Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

26 May, 2012

I can see a darkness. There are shapes moving in it, but what they are I cannot tell.
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 5:01 PM

It’s been hard for me to remember a more dispiriting week than the previous one. It’s been hard to muster a positive attitude as the hits keep coming.

Let’s take a look at why we may be seeing the end of MMOs as we know them.

High profile problems

Lum summarizes the news here. People have quibbled over the details he reported, but I think the sentiment is right. Just like two games launching at the same time, two big announcements have lead to problems.

Let’s take a quick look at each case. I don’t mean to just criticize, but rather look at what useful information a developer can get out of these tragedies. I do hope that all affected land on their feet quickly. We’ll see what effect having so many people with MMO experience has on the market.

Star Wars: the Old Republic

First thing to keep in mind: this is EA. They might still be using the Bioware name, but at the very least we should call it EA/Bioware even if they aren’t to that point yet. (Watch, though, I’d bet they do sooner rather than later.)

The large number of layoffs from EA/Bioware have been downplayed by EA. But, you don’t lay off a significant portion of your team if things are going well. Even if this were just the production team they would have split off from the live team, this means that EA/Bioware doesn’t have other MMO projects in the pipeline. At least not far enough along to need more people. This gives us a hint how much confidence they have in MMOs. Remember, EA is the company that has shut down more MMOs than any other western company. (I also don’t buy that EA, the company where “the leaves are turning on the trees in the fall, time for layoffs” is a known phrase inadvertently left that much extra the project for so long without a plan.)

This is on the tail of news that the subscribers have dropped from 1.7 million to 1.4 million. Of course, EA tried to downplay that news as well. Raph Koster has pointed out that big MMOs follow fairly predictable growth curves. The fact there’s been a drop so far so fast means that curve has gotten shorter, or the curve has changed dramatically. Neither is a positive sign for traditional MMOs.

I think it also shows that you can’t just throw more money at the MMO issue. I didn’t play SW:tOR, mostly because the 4 character party size limit meant someone in my closest circle of MMO friends was going to be the third (fifth?) wheel. But, the often insightful Richard Bartle describes the problem as the single-player type storytelling not being a good fit for a multiplayer and too much reliance on previous styles of gameplay. He was especially perplexed by the focus on raiding as an end game as it struck a dissonant chord compared to the story-driven leveling game. It also seems that the promise of full voiceovers has limited how much new content they can add to the game.

38 Studios

Wow. What can be said that hasn’t already been covered in mainstream news? At a time when state budgets are hurting, a high profile studio like this that had a state-guaranteed loan has thrust the problems with traditional MMO development into the spotlight.

I don’t know any details about the situation other than what I’ve read. It sounds like the big problem was that taking the loan required that the company add more staff to the project at a pace independent of how many people they needed. It also sounds like they had needed the single-player Kingdoms of Amalur game to do much better than it did, to sell more than double than the rather impressive reported 1.4 million it did. Not sure what the failure was here, but it all added up to the company going out of business.

I had also thought the acquisition of Big Huge Games was an odd choice. Usually it take some serious business savvy to acquire a company that is slated to be shut down and turn it around. Given the differences between single-player games and MMOs, there didn’t seem to be much in common between the companies. I guess the plan was to release the single-player game using the MMO’s IP, but with hindsight as a guide it seems that was not a good move for the security of the company.

The really unfortunate part is that the reports say the upper management kept the employees completely in the dark. Many employees were apparently taken completely by surprise when they were laid off. Worse, if rumors are true, the company did some unscrupulous things such as not sell houses that employee relocated out of, leaving some newly unemployed people with a second mortgage, and canceling health insurance without warning, leaving some employees without access to COBRA and potentially unable to get insurance due to a gap in coverage.

Blowback

While the loss of jobs and the end of a big company is terrible, the second-order effects might be worse yet. The big business problem is that MMOs have been seen as risky and expensive. Having one of the biggest recent games go through a major layoff and having an MMO company implode in such a public matter doesn’t help this perception at all. Investors have been skittish about investing in MMOs, and these events have hammered that skepticism home for many of them.

As for the audience, some seem to be taking this just fine. One person on Google+ said “If the MMO genre were to die and disappear today, I think I’d be pretty happy.” No chance for redemption, just a shrug and then pining for game from the nostalgic past.

