9 April, 2007
Kelly Heckman (aka Ophelea to many) wrote an interesting post about Stargate World, the upcoming MMO based on the Stargate SG-1 TV show. Kelly is the editor for GamersInfo.net, which is a great site that attempts to reduce the commercial influence on game reviews and journalism. (Full disclosure: I’ve written some reviews for the site to help them along. It’s hard running a site that doesn’t whore out to the large game companies, and I’m happy to help out such a wonderful site.) The new blog section is an attempt to allow the staff more room to editorialize.
Kelly’s article about SGW (not SWG, mind you!) shows the problem with licensing an IP to make a game out of it. It usually boils down to this choice: alienate potential players that aren’t hard-core fans of the show, or piss off the hard-core by not following the IP 100%? Does it always have to be this way? Some of my thoughts below the jump.
Now, Kelly is a self-admitted fan of the TV show. She knows a lot about the setting. Yet, she’s not the typical fangirl; she’s editor of the site and knows an amazing amount about online games. Some people might now her pseudonym, Ophelea, from the old Crossroads of Dereth, an Asheron’s Call info site. So, she’s uniquely qualified to speak to both sides of the issue.
Now,I’m going to pick on the Stargate developers a bit. Nothing personal, guys, just a developer take a look at what has been reported. I could probably do something similar for LotRO, but Amber already discussed some of those issues.
Why use a licensed world? One advantage is the available features of the world; someone else has put in the world to make the world seem real and (hopefully) internally-consistent. But, the main advantage is the built-in fanbase. Now, this works well if you use a game IP. UO and WoW were successful in no small part due to the fans of the single-player games that spawned these games. But, what about an IP from outside the game world? Does that work as well? Yes, you can get the fans, but what about people who aren’t fans of the IP? Sometimes you have to make decisions that go against the setting in order to make a good world, but this could upset the hardcore fans. In general, the Stargate developers made some interesting decisions that will likely affect the popularity and ease of development of the game.
The most interesting thing is that they are not going to use instances in the game. As Kelly says, this game seems perfect for instanced gameplay. Not everything has to be instanced, but let people put together groups to do missions in their own instance. Have shared areas as well where people can interact while in the field. I admit, I’m not the biggest fan of instances, but this setting seems to exist for instances. It seems to be an opportunity missed.
Then, there are aspects of the game design that don’t fit with the world. Archetypes for characters? What kind of archetype is an Asgard? It seems a bit silly to think about an Asgard character to run around with a fighter/soldier archetypes. In fact, it seems a bit unusual to have the Asgards running around in direct combat at all, from what I know about the show. The Asgard were not shown very often, and never in a combat situation that I remember. Further, the whole archetype system seems out of place in the setting. Sam Carter shows that a soldier doesn’t have to be focused on being a soldier; she’s just as much a soldier as O’Neill, but she has an intellectual/scientific side as well. Yes, archetypes (aka classes) are part of our games for a reason, but this doesn’t seem to fit very well within the Stargate universe. If there were no restrictions, everyone would be a tank-mage. Er, I mean, a soldier-scientist.
On the flip side, there are parts of the world that don’t fit within the game. According to Kelly’s article, there will be a PvP component to the game. But, in a world with Zat guns this seems problematic. One shot stuns, the next shot kills, the third shot disintegrates? I guess that’s one way to eliminate the bonuses of a rogue: give the one-shot kill ability to everyone. :) But, this type of weapons is the great equalizer in a world like this, making it easy for anyone to fight anyone in small group combat. Of course, it’s obvious that this weapon was made as a lot device, not with game balance in mind. In most shows you see that rarely does any of the “good guys” use the weapon to kill. Everyone just stuns their opponents; somehow I do not think that similar behavior will happen in PvP in the game, unless there are huge rewards, penalties, or other motivations to the contrary.
Finally, it is interesting that sometimes an IP like this can lead to trying something different. Even though Kelly thinks it will fail, the idea of encouraging alts in order to allow the player to experience all of the story content in the game is an interesting decision. It seems natural to start accepting alts as part of legitimate gameplay given how popular it is in WoW and other recent online RPGs. If handled correctly, this could be an interesting twist on the game. But, if the game is too much like previous ones where people get very attached to their characters, it could lead to problems if people are unwilling to let go of their older characters in order to roll and focus on new ones.
In general, the decisions I listed above help show how hard it is to work within a licensed game. As I said, do you upset the hardcore fans, alienate other potential players, or perhaps do both with the wrong mix of designs? I wish the Stargate developers the best of luck; I hope I’m not in a similar position in the future. :)
What do you think? Can a game based on licensed IP from other non-game media work? Or will you always end up pissing off part of your intended audience?