Life after the AAA MMO

Last week I wrote about SW:TOR being a bad business deal (something I also stated more than a year go). Today I want to continue that line of thought, focusing on why I want current-day AAA MMOs to go the way of the dinosaurs, and why that would actually be good for MMO players.

Back when WoW was thriving, one major advantage many attributed to the game was its cost. The barrier of entry to produce something as polished and complete as WoW was seen as too high for most.

One complaint I’ve had about WoW has always been that Blizzard is too slow with their updates, and that for a game making billions, it sure does not seem like that from a content or tech perspective. If WoW is making Blizzard a billion or so a year, it should not be a question of which MMO delivers the most content. Or which MMO can do things all others can’t. In every single example, WoW should be at the top, and everyone else should be following behind as best as their far-more-limited budgets allow.

And that’s simply not the case. Be it content, graphics, server tech, innovation, etc, Blizzard is not leading the industry, and certainly not by the margin their profits (and one would think, budget) suggest. Yes yes tech spending/development is not linear, we all know that, spare me the comment. But if you are suggesting that spending 300m results in as much content/tech as spending 10m, WHY THE HELL IS SOMEONE SPENDING 300M!?

Speaking of 300m, BioWare with SW:TOR is not killing it either. Total amount of voiced dialog aside (super-critical in an MMO…), what exactly is SW:TOR doing to crush ‘lesser’ MMOs with tiny budgets? Rift cost 50m to produce, is SW far more polished? Does it look/run better? Is the total amount of content dwarfing what Rift has? And really, was Rift even that special? Yes its launch was solid and some systems (souls, beta-invasions) looked promising, but server queues were still rampant (as they are now in SW), balance was still dicey, total amount of content was average, and we all know what happened with the 1.2 patch. No surprising Trion is giving out 30 free days to former players.

My point is that spending at the AAA MMO level seems to get players very little, and that if the entire segment went poof, the genre itself would not regress to the MUD days. You would still have studios like CCP embarrassing everyone else in terms of server/client performance. You would still have tiny studios like Aventurine running servers that can (and did) support more players than WoW. You would still have games like Glitch, Terraria, or Minecraft (games that are as much MMOs as SW is an MMO) actually trying something new and succeeding. The biggest casualties with the death of the AAA MMO market would be Chuck Norris and Mr. T, who would need to find new sources of income, and all those waste-of-space studios that aim to rehash WoW.

 

22 Responses to Life after the AAA MMO

  1. Aidan Padecain says:

    IMHO, Minecraft is probably the most successful MMO platforms out there (technical limitations of the basic server prog aside). The large player base, the wealth of Modding options and a true sandbox world (with actual sand) all combine to make a game that can be molded to a wide variety of play styles.

    Now, if I could only get a redstone machine built in under three hours…

  2. bhagpuss says:

    It’s just a re-hash of the same process that’s already evident in Hollywood, isn’t it? If you spend $3m and end up taking $5m that’s an indie hit, but you’ve still only made $2m.

    If you spend $150 million, and your movie has the same pro rata performance you make $100m. If you have the resources to invest the bigger sum to make the bigger sum back, why wouldn’t you?

    It seems to work pretty consistently for huge budget movies, which allegedly never fail to make money once all the global receipts are in. Probably works the same for MMOs.

    • Aidan Padecain says:

      MMO’s also face the same problem that hollywood faces in generating new IPs. Since they invest so much in order to garner a supposedly larger return, it makes it very risky to bet on new IPs. So, in the long run, following the “same old process” seems like the way to ensure a steady return.

      In video games, this is particularly insidious, as the “same old process” makes its way into game mechanics as well – giving us a plethora WoW clones.

      SW:TOR double dips in the risk mitigation pool by both using an established IP and establish game design.

    • SynCaine says:

      There are actually a decent amount of big-budget movies that tank. We don’t hear much about them because, well, they tanked and no one noticed (except the guy footing the bill).

      I mean, if making 100m out of 150, was so easy, everyone would be doing it, right?