Keen sees MMO problems as a possibly good thing, but I think that’s essentially naive optimism. He’s hoping that this is the opportunity for some large company to come along and save the day. He said the same thing about APB a few years ago, but things have been getting darker and darker since then. High profile failures mean that publishers, who are by nature risk-adverse, are going to shun MMO development as being too expensive and too risky. His optimism about older titles being developed for less money ignores the fact that when these games were being made, those MMOs were still the most expensive games being made. MMO budgets have increased as single-player game budgets have increased. The audience has different expectations now than they did 10 or so years ago. WoW, a game that cost $30-60 million depending on the source, will celebrate it’s 8th birthday this year, and people are already calling its graphical style outdated. As much as I might wish we could roll back the clock 15 years and enjoy the development budgets back then, it’s not realistic to expect that to be a recipe for success.

Further, you still need money and expertise to make an MMO. As much as I love the idea of indies revolutionizing games, indie MMOs have not exactly been rampant successes. (It’s interesting to note that Dave went from developing online mulitplayer games to focusing on single-player games.) Even a modest game requires a team of people, a minimum amount of time, and ongoing support after launch. It’s a lot to ask for a team to do this part-time. And, there’s no solution in sight. Middleware has not proven to be a panacea, able to tame the cost or effort it takes to make a game. Most middleware providers have to sell to a limited audience, which means they need to make a lot of money per sale to make enough money to stay in business.

My own personal failing

I’d like to say that I have a solution, that I know the way to solve the MMO problem. Sadly, the solution I’ve been working on has obviously not stuck a chord with people. We had hoped that the vision of allowing people to tell their own stories in an MMO would stir the imagination. Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Yeah, there were obviously some flaws in how we presented the concept. It’s clear now we should have focused more on presenting a game rather than the Storybricks editor. But, I have to wonder how much of our dismal performance was just people not being very excited about MMO innovation in the first place.

The cold, hard reality is that Storybricks is running short on capital. Skittish investors have bolted away with the recent news. I had hoped we could turn around and propose an MMO that uses our revolutionary AI system, but it’s likely we won’t even be making an MMO if we manage to stay in business unless there’s a groundswell of support from the fans.

What now?

Maybe an upcoming MMO will reinvigorate things and prove to have real staying power. The great big hopes seem to be Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World. Maybe these will find an enthusiastic audience and remind people of what MMOs can be. Or maybe 5 months after launch we’ll hear about ArenaNet or FunCom laying off the majority of their staffs as players have come and gone.

Honestly? I don’t know what to do now. Part of me wants to shake my fists to the heavens and do the impossible. Part of me wants to curl up someplace quiet and whimper. The logical part of me knows trying to do anything is a fool’s errand without a terrific team, resources, and support from gamers. Sadly, those last two seem not to be quite so common as I would like.

What do you think? Is it time for MMOs to go gentle into that good night? Or is there still something worth fighting for?


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26 Comments »

  1. Adventure games went away, and then came back. CRPGs went away, and then came back. Really, neither was as big budget as MMOs, but like you mentioned, there may some day be that nostalgia factor that causes people to pick up where things left off. If the genre needs a “cooling off” period, then I’d rather it take one and let people forget about it for a while. Maybe when the focus returns to it hindsight will allow people to be honest about the “failings of modern MMO”, whatever the future selves find them to truly be.

    We’re kind of in the middle of the morass right now. It’s hard to see the problems while we’re standing in them, which I think is a universal truism for many bad situations. For all the “blatantly obvious” problems that bloggers bring up over and over, that they are constantly receiving ammo that ALLOWS them to bring them up over and over means that the industry doesn’t seem to want or to be able to change. Maybe it’s the foolishness of still trying to chase WoW’s cemented legacy, or maybe it’s entirely financial when investors are so skittish because of this vicious cycle of sameness leading to consumer fatigue leading to apathy leading to an unwillingness to fund in the genre which leads to fewer risks and more sameness. It’s like it’s an elephant in the room that everyone acknowledges, but no one wants to make a move to evict because it would mean they’d have to get off the couch. XD

    MMOs are still and probably will be my favorite genre, and I don’t want them to vanish from the face of the earth. I’ll go back to WoW if I have to — I’d rather not, because I’d miss the “new MMO smell” whether it’s derivative or not. If developers can’t convince investors (businesses or consumers) to forge ahead instead of continuing to spin in place, then I’d be OK with the genre taking a cryogenic nap for a while until we can develop a cure for what ails it.

    Comment by Scopique — 1 June, 2012 @ 3:12 PM

  2. I refer you to my recent post http://bhagpuss.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/were-doomed.html

    GW2 will be a solid commercial success. The Secret World will be also, albeit on a smaller scale.

    My personal favorite upcoming MMO, City of Steam, is a delightful tale of a handful of people with a dream making that dream come true.

