The dirges of 38 Studios and the many employees of BioWare passed me by last week as I lay in bed with a virus that wished it was strep. Thankfully at this cowboy ranch we call Kill Ten Rats, Cyndre was able to get up a heartfelt post for our team. My favorite two posts on the subject were the reawakening of Broken Toys as Scott Jennings penned an ode to the MMO genre, and Spinks hammering out an always amazing link post. A few days before as the virus began its assault on my tonsils, I wrote a few languishing thoughts that set a desperate preview of what was to come.
I’ll repeat part of the much quoted Jennings’ post where he writes “…the incredible amount of money wasted by EA on what was essentially a roll of the dice that came up 2 and 3, and the even more incredible display of massive hubris and utter incompetence on the part of Schilling and his management team, is killing the very concept of massively multiplayer gaming.” I thought a lot about his words as I lay there staring at the ceiling.
A Rift on 38 Studios and BioWare
Rift might be the last MMO success we’ve seen. It seemed to cost around $50 million to make over 5 years. Regardless of current health, which seems to be not-a-sinking-ship, Trion Worlds made money on the MMO. Enough that they were funded for two more MMO-type games: Defiance and End of Nations. I enjoyed Rift; it was a good MMO. It wasn’t amazing, and yes, eventually I unsubscribed. Still, I have no regrets about my purchase and months subscribed. Regardless, Trion Worlds is quietly succeeding as giants are dying.
I always appreciate Sanya Weathers’ editorials on developers, and in one of her latest mmorpg.com columns she throws out a few “must haves” for starting a full-featured MMO. I find it most interesting that she makes sure to take aim at the “idea guy” as largely unnecessary. What I remember about Trion Worlds developer team is that they always promoted their MMO-industry vets. What I remember about 38 Studios dev team is a pitcher, the Drizzt creator, and some comic book guy. I’m not saying 38 Studios didn’t have plenty of MMO tech devs, but I am sure they paid heavily to get big-dog idea guys on the team.
The pattern you see here, says my umpeenth lozenge wrapper, is the MMO product as content. Rift was very much an MMO built around the current World of Warcraft conventions with some nice hydraulics and flashy paint job. They’ve continued to build many different game mechanisms that stretch away from quests-and-dungeons, but much of it still feels like World of Warcraft. In my opinion, Trion succeeded at repackaging the vanilla MMO with new content.
Star Wars the Old Republic (SWTOR), apparently did not succeed, at least for the bottom line. This disconnect between a profitable repackaging for a brand new IP and an MMO still making up red numbers from a mammoth IP amazes me. On white paper with Rift’s views in mind, SWTOR should have been printing money by now. BioWare took the conventional MMO ruleset, tweaked it a little, and repackaged it in the money-making Star Wars IP. How did they do this at a loss?
The Siren Song and ‘Q
I think that funding for MMOs is going to be a lot tighter going forward, yet, I do not believe this is going to be a large nail in the MMO genre’s coffin. People want to make MMOs. It is one of the few video game genres that emphasizes human nature. We cooperate, we communicate, and we share experiences in MMOs at degrees far greater than other genres.
They are also really freaking hard to make. In a lot of ways they remind me of BBQ. No not that chicken breast you are going to put on a gas-fired grill. I’m talking about real BBQ. The one that takes time, love, and pig. A McRib might be tasty to some, but it isn’t pork made magic.
MMOs, like BBQ, seem to be different than the mainstream genre of video games or carry-out. All the so-called “AAA” games that have tried to package MMOs off as content seem to have “failed” to carry on. It gets even scarier for MMOs that try and compete in the MMO arena as new experiences. Guild Wars 2 is about to the finish line after banking off of 7 years of a previous game, while Project Copernicus (38 Studios) collapsed a quarter mile to the finish line. How many haven’t even seen the light of media?
Jennings’ post was most clever because when that plane crashed in Iowa, the music didn’t die. It just took a pause to reflect. Perhaps that’s just what we need before a few very interesting MMO games launch. We’ll see if The Secret World might be the first to start turning things back around.
a beautiful psychedelic fever dream