Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

13 April, 2007

Weekend Design Challenge: Licenses for MMOs
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 3:53 PM

So, based on one of my comments in my last post, this challenge will be about licenses for MMOs. What makes a good license? Oh, let’s also talk about the potential trainwrecks since those are fun to laugh at. :)

I think few licenses are truly beyond redemption for making an online game. The trick is that some will require more work than others.

Scott Jennings showed this when he wrote a blog entry on making Battlestar Galactica Online and called it “doing the undoable”. Some licenses, especially Battlestar Galactica at its prime, are so huge that trying to make a game can be a daunting proposition. I think Scott shows that you can go off in interesting directions and still have a good game based on a license. But, you still have the problem I discussed in my last article where you either alienate the casual people or piss off the hardcore for not being hardcore enough.

I talked about another license in a previous design challenge that would fit well in an MMO setting, but would require a lot of work: Cowboy Bebop. The problem is, as I said before, you would have to write so many different types of engines and design so many different types of gameplay to give the full experience of the setting. And, it’s the full package that makes the whole game so appealing, IMHO.

So, what is your thought about licenses for MMOs? What would make a good one? Why? Or, focus on the negative and talk about why a particular license would be a trainwreck. :)

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  1. What would make a good MMO – Discworld. There is so much depth, so much there already. All the NPCs, possible expansions… not only that, but a huge potential fanbase. Although, with Discworld being as popular as it is, there is far greater risk involved in creating the game.
    What would make a dreadful MMO – Firefly. Sorry fanboys, but there just isn’t enough there. The problem is Firefly is so heavily based on the stories and characters of each episode, the backdrop is just too minimal to make anything of it. You can argue that this is a good thing and allows a developer to create a rich setting, but the problem with this is the fans. Because there isn’t much to work off, every fan has his or her own ideas of the world… Thus great risk again to the developers.

    Comment by indraunt — 13 April, 2007 @ 6:17 PM

  2. Any film license where there are designated heroes and villains will fail if it allows players to be either. Why? Because the small, rag-tag band of heroes will outnumber the enormous Evil Empire by at minimum 4-1.

    You simply can’t maintain any kind of immersion in that environment UNLESS – like WoW – you forget about immersion completely and include no player-created content.

    Comment by Rich Bryant — 14 April, 2007 @ 6:54 AM

  3. Homework: Game Licenses

    [...] Yay! Easy homework this week from Psychochild: So, based on one of my comments in my last post, this challenge will be about licenses for MMOs. What makes a good license? Oh, let’s also talk about the potential trainwrecks since those are fun to laugh at. [...]

    Pingback by MMOG Nation — 14 April, 2007 @ 9:23 AM

  4. I can tell you what DOESN’T make a good license.

    Any movie, tv series, book, etc. that is not yet complete.

    With Stargate Worlds, for instance. Unless they plan on updating the game with every season of Stargate Atlantis, every season of Stargate Universe, and every Stargate SG-1 Movie; the game will not follow Stargate canon witnin a year of release. This will piss off hardcore stargate fans.

    This is true with battlestar gallactica as well. Unless you are going to base the game on the old series instead of the new, and choose not to incorporate any of the new material until the show has run its course.

    Now, if it were to ever be licensed (hahahaha), someone could make a Lord of The Rings MMO. There will never be any more canon material released, unless we brink Tolkien back from the dead with DNA cloning.

    These are just my first thoughts, I’ll comment more later :)


    Comment by Daniel S. — 14 April, 2007 @ 9:50 AM

  5. I recently played a board game called Arkham Horror based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft. It occurred to me while playing it (and really, really enjoying it) that it could potentially be a great MMO. As a boardgame, it’s one of the few I’ve played where gamers are actively encouraged to work together – in fact, if you don’t you’re going to lose. Chances are you’ll lose anyway but not working together will speed this up.

    The reason it might work as a licensed MMO, however, is this: firstly, there are no identifiable heroes or characters that you can play, ergo you can’t be Frodo Baggins, Luke Skywalker or Starbuck. Secondly, the game would be as much about exploration, discovery and acquiring items and skills as it would be about combat. Finally there could be quite an active and purposeful pvp if players chose to become Cultists and fight against the “Investigators” (for want of a better name).

    There’s an added bonus in that developer nerfs against players can’t really be argued against as Lovecraftian lore is generally nihilistic and futile and things are getting worse all the damn time. Oh, and boss fights should be nearly impossible to win, especially if you’re up against Azathoth. (In the board game, if Azathoth awakes from his slumber, it’s game over. He eats the world and the world isn’t allowed a saving throw.)