    I’m confident the Wizard 101 folks will make a big success of World of Pirates.

    ArcheAge has stepchange potential.

    Otherlands and WildStar look slick and commercial.

    EQNext and Titan lurk.

    This is without even considering the vast maelstrom of F2P non-western/non-English Language MMOs.

    Focusing on a few high-profile American train wrecks is self-indulgent and myopic. The genre is here to stay and the future for it has never looked brighter from a consumer’s point of view.

    And I really hope Storybricks succeeds. We could really use an MMO toolset.

    Comment by bhagpuss — 1 June, 2012 @ 3:16 PM

  3. AAA games may be the ones on life support, not MMOs.

    The HD era is driving development costs through the roof without corresponding revenues.

    Developers need to focus on getting games live early and building to budget.

    The true MMO seems to be pretty much a myth anyways. Only Eve has a real, player driven world with large scale interactions and consequences and it is dependent on minimal graphics, basically.

    WoW and Star Wars are theme parks, yes, they are massive, but your interactions are small and the world changes as much as Disneyland – only when the rides need to be refreshed.

    The DOTAs (League of Legends, etc.), Team Fortress, etc. show that it is possible to build a focused online game and expand it as makes sense.

    The biggest problem may be the RPG part of the MMO – levels segregate players and gate content.

    Budget failures and lack of risk and schedule management have been driving the conventional computer game industry into trouble as much as anything else.

    Comment by Steven Davis — 1 June, 2012 @ 3:28 PM

  4. It would be nice if GW2 or TSW brought something new and interesting to the table. We shall see. However the 3D MMORPG is in a flat spot when it comes to new ideas. There are a lot of options, but not that much variation.

    It is like 3D video cards today. There used to be a time when there was differentiation, when you favored on chipset or another because they did certain things right, and there were generations where we saw big performance gaps between the big players. I used to watch the 3D chip market avidly. Video card choice mattered in a big way!

    Now video cards are a bore to me. I’ve not only watched them for a long time, but nothing really exciting is coming out. AMD and nVidia all support the same things, perform about the same and while they each have special technologies, none of those really mean anything. It comes down to whose building I want to throw rocks at if my card dies.

    And going to customers to find out what to do never yields innovation. Chrysler creating the minivan was innovation. Chrysler putting more cupholders in their minivans was what customer research added. Games like Meridian 59 (obvious sucking up) were minivan moves. Story as the 4th pillar was putting in more cupholders.

    So we’re waiting for a visionary, somebody who can defeat the funding constraints and the preconceptions and who actually has something new to bring to the table.

    On the Storybricks front, I feel your pain. Regardless of the pitch, it comes across as a development tool, and after 15 years of making development tools, I can tell you it is a suck-o business to be in. Inevitably our tool teams end up having to use the tool to make end product in order to pay the bills.

    Anyway, I threw in for Storybricks. I still hope to see it make things better some day.

    Comment by Wilhelm Arcturus — 1 June, 2012 @ 3:50 PM

  5. Players don’t care about MMOs. We just want to play a fun game, play together if the mood strikes and share what they’re up to. It’s kind of like buying airline tickets: doing it online used to be a big deal; now, it’s just buying tickets. Taking digital pictures used to be a big deal; now, it’s just the task that it always was. We hit a technical point where hardware and networking allowed MMOs to exist. There was some novelty but the MMO-ness of the game wasn’t ever the thing; the thing has always been enjoyment. Big, persistent, multiplayer worlds won’t disappear forever. RPG themes won’t go away. But a game is going to need more than just that to attract players. The distinction between MMO and single-player will blur to the point of being meaningless. There’s no future in it.

    Investors will do what they have always done: run after great pitches that have the potential to make a ton of money and run away from risky ventures that have a cloud over them. Business cycles aren’t new. All trends fade. VCs are, on the whole, naturally optimistic creatures and there’s always money to be made on entertainment.

    Comment by Archemedes — 1 June, 2012 @ 4:42 PM

  6. I wrote on KillTenRats that the siren song of “playing together” is just too strong to kill the MMO genre. There are so many ways to play together with video games, but MMOs are the pinnacle IMHO. MMOs are games about community, and I think people will always strive for that whether they make something on the level of A Tale in the Desert up to Wizard 101 up to EVE Online and upwards.