      • dsj says:

        EA is betting that if they follow in the ground breaking footsteps of Madden #XXX in the MMO market they can make their money without the bothersome process of actually re-skinning for new box sales. Every effort they have made thus far has failed and they finally ponied up the money for the SW IP (The new Madden of space!)

        Sad fact is that even a complete tank by SW would probably not really change the dynamic (or EA) in a video game market exceeding 11+ billion dollars a year in total sales. These guys are able to play the percentages even at this level because of the solid sales that underpin their current business model.

        Every time you have ever seen a Hollywood studio go bust there has always been someone willing to step in and invest in another Waterworld. The games industry hasn’t shown itself to be any different.

        • Tim says:

          Waterworld was a moderate success in the international box office.

        • Aidan Padecain says:

          Hollywood studios have an amazing distribution chain. If a movie doesn’t make money domestically, they often heavily dump it in a foriegn market (like Southeast Asia or eastern Europe)at least break even.

          Conversely, games tend to be national rather than international. They don’t have the ability to as easily push their failures out into other markets, at least apart form the fabled South Korean MMO market.

      • bhagpuss says:

        I did google around a little before posting to see if I could substantiate something I have heard repeatedly on various movie review shows I listen to, which is that once all global receipts are taken into account no Hollywood movies ever fails to at least recoup its costs. Domestically they often fail, but the loss is always recouped by revenues from other territories.

        I didn’t find a citeable source in the short time I could be bothered to look, although most sources I looked at claimed that Hollywood movies that bomb at home “often” go into the black when all revenues are in.

  3. saucelah says:

    I take offense at characterizing Glitch as “as much an MMO as SWTOR.”

    SWTOR wishes it was as much an MMO as Glitch.

    :-P

  4. Sigh says:

    Ahh you crack me up. It’s like you think Bioware and EA aren’t aware that TOR isn’t your normal mmo. There is a reason those guys make the money they do and you are writing a blog.

    Maybe we need a new category of game for the so called AAA MMO so all the “hardcore” players can go find something else to bitch about.

    • SynCaine says:

      Blog – tiny profit

      EA – less than that

      Thanks for playing.

      • theJexster says:

        So Skyrim is a huge hit, and Minecraft is a huge hit, but fans want theme parks… because we have seen so many successful theme parks in the last few years… hopefully after SWTOR goes FTP in 6 months the “industry leaders” don’t decide the MMO market is a fail. Hopefully they realize the market is strong, but full of a fan base that sits on the edge of technical advancement. If you don’t give them progression they don’t buy your stuff. I suppose it’s a hard concept since most marketing is aimed at the sheepish and stupid majority. The MMO market is full of smart, nerdy people who see through crap when it get’s spoon fed to them. This isn’t fast food here, this is an intelligent market. Impress it, or it ignores your product.

        I’ll make it easy for Corporate peoples. Stop being Green Lantern. Be Batman Begins.

        • Resand says:

          “Hopefully they realize the market is strong, but full of a fan base that sits on the edge of technical advancement. If you don’t give them progression they don’t buy your stuff. ”

          Honestly I would thing WoW proves you wrong here. Yes there’s probably more of the technical edge people among hte fans in this genre then most other, but we are not the majority sadly.

  5. Hong WeiLoh says:

    Risk aversion is becoming a serious mindset for … everyone these days. IRL business, the military, law enforcement/fire, etc., down to EVE carebears, and, yes, l337 PvPers too (who fear tarnishing of their precious KB and efficiency rating).
    The problem is that we’ve gone from a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” mindset to expecting to venture nothing, and still gain everything one.

    • coppertopper says:

      Agree here but at the same time this leaves a gaping hole to be filled by Skyrim and Glitch and Minecraft – games that are eagerly gobbled up by fans of quality instead of the soilent green that is being pushed out en masse. This is opportunity time for smaller devs or larger companies with integrity.

      Just reading the latest dev diary about GW2 there is such a huge difference between what EA/Bioware is rushing out the door in SWTOR and the multiple iterations that GW2 is doing on just one of its myriad gameplay basics. On one side we have cutscenes on top of EQ-like AAA MMO basics, and on the other iteration upon iteration of combat animations to make a gameplay basic as fluid as a console combat game…but set in a AAA mmo setting. Love that these days innovation is finally putting cut-and-paste games where they belong – the bargain bin at Walmart.

