Sunday, May 17, 2009

Random Shots: The Problem of Sequels

  • Tobold has a post on his blog about MMO sequels and the challenges facing them. He reviews prior sequels and gives some thoughts on how to get around the problems game companies have. In particular, he points out Free Realms as the perfect sequel to Everquests 1 & 2. While this misses the point a tiny bit, it's actually the perfect answer to the question.

  • I don't believe MMO sequels can ever thrive due to the nature of the genre. As Blizzard and others are fond of pointing out, they are providing a service, not a product. This protects them in certain ways, but it also hamstrings them. The problem we're worried now is the lack of planned obsolescence. With normal video games, there is no real reason to stick with the old version when the new one comes out except for nostalgia's sake. When the new edition of Madden comes out, you are (hopefully) getting improved graphics, systems, and up-to-date rosters. Sequels nearly always improves on the old game, so there is no incentive not to upgrade.

  • Contrarily, there is no reason to abandon an MMOG. For the player, you have invested yourself in the virtual world, both from time-based advancement and social connections. Starting a new game, while rewarding for various reasons, discards all of that investment. For the developer, MMOGs are a constant stream of income. If people are already enjoying and paying for a service, there is little incentive to launch a new service that will compete with the old.

  • Tobold's suggestion is sound but he is not talking about a true sequel. Free Realms is no more a sequel to Everquest than Legends of Norrath was. What SOE has done is target a different audience that happens to overlap the current MMO audience. SOE has actually launched two sequels to Everquest, Everquest 2 and Vanguard, though neither has been able to maintain the old audience in any appreciable way. Blizzard, working on a new IP for its second MMO, obviously knows better than to kill the golden goose by building WoW 2.

  • From my point of view, there are only two ways handle a sequel. One less radical option would be to overhaul the current service in such a way that players would be eager to give up advanced characters to play an new character through new or refreshed low level content. The other option would be to pull the plug on the old service while grandfathering players into the new game. You do not need to literally turn of the servers. Just stop updating or expanding the old game and stop accepting new subscriptions while giving incentives to take up the sequel. As both of these entail a lot of risk, it would be a huge gamble for a game company that may never pay off.

  • Clearly there are many difficulties involved with this issue. As long as MMOs are treated as services, I can see no upside to launching a sequel while a current service is active.

2 comments:

  1. Your last point holds the key: "as long as they are treated as services".

    Guild Wars 2, for instance, will not suffer from most of these problems precisely because it's not marketed as a service. Would that more MMOs were marked that way.

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  2. @ Tesh - Thanks for pointing out something I completely overlooked. Which is sad since I wrote a Guild Wars blog for over a year. ArenaNet went to great lengths to explain that Guild Wars is not an MMO and, in this case, that works in their favor.

    Can't wait to see what GW2 brings to the game table.

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