Michael Pachter, a video game analyst for Wedbush Securities, who is well known to many in the games industry(has a history of controversial statements), recently spoke at the Evolve Conference and had this to say about the MMO industry.
I personally believe that Pachter is wrong when he states that just because Star Wars: the Old Republic failed to bring in new players on masse - nothing will. He says that the MMO player base has peaked and will never be more than what it is(for subscription based games).
Not true Mr. Pachter...not true.
Just because Bioware failed to deliver a fun game based on the Star Wars IP doesn't mean the industry should give up and figure that the subscription based model for MMO's died with it and that their is no room for growth. In fact I would go so far as to say that I believe that Bioware and EA may have proven one of the points I have been saying for years and years and that is that bad games fail - good games succeed. That was all Bioware and EA managed to prove.
Make a fun and engaging game and people will pay to play it and will stay subscribed. That is all there is to it. It isn't rocket science. It is common sense. All we need do is look at games like UO, EQ, WoW and we can see that people will stay subscribed for years and years - if the game is good. I know people that play EVE and have been subscribed since it launched in 2003. These games are older and they manage to keep people playing. No Mr. Pachter, the market isn't dead and it is still able to grow. The problem is companies are not making good games people are willing to play - let alone pay to play.
I would wager that if J.K. Rowling allowed a company to make an MMORPG based on the Harry Potter Universe, you'd see a massive growth in players. Now, don't go saying, Kristi you are contradicting yourself. You said that the size of the IP didn't matter - well in some ways it doesn't, but in this case I will have to say that I believe a well made MMORPG based off the Harry Potter IP could in fact do what Star Wars failed to do and that is bring in millions of new players based on the IP alone.
Here is how that could be done.
Make the setting of the Harry Potter Game a few years after the death of Valdemort. That way the game begins with a known setting and a clean slate. You can still have players encounter some of their favorite people from the books(either as real people or ghost) that way it has all the tie-ins with the books and yet can bring something new.
Make it a themepark. Wait...what? <--- That is what many of you said or thought just now didn't you. Stop putting me in a box and that would have never crossed your mind because you keep telling yourself that I hate themepark based MMO's - which has never been true. Anywho, make it a theme park. Add Hogwarts(and areas surround it), Diagon Alley, London, and other key known places and then add some new ones.
Add the usual things we see in themeparks. Quest, resource gathering for crafting and casting spells, making potions, constructing magical items. You know the typical things we find an a good MMO like World of Warcraft. :)
Add Quidditch! What would the game of Harry Potter if it didn't have Quidditch? So make sure this is in there. This would be so cool. I'd play the game for this alone.
Everyone would start out as a first year student. You'd be assigned your house with the sorting hat. Players will have access to housing of a sorts at first. They can begin with a common room and a dorm room where they can store items - like you had in the books and movies. What I would do different though is as a player progresses and eventually becomes a 4th year student they can opt for a single room or double(one you can share with a friend). You can decorate that room as you wish(provided by tools in game with all the cool things you can imagine a game like this to have).
Allow the creation of guilds to exist with the various Houses that make up Hogwarts. That way players can form guild Quidditch teams, and participate in quest aimed at guild progression and such. Characters go to class in game. Just like they do in the books. However, when you go to class you have options. You can sit through a lecture on how to make a love potion or you can pick up a quest from the classes instructor/professor. Quest can be given out be many different people and not just professors. I can sit and write about how I would go about making a Harry Potter MMORPG for hours, but I must continue with the rest of my opinion. Shall we move on.
All that I have said would be for naught if the game were not made properly. A game like this must be more than a simple grind game for gear. It must be more than a skinner box. It needs to bring the Universe of Harry Potter to the player. Just putting a title on the game like this tied to the Harry Potter IP would not be enough. You have to have a team of artist, developers and such that want to make a game they'd want to play...and then give them the reigns to do it.
