful does not mean that there is only room in the industry for one MMORPG. You might as well have said that since Electronic Arts is so successful as a publisher, that anyone else publishing games is wasting their time and are misguided to be competitive. Should there only be one bank? One airline? One fast food chain? Competition is necessary and important to our market, and just because one company is doing rather well with one product, does not mean that there is no room for competitors.

World of Warcraft is NOT too strong to take on. Have you bothered to see what people think about the game? Is anyone complaining about it? Does it meet the need and interest of all gamers? Is it not possible to have any commercial success with a competitive MMORPG because Blizzard seems to have the bulk of the market share?

I submit to you that World of Warcraft is so popular because there isn’t anything better to play. If someone were to put out a new MMORPG that was different, better, more interesting, more innovative, or whatever, it has a good chance of being successful. And, whether or not people will admit it, there is a possibility that some new game coming out can surpass WoW. Of course, I should say that I have made my opinion on most of the new mmorpg titles out there (including the ones in development)…I think there are very few titles even worth looking at. But my point remains…WoW is not the greatest thing since sliced cheese and it is not the ultimate MMORPG.

If anything, WoW has shown that the potential MMORPG market is much larger than all of the experts and analysts thought (personally, I think it is MUCH larger, but there is so much generic crap on the market that they just dont appeal to as many gamers and non-gamers as they could).

World of Warcraft is a blessing to the MMORPG market, but there is plenty of room out there for competitors.

The misguided ones are the ones that say MMORPGs are too expensive to develop, they aren’t worth the risk, only a good hollywood license can make a successful MMORPG, and that the market is saturated leaving no room for new entries.

MMORPGs fail because they aren’t designed well, they aren’t balanced well, the story is weak, the content is repetitive, the gameplay is mediocre, there is too much “level & loot” and “hack & slash”, role-players are generally NOT the target market, and none of the MMORPGs out there really leverage the social aspects and community elements of the internet, and they aren’t supported well. The market is saturated with bad MMORPGs, but it isn’t saturated with good MMORPGs.

We NEED more funding, more new blood, more original content, and more innovation.

But I digress…back to my rant. You also said “The other thing we’re thinking is these things tend to have a window. Right now that product is World of Warcraft, so the idea would be to time something for when that product is going to be on its downward slope.”

Crikey. Yes, MMORPGs have a life cycle, but good ones can last for YEARS. They also take years to develop. So, my question is, when do you think is a good time to start making one? Should the industry wait until World of Warcraft is in decline and losing players left and right? Hell no. If there isn’t any competition and WoW is losing players, who is going to want to fund a new venture? The “experts” will claim that MMORPGs have run their course and people don’t want them anymore, and then they will point to all of the current failures and half baked games on the market as supporting evidence.

NOW is the time to start new projects, and to compete tooth and nail with Blizzard. They have caused a ripple in the pond, and the smart money will begin funding new projects to ride the wave, and be there to start stealing market share from WoW as soon as possible. Waiting for their decline is foolishness.

My last comment is that I am glad THQ is not entering the MMORPG marketspace. I don’t think the company has the talent to design something that will be successful in this market (mmorpg). You can’t take a team that has been successful making generic mass market games, or console titles, or whatever and just tell them to make an MMORPG. They will fail miserably.

MMORPGs require a certain mix of talents and skillsets to do right…the early stage design is the most critical part. Finding people to MAKE a MMORPG is one thing…finding the right people to DESIGN one is entirely different. THQ might have the best engineers, artists, and staff on the planet for MAKING a game, but I sincerely doubt the company has the right people to DESIGN one.

So, for now, please stay out of the MMORPG market. You clearly don’t have a clue, and you are still operating under the old traditional assumptions and mindsets.

One last word…if you were an investor at the Lazard Capital Markets Investors Breakfast, please do your homework on the industry and talk to other leaders and innovators about MMORPGs. I have a lot of respect for Brian Farrell (my comments here notwithstanding), but THQ is one of the last companies to talk to about the MMORPG industry.

