What Future for Turbine after Infinite Crisis?

Unfortunately, as the MOBA market matured around us as we were building the game, we simply couldn’t find enough of an audience.

Floon, Infinite Crisis Art Director, quoted at Massively OP

InfiniteCrisisIt is one of those times when I hate to be right.  I was dubious that Turbine had the gravitas to get into the MOBA genre at this late date, and it turns out that they do not.  Turbine announced yesterday that they would be shutting down their entry into the MOBA market, the perhaps all-to-aptly named Infinite Crisis.  The statement on their site was terse.

After much deliberation, we regret to announce the official shutdown of Infinite Crisis. We will end development efforts today and will close the service on August 14, 2015.

The announcement was made all the more poignant as it came on the same day that Blizzard’s champion for the MOBA arena, Heroes of the Storm, officially went live. (And now I don’t have to do a post about that, having mentioned it here.  At least until I earn the pet from it.)

I hate to be right because, while I had no real interest in the game, its abject failure leaves me wondering where Turbine goes now?  As they invested their time and resources in Infinitie Crisis, they left Asheron’s Call and Asheron’s Call 2 on auto-pilot, neither charging to play the titles nor paying much attention to them.  So I doubt there is any more revenue to be had on that front.

Which leaves only two staples in the Turbine bag, Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online.

Not that either title is dead, but at least on the LOTRO front it feels like the game is well past its prime.  The producer’s letter for the title early this year felt short on enthusiasm for me.  Expansions were out the door, server merges were going to be a fact of life, and talk of a new data center could be a bright spin on further resource consolidation for all we know.  And then there was the insider insight in to the turmoil at Turbine that no doubt sank a few optimistic spins on how things were going at the studio.

The more recent producer’s letter spun more of the same items (monster play maps, server merges, data centers, a new store) and, while it brought tales of “major content initiatives” for 2015, complete with hints about Minas Tirith, details were sparse.  Dare we speculate on what a “surprising take on the siege of Gondor” will look like from Turbine?

Meanwhile the game has been monetized to about the maximum extent they can likely manage.  The once promising F2P model that Turbine offered, where you could earn the RMT currency in-game, has expanded and consumed all, like the very darkness of Mordor, so that there is a “buy now” button of one sort or another on nearly every dialog in game.

Then there is DDO, whose 2015 producer’s letter was much more upbeat, and which felt better adapted to the F2P market to start with, never having been a “worldly” game but rather more akin to the adventure module model like table top Dungeons & Dragons.  Still, as much post-F2P conversion success as Turbine can claim for the title, a lot of that has to do with how badly it fell over after launch.  Everything is up when you have hit rock bottom.

Those two titles, in whatever shape you wish to claim they are in, look to be all Turbine has for now.  Their investment in a MOBA has yielded naught and in order for them to start working on something new they will have to continue, to a certain extent, to neglect the products that are paying all the bills.

This is practically an every day Silicon Valley dilemma, where a start up gets success on one product, does well enough, but can never get that second success as the first eventually fades.  During that stage there can be a huge amount of tension between groups. One group will want to continue to focus on, enhance, and nurture the first product.  Another group will insist that the main focus must be on finding that second product, because they know the first can’t last forever.

I’ve seen some comments out there from people who, if not cheering the demise of Infinite Crisis, are happily assuming that its fall will mean more resources for LOTRO or DDO.  I suppose Turbine could go that route, hunker down and focus on current products and hope for the best.  However, that seems unlikely, as is spells eventual death for the organization.

To survive in the long term, Turbine will need a “next” product.  But what will it be?  They have shot their bolt with Asheron’s Call by making it free.  Likewise, they played the nostalgia card with Asheron’s Call 2, only to give up and make that one free as well.  Infinite Crisis is behind them.  I don’t know what else they can do with DDO, and LOTRO is likely too mired in F2P for Turbine to play any sort of premium retro-server sort of games, like Daybreak is doing with EverQuest and the Ragefire and Lockjaw servers, in order to boost revenue.

So it feels like they have to make something new.  But in which direction will they go and do they have the resources to go very far?  I have to imagine that, after Infinite Crisis, which was purported to be eating $4 million a month in expenses, their corporate masters at WB may be unlikely to write a check to fund any big new ventures.

Yes, they have an iOS app under way in the form of Batman: Arkham Underworld.   But that sounds almost like contract work, doing a knock-off version of another title just to collect a bit of reflected glory, and is unlikely to save the farm. 

Then there is the Game of Thrones based game, which sounds a bit like an RTS from the minimal description in that Eurogamer article from a couple months back.  But that is way out in the future.  Both entail working with somebody else’s IP… again… as well as sending the company further from its MMORPG roots.