The biggest problem with SWTOR was they tried to make a game that should have been a sandbox game into a themepark game. It just doesn't work. SWTOR should have been either a straight up sandbox, or a hybrid sandbox/themepark. Sadly, it was more of a themepark than any game that came before it and I believe that is one of it's biggest failings. Confining the Universe that is Star Wars into such a linear game world that SWTOR did doesn't allow for a player to explore the richness that such an IP like Star Wars provided. The even made the space combat on rails. SWTOR space combat should never have been made into an arcade shoot-em-up amusement park ride. Just as you wouldn't want Quidditch an amusement park ride either. It is OK for an arcade style game in your local pizza parlor - but not in an MMORPG. Star Wars is just so big, and the Universe of that game is so different that it screamed sandbox - open world - game play. Freedom to go and do what you want, when you want, and how you want. Allow smugglers to go to places that are a hive of villainy and make deals to run guns or smuggle goods, or allow Bounty Hunters to go after marks by being hired to track down the other scum of the earth. Did SWTOR let you do these things? No. It holds your hand and confines you to doing things not even related to your characters class. Yes, I am a smuggler and I'll be your healer. Umm...am I the only one that found that so out of character it made you cringe just thinking about it? Well I did. If I wanted to play a healer they should have had a straight up medic class added to the game under the troopers tree. Not under the smugglers tree. As a smuggler I wanted to make shady deals. Run guns. Smuggle illicit goods. You know...do what a smuggler does! SWTOR as a themepark just does not work - and that is one of the biggest reasons it will never be a successful game.
The Universe of Harry Potter on the other hand is ideal for a themepark based MMORPG. If you think about the world of Harry Potter and all the places he visited or they mentioned in the books, you should be saying - "yeah...this game would be the perfect candidate for a themepark based MMO."
Harry Potter screams themepark. Some games are better suited to be made into themeparks, while others should be sandbox based games.
Just because it is a themepark, doesn't mean it can't be a wonderfully, delightful game, full of challenges, mystery, suspense, intrigue, exploration, all the while developing a character within that world that is unique and makes you want to play the game. It all boils down to implementation. If the game is not implemented correctly, it will fail. Sorta like some of the other themeparks that tried to ride the coat tales of WoW. If I was going to make an MMORPG based on Harry Potter, it would play a lot like World of Warcraft - only better - and not half-arsed.
I have said that before as well, if you are going to make a game like World of Warcraft, don't just copy it, do it better. Start from the beginning and do it right. First - add a more robust character creation system. Look at SWTOR. Now look at WoW. Which is better? See what I did there? You can't say SWTOR's is better because it isn't. I would take a wild guess(and be right) and many people would say it is worse. SWTOR doesn't even have other races! A Star Wars game and you are delegated to playing all human based races?! Really? The character creation system was so bad all they did was take a human model and slapped on a different skin color and said this is Chiss, this is a Rattataki, and this is a Mirialan - where are the Wookies, Bothans and Sullustans? It just fails right from the start.
And that is why Pachter is wrong. SWTOR failed to bring in more players because it was a poorly conceived and implemented game. It wasn't because of the IP. It was all due to the game. Just because Bioware is well known for making great single player, story based games, doesn't mean they are capable of making a great MMORPG. If you look under the hood of SWTOR, I mean really look under what makes the game what it is, you can easily see it was a 1/4 the game World of Warcraft was. It was and is nothing more than a shallow skinner box game married to a pick your path story. It is shallow and empty. Add to that, no day and night cycles. No random weather effects. The worlds were sterile and devoid of life other than the MOBs one can fight and kill in the game. The classes made little sense. I've been over all this before...SWTOR was a mess and is a mess.
I can give you other examples if you like. I can mention a game like Arma II with it's now infamous DayZ mod. Arma II has a niche following. It dosn't sell anywhere near the number of copies that games like COD or BF series games sell. DayZ was released, and simply through word of mouth Arma II has become the cats meow and DayZ is one of the most loved game mods ever created and you know what. People that never would touch an FPS are - you got it - playing DayZ!
Know why Skyrim was such a success Mr. Pachter? Not because of the IP. Sure many, many players know about single player RPG's, and Bethesda is known for TES games - but not even Bethesda imagined that Skyrim would rocket to 10 million units sold within a month of the games launch. Why did this happen Mr. Pachter? It happened because Skyrim was a good game. MMO players were calling Skyrim the best single player MMO they ever played. That says a lot about the mindset of MMO players and tells you one thing. Make a good game and people will play it - they'll switch genres to play a good game as millions did - just to play Skyrim. Make a good game and people will play it. Simple as that.
That Mr. Pachter is why SWTOR failed to bring in millions of new MMO players. Not because the MMO market is not capable of bringing new players to the genre, it can, and would if someone would make a decent game to attract the masses of players that are looking for a game that is good. Good games Mr. Pachter attract players - bad games do not.