The Niche is Real

Massively has linked to a video about 38 Studios. It’s worth watching. In the comments section, there is a link to an article about the entire thing. I’m pretty sure I’ve read it before, and perhaps even linked it here, but still, it’s worth reading (or reading again).

Not that I want to rehash the entire 38 Studios story, but I do want to bring up how much money was spent to almost-create a game that, by their own admission, was not fun to play. We are talking tens of millions of dollars, if not more than 100 million.

Along those same lines, SW:TOR cost north of $300m, and we know what $300m bought us in terms of MMO gaming or genre progression.

And at least according to EAWare, SW:TOR needed to cost 300m+ because hey, that’s just what MMOs cost to produce. Prior to closing, Curt and 38 Studios would have backed that up.

Darkfall 1 cost 10m or so to make (I’d link to the source video but lazy, find it if you doubt it). Now sure, DF1 did not have special celebrity guests mailing in voice acting, or the 100+ devs 38 Studios had doing… something. But even if you hate FFA PvP gaming, it would be hard to argue that the game did not delivered something that people enjoyed, brought some new things to the table (combat), and sustained itself for 3 years until DF2010 came along and… NDA beta in 2012/13 :grumble:

The thinking that MMOs are always expensive and in order to deliver anything you have to spend $100m or aim for the WoW crowd is not only outdated, it’s just wrong. Everyone (literally, everyone) who has aimed at being WoW has failed; either by shutting down or selling TheOneRing/Hotbars/Wings. And yes, plenty of titles that did NOT aim to be WoW have failed as well, but plenty is still better than all, and the financial impact of Dawntide never exiting beta are not on the same level as SW:TOR’s failure causing a studio to gut itself and the docs in charge to ‘retire’.

So as we roll ahead in 2013, I’m expecting/hoping we seem more titles in the 10m range. Titles that don’t feature add-nothing IPs, content designed for ‘everyone’, or the attempt to be WoW but with X (but yes, this will still happen, and the results will be the same). Rather, we’ll see titles that aim to get one thing REALLY right, and attract and retain fans looking for exactly that.

Furthermore, a return to titles that are actual MMOs. Games not designed to be consumed and discarded like far too many ‘MMOs’ today that wonder why no one stuck around after the first few months/weeks. They don’t need to demand 100% of your gaming time, but they do need to offer you limitless entertainment. No more ‘personal’ stories with a final boss. No more zones that you move on from after X hours. No gear tier X that is current for a few months until it’s replaced by Y. All of those things are anti-MMO design, and just because one titles remains profitable DESPITE them, does not mean they work or are needed. (Or make that and do what Anet did, just sell the box and call it a day).

I think Kickstarter is showing that such interest/demand exists. Whether anything of substance comes from Kickstarter is a separate issue, but what is fact right now is that not only are people showing interest, they are showing it in a very real way (with their wallets). This is not Turbine announcing 4m characters created as a metric for success; this is some indie title that has little chance of ever becoming a game getting a million dollars of support thanks entirely to word-of-mouth.

It’s far too early to tell if all of this is some fad and nothing will come of it, or if this is indeed the first step to getting the MMO genre back to what many of us remember it being (and when it was actually working). That said, it’s encouraging to see people attempt it, and even more encouraging to see many others support those efforts. Maybe as we begin 2014, we will be talking about which little MMO we are playing, rather than which dream might actually happen as we uninstall some title we just finished that called itself an MMO.

11 Responses to The Niche is Real

  1. sid6.7 says:

    It’s a good point about not needing to spend that kind of money to create a quality game. I’ve read a lot of interviews with game developers and they almost all strike me as visionaries or creatives who lack strong project management skills.

    I think what’s remarkable about MMOs is that they spend YEARS developing the engine and inner workings of a game without any real testing on the gameplay. It’s all about the “eye candy” and not about the overall experience.

    Once upon a time, graphics stinked and developers needed to come up with innovative and fun gameplay. Today, they spend millions and millions on artwork and have the game virtually finished before they start working on gameplay. And at that point, it’s fine-tuning at best.

    I’m reminded of movies. Every once in a while I catch a film from the 50s or 60s and I am struck by how entertaining I find the STORY. Contrast that with modern films which are often only entertaining because of the flashy action scenes or special effects.

    • tithian says:

      And yet this is what the majority of the audience wants now. Shiny graphics that push that 2,000$ rig that they just got.

      When TSW launched, the #1 reason on why people would ‘not bother’ was the animations. On every single DF:UW that has been shown so far, the majority of the comments have been “this looks horrible” or “the animations suck”.

      We’re to blame for this trend.

      • kalex716 says:

        Everybody says looks don’t matter, its what is on the inside that counts.

        But nobody actually means it.

        • kalex716 says:

          Kalex716, you show me the best looking game in your opinion ever made, and I’ll find someone who quit it because it quickly got boring.

          Looks really don’t matter.

  2. spe says:

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  3. Spents says:

    Keen has an article stating pretty much the same thing on his website. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come for 2013.

  4. PyrosGG says:

    I think a lot of the MMO’s out today don’t really test their target audience before actually moving forward. This was a huge oversight by the Star Wars the Old Republic beta-test, I as well as many others really enjoyed playing the game, but it just did not have enough to sustain us in the long run and we were not able to test that before we paid.

    What a lot of people don’t realize is that warcraft was able to test their demographic with the first three games in the warcraft series. Blizzard knew that the customers really liked the storyline they come up with, and they had customers that were willing to try out an MMO if they ever debuted one. This is part of the reason blizzard has had so much success.

    Games such as Diablo and warcraft were actually very inexpensive to create the first versions, and because these early cheaper versions did so well, they knew that there was a community and a fan base that they could build off of for MMO’s. This is the strategy that I would like to see more companies use, and I agree with this article 100%.

    • sid6.7 says:

      I would take it a step further and say that one of the things that has always made Blizzard unique in the MMO space is that they brought a lot of THEIR OWN fans to the genre (who were familiar with the Warcraft RTS and Diablo games). That’s EXTREMELY important because it means you don’t have to entirely rely on cannibalizing your marketshare from a competitor.

      Arguably, you could say that LOTRO and SWTOR both did the same thing but I think the key difference is that by the point these games launched, the MMO market was well-established and most players who were likely to play an MMO had already played WoW.

      In other words, the pool of players was already tainted in that MMOs were not a fresh experience and players had much shorter attention spans and tolerance for mistakes than when WoW launched.

      That’s the crux of the problem with launching a game in this post-WoW era.

  5. Ravious says:

    I’ve been wanting Chipotle MMO’s to be the main deal for a long time.

  6. Bernard says:

    ” it would be hard to argue that the game did not delivered something that people enjoyed, brought some new things to the table (combat), and sustained itself for 3 years until DF2010 came along”

    If it delivered what people wanted, why did it need rebooting? Is a 3 year lifespan the new definition of MMO success?

    • SynCaine says:

      The 2010 expansion ended up growing (and growing), and at some point the decision was made to restart due to the amount of changes AV wanted to make. From around 2010 to 2012, DF1 did not recieve any major updates, yet retained enough players to remain online, and now that DF:UW is in beta, most have returned (beta population is pretty crazy).

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