Find brilliant designers, and hook them up with savvy businessmen, brilliant engineers, and talented artists. Fund them. Give them guidance. Make a WoW killer.

But first, find a brilliant designer. I’m willing to bet he is in a garage somewhere right now ranting about how backwards the MMORPG industry is and that no one “gets it”. He is probably designing a MMORPG right now.

If you think I am wrong or “misguided” please leave a comment here. I am interested in what people think. You can also feel free to email me here at Killtenrats. Please leave a comment if you agree too hehe.

Nicodemus

(PS, I’ve noticed some people posting about World of Warcraft and other games using the nicknames “Nicodemus” and “The Nicodemus”. Neither of them are me.)

7 thoughts on “THQ is “misguided”…”

  1. Sounds like a strawman to me, Nicodemus. He says he is not throwing money at another EQ clone, and you wrote 1000 words as if he called for the death of all MMOs. You have a paraphrase of a question and partial answer. Rant about how ranters in garages know more about the MMORPG industry than anyone else, if you like, but you’re going to need more to connect it to Sinclair.

  2. Hrmm, good point Zubon. My commentary was a little overboard it seems.

    I think the root of my rant was that Farrell claimed that anyone trying to compete with World of Warcraft right now is misguided. To be sure, it is a difficult prospect, but I don’t think that is a good enough reason to avoid competition or to just sit back and wait for WoW to decline. It takes a few years to properly design and build a MMORPG…if you wait for the big boys to decline, it would leave a gap in the industry. People are disillusioned with MMORPGs enough as it is. The industy as a whole will not move forward much (if at all) if everyone decides to just sit back and wait it out. With a lack of choice, people will just play what is available to them and if they aren’t happy, it just depresses them further and jades their point of view so much, that a new title might have problems.

    I guess I want to see some new blood, new ideas, and some innovation for a change. No more EQ clones. No WoW clones…

    And yes, sometimes I do feel like the people in garages “get it” much more than the people actually making the MMORPGs.

    Heck, maybe I am a jaded cynic these days….

  3. I think I understand what Farrell is saying, but his comments are grounded on different presumptions than mine – and I believe, Nic’s. He’s making the mindset that a new MMORPG released by a major studio must by necessity go up against WoW and – at least to some extent – eat into its market- and mindshare. The only way to lure people away from WoW is by embracing and extending those features that led people to WoW in the first place. This is extremely hard, because Blizzard is extremely good at polishing games and WoW has a pretty hefty operating budget by this point. I don’t blame THQ for not wanting to accept that challenge.

    On the other hand, I think his mindset is wrong – you can’t produce an MMORPG to steal all of WoW’s subscribers, but you can produce one that complements it. Perhaps an equally slick “clone” that’s modern-day or SciFi based. Even better, make one that addresses WoW’s shortcomings – the static world, the dysfunctional crafting system and economy, the endless grind, the hostile, immature community. You will get many recent MMORPG converts who got into the hobby with WoW, but are now looking for something more meaningful. You will get many WoW subscribers who are looking for a different style of game to play in addition to WoW.

    Lastly, the industry seems to think that in order to break even financially you have to reach multiple hundreds of thousands of subscribers, because production values must be extremely high to get any sort of marketshare. This may work (in the short term) for standalone game titles, but MMORPGs aren’t that. MMORPGs are growing entities, and work more like “the business” than “the product”. Sure, if you’re a multibillion dollar international monopoly you can sink a gazillion bucks into your new startup and have it become a runaway success, but most people start businesses by starting small, reinvesting their earnings, and growing organically. Incidentally, this is also the only correct way to build a community. In the MMO world we suffer from a lack of empirical data, but two examples of this are Second Life and Eve – both are growing, both are financially solid (IIRC), both have excellent communities with die-hard fans, and both started out (relatively) small and primitive but with good ideas.

    That is the path I want MMORPGs to take in the future.