    I hope that TSW is a nice profitable sleeper MMO, and my hopes for GW2 are pretty well known. :)

    Comment by Ravious — 1 June, 2012 @ 8:52 PM

  7. What started out as a simple comment grew into a full blog post, read it at http://onemanmmo.com/?bummed

    Comment by Robert Basler — 1 June, 2012 @ 10:23 PM

  8. Let me begin with Storybricks.
    I am sad about the result as well. Those who supported the game did so in the very first week and then nobody was interested enough and the numbers didn’t increase in the later weeks. We talked on Google+ about people voting with their wallet and the extreme scepticism towards new companies and here we see the result. People gave Storybricks a cursory glance and either didn’t see the chances the system offers for MMOs (and many of these people were not Joe Average but in positions that require some brains) or didn’t believe enough in success to become a backer.

    People also love to transfer scepticism of the entire genre to smaller companies for bad reasons. When 38 Studios run by a baseball player fails as a business for business and not game related reasons… and EA/Bioware created SWTOR by believing in money and the false pretenses that Richard Bartle and you already pointed out fail… this doesn’t mean the end of the genre MMO. Unfortunately it makes raising funds more difficult for sure.

    But this also shows that people don’t know what they want. This should give you some hope for Storybricks, even if it brings you ZERO money! I remember how stoked, hyped etc. people were for SWTOR. Pointing out that copying the common MMO scheme with the usual raiding endgame and putting a Bioware single player RPG on top of it isn’t going to run and for sure nothing I would want to play made me a stupid person and a hater. Now it turns out people are no longer that “stoked” by SWTOR anymore. I am nevertheless surprised how many players quit, the discrepancy between the story driven soloplay and the MMO raid endgame might be to blame. Still, the game has 1,4 million players after all. That’s massive. WoW’s numbers were the goal, but I don’t think you can “plan” or “guarantee” such a spectacular success, not even the Masterminds of Blizzard could foresee that.

    (I think this is also a stinker, that raids are supposedly always the “endgame” while not thinking of other endgame possibilities and the idea of something called an “endgame” itself)

    I see a lot of potential for game designer frustration there. All of my local buddies including the non-gamers now own a copy of Diablo 3, but can’t play and all that. Server issues. One of my friends wanted to play it in hospital, but the ports were blocked and his surf-stick wasn’t able to get a viable internet connection either. Well…

    But hey, Blizzard still gets away with all the nasty DRM and other things introduced in D3 and got 60 EUR for that! Way more cash than usual for a game, for the standard edition already. Torchlight 2? I am afraid it will suffer, outside of gamer circles it’s really unknown! I did not even try to convince him to back Storybricks anymore after I showed him the page and saw the blank stare. :(

    I even had a hard enough time to convince one of my best buddies to prepurchase Guild Wars 2 and play it with me next beta weekend. Funnily he managed to finally have a long delayed surgery right at this time, just like he broke his arms (!) when we wanted to play WoW together after launch. I dunno if this is somehow a good sign for Guild Wars 2. ;)

    People already gave advice how to promote Storybricks better, I hope it helps! I wish you the best luck and hope that finally the needed cash comes in. I suggest a (sex-obsessed) Cavemen riding dinosaurs story. Sounds too stupid for an intelligent approach to MMO storytelling? Maybe it requires crazy things to show people what’s possible with Storybricks. At least if the team bothers to try crowdfunding again, you would have to show the “crowd” something. For some reason crowdfunding seems to favor freak projects and nothing else, see Iron Sky. But Storybricks isn’t a “freak” project/idea.

    TL;DR no matter how much we lament things, a good idea remains a good idea and I sincerely hope Storybricks finally gets some financial support. A good idea remains a good idea and this idea has potential.

    Comment by Longasc — 2 June, 2012 @ 5:12 AM

  9. I think MMO’s aren’t going anywhere, but the Traditional MMO is done. Smaller, focused, niche-serving MMO’s (See: Eve) have lots of room, but the Diku Themepark is done. It’s just played out.

    Storybricks… it’s difficult. You’re trying to market storytelling to gamers, but the *vast* majority don’t want that responsibility. Players love to tell their own stories, but in a first person manner, by “living” it, not building it (see: Skyrim). Along these lines, I’ve been very interested in Storybricks, but even if I could afford to help back it I’d be very hestitant to do so because while I think it’s an awesome project I don’t see where you can make money off it.

    Comment by Derrick — 2 June, 2012 @ 6:59 AM

  10. The Shortening MMO Retention Curve

    [...] Psychochild writes: “Raph Koster has pointed out that big MMOs follow fairly predictable growth curves. The fact there’s been a drop so far so fast means that curve has gotten shorter, or the curve has changed dramatically. Neither is a positive sign for traditional MMOs.” [...]

