But some MMOs are returning from the dead lately, whether through a new publisher, as with APB: Reloaded, or through a complete redesign, as with Final Fantasy XIV. Further still, some games are enjoying renewed interest levels from players as game-changing expansions are being announced.
So what does the Massively staff think of MMO reincarnation? Follow along after the jump to see!
There's always a chance for an aging or "dying" MMO. It's up to the publisher and how clever they are. Still, going free-to-play or redoing old maps or reskinning some NPCs won't pull players into your game and keep them there automatically. Chances are if your game was struggling before, it will continue to struggle. The best idea is to adjust the team size and handle it as the game that it is. Promising more to the players is sometimes bordering on cruel.
Old "dead" MMOs always have a chance at reincarnation given some money and love from a studio that doesn't think anything under 10 million subs is a colossal failure -- especially old dead MMOs that were shut down not because of a lack of profit or subs but because of licensing deals and corporate writeoffs and simple mismanagement (and I don't think I need to say which three I'm talking about here). I'm tired of participating in an industry that whines about WoW clones in the same breath it mocks smallish games that are content to survive on a small but profitable playerbase. A great many of sunsetted games would do just fine in that latter category.
Here's the problem with MMO relaunches: We've seen one that seems to be working pretty well, and that's mostly because Naoki Yoshida had an entire team designing a whole new game in the background while the old version was still running. Darkfall tried a relaunch, and it certainly doesn't seem to have gained a huge amount of renewed traction. Same for APB, and same for numerous free-to-play games that got "reborn."
Calling excitement over the new Star Wars: The Old Republic's upcoming revival a resurrection implies that the game was dead, which it wasn't; it does fine for itself. The news is attracting a lot of people who otherwise wouldn't be interested because it's something very novel, compared to the good-but-more-of-the-same Rise of the Hutt Cartel. Adding new systems can certainly revitalize games and bring in more audience, but it's not really a resurrection.
I guess what I'm saying here is that you can totally revive a game provided you have Naoki Yoshida doing it. Or someone else with a great deal of chutzpah, personal charisma, and both the time and money to take a faltering game and rebuild it from the ground up. I'll stop playing FFXIV about the time that the Earth collides with the sun, but the new version is less like a renovated house and more like tearing down the old house and building a new one on the same land with a few of the same rooms.
A Realm Reborn is a fairly unique case, and I'd be surprised to see a Western publisher invest that kind of time and money in an attempt to correct -- or maybe perfect -- a released MMO like that ever again. As for TOR, I don't think the game's ever really been dead despite all the discontent from hardcores who expected more from the IP and from BioWare. And while the new and shiny post-announcement excitement is high right now, TOR is largely a PvE game catering to a PvE audience.
It's comparatively easy and cost-effective to tack some instanced PvP onto any game as opposed to developing more PvE content, so I can understand why BioWare went this route. They're even giving it away for free to everyone, so you know from that alone that it's going to be content-light and repetitive. It will probably bring a bunch of Star Wars-obsessed tire-kickers back to the game temporarily, but if you're not already enjoying TOR for what it is, this expansion isn't likely to change your mind.
I think we've certainly seen a few recent cases where older MMOs get a second lease on life, although it doesn't always work (Mythos? Hellgate?). I have absolutely no idea how Asheron's Call 2 is doing following its resurrection, but I'll tell you that I'm happy it happened. I think it gives us hope that such reincarnations can take place -- that MMOs can be things that don't necessarily have just one launch and one sunset. I've always thought that it's a waste of code and countless developer hours to just junk an MMO without selling it to another publisher who could perhaps make it work with a different business model or in a different market.
I think FFXIV is not really an isolated concept, where a game totally reinvents itself and does well. Post-NGE Star Wars Galaxies happened, and although there was a lot of controversy with that, the game stabilized and did decently until it was put under for reasons totally unrelated to its number of subscribers. I almost want to cite Guild Wars 2 as an example because the project began with "what did we do with Guild Wars that we didn't like?" Lots of "sequel" games are essentially the developers reinventing their previous work and trying to create a better experience with something new because the old framework doesn't fit what they wanted. That's why we see games that are direct sequels of the previous game and share a lot of the same ideas.
Even among games that didn't have a sequel, there is a large number of games that have radically changed since their launches. The World of Warcraft now is only visually similar to the game I played in vanilla. It has the same basic controls, a similar look for the UI, and a holy trinity, but that's it. And most classes don't use the same attack sequences, characters don't want the same stats in gear, and tons of mechanics were thrown out. These changes weren't really incremental, either; in Cata and Pandaland there were major gameplay overhauls that virtually rewrote the game.
What really determines the success or failure of a relaunch is budget. I hate to say it, but money is probably the most important factor. When Champions Online launched its F2P expansion, Cryptic and PWE did a lot of marketing and the launch was really big. However, they diverted lots of assets away and stopped the marketing. The game lost traction and went back to only a little better than it was before. FFXIV is the same way, only Square was determined to make it succeed and was willing to spend money to do it. With a game like Darkfall, it appeals to such a tiny niche and the game is too hard, and they didn't really change that, so I just think the devs didn't understand why they weren't getting sales. If a game company puts the cash into marketing and development, it can release a "reinvention" and do well, assuming the devs do a good job with the patch. But the big thing is, you have to put a lot of energy and money into your game. You can't just code an update and expect it to do well. You also have to bring people back to your game and show them why it's improved.
It may just be my eternal optimism here, but I believe MMOs can have second chances. Despite how official forum posts might seem, most players want the games they play to be successful. This is especially true if we're talking about an MMO based on a beloved franchise. If the developers are able to take the time and reinvent their game with updated visuals, mechanics, and gameplay, then I think a successful reincarnation is possible. The question is, when does such a revamp become more like a separate sequel than a re-released first edition?
I never imagined that FFXIV would have enjoyed the success it has during this rebirth. I'm of the belief that developers are wasting their time and money thinking they can bring an MMO back to life because MMOs are such personal experiences. It's like in the Stephen King book Pet Sematary: Sure, your cat is back from the dead, but it might not want to snuggle as much and it might also want to kill you now. I mean, more than it already did before because it's a cat.
At the same time, despite my pessimism, I would love to see some old games come back with new funding and new developer enthusiasm. Someone resurrect Tabula Rasa, please. Thanks!
Any product that is not doing well has the ability to come back and be successful under the right circumstances, but only if the business actually desires to invest the resources necessary to cause that success. If they don't want to spend the money, it will never happen.
Personally I haven't had to experience a complete reincarnation, but I do think Star Trek Online certainly was close to the brink toward the end of Cryptic's tenure with Atari. I'm convinced that the sale of the company resulted in a desire to reinvest into STO to make it a success and the Legacy of Romulus expansion is the first evidence we have of the game's rejuvenation. I'm more hopeful about the game's continued success than I ever have been in the past.
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 Senior Editor Shawn Schuster and the team for a new edition right here every other Thursday.