  4. He (Farrell) is *of* the mindset.
    *He’s also assuming that* the only way to lure people away from WoW…

    “Your skill in proofreading just went down by 1 point”.

  5. “I guess I want to see some new blood, new ideas, and some innovation for a change. No more EQ clones. No WoW clones…”

    Well the best chance for non WoW clones are the games that are soon to be released…or the ones who got cancelled. The reason I say this is all these games (well the well thought out ones…Vanguard doesn’t count)were started BEFORE WoW hit a homerun. So they didn’t have a chance to really copy it. I think after this year at the most the beginning of next year everything we will see for a bit is going to be a WoW clone. It’s going to stay that way until developers start to realise that their WoW clones aren’t selling

    —————–

    Side note

    ” the static world, the dysfunctional crafting system and economy”

    Heh I have yet to see n MMO that has what I would classify as a “working economy” along with good game play. I think economy is one of the hardest things to nail down in an MMO. It’s only made harder by RMT’s going on.

  6. I think Brian was dead on… Frankly, there isn’t talent or a developer in the MMO space that can touch WoW right now, and I weep for the company that tries. Even established industry companies like SoE, Mythic/EA, Turbine, NCsoft are losing subs, and unless I’m way off, will continue to get destroyed by Blizzard and WoW.

    Quite simply, Blizzard understands how to make a great game. It DOES NOT MATTER the genre, they just put the required time, polish, and development expertise into thier products. No other developer or publisher has better brands then they do. WoW was successful because it eliminated most of the pointless tedium of previous level-based MMOs, AND they coupled it with one of the more beloved gamer brands of all time.

    Also, the market for MMOs, even post WoW, is really not that large when compared to the rest of the game industry. The 6 million global number includes the masses in China, and no one looks at the gamers that are leaving or have left the competition to play WoW.

    Final point is… MMO’s will never be mass market because they require far too much time, and a significant time investment that most people who care about life don’t want to put in. The only way this will change is with a revolution in MMO design, and even if there is some genious in a garage somewhere with that mechanic, the chance of him aquiring the resources and experience to execute that idea are for all practical reasons, nil.

  7. I don’t know what was in your kool-aid, but you should sue whoever gave it to you.

    WoW is not the greatest MMO ever created, nor will it reign supreme for ever. Part of the success of WoW was because it was the best thing at the time. The best mediocre game among other mediocre games as it were. Sure, they did a lot of things right (obviously, given their success), but they did a lot of things the same boring ways everyone else has. And I’m sorry, WoW is loaded with the same mindless tedium in other MMOs. Nothing new there.

    The market for MMOs isn’t giant or mass market for a reason…its because the games coming out suck or are simply variations on the theme of another MMO. Yes, the vast majority of WoW subscribers are indeed from Asia. That is one insightful point…

    MMOs will eventually be mass market, but there must be dramatic paradigm changes in the design and development of MMORPGs. There are very few people in the industry that actually understand what an MMORPG is, or should be. The rest of them are just making large scale hack and slash fps style games set in a fantasy environment.

    You are right that a revolution is needed, and you are right that the chance of getting the funding is near impossible. But that isnt to say that it can’t be done. Hell, I might just attempt it myself to spite the big money guys.

    Blizzard has a lot of potential, but WoW isnt the killer app it seems to be. SoE, Mythic/EA, Turbine all fail to impress me, and it seems that they are just getting worse over time. NCSoft isnt the greatest, but I feel like they are at least making an effort to make original games and innovate.

    The industry needs more competition and more titles…not from the same big gorillas on the block that keep manufacturing the same crap, but from smaller more original and innovative studios. We need new blood.

    There are entire vast markets being completely overlooked and ignored by the current crop of developers and publishers…they are doing nothing for the market other than hastening its decline.

    Venture capitalists need to stoke the fires and get some small studios going. Our industry is too top heavy.

    //rant rant rant//

    Nicodemus

Comments are closed.