    Pingback by Player Versus Developer — 2 June, 2012 @ 8:06 AM

  11. hmm lot of stuff in there. Let me throw in my cents.

    SWtOR

    I never quite understood what they were after with this game. I’ve read that thing that SWtOR was KotOR 3,4,5 (6,7,8… ?). Yet as much as I would have been sold on the story part I really have no interest in doing so in an MMO context. And it seems further development is aimed at more raid/group content? They lost me there. It’s like a bad mix of “let’s try to get solo and group players to play this game” but in a way that ends up disappointing both sides. As much as I’d like to go solo and play through the stories I can’t wrap my ahead around that subscription thing… And I really don’t care about playing with other players so…

    From online multiplayer to offline single-player games

    It’s surprising how many people try to keep me going on these online multiplayer games. Fact is that even if some will tell me that I still achieved much I still haven’t made any money out of it (and yes one day I’d like to make a tiny profits on my games, bad me). While I could keep working on online multiplayer games and hope for the best the problem is when these don’t have great success you’re still stuck with something you “must” update, maintain and pay for. It never disappears unless you decide to pull the plug and then you don’t have anything to show others when you tell them that “you make games”. Out of 4 online games only 2 are still online. When I tell people I worked on 2 more I really don’t have much to show them about because I just pulled the plug.

    Nothing can guarantee me of any success by working on offline single-player games but at least if these games fail, once they are released it’s a lot less maintenance and I can more easily move on to the next project. Got some taste of this while working on smaller Flash games and I like this kind of freedom.

    Storybricks

    It began before but now that the Kickstarter campaign is officially over I’m sure each and everyone will have their own explanation on “why it didn’t work”. It irritates me to the highest level. Not that there’s no possibility to evaluate what went wrong and try to do better next time but simply that it’s so easy to come up with wild theories to explain failures yet these same people really can’t quite put their finger on valid explanation for success… For a lot of people it’s more “fun” to rub in your face what went wrong than actually trying to help when it’s time.

    I wish I could have done more to help you reach your goal. Turns out my tiny circle of “followers” is barely there. They manifest themselves mostly when I tell them how difficult this whole indie thing is and then they greatly enjoy telling that I’m just doing it wrong and that I’m just some sorry whiner. For that I can count on them. To create something positive not so much though…

    Anyway I still hope that there’s some surprises left that might come to the help of Storybricks. For those of us that see the potential it’s frustrating (surely not as it can be frustrating to you but still) to see how few ripples this incredible project made. I still believe there’s a place for it and I wouldn’t blame the nature of the project itself (or the lack of game). Just that weird thing called “having people talk about you” which I feel I’m still clueless about to this day.

    MMOs?

    I don’t know. I’m sometimes tempted to believe that if MMOs would “stop” being what we came to know that there’s still hope but then … Do people really want something “else” or do they want more of the same with a new “skin”? And if some people want something new … how many are they? Enough to keep such project alive? Now that I think about it I can’t remember what was the last MMO I played/tried. Maybe that’s the answer.

    Comment by Dave Toulouse — 2 June, 2012 @ 10:31 AM

  12. For many years, MMOs have sustained themselves by easing their gameplay in order to acquire more casual-oriented players. People who used to be derided as “carebears” are now hard-core. All that’s happened is that MMOs are finally reaching the point where their content is so watered-down that they have little to offer players beyond what they can get elsewhere. We’ve known this was going to happen for many years, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s sad, but that’s short-termism for you.

    I don’t see it as being the end of MMOs, though. Rather, I see it as the start of a realignment. MMOs don’t have to be AAA to succeed. It helps, but AAA is so expensive that the MMO pretty well has to dumb down in order to attract enough players to cover development costs. If they didn’t have such vast development costs, they wouldn’t have to attract quite a broad range of players. They could specialise. They’d look less good, of course, but they’d be pulling in players on the strength of their setting and gameplay, not on their gee-whiz-for-3-years-then-meh graphics. They can be cheap-and-cheerful yet remain exceptional in the eyes of their players. They don’t have to follow the old DikuMUD paradigm, they can spread their wings.

    I’m not advocating a return to the old days of painful grind and people stealing your boots after they gank you. There’s room for MMOs like that, sure, but the main problem isn’t how painful they are to play, it’s how true to themselves they are. MMOs with a variety of settings and gameplay will attract smaller audiences individually, but collectively they could attract more.