If you were running Turbine, what would you do?  Is it time for them to give up on MMOs?

16 thoughts on “What Future for Turbine after Infinite Crisis?

  1. C. T. Murphy

    I don’t see them having much of a future, to be honest. I’d love to see them do one last MMO of their own invention though. I imagine they have learned a lot since the failure of Asheron’s Call 2 with their two IP-based MMOs. I think they could do something special with the freedom and the money.

    Sadly, they no longer can afford either of those things.

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  2. tsuhelm

    I would like TURBINE to have great success… I think LOTRO has life in it yet if handled correctly… What I think TURBINE need (and I think this applies to much more successful companies as well) is someone at the controls with some IDEAS and COURAGE to FIGHT and push forward THEIR ideas to OTHERS, not kneejerk reactionary game development, no more dotting the ‘i’s’ crossing the ‘t’s’. VISIONARIES are needed in this TIME of game STAGNATION. And in these times those that stick their necks out will probably lose em, but some will succeed in redefining gaming (MMO, RPG, RTS, whatever the flava!), games will come and go instead of fade slowly away into irrelevance.

    LOTRO is nearing its ultimate destination (it cannot really go that far past the END of LOTR…) and then it will be time to do something CLEVER and SURVIVE or it will DIE (shock horror…it is old…) and even in that it could go out with a well planned, KUDOS to TURBINE generating, BLAST or it could slowly wind down until the blades fall off…

    I’d rather have to duck for cover as the blades fly gloriously into the air than drag my sorry ass over to inspect the broken machinery. Who knows maybe the TURBINE metamorphs into a PROPELLER, spins so fast that the company takes flights again!

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  3. Pasduil

    It’s a mistake made by many businesses in many industries. “Coca Cola and Pepsi are making tons of money from colas? Let’s get into that lucrative cola market!”

    But I think IC’s demise will be good for LOTRO. Instead of the company pinning all its hopes on the supposed next big thing, they’ll be paying more attention on how to get the most out of what they have. Knowing Turbine there is a danger that they’ll come up with some really stupid ideas for how to do that ($50 Hobby Horse???) though

    But I’m actually very pleased with their recent announcements and updates, as are many LOTRO players.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @HZ – Indeed, WB has a huge number of options when it comes to IPs, but who knows if the accounting works out in favor of licensing internally as opposed to a third party. That I, Cringely post I linked a couple comments up talks about how accounting and the use of margins as a key success metric can make internal deals look bad when the numbers are tallied up. And that isn’t bizarro world nonsense either. I have been involved with deals where we have punted on some or all of a project because the paper cost of internal billing… essentially the same as moving money from your left pocket to your right pocket… would spoil somebody’s margins. So rather than going with what would be an overall net benefit to corporate income, we sacrificed some or all of the revenue in order to protect margins.

    Also, would you hand over a huge franchise to a company with, at best, a mediocre track record at handling such things? DDO and LOTRO are modest successes at best in the industry and they just punted on Infinite Crisis. I would not hand them the Harry Potter based on that, as I would feel I could make a better, more successful, more lucrative deal elsewhere. Coffee is for closers and only the sales leaders get the Glengarry leads. So I couldn’t begin to tell you how they latched onto a Game of Thrones option.

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  5. HarbingerZero

    If a company is letting internal policy keep them from doing something well, they don’t deserve coffee or leads either. That’s the easiest of all issues to solve – provided the company is not too set in their ways or bound to tradition. I do understand not wanting to turn the star IP over to a company that hasn’t really proven itself anything other than second rate, but if first-rate is the bar, who other than Blizzard is going to be making your MMO for you?

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  6. Warsyde

    Getting on the MOBA bandwagon was definitely a mistake – that market is becoming as saturated as MMOs were after the runaway success of WoW. The way they went about it didn’t help either “Oh hey, let’s re-skin Batman 10 times and call it 10 different characters!”. To be fair, they WERE different characters, with different abilities and playstyles, but the end result was a feeling (at least by me) that they were really phoning it in. You have the entire stable of characters from the DC Universe to work with, and the vast majority of your characters are just alternate versions of the same few heroes? Really?! The expanded Justice League alone could have provided a full roster of unique characters, but it was all Batman all time instead :P

    If you want to make a successful MOBA, one thing you have GOT to have is a large and diverse roster of characters.

    As to the future, I’m not sure Turbine has one. Lotro and DDO are moderate successes, maybe, and pretty much everything else is a non-earner or a flop. I’m sure the company can survive on revenues Lotro and DDO, but I don’t know that they can do much more than survive. For the company to pull itself out of this slump I think it needs to come up with something genuinely new (rather than me too!) and execute it exceptionally well.