    The big plus for me is that it could be designed as a game that doesn’t use a class based system but could work on a more stats orientated system in a similar way to EVE Online. Someone might specialise in academic areas, for example, and have a high intelligence/wisdom score but that doesn’t stop them from using a shotgun – only that they might not be anywhere near as good as the policeman or soldier characters.

    If you’re interested in making a Lovecraftian MMO (which isn’t the turn based internet only one at ), call me! ;)

    Comment by Dragon — 14 April, 2007 @ 12:21 PM

  6. Odd psycho license more test post

    [...] Over yonder in the lair of the Psychochild, there are these things he posts that he entitles design challenges. Whilst a few in the past have tickled my fancy, I never took the time to respond to one. It’s the weekend, it’s work, it’s unpaid work on the weekend, it’s doing the brain work for someone else unpaid and over the weekend, oh hell, I’m just lazy. [...]

    Pingback by MMODIG — 14 April, 2007 @ 4:56 PM

  7. I think BattleStar Galactica would be a fairly easy license to produce — space combat is a fairly well-established genre, and the initial license itself allows for a lot of roleplaying and wiggle room on the player’s viewpoint. Start them out on the Galactica, working as a pilot and gunman where the characters can have PvP-free space, exposure to the plot and main characters, and basic training. Then give the options to either continue one the Galactica or purchase/build freighters to continue on their own (and thus risk being fought as a traitor/possible cyclon/free money, but gaining the ability to explore further away from the main story’s viewpoint). Cyclons make a very good generic enemy to fight whether in space, on the ground, or inside a ship. Nothing original, but all proven and tested, and that’s all it took for World of Warcraft to get off the ground.

    Cowboy Bebop would be ugly, though. The closest we’ve gotten to proven cinematic realtime combat is Matrix Online, far from a good sign, and it’d be impossible to get the feel otherwise. Most of the rest of the game would be easy, simplistic even, but the combat engine is where you’d be stuck putting your money. You’d also have to set the game before the end of the series, or not show many of the main characters of the anime, neither of which are perfect solutions.

    One that I would like to see is an Underworld-esque sorta thing. Werewolves, vampires, and vastly out-numbered humans are the core of the feel, and the sorta thing that attracts a lot of the wierd kids. It’s also the sort of world where you could do a hell of a lot without touching the main plot, and still keep the important characters around. And, come on, it’s Underworld — who the hell’s going to care if you bend the IP a little?

    Comment by gattsuru — 15 April, 2007 @ 8:39 AM

  8. “There will never be any more canon material released, unless we brink Tolkien back from the dead with DNA cloning.”

    Funny you should say that… Children of Hurin by J.R.R.Tolkien

    Comment by Dragon — 15 April, 2007 @ 1:18 PM

  9. What makes a good license? You need something where there isn’t a central hero that everyone would want to be. An IP where there is a fleshed out setting is also important. The storyline should allow for you to swap out characters without ruining everything. Preferably, there were intriguing concepts that were never really fleshed out in the original IP that you can play with.

    The only good example I can think of is Stargate: SG1. They already replaced most of the team for various durations. It’s idea for a hub-style exploration system. The combat is the main sticking point.

    On the other hand, a really bad example would be Dragonball. There’s no setting to speak of, a main character that’s drastically overpowered and regularly pulls out dues ex machinas, and nothing particularly interesting to do.

    Comment by Silvanis — 15 April, 2007 @ 8:07 PM

  10. While we’re on the anime thing, Crest of the Stars and its associated follow-ups might make for an interesting MMO along the broad lines of Eve Online (but with predefined factions):

    - pretty much no need for a ground combat or hand-to-hand combat system
    - a relatively well-defined universe and a unique combat model which lends itself well to games
    - the good guys ARE the “evil empire”, so no worries about outnumbering anyone ;) It’s easy to make a case for either side being “good”, actually, since the show is (of necessity) biased.

    The only question is the extent to which players can shape the universe by taking territory, because the original novels and TV anime are very much concerned with the broad strategic actions of the war. Too little, and player agency suffers. Too much, and you get into a nasty little positive-feedback loop which really sucks for the losing side.

    Comment by n.n — 15 April, 2007 @ 8:42 PM

  11. Sin City would make a great license for an MMO.

    Comment by Rich Bryant — 16 April, 2007 @ 4:29 AM

  12. From books (mainly sci-fi or fantasy, I’m afraid, since that’s what I happen to enjoy… also somewhat older titles). The number of plusses indicates how I would rate the likelihood of successful translation. I dropped a lot of ratings by a + because some of this IP is fairly old (it was popular in _my_ day), but maybe it’s still got some pull…

    Thieves’ World +++
    It seems to me that anthologies like this might be a good place to look. You have multiple authors developing stories in a shared setting, fleshing out that setting as they go. Kinda like what some of us would like MMORPGs to be… Problems include that it’s a relatively weak license (in comparison to blockbuster movies, for example), it’s a fairly city-centric setting (truly busy cities are a tech challenge, of course), and that while it is a rough and tumble world, stealth and subterfuge are central elements, something few existing games have dealt with well.

