23 Aug 2011

The Lure of the Franchise

I was recently chatting to a friend about how we felt about Warcraft these days. We were both a little jaded and going through the same cycle of log in, raid, log out. I can just imagine a line of heroes forming outside the entrance to Firelands, punching the machine as they clock in for the evening, their shoulders slouched and dreary. Just another day at the office.

We then got talking about the games we were looking to move to in the future. I mentioned how Guild Wars 2 looked neat, how Wildstar looked like a lot of fun and how The Secret World seemed interesting with it’s alternate reality take on things.

His response? “Star Wars!”

Don’t get me wrong, I think Star Wars will be a successful game that’s a huge amount of fun to play. I just wonder how many people are going to dive in going “Yay Lightsabers” instead of of digging beyond the IP. We had a bit of an argument – my friend thinks that IP is still the best bait to put on the MMO hook, while I think building a universe and a game together works better than trying to cram your game into someone else’s existing universe. I think we’ve also become a cynical bunch that don’t believe the hype anymore, but that’s another debate.

I can’t remember where I read it, but someone left a great comment. They said that the biggest thing Warcraft was responsible for was the glut of half-baked subscription MMOs made by publishing houses desperate to cash in on gaming’s latest trend. Just look at the history of what’s come out since World of Warcraft started printing money:

  • Lord of the Rings Online
  • Age of Conan
  • Lego Universe
  • Final Fantasy XIV
  • Star Trek Online
  • Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning
  • The Matrix Online

While some have gained long term success by going free to play, I can’t help but wonder how many players got into these games purely because they wanted to explore the world the developers bought the rights for. And of those, how many came out the other side feeling disappointed with the result?

There are a couple of games currently in development that might be in danger of treading the same path. Warhammer 40K: Dark Millenium Online and World of Darkness are both in the works, but neither of these games seem to have grabbed the attention of the MMO playing public. Everything else seems to be either new IP created by the studio or the continuation of an existing MMO IP.

I’m left wondering what lessons have been learned from all this. Have studios learned that the public won’t buy into poor MMOs that have high value IP attached? Have the public become cynical of new MMOs and don’t plunge in headfirst? Have we just admitted that we prefer free-to-play instead of subscriptions?

For me, I’d just like developers to focus on making the best game they can instead of scouring popular fiction for tales to turn into games.

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11 Responses to The Lure of the Franchise

  1. Zaralynda says:

    The husband and I were discussing Star Wars and he thought the way that they treated the tank/healer/dps trinity was clever, and I responded that it really didn’t make sense given (what I know about) the world. If you watch the movies, every Jedi is out there fighting alone, being awesome by HIM/HERSELF (even in the big group fight scenes, they don’t really work together a whole lot).

    It just seems to me that anything that the developers do to shoehorn the SWs IP into what players expect out of the traditional MMO won’t be true to the IP, and that’s a real shame, especially since that’s why people will play it.
    Zaralynda recently posted..Holy Paladin Secondary StatsMy Profile

  2. Windsoar says:

    I *used* to be very attached to my developers. Ok, maybe I still am, but I find that finding single player games is getting harder for me to do. I actually have jumped into most MMO’s I’ve chosen because I like the developer–I played some stuff by them and thought it performed well, looked good, and was fun.

    Nowadays, I’m having a harder time distinguishing; however, my gut reaction to IP is “this is going to be awful.” It’s not that developers don’t *try* but it’s harder to fit a square peg into a round hole. It’s hard to meet a hundred thousand different player’s expectations of what the IP is, and how it should be implemented.

    When you start from scratch, there’s no template to compare to, and no emotional attachment. I think that’s where developers go a little sideways–they assume emotional attachment to an existing world will automatically equal paying customers, and I just don’t think it works that way.
    Windsoar recently posted..Stairway to TwilightMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      I used to follow developers fiercely back when I was heavily into single-player shooters. I was a huge id/Raven fanboy and would buy everything they made. Still got most of it too.

      Sometimes I wonder though – have I become the gaming equivalent of the wine snob who always criticises the choice of red or white at dinner parties? It should be simple: if you like the taste then get it down you!

      I get what you mean about emotional attachment. It can really come back to haunt the developer if the game doesn’t “feel” right.

