The Think Tank: The curse of IP-driven MMOs

With thanks to Sera Brennan for the ancient image <3
Whenever a new MMO with a popular IP is announced, there's a palpable sense of dread in the Massively virtual offices. Multiply that dread by a thousand if the IP is being overused in other media or the game is being produced by a studio with a reputation for churning out junk. Whether we're talking Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, Game of Thrones, or even gaming-centric IPs like The Elder Scrolls or Final Fantasy, that wariness is understandable. We've all been burned before.

But even still, not all of the members of the Massively staff allow an IP to unduly influence their opinions about the MMOs themselves. In today's Think Tank, let's discuss just how cautious we are about MMOs saddled or boosted by popular IP-driven settings. Are they a boon or a curse?

Beau Hindman, F2P and Mobile Columnist
I'm definitely more cautious of a major IP simply because that major IP is backed with major money. More money involved means fewer chances are going to be taken on the product. It's more likely to be designed to be as comfortable and familiar to as many people as possible than it is to be different and at least moderately unique. Having said that, I know my suspicions will never stop me from actually trying the game and seeing how it plays. That's only fair. And some IPs like Star Wars or Star Trek simply have to be played at least a little bit... I mean, I grew up on that stuff.

I'd also like to point out that I am almost as suspicious of everything else. All genres or levels of development have PR BS built in a lot of the time. The only solution to this problem is to try the games. After all, MMOs are some of the the cheapest forms of entertainment around!

Bree Royce, Editor-in-Chief
I'm not really more cautious about IP-driven MMOs, nope. We've seen games with big IPs do well and do poorly; we've seen games with original IPs do well and do poorly. I can't even say that a terrible implementation of an IP ruins a game as long as there's a good foundation underneath. I'm willing to overlook -- nay, outright ignore -- cupid wings on Ewoks if the rest of the game is amazing. If it's not, though, no hot IP or lack thereof is really going to save it. The IP is just window dressing anyway.

Then again, if Star Wars Galaxies had just been Galaxies, SOE would still be running it today.

Elisabeth Cardy, Guild Wars 2 Columnist and Contributing Editor
I don't think being based on a popular IP is going to make a given MMO necessarily better or worse, and I certainly wouldn't avoid an MMO just because it's based on a popular IP, but I'm always half-afraid when something new is being done with one of my darling IPs. This doesn't apply to just MMOs; I fretted when the Lord of the Rings books were converted into movies and when the Game of Thrones TV show went into production and many other times that "my" IPs went through medium changes.

Jasmine Hruschak, Multimedia Contributor
Not a skeptical eyebrow is raised at my desk when it comes to popular IPs turning into MMOs. The games that got me hooked back in the day were Star Wars Galaxies and Final Fantasy XI. As long as I'm having a good time, I'll play the ever living bejesus out of any IP.

That being said, not an excited eyebrow is raised, either. When it comes to anticipating a new MMO, I admit my interest level has very little to do with the IP. I want to know what studio is developing the game, mechanic specifics, art style, PvP/PvE goals, and so on. I also keep my expectations pretty neutral when it comes to popular IP MMOs, even if I'm traditionally a fan. Would it be neat to explore the Harry Potter universe? Sure! Will we ever see a game where we have to write an actual multi-page essay for Potions class? I sincerely doubt it, and for me, that's all right.

I don't expect a game to be more (or less) fun when it's hitched up to an IP with boatloads of lore. I'm just looking to sit down and enjoy battling [monster name licensing fee required].

Jef Reahard, Managing Editor and Columnist Extraordinaire
I guess if I really care about an IP, I'd rather MMO designers stay far, far away from it. The last decade has shown us that these folks are unwilling to stray outside a very narrow gameplay paradigm, and the interesting stuff that makes an IP an IP is usually deemed "unfun," "unbalanced," or impossible, so why bother with a much-loved property unless you're just out to make a quick buck off the pre-existing audience? I could go on, but I'd be repeating myself.

Justin Olivetti, Columnist Extraordinaire and Senior Contributing Editor
It doesn't influence my caution either way. We've seen some great MMOs spawn from well-known IPs -- and horrible ones as well. A good IP can be a great reason to be excited about an upcoming MMO, however, although it does carry with it expectations and presumptions. The Elder Scrolls Online will be birthed from an enormously popular IP, but the expectations from the franchise include sandbox elements that won't make it into the MMO. So it's a double-edged blade.

Matt Daniel, Contributing Editor
The IP of an MMO has very little to do with how cautious I am about it. There have been fantastic games made from existing IPs (World of Warcraft), fantastic games made from new IPs (City of Heroes), awful games made from existing IPs (Battlestar Galactica Online) and awful games made from new IPs (take your pick, really). While the quality and/or fame of an IP may help to determine how much money is funneled into it and it's true that games with higher budgets tend to take fewer risks, a lack of risk-taking doesn't necessarily indicate that a game will be bad just as taking risks doesn't necessarily mean a game will be good.

And of course, I have my favorite IPs, and I may be more inclined to get excited about a game based on an IP of which I'm a fan (Otherland, please don't suck), but outside of those cases, I don't really let a game's IP play much of a part in how cautious (or not) I am about it.

Patrick Mackey, League of Legends and Age of Wushu Columnist
I pretty much don't care, to be honest. I don't play Lord of the Rings Online, I didn't really like Star Trek Online or DC Universe Online, and I don't like Star Wars: The Old Republic, but the IPs aren't the reason. A game is a game, and I have to go with Bree: It's the whole package that matters. Cupid wings on Ewoks is probably not so good, but that's because it would be immersion-breaking to see something like that, and immersion is an important part of a gaming experience. A game that is based on an IP will have more immersion-breaking elements like that just because it's an IP and we expect Ewoks to be a certain way. If we saw Ewok-like things in another game that did have cupid wings, it'd probably be totally fine because it would fit with the rest of the world (we hope). I hear Dragonball Online is pretty good despite being not a whole lot like the series it's based on, so I think it's more a matter of whether the game does what it wants to do with the IP and not whether it respects the IP as a whole.

I guess a lot of it has to do with how the IP fits into making a game. A game like DCUO has a lot of opportunity to be really great; the IP is really cool and lets us make pretty open-ended stuff, and it's only because I didn't want to play Super Lackey Online that I passed on subbing. Champions Online is really similar in that you have a great world and lots of opportunities, but the gameplay ended up being too easy and weak. I would say that superhero IPs have the best time, but then we had SWG, which I think everyone will agree was a pretty stellar product.

Richie Procopio, Multimedia Contributor
I think that expectations are much higher when a beloved IP is chosen for any video game. Fans want their favorite books, TV shows, and movies converted into great video games, but they will be the first to critique the slightest deviation from the source material. I tend to think that MMOs based on original worlds and settings will have a higher chance of grabbing my attention than one based off an existing IP. That said, MMOs that spawn from existing video game IPs don't necessarily scare me off. World of Warcraft is perhaps the best example of an MMO based on an existing video game IP, and I'm hoping The Elder Scrolls Online lives up to its franchise's potential as well.

What do you get when you throw the Massively writers' opinions together in one big pot to stew? You get The Think Tank, a column dedicated to ruminating on the MMO genre. We range from hardcore PvPers to sandbox lovers to the carest of the carebears, so expect some disagreement! Join the team for a new edition right here every other Thursday.
This article was originally published on Massively.