Friday, February 22, 2008

Are MMO developers starting to overly specialize?

Yesterday the story about Cryptic Studios and its new game Champions Online gave me pause. While I like the fact that they are trying to make a better game than City of Heroes, I can’t help but get the feeling of butterflies in my stomach. The problem is that the one thing I’ve learned from watching the MMO market since 1999 is that sequels never do as well as their original. Games like Everquest 2, Lineage 2 and especially Asheron’s Call 2 have never gained as many subscribers as their predecessors and in some cases have had to be shut down.

It’s funny that Cryptic Studios would want to pigeon-hole itself into a super hero shop since they obviously have great talent. Now rumors have almost confirmed that they are working on the Star Trek MMO which they probably acquired from Perpetual. Still even if that is true they are going to need their first independent release to be a blockbuster. City of Heroes/Villains never really got above the 200,000 mark and that makes me doubt Champions Online can either. Now some may point to it being playable on the Xbox 360 as boosting its numbers but I don’t know how console owners will react to subscription fees. Whatever their numbers end up being, the point is that a studio obviously feels comfortable in the super hero genre.

Honestly, they aren’t the only studio who has a comfort zone. Just look at every major MMO studio and publisher and you’ll see that most have defined a niche where they do their best work. If they get involved in a game outside their area of expertise it tends not to do so well. SOE has had tons of bad experience with titles like the Matrix, Planetside, and Starwars Galaxies despite being the market leader for quite some time. NCSoft also has similar problems with a lot of recent non-fantasy titles falling flat on their face. Tabula Rasa is a personal favorite of mine but it’s recently release revenue numbers are atrocious.

EA Mythic – Fantasy PvP
Ultima Online Dark Age of Camelot, Warhammer

SOE – Fantasy PvE
Everquest, Everquest 2, Vanguard

NCSoft – Fantasy PvP
Guild Wars, Lineage, Lineage 2

What’s unusual about Cryptic is that they’ll be the first studio to define a non fantasy niche for themselves in the MMO market. CCP is the other studio which has had a successful non-fantasy game but has shown no signs of developing anything other than EVE Online. So even if Champions is only a moderate success Cryptic will become the premier developer of non fantasy MMOGs. However, I can’t help but think it would have made more sense for them to try their hand in other genres. I guess at the moment the fantasy genre looks taken with Age of Conan, Warhammer and WoW stuck in a death match this year. I just hope in the future that I see more then super heroes from Cryptic Studios.


Scott said...

Actually CCP is developing the World of Darkness MMORPG in addition to continuing their work with EVE.

I'm surprised Crypic is pigeon-holing themselves as "the super hero game company" but, whatever. Maybe they'll take an approach with some depth to Champions because there was none whatsoever to CoX, and *that* was likely a big reason it stalled at the 200k mark.

Granted, 200k is actually pretty damn successful if we remove WoW from the picture...

Relmstein said...

Oh yeah back in the day 200k meant your were a leader in the industry.

I'll have to check the World of Darkness MMO out, I actually hadn't heard anything about it.

CrazyKinux said...

Indeed, when CCP merged (acquired is more accurate) White Wolf, their intention was to leverage its vast experience in creating lore. Additionally, it acquired a great license on which it will base its next MMO.

EVE's Ambulation is a project that will benefit both EVE and be the basis for the WoD MMO.