CCP was on the cusp of becoming a respectable multi-MMO studio, but then it jettisoned World of Darkness and pledged undying loyalty to the EVE universe.
Syp had a post a while back about MMO industry leadership that had a strongly implied and, to my mind, not well supported assumption about what such leadership amounts to. Subscribers/customers wasn’t a factor. Not to pick on Syp, but he does tend to see the negative in all things Blizzard, so he would have to either throw that out or say something nice about Blizz. The latter may have stuck in his throat, thus leadership has nothing to do with audience size or the influence that goes with it.
Nor does it have anything to do with who is following whom, a simple definition of leadership. That way lies madness… or Blizzard again. Lots of people have been following Blizzard, adopting features haphazardly over time like EverQuest II, setting themselves up as alternatives with “WoW Plus” games like Rift at launch, or just copying chunks the game wholesale like Alganon.
Whether or not World of Warcraft being viewed as a leader… it is by outsiders if nobody else, and they seem to have all the money… has been good for MMOs over the last decade is an open sore of a topic. Are the stifling aspects of Blizzard’s behemoth on the industry (go into any MMO beta and count the number of times somebody is essentially complaining in general chat that the game in question isn’t WoW) worth the players that WoW brought into the genre and who went on to play other titles? So goes the debate.
No, the only aspects that seemed to count on his list was having multiple MMO titles in play and who was making new MMOs.
But are more MMOs better for a company or not? And do more MMOs really mean leadership?
Perfect World Entertainment, which includes the perennially troubled Cryptic Studios and the “disappeared off the map for two years and not making a Torchlight MMO” Runic Games, has many MMO titles available. However, aside from the output of Cryptic, their titles tend to be Asian imports that do not play well in the west. And even the Cryptic titles are not all that strong. Neverwinter has a following and some features of note, but I rarely hear much good about the rushed to market due to contractual requirements Star Trek Online and almost never hear anything at all about their “let’s remake City of Heroes” title, Champions Online. Maybe PWE isn’t a good example, especially when they are pointing at their US operations as hurting their bottom line.
How about NCsoft? Again, they have a range of MMO titles from their home studio in South Korea along with titles from ArenaNet and Carbine Studios. Certainly GuildWars 2 is a strong candidate, though the financials indicate that the execs in Seoul will be forcing ANet to ship an expansion box to boost revenues. And all focus at ANet is on GW2, with GuildWars left to run out its days unsupported. WildStar though… I haven’t heard any good news there. And when it comes down to it, NCsoft gets most of its revenue from South Korea, and largely from its 1998 title Lineage. Meanwhile, it has closed a lot of MMOs, which could be bad news for Carbine if they don’t get their act together. Is this the multi-MMO company model we want others to follow?
And then there is Funcom, which has shambled from disappointment to disappointment. They launched LEGO Minifigures Online a little while back which, true to Funcom’s history, has failed to meet expectations.
Okay, maybe we should ignore all those foreigners and look at a US-centric company like Sony Online Entertainment.
I love SOE, but at times they seem to be the MMO studio embodiment of Murphy’s Law. If they can do the wrong thing, they will, and in front of a live studio audience. Granted, they do tend to fix things in the end and do the right thing, but sometimes getting there is painful to watch. However, they are the US champion for a multi-MMO company, at least in terms of number of titles. But has this made them better or just spread them too thin?
They have two flavors of EverQuest and a third on the way at some distant future date. There is Landmark… Minecraft for people who don’t like pixels, and the engine on which the next EverQuest will someday ride… in progress. They have PlanetSide, PlanetSide 2, and H1Z1 (Zombie PlanetSide) in development. And then there is the Asian import flavor of the month, previously Wizardry Online and currently Dragon’s Prophet.
That list of titles feels like too much stuff, and all the more so when you consider that SOE also cranks out an expansion for both EverQuest titles every year. While those expansions mean revenue, SOE could be operating with as few as 50K subscribed players on EverQuest II and probably less still for EverQuest. That is a big investment in the past while we wait for EverQuest Next.
Then there is Trion, which does a respectable job with Rift, which remains their best received title. But Defiance has been problematic. ArcheAge, which had the potential to be a big hit, has been mishandled. And then there is Trove, which seems to Minecraft for people who want bigger pixels and brighter colors. Multiple MMOs hasn’t been a stellar success for Trion.
And, finally, on the US front there is Turbine which, inexplicably in hindsight given the size of the company, has the rights for Dungeons & Dragons AND Lord of the Rings and which has manage to turn both huge franchises into awkward niche titles. Other than that they have Asheron’s Call, the distant third of the “big three” break-out MMOs from the end of the 90s, and Asheron’s Call 2, revived from the dead because… I still don’t know why. I think it speaks volumes about Turbine’s outlook in that they are betting on a MOBA to save their flagging fortunes.
Stack those up against companies with just a single MMO.
Blizzard. Do I need to say more about the very, very rich company in Anaheim? One MMO has been very good to them.
CCP. They seem to get into trouble only when they wander away from EVE Online. When they focus on their main product, which in the past meant stealing resources from World of Darkness, things tend to go well for them.
EA. Okay, EA has three MMOs, but they bought two of them and have farmed them out for another company to run, leaving them with just the BioWare MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic. It was never a WoW-killer, and it has its problems (roll stock footage about subscriber retention and selling hotbars), but it makes money. Not as much as EA would like, but that may be as much because Disney gets a cut as anything. That is the rub with a licensed IP, they come with more overhead.
Zenimax. The Elder Scroll Online might be the weak point in the single MMO theory. I don’t know how the game is doing, other than things are still being fixed and that the console versions of the title, a big part of the plan, have been pushed out into 2015.
And then there are the MMO-ish niche titles of the future, Star Citizen, Shroud of the Avatar and Camelot Unchained. Those are being made by small companies that can only afford to invest in a single game. And while those titles are playing the nostalgia card for all it is worth, they are also potentially mapping out new paths in the MMO world as smaller titles are able to do.
All of which is just so much talk, punctuated with some admittedly unfair characterizations both of various companies and of Syp. I am not saying that companies should run one or multiple MMOs. Clearly some companies do well, or well enough, running multiple games, while others seem best suited to focusing on a single title. But I wouldn’t categorize any company as not being a real MMO player just because they only have one such title.
What do you think?