    Strangely, they might actually do quite well with an Asheron’s Call 3 IF it was polished, professional, (relatively) bug free, and fun to play while sticking to more traditional MMO open world designs. That would be a big budget undertaking in a field unlikely to find eager investors though.

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  7. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @HZ – The problem is it isn’t simply a matter of hidebound internal policies or corporate stupidity, it is an unholy mix of being a public company, GAAP, Wall Street, and fiduciary responsibility. A privately held company can get away with a lot of things that would cause a stock holder revolt in public companies. Margins are the tripwire for Wall Street, if those start to shrink your stock becomes a lemon. I agree the whole thing is dumb, but it is the system a public company must work within.

    If I were going to give a Harry Potter MMO to a studio… and MMOs are dead, in case you haven’t heard, so even Turbine isn’t working on a new one… the list ahead of Turbine isn’t huge, but I would argue that you would have to pass on Daybreak, which still makes MMOs and has a better record, NCsoft, which still makes MMOs and has a better record, and Bethesda before you would even start thinking about Turbine. Hell, I’d talk to Gaijin and Wargaming.net before Turbine. First rate wasn’t the bar I was suggesting, Turbine was the bar and there are options above them without including Blizzard.

    Plus, Blizzard wouldn’t even enter into it because they no longer make MMOs and they have had so much success with their own IPs… as borrowed as they might be… that they likely don’t feel they need for a Harry Potter IP to keep being successful. You would have to go to the Activision side of the house for that.

    Blizzard is also interesting in that they seem to be okay with making new games that do not take in as much money as WoW. That is another Silicon Valley problem; once you have a huge success, anything less feels like failure and often gets treated as such even if it is still making decent money. Yahoo is a pariah in the valley not because they are going broke but because they just have normal, real world levels of success after years of booming.

    Also, my parents are both accountants and I went down that path at college right up until discovered I could sleep in late and wear jeans every day if I got into tech instead.

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  8. zaphod6502

    Personally I would love to see a completely new LOTR game. If not by Turbine then by another company with the enthusiasm and resources to develop a modernised version.

    I can’t help but feel though the classic MMORPG model has sailed into the sunset. Maybe a new LOTR game could succeed using an open world RPG model using the superb The Witcher III REDengine and the CD Projekt RED development team (hint hint).

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Stropp

    There is also the possibility of a sequel or reboot of Asheron’s Call.

    If Turbine are looking for a game that will revitalise their revenue, I’d suggest that revisiting the world of Asheron’s Call would do that.

    I think Turbine could even reboot AC1, making the new game set in the same timeline, but with modern graphics and mechanics, but keeping the gameplay the same as the original by not using the themepark/WoW model.

    AC has the existing fan-base that would jump at the chance to play a new game in the series. If Turbine announced a new AC tomorrow, I’d be very excited. I reckon I’d even do the prepay/lifetime sub thing, which is something I haven’t done for a long time. LotRO was the last lifetime sub I bought.

    I suspect the odds of this happening are low however…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Zaphod6502 – Yeah, the prospects for an open world Middle-earth MMO seem very small me as well. But maybe something like you suggest will come along.

    @Stropp – I always have problems evaluating Asheron’s Call, as I never played it or even paid much attention to it. In my mind it is always just the third place MMO of the late 90s.

    Subscription-wise, it maxed out at less than half of Ultima Online and less than a quarter of EverQuest at their peaks, and it suffered a heavy drop in subs more than a year before EQ peaked and has barely gotten a mention beyond nostalgia articles since.

    So I do not doubt there is an audience for the IP, but the way things went with Asheron’s Call 2, both with the initial launch and then the more recent revival makes me question how much draw it might really have.

    On the bright side, it is their own IP, so they can do what they want with it. I’d just feel more confident if their latest MMO wasn’t 8 years old and showing its age.

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  11. DDOCentral

    The result of the Infinite Crisis debacle is that Turbine will focus on its remaining properties, creating a DDO 2.0 and LOTRO 2.0 within the next five years. Upgrading DDO and LOTRO to a new game engine would likely be less costly than developing two entirely new games and both games already have existing fan bases.

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  12. MMOGamer

    Good read. I honestly think this could spell the end for Turbine. Both their existing titles are towards the end of their life cycles and their latest attempt at a game was a major flop. They haven’t announced a single major new title either, which leads m to believe they’re either working on something secretly, or they’re close to folding. I can’t imagine LOTRO/DDO are still bringing in much money. DDO has to contend with Neverwinter, a newer DnD MMORPG, while LOTRO has to keep the entire company afloat. LOTRO fans are dedicated, but I doubt they can support the entire enterprise. Turbine has 200+ employees according to their Linkedin….. I don’t see a bright future for them.

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