Nebula Online – Running an MMO with No Visible Means of Support

No free-to-play limitations, no cash shop and no hidden costs – not even a monthly sub. Relax and play!

Nebula Online Kickstarter Tag Line

I don’t really want to pick on anybody’s Kickstarter project, but sometimes they just raise questions that I then want to write about.  I appease my inner self-critic by telling myself that at least I am giving them a bit more visibility.


Anyway, there is the Nebula Online Kickstarter campaign.  They have 29 days to go on a 45 day funding run, want $130,000 (though in Canadian Loonies as opposed to trusty greenbacks) and haven’t even managed to garner 10% of their total in the first two weeks, which anybody who has followed my commentary on Kickstarter campaigns before knows does not bode well for success.  If you bring in less than 25% of your goal in the first 24 hours, you probably haven’t built enough support for your campaign in advance.  Their daily data looks bad right now.

The game itself is billed as “an old school hardcore Sci-Fi MMORPG,” and sounds a lot like a more ambitious EVE Online with maybe a bit of Elite:Dangerous sprinkled in for leavening.  But I have to say that space is suddenly becoming a crowded market of late, which probably isn’t helping them much.  Star Citizen looks to be grabbing the lion’s share of uncommitted money on the space game development front.

And the team… well… looking at their bios, they all really like MMOs, they just haven’t actually made one yet.  Yeah, they are doing the whole thing on Unity, which will give them a leg up in many areas, but going full on MMO is going to be a learning experience for them.

None of which makes the project particularly post worthy here.  I am sure I could find a new campaign every week that looked as starry eyed optimistic as Nebula Online.

No, the bit that sparked my interest was the quote at the top, which is a tag line for the project.

They plan to finance this whole thing based entirely on box sales.

Yes, I know, the “Buy” category in the whole range of “to Play” options is the new favorite option of the mob.  GuildWars 2 falls into “Buy to Play,” as does The Secret WorldThe Elder Scrolls Online is heading that way in a month and the new hotness that is Crowfall is talking about that as well.

The thing is, while those games are all in the B2P column, they all have optional revenue streams.  I could not think of an MMORPG … at least something I would call an MMORPG, which includes a persistent world and all that DikuMUD / EverQuest baggage, and not a lobby game like World of Tanks or League of Legends or Diablo III… that has made a go of it without some follow on plan to pay the bills as the years go by.  A cash shop with a special currency, an “optional” subscription (your definition of optional may vary), content or expansions, PLEX-like items in game, or just a straight up ability to buy in-game items from the web site.

There always seems to be something on the recurring revenue front to keep paying the bills after box sales eventually taper off.

So, of all the aspects of Nebula Online, I find this to be the most dubious, the idea that they will be able to keep a game… a real MMORPG… up and running on box sales alone.  It doesn’t make logical sense in my view of the world, which is abetted by the fact that I cannot think of another similar game making a go of it with that particular model.

But then, it is no longer 2004, back when it seemed like a mere mortal could know all you needed to know about the field of MMORPGs.  Today there is so much going on that I sometimes find it difficult to keep up with the games I am actually playing (thanks CCP “every five weeks” expansion schedule), much less what in the hell is going on in the wider market.

Has somebody else been successful… for whatever definition of success you care to pick… with a “box sales only” business model for an MMORPG?  Has somebody managed to keep the lights on for an extended time with only that revenue stream?

6 thoughts on “Nebula Online – Running an MMO with No Visible Means of Support

  1. Jacob

    Guild wars (The original) was purely box sales. They sold the original game, then 3 expansions (though by the final expansion it was a digital box if I remember correctly). That kept the lights on for years. In fact it was still going last I checked a year or so ago.

    As I recall, the only additional thing they sold was additional character slots – beyond the 8 you started with. Or maybe it was 8 with all 3 expansions. Memory fails a bit here, but the cost of the character slots was not particularly high, nor was it any kind of recurring cost, so I doubt it added up to much.

    Now they have a very minor digital item store, but that was added well after the final expansion came out. I haven’t looked closely at it to see what it really is all about as I pretty much gave up GW years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. bhagpuss

    Guild Wars is arguably not an MMO though. It falls more in the line of a lobby game, with the open-world being largely restricted to hub areas.

    Can’t say I can think of any full MMO that only ever took money for the boxes and nothing else at all.


  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    Well, and I should have said “initial box,” because I think of the Guild Wars expansions as… well… expansions. Guild Wars sold expansions, character slots, and didn’t they sell fully equipped PvP characters at one point? Or did they just talk about maybe doing that. In any case, as Bhagpuss notes, GW is pretty close to a lobby game, as the content was mostly instanced if I recall right.


  4. carson63000

    I guess it comes down to how much greater the expense of maintaining an MMO is than the expense of maintaining a non-MM online game.

    e.g. Diablo 2 hasn’t had a box sale since Lord of Destruction came out in 2001, and it’s still online. Arguably supported by Blizzard’s other revenue streams, of course.


  5. SynCaine

    GW1 wasn’t an MMO, Anet themselves have stated that many times.

    B2P doesn’t work in the traditional sense of the genre; keeping the dev team to continually work on the game full-time rather than ship a box and be done with it like a ‘normal’ game. You can’t keep paying that full-time dev team if you don’t continue to get revenue, and just the box price isn’t enough.

    As for this Kickstarter, eh, this is why a lot of people dismiss the whole idea of the system; this game has zero chance to get funded, and even on paper sounds like some forum fanboy wishlist than a serious attempt to make something real.


  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Carson63000 – I was thinking about D2. But it isn’t really an MMO, there being no shared world hosted on Blizz’s servers. It also sold a ton of boxes, enough that if Nebula Online could match those sales, they might be able to run things without further sales for quite a while. And I would argue that Blizzard discouraged use of BNet until it got upgraded for the “No LAN, always online” StarCraft 2 and Diablo III, by the laggy mess it could be if you tried playing a BNet only character with friends online during peak hours.

    @SynCaine – No matter what Anet says, GW1 was at least more like an MMO as we thought of it then than a lot of things people are calling MMOs today. And they still prove my point, which is that selling a box up front and never expecting to collect cash from a customer again isn’t a winning strategy.


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