    As for Storybricks, you got many more backers than I was expecting but they didn’t throw as much money into the pot as I was hoping. People like the idea; unfortunately, you have yet to find a rich person who likes the idea…

    Richard

    Comment by Richard Bartle — 3 June, 2012 @ 6:25 AM

  13. I was so sad to see the project not reach its goal. I shall back you up again if you decide to undertake it later, once you recover from this blow – because you will! Your idea is absolutely brilliant and should not be discarded so easily. As you said yourself, what you need is to get more attention from the players.

    About what a commenter said on people not wanting to create their own stories – well, it is true to some extent. As a roleplayer, I have experienced that non-rper people tend to dismiss it out of ignorance, but actually enjoy it once you push them into trying. I believe that something similar happens with Storybricks. As an idea, for most players is just alien enough not to spur anything in them. It’s off the grid, off their concept of gaming. They cannot conceive it. It takes the role of a helper (Campbell’s mythical helper?) to open their eyes to the vast possibilities of life. People in general don’t wander off their comfort zone, as danger lurks outside, in the wilderness. Take their hand and show them how beautiful and exciting that wilderness is. Promote your game trying to reach those who are uncomfortable with the concept. Think of it as trying to convince your best friend to do something they would never think of doing (trek to the mountains, disco, reading that book), and how you would sell that idea to her so that she would give it a try.

    Best of luck, Brian. I can’t wait to create my own stories in your game :)

    Comment by Milady — 3 June, 2012 @ 6:57 AM

  14. [WoW] Recycling old content

    [...] gamers turn to? Perhaps GW2, although I remain sceptic. On the other hand, we've got projects like Psychochild's, who could have been a great contribution to the genre, but that haven't gotten as much attention [...]

    Pingback by Hypercriticism — 3 June, 2012 @ 7:31 AM

  15. MMOpocalypse

    [...] of bad news has been jumped on by skeptics as final proof that the end is nigh. Even firm believers fear for the [...]

    Pingback by Diminishing Returns — 3 June, 2012 @ 8:44 PM

  16. It may be the end of the age of Empire MMOs, but Empire MMOs aren’t the only types of ‘MMOS as we know it’. I realize that sort of statement is rooted in your crap week, but your Storybricks is eminently suited to take its place during the fall of Empire MMOs.

    Storybrick’s lack of Kickstarter support was probably because the proliferation stage is only just starting as well a lack of the awareness you needed in your target demographic. (I know, I know, the comments above say everyone has their opinions on ‘why?!’) I guess I just don’t see how Storybricks is at all related to SwTor and 38 Studios issues. It’s all very terrible for Empire MMOS, but they’re both from a different weight class and with different goals. Storybricks is not an MMO like WoW or SWTOR. It’s an MMO like Muds, Mushes, and Moos are MMOs. Very flexible, very player-driven, with the ability to be dynamic and adapt to the players within. Nothing has replaced the MUSH framework in well over 10 years and I was desperately hopeful that Storybricks would provide me with the same outlet in a simple, graphical format.

    Those same text-based MMOs from a million years ago are still around, robust player-bases and everything. Hell, they’re still being developed. Mushcode runs on current operating systems and is updated regularly. I know, because I have been playing with it. Storybricks fills a niche that didn’t have the technology to be filled between the 1990s and now.

    It frustrates me that nobody else seems to see it.

    Comment by Rachel — 5 June, 2012 @ 10:50 AM

  17. Thanks for all the great comments and support for Kickstarter. Let me address some general issues rather than making individual replies as I usually like to do.

    The big problem is that although Storybricks is quite different than the MMOs that have been in the news, we get tarred with the same brush. We have directly seen that investors that were on the fence about putting in the money cut off communication with us after the news. Doesn’t matter if we’re doing something different, because investors are busy and they don’t take a whole lot of time to figure out if you are a unique snowflake or not.

    So, that’s the big question here: if we’re going to have innovative MMOs, where does the money come from?

    Not from venture investors. They’re hesitant about investing in games, and MMOs are toxic right now without a huge success.

    Not from publishers. They’re risk-adverse and conservative. They also won’t invest enough in an external company.

    Not from Kickstarter. People don’t/won’t “get” a truly innovative product and won’t have the patience to see one done piecemeal like we were trying to do, unless you have a HUGE name behind you.

    Not from direct support. People want to pay for a game, not pay for a “maybe”. I’m also hesitant to take money for something I don’t know if I can deliver on.

    Not from myself. I’ve been indie too long. I don’t have retirement savings to pull from. I’d like to not live like a college student by the time I’m 40 next year.

    So, where does the money come from for MMO innovation? Where do we get the resources to see someone disrupt the current market? That’s the linchpin for everything else.

