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LOTRO Good Until 2014… or 2017! February 25, 2008

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO Design.
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One news tidbit that came up last week was that Turbine has reached an agreement with Tolkien Enterprises to extend the licensing agreement for Lord of the Rings Online out until 2014, with an option to further extend the agreement out to 2017.

I was a bit surprised to find that Turbine was only good with the LotR IP for 3 to 4 years after launch. On the other hand, this might have been Tolkien Enterprises protecting itself in case things went poorly. Turbine, though, has done an admirable job of bringing Middle-earth to life and making a popular MMO.

This still brings me back to the question of how long an MMO is expected to last on the market.

Ultima Online will pass the 11 year mark this September. EverQuest will hit 9 years of age in a couple of weeks. Both games remain extremely popular, at least when viewed through their (pessimistic in hindsight) pre-release subscription targets.

Games that last that long, that have that much staying power, are rare indeed. But games that do hang on for a decade or more tend to have one thing in common: A loyal community.

Community keeps games like EverQuest alive. Heck, community has kept the MUD I started playing nearly 15 years ago alive.

On the last SOE podcast they effectively (if not literally) said that a game like EverQuest will remain available as long as there are enough people left playing to justify keeping a server going.

EverQuest has enough of a community still, nearly nine years later, to justified continued expansions of the game. This is why I keep getting on the accessibility kick for EverQuest. With revenue enough to justify expansions, now is the time to lay the groundwork to allow new people to pick up the game. More important than graphic updates for old world zones are things like a WASD keyboard layout and intuitive camera controls, at least to my mind.

On its current trajectory, EverQuest will be around for quite a few more years.

SOE has an advantage in that it owns the intellectual property that makes up the world of Norrath. They can trim back EverQuest to match revenues until there is a single server and a skeleton crew to keep it functioning.

But what happens when somebody else owns the intellectual property that makes up the world around which an MMO is built?

The licensing party, the owner of the intellectual property, has a different set of priorities. They not only have their own revenue targets, and in many cases, a competing set of choices by which to reach them, but they also have the responsibility to keep the property active, alive, and seen in a positive light.

Those goals may not line up with running an MMO down to the last server. Being associated with a dying, out of date game is probably not any an IP managers list of goals. And then there is the constant siren song any popular IP has of new project offers.

So there is a refinement to the oft asked question, “How long will a popular MMO stay up?”

What is the threshold for bringing down an MMO based on a popular IP? How much of a community is required to keep a game like Lord of the Rings Online (or Star Wars Galaxies) viable? Is a company better off rolling their own IP rather than going with an already established one?

This is probably why Brenlo gets asked about Star Wars Galaxies shutting down as often as he does.

Comments»

1. Cameron Sorden - February 25, 2008

When you talk about the goals of a marketing team trying to rebrand an IP that currently exists as an older game, I think you’re right about where the priorities would lie. That’s too bad.

I would hope that if they’re going to shut down a game for good, they would at least provide the community with the software to host their own servers (or hell, sell it to them).

2. Talyn - February 25, 2008

That would be a great stride in generosity for an MMO developer to open source a former retail MMO to the community at large. id has been doing that for years with their Quake games, once the “viable retails” years have gone by, the release the code under GPL.

How cool would it be if EQ was open-sourced and we started seeing new user-ran servers and new open source content and updates to the game?

3. Cameron Sorden - February 25, 2008

Very cool. Very cool indeed.

4. Captain Angry - February 27, 2008

I was gonna comment about something else but wow that concept has just sorta blown my mind, a MMO going open source when its life cycle burns out.

That really hits home for me because I recently started playing Doom and Duke3d source ports during this dry spell in PC game releases. As far as those games have come with the community’s loving attention, I’d be really interested to see what they could do with EverQuest.

5. Wilhelm2451 - February 27, 2008

EverQuest is a long way from getting below the point of profitability, so any thoughts on open source (very unlikely IMHO) or free to play (more likely) are a bit premature.

I think the test case will be what happens with Saga of Ryzom. There is an MMO with a small but dedicated community and which has fallen below the point of profitability.

Meridian 59 is another place to look for how things might play out when an MMO goes past its prime, at least in the eyes of the company that developed it.

And, to get back to where I started, a game like LOTRO with a licensed IP will probably cease to exist completely once it gets past its prime. The holder of the IP rights has the responsibility to protect and grow an IP, and leaving it with a dying game when it could be licensed to a new game (that won’t want competitors) seems counter to that ideal.


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