  6. Sullas says:

    I don’t actually disagree with any of this, except to say that feverish innovation and feature bloat don’t necessarily correlate with more satisfaction for players, either. Solidly executed classic PvE mechanics go a long way toward providing one tools to have fun with. But yes, I do sometimes wonder where all that money goes.

    Not actual multiplayer space combat, that’s for sure.

    I don’t know the technical underpinnings of CCP’s server architecture, but the ‘entire universe together’ thing is a brilliant idea. Population is allowed to ebb and flow without the inevitable fail-stench of some servers becoming empty graveyards of former success (and never repopulating even in boom times, because who wants to roll on a graveyard?) A large theme-park MMO can’t do it for obvious bottleneck reasons. Still, it would be nice.

    • SynCaine says:

      “A large theme-park MMO can’t do it for obvious bottleneck reasons.”

      This might be a post itself, but why not? Are all of the players going to huddle into one area to all use the Auction House? (Jita)

      I get that in 1997 it was not a good idea. But in 2011, is it really still impossible? Or perhaps more to the point, is the tech still so crippling that you need a 300m game to launch with 140 servers?

      • Sullas says:

        “This might be a post itself, but why not? Are all of the players going to huddle into one area to all use the Auction House? (Jita)”

        Pretty much. Not to take anything away from EVE’s technical successes, but docking at a popular hub station isn’t the same, in terms of computing resources, as being in a space with a bajilion other rendered toons competing for that auctioneer buried under seven naked dancing Tauren spamming spell effects. Even if there were no technical issues, I have a feeling that one’s user experience might not be improved by this.

        Actually, the real problem is less technical, imho, than community-oriented. You and much of your readership are much better/experienced EVE players than I, so I’m not going to presume to pontificate on this, but you know how regions and systems, especially outside Empire space, develop their own communities usually based around local corps, sovereignties, and so on. It is, in fact, a beautiful thing. You hang around enough (or more likely, you’re in a corp with local interests) and you become part of the local fauna. It’s your “server”, in a very loose sense. You pay attention to local, you get to know people, and you pretty much don’t worry about the fact that there are a hundred thousand strangers many jumps away.

        There isn’t a significant reason for this sort of EVE experience to be territorially anchored to any particular part of the galaxy. What a system is like is usually more significant than where it is. It’s simply a sandbox strength, and I have no idea how you could adapt it to a TOR-like theme-park. Millions of people would be distributed among a handful of planets, at best. The global channels would be a maddening cacophony and among the roiling throngs you would never be ushered by the game toward the same people again. Of course, I’m sure it’s a vision of hell you’d wish upon all of our kind. :)

        • SynCaine says:

          You have to separate current-day (flawed) themepark design, and identify the bits that you actually like (guided-PE content for example), and imagine those bits in something more… MMO.

          SW:TOR would fail if it was moved towards an EVE-style layout because, in part, of the voiced content. Either you would have to copy/paste it across a hundred systems, or spend 300 billion to voice a hundred different versions of the leveling game (assuming you keep the leveling game as-is).

          That does not mean you can’t design a PvE MMO in the SW universe, that allows you to travel to the famous spots, fight with/against the ‘named’ characters, and live in the SW universe, but still have it all on one ‘server’. It’s just harder than copy/paste WoW, reskin for SW.

  7. Anorax says:

    I just want to qualify my post by saying I have been playing Early Access and enjoying SWTOR immensely (now level 28 Sith Sorcerer). It is a surprisingly polished MMO with some excellent game mechanics.

    Syncaine does make some relevant points though once you look past all the SWTOR hate. My biggest beef with WoW has always been the lack of content updates. Their profit/content ratio is appalling and pales in comparison to much smaller MMO’s that generate far less revenue yet seem to be able to release regular and meaningful content updates.

    The cynic in me says EA will be no different but I believe for EA to recoup their massive SWTOR development costs they will be forced to release content. How this is possible with fully voiced content I am not sure.

    Time will tell.

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