    My thoughts,

    Comment by Psychochild — 7 June, 2012 @ 9:53 AM

  18. “My thoughts,”

    Crap, somebody killed him before he could share the secret of Lincoln’s gold… or some such.

    Hrmm… This could be the kick off for National Treasure IV. Anybody have Nick Cage’s number? I bet we could get THAT funded.

    Comment by Wilhelm Arcturus — 7 June, 2012 @ 2:16 PM

  19. Psychochild;

    I freely admit I completely missed this until after it was done. I think the problem is you’re trying to make a brick which is…simply too large. I’ve been a vocal proponent of true visual scripting for years… It *can* work. NWN points to that. What’s lacking is the /framework/. And I have some distinct ideas how to get there, in terms of democratization of development.

    I think I’ll need to email you about this, actually.

    Comment by Andrew Crystall — 7 June, 2012 @ 7:41 PM

  20. “if we’re going to have innovative MMOs, where does the money come from?”

    okay let’s ask the question the other way around. What are the slightest innovative MMOs we’ve seen lately.

    And I don’t mean “oh look at that new skill system with that old everything else” or “oh look at that new setting with the same old rules”.

    Frankly I don’t see anything interesting on the radar that I cannot already predict. Oh sure the new flavor of the month. Based on stability, dev reputation we can see some new titles surviving… Maybe.

    My guess? Well for someone who is closing down yet another MMO I’d say games really cheap to produce that somehow find a niche. By being smarter and having more experience maybe I could have kept Golemizer as people were still playing it. Almost 80 people per day… For what it’s worth.

    Not sure how much money this dev is doing but http://www.urbandead.com/ was online before and after Golemizer which is 5 years now…

    I’m starting to believe that either people have to much money to consume games like 25 cents candies (if the still exist…) or that in the end the F2P model really screw us all. The problem is not to get 100,000 playing your game and have only a small percentage spend money on your game. The problem is to be able to interest 1,000 people that will stay. Well for a very small team that is. And that’s where innovation will come I think. Like I said I don’t see anything different in the months to come…

    Comment by Dave Toulouse — 7 June, 2012 @ 9:21 PM

  21. Sorry if I am late to the party, life has been hectic lately; as someone who was genuinely enthused about the SB concept, I am very sad to see the project running out of funds. I still believe in the potential of storytelling and player created content – but it seems that the very visuals-oriented times we live in are particularly harsh where there’s no eye candy and polish presented early.

    I won’t lie…reading your topic today has taken my already dark mood another three notches down, heh. I’ve just had to deal with an MMO-blow of sorts myself and finding the blogosphere echo my sentiments in so many places is disheartening. I do not really have anything happy to say about this beloved genre at the moment. GW2 is the only light left to me….for now.

    Comment by Syl — 8 June, 2012 @ 10:25 AM

  22. I don’t think there is a problem. I think what happened is this:

    First, we had game companies run by guys who were more gamers than executives make some very good MMOs with a few flops. Then we had Blizzard and its gigantic cash-cow — WoW.

    Second, we had a bunch of MBAs see the money in WoW and they did what all MBAs do: make a bad copy of it. And not to be overly-melodramatic about it, but that’s because that’s what they’re taught to do in college. It’s all about internal rates of return, contribution margins, profits, bottom-line and how big of a bonus we can squeeze out of the shareholders and what they made were crappy, high-special-effects MMOs with second-rate game play we stole and only slightly changed from our competitors.

    I don’t despair however. I’ve played the last two GW2 BWEs. The game, even in beta and with only three races ready, is as good or better than any other MMO I’ve played in the last six years. And I’ve played some very good MMOs in that time.

    I don’t know about The Secret World. We’ll see how that works.

    Comment by MosesZD — 10 June, 2012 @ 4:54 PM

  23. Psychochild,

    While there have been a couple of high profile failures. It’s easy to focus on the negatives, you need to keep eyes on the positives. Your product has gone further than many other ideas have. You’ve seen a defecit and you’re doing something about it.

    I watched a video clip a few weeks ago about Inventing on Principle – Bret Victor. In the video, Bret mentions Larry Tesler (around 36:00 to 40:00). Larry had a cause – “no modes” – he had a vision for a modeless text editor, this one goal. Because of his work, we have the text editor we all know and love today – ps. this is a really worthwhile video to watch – pretty motivating.

    Like Larry and Bret, you have a cause – “NPCs with motivation” and one day, maybe even souls.

    I can see one day in the future, playing the next gen MMO and actually giving a damn about helping the NPC build his Trebuchet.

