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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