Monday, April 11, 2005


Does IP matter for MMOs?

To quote the Reverend: "Short answer: yes, with an 'if'. Long answer: no, with a 'but'."

Let's look at the mainstream MMOs that use existing IP (intellectual property):
- World of Warcraft (Warcraft games)
- Sims Online (Sims games)
- Matrix Online (Matrix movies)
- Everquest II (Everquest)
- Lineage II (Lineage)
- Asheron's Call 2 (Asheron's Call)

Three of these games are sequels to existing MMOs. All three of them failed to attract many people other than those playing the original. When Lineage II came out, for example, Lineage lost about as many subscribers as Lineage II gained. The same is true of Asheron's Call 2 and Everquest 2. This seems to be a fairly simple and logical sequence. The lesson? Don't make MMO sequels. Or don't make dull MMO sequels that change little about the original game besides the graphics, at least.

My guess is that the numbers for Matrix Online are pretty weak, probably comparable to the Sims Online or worse. Both these games are based on successful non-MMOs; if TMO and TSO were not MMOs, they could probably sell pretty well even though they are not very good games (as Enter the Matrix did), just because of their names. What it is that makes people willing to buy bad non-MMOs but not bad MMOs? Is it because people are pickier when they potentially have to pay more money in the form of monthy fees? Is it because some people consciously avoid MMOs? Is it because MMOs aren't advertised as much as other games and rely on a hardcore, plugged-in segment of the market? I'm curious.

That brings us to Warcraft. It, too, is based on a successful non-MMO. However, there are some key differences between it and TMO/TSO. First, Warcraft already had a large, devoted online player base, so the jump to MMO was not as drastic. The big problem with the Sims IP is that it is not suited for a MMO, as the Warcraft IP is. The Sims is just a well-known name for playing with virtual dolls; there is no background story or reason for the world to exist. There are no familiar characters or places, just a bunch of user-created content that is simply not compelling for pretty much anyone but the users who created it. Warcraft has (relatively) well-developed characters, story, settings, etc. The Matrix has these things, but critical disdain for Enter the Matrix and the last two Matrix movies hurt the appeal of the Matrix IP. Plus, World of Warcraft is simply a much better game than TSO and TMO, especially in terms of how easy it is to get into.

Here's what I would conclude: When you make a MMO based on existing IP, the IP only benefits you if your game is good and the IP suits your game. There's no doubt that WoW is more popular because it's Warcraft and not just some patchwork of fantasy cliches (sorry, Everquest). But I think if it were as dull and unwelcoming as TMO, the IP wouldn't save it--a big difference from non-MMOs.

Well considered thoughts. I do have a question regarding what IP stands for though? To a net geek such as myself it means Internet Protocol.

Adventuring with Ark
Intellectual Property. I'll edit to make that clearer.
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