    Larry Niven’s Known Space/Ringworld +++
    Known Space could be a fun IP to work with, although this is another one where finding alternatives to combat would be key… in this case, because the typical weaponry is often so deadly. Perhaps the PCs are members of competing exploration teams fanning out across the Ringworld, supported by various Known Space factions, and first contact/discovery of Protector artifacts, new lifeforms, etc. is rewarded by increased funding (if reported at all)…

    Christopher Stasheff, Warlock Series ++++
    Sci-fi/fantasy mix… I should look for a link to a synopsis of the series, but I’m running short on time. Anyway, the primary setting, the world of Gramarye, is a mix of sci-fi and fantasy elements, the witches/warlocks are telepaths, the world is a loosely european feudal setting, and there are interstellar agents and time-travelling organizations sending agents to disrupt (or protect) the existing democracy-leaning government, and turn it toward either anarchy or dictatorship. Another where the problem might be that the IP isn’t quite strong enough to qualify for “massive”… the series is huge (prolly 20 books all together), and been around for 3 decades plus, but it’s never made best-seller to my knowledge…

    Eh, more ideas later, time for work…

    Comment by Craig Huber — 16 April, 2007 @ 6:27 AM

  13. I’m still fond of Ghost in the Shell. It’s a confined space (generally, one or a few cities), with defined roles and feature characters that can be replaced with player characters, obvious starting points of various kinds of quests and story arcs, convenient ways to expand the game (it’s a megalopolis: add a couple districts every few months, or add a dozen districts in each expansion), a built in fan base, and an open invitation to use cell shading to help give it a ‘timeless’ look.

    If I had the capital to spend, I’d personally license it the IP for an MMO and shop for development money.

    Comment by Chris — 16 April, 2007 @ 6:35 PM

  14. During Damion’s roundtable at GDC someone mentioned that Naruto would be an interesting license for an MMO. No one except me and the speaker knew what it was, but the more I think about it the more I think it would be great.

    For those unfamiliar:

    It’s a future/past alternate reality populated by ninja from a variety of factions.

    The anime and manga make it clear that each faction has combat techniques handed down from factional teachers or inherited from family lines.

    There’s rank progression in the story, and a clearly defined tutorial phase where kids are in “ninja school” and have to take an exit exam.

    There’s a wide variety of characters each with unique looks, and in the background of scenes there are even more characters that you never get introduced to. It would be easy to create a narrative where you are having adventures parallel to the anime/manga characters.

    Someone above mentioned that Dragon Ball Z would be a poor choice for an MMO and it turns out there is already a game underway. I actually think DBZ makes for an interesting MMO for many of the same reasons Naruto would. Especially since the anime/manga storyline puts a heavy emphasis on lengthy training and progressive increases in strength and capabilities. Oh and don’t forget the five man assaults required to take down some of the bosses.

    Comment by Calvin — 17 April, 2007 @ 3:06 PM

  15. 1. Baldur’s Gate Series (Can Bioware do any wrong)
    2. Jade Empire (still would like to see more of this type of combat make it in a MMO, heck even DDO’s combat is better than most MMO’s to date).
    3. Halo (very popular)
    4. Grand Theft Auto (very popular, just leave out the hot coffie, no need to get burned)
    5. Zelda (One of the all time RPG’s on the consoles)
    6. Forgotten Realms (in like 2020 when the genre matures)
    7. DragonLance (in like 2020 when the genre matures)
    8. Age of Empires series (would be nice to have some MMO’s outside of swords and sorcercery that are decent plays. Does not have to be MMORTS, just use these themes)
    9. DDO with a whole world, instead of just one city.
    10. The Elder Scrolls with Oblivions feel (nice a slow).

    Comment by Boon — 3 May, 2007 @ 8:56 PM

  16. Dune!

    It’s entirely character based, next to no vehicles (on Arrakis, anyway), has a great background story, houses to fight for, politics, gholas for dealing with death penalties…

    I think this is one of the most overlooked licenses for an MMO, by a long way. On the other hand, the mere thought of someone making a Dune MMO gives me the shivers, as it would be pure butchery of a great license…

    Comment by Lobosolitario — 1 June, 2007 @ 2:40 AM

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