    Saw a post in the storybrick forums from Mughal about “Storybricks in Education”. This seems like an excellent alternative market. Expand the focus of the search beam. I wonder what other markets out there could benefit from some modified aspect of this technology?

    The MMO/RPG genre needs innovation and this is one of those pieces of the puzzle.
    It would be a shame to see this project disappear.

    Never give up dude!!

    Comment by Pez — 20 June, 2012 @ 6:58 AM

  24. “12.For many years, MMOs have sustained themselves by easing their gameplay in order to acquire more casual-oriented players.”

    I really think that’s (mostly) the exact opposite of what’s happened or rather i agree that’s what has happened but for the opposite reason – they’ve changed to suit the most hardcore.

    There’s a segment of players who are very competitive endgamers either pvp or raiding. They’re ok with levelling the first time when the game is new but after they hit max level once they hate it. So why do they do it again and again? Because they’re so competitive. Every time FOTM gives a class a distinct pvp advantage they’re forced by their own competitiveness to level up one of that class – and they hate every moment of it. Every time a raid needs one or more of a particular class that their guild doesn’t have the competitive hardcore raiders level up new ones – and they hate every moment of it. That’s how power-levelling in EQ started.

    Because they’re very competitive and because they only like one part of the game they competitively engage in forum pvp to get the games changed to suit them i.e. very fast linear levelling to an endgame. And that’s what has happened if you look at the progression since WoW, game after game with one or two starting zones (depending on the rationale for pvp) fast linear levelling, classes that have become less and distinct except in looks and a total focus on endgame content i.e. total focus on game height instead of game width (which can’t be created fast enough anyway).

    The games haven’t been honed for the casual player they’ve been honed for the most hardcore players who are only interested in endgame pvp or raiding (imo).

    However as often gets repeated (without seemingly having any effect) is most players *never* get to max level so what do they spend their time doing? Perhaps games should figure out what 2/3 of their players spend most of their time doing (messing about on alts would be my main guess) and see if honing the games for the most competitive hardcore achiever killed off what that other (larger) segment of players used to spend their time doing? I think it has hence the terrible retention rates. The endgamers get to the end of the line and there’s nothing to do while the early game is so similinear making alts is no fun for the dawdlers. If the game has a lot of width at the early levels (like EQ and WoW) the dawdlers provide a consistent level of average of churn as a foundation that keeps the subs going in between raider expansions.

    The games still need to cater to the hardcore 1/3 but if this analysis is correct that is easy – just let people who have a max level character start new ones at near max level so they get a class tutorial for a few levels but don’t have to start from level one.

    As it happens i think after many years the penny may have finally dropped with GW2 and Archage however it may be too late.

    Comment by bubble — 31 August, 2012 @ 8:09 PM

  25. “So, that’s the big question here: if we’re going to have innovative MMOs, where does the money come from?”

    I don’t have the ability to do it unfortunately but my big idea for an mmorpg was to make a single player game that was designed like an mmorpg (or at least how i’d design an mmorpg) which would be similar to Morrowind / Skyrim / Fallout 3 but without the main quest and with optional story-based starting points (which could be added to with modding). (There would be equivalents to the main quest as epic quests when you reached high level.)

    So you’d have a world – or part of one – with a bunch of settlements and factions and NPCs and starting points and there would be an almost infinite choice of paths through it. Each individual element of your path might be fixed but your path through them would be like choosing individual stepping stones and as certain stones would open or close other options you would need to play the game multiple times following a different path each time to see every individual element – a bit like a 3D version of those old choose your adventure books.

    I do think players like to make their own story – skyrim videos on youtube is the proof of that – but i do wonder how lazy or imaginative the average player might be in which case i think my first draft (if i could do it) would be as described above. The second draft would be trying to make it infinitely extendable i.e. making sure i had the ability to add an unlimited amount of extra stepping stones or connected sequences e.g. one stepping stone the blacksmith in a particular settlement might give out some task and then later he’s given three potential tasks one of which is chosen randomly with each new game. The third draft would be stipulating where the stepping stones were and some basic parameters and then having the game self-generate the details. Then finally make it so the game itself generate stepping stones and sequences from the game data and some global rules.

    Comment by bubble — 31 August, 2012 @ 9:12 PM

  26. I forgot to say when i talk about making a single player game like a mmorpg as well as the overall design i meant i’d try and write the code for the individual sub-systems e.g. inventory, crafting etc in a way that would work for an mmorpg so that if your single player game was a success you could port as much of the code as possible into the mmorpg version.

    Comment by bubble — 31 August, 2012 @ 10:01 PM

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