  3. Z says:

    It’s interesting…my MMO experience outside of WoW (which has been limited) has been the opposite.

    Lord of the Rings Online, which I joined during a summer slump, completely amazed me with how beautifully the world of Middle Earth had been detailed. My character isn’t a “big bad hero,” but that’s OK, because it really feels like every piece of the landscape has history. I am completely guilty of logging in and spending hours just riding around…but my character hasn’t reached level cap either.

    Rift, which isn’t working with an established IP, really works hard to build up the “epicness” of your character– you’re a reincarnated hero! Actually multiple heroes! Who have traveled through time to SAVE THE WORLD! But then you reach the “live” world and there are hundreds of heroes running around killing boars or what-have-you, that feels less involving to me. I keep wondering if the farmers in Rift wouldn’t rather have a reincarnated miller or blacksmith, maybe?

    I enjoy both, but I do hope that Star Wars follows the former path rather than the later. I wouldn’t be too excited to join a universe populated entirely by Jedi and popculture-named bounty hunters. 🙂

    • Gazimoff says:

      I feel somewhat guilty about Lotro – I thought I’d be clever and play a healer (minstrel). I just didn’t enjoy the role and I think it’s what put me off the game. Chalk it up as one of those gaming mistakes. I keep on meaning to go back and give it another crack of the whip but it’s finding the time that’s the hard part.

      • Z says:

        Oh, I think that’s completely fair! I just think it’s interesting, such a “background” thing like the design of the game world, can have such a big effect on the feel of MMO play, especially when we talk about these games being “social,” but not necessarily immersive. 🙂

  4. Straw Fellow says:

    DC Universe Online could be added to that list. Been playing that lately and despite combat differences, the theme park style is very evident. Gear is a bit silly in a game about superheroes.

    I will agree, however, that I believe LOTRO has really done well to fit the game to the IP. The detail given to the world and just the general theme fits very well with the idea of questing and getting gear.

    “Have studios learned that the public won’t buy into poor MMOs that have high value IP attached?”

    I’d like to say this is true, that studios are slowly learning that a good IP only brings in good box sales and not recurring subscriptions. It is a major difference between standard games and MMO’s: Companies can actually support themselves putting out mediocre-to-awful movie based games on consoles, yet try that in an MMO and your game (and company) become a laughingstock. However, I am holding my tongue on if studios have learned this yet until after SWTOR.

  5. Jamin says:

    Cor, I am still keeping up with this influx of (great) posts!

    “Jaded” – after looking into it’s meaning, I feel it is a description of great importance right now. As in the current Warcraft, subscriber based, ‘situation’.

    (Pausing for a moment to look into the acronym: IP. Made much more sense after that)

    I for one had no idea of a new Warhammer game being in production. I feel you are right about a lot of half-hearted MMOs. That is what I feel is threatening WoW now. I think, at least some, developers have ‘clued up’ and realised mimicking WoWs success is not the way to go. That is if you wish to pull re-subscribers for longer than a month.

    I feel going from the group up, rather than basing on “IP” is a strong way forward, although quite ‘risky’ in some manners.

    – Jamin

    • Gazimoff says:

      Sorry I’ve been a bit prolific lately!

      I agree – I love it when developers try out entirely new concepts. I wish that they’d go for it more often. The trouble is that it costs so much to develop an MMO these days that it seems difficult to take cheap risks and experiment a little.

  6. epic.ben says:

    After paying a fortune for the Star Wars IP, and a fortune for voice acting, it will be interesting to see if EA and Bioware left enough resources to actually pay people to make a good game.

    That being said – I think a “real” IP like Conan or SW:TOR is actually a negative when it comes to immersion. I have so many preconceptions about what these worlds should look like, that playing a game in those worlds becomes distracting. It’s the same reason I don’t like fan fiction. Hell – I don’t even like new Dune books being written by Frank Herbert’s kid. I don’t even think he’s getting it right!
    epic.ben recently posted..Storybricks: “We Can Even Make Keanu Emotional”My Profile

  7. Marlene says:

    The reason of failures is that certain world simply doesn’t have enough space for so many people. Those worlds are closed. It hard merge in a world like Matrix. I would definitely try a MMO in Fallout world.
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