The Think Tank: Digging out of MMO doom

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The Think Tank: Digging out of MMO doom
This year, we've been watching multiple MMO companies dig themselves into deep holes with mistake after mistake, some seemingly preventable. Do you think there's a hole so deep that an MMO studio can never dig out? Do you think that serial goof-ups like WildStar and ArcheAge can pull a SWTOR and actually be making trucktons of money three years from now? Or is everything DOOM, etc.?

That's precisely what I asked the Massively writers in this week's Think Tank.

Anatoli Ingram, Columnist
@ceruleangrey: A lot of what makes a situation salvageable depends on how much time a studio spends before acknowledging it. In the short term it doesn't even need to mean taking immediate action on player complaints, but I'm always surprised when a studio having serious issues with a game bunkers down to try and ride it out. There's a point at which some players don't even care if a problem eventually gets fixed, if they feel sufficiently insulted; that may not be the most productive behavior, but it happens.

Bree Royce, Editor-in-Chief
@nbrianna: I don't think it's too late for any game until the sunset bell tolls, and even then, MMOs have been resurrected before. The thing is, time alone isn't enough to repair an MMO disaster. You can't sit back and neglect the core issues and hope time will make the players forget. They won't. Studios have to repent. They have to admit they were wrong and show humility and then fix it. Sounds silly, but people really do prefer to forgive and be friends again, especially if it means they can root for a humble underdog. But they won't do it if the studio doesn't own up to its screw-ups first. Just ask SOE, which spent so many years as the genre's whipping boy over the NGE.

Eliot Lefebvre, Contributing Editor
@Eliot_Lefebvre: No hole is so deep that it can't be dug out of. The question is whether or not a studio has the time to do so. People love to hold up Square-Enix and Final Fantasy XIV as examples of pulling together a flopped game, but Square-Enix owns the game completely and had tons of money to throw at retooling the title extensively. Or to paraphrase one of my favorite Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal strips, no problem is too difficult to solve, but many problems are too fast.

ZeniMax has money to fling at The Elder Scrolls Online until it turns around. I don't suspect Carbine Studios and Trion Worlds have the same sort of money at their disposal. I do imagine that these titles could pull themselves together, but I'm not sure if they're going to have the money and resources to actually do so.

Justin Olivetti, Contributing Editor
@Sypster: Honestly, if Final Fantasy XIV can rebuild and rebrand itself from that horrible trainwreck of a launch and then go on to be a successful, popular, subscription MMO that's looking forward to its first expansion, then anything is possible. We gamers get angry quickly, but we also tend to forget the harsh past when a game rights itself and starts doing well.

However, yes, it's possible that a game can dig itself too deep, with the prime example being Warhammer Online. Good core game that couldn't hack it long-term, and by the time it was severely in trouble, the studio lacked the resources (or will) to make a business model switch or large-scale overhaul that could have saved it. Even a MOBA spin-off wasn't enough to keep it from going under.

Larry Everett, Columnist
@Shaddoe: As much as I hate to admit it, the primary reason Star Wars: The Old Republic made it work was because it's Star Wars. If a game has a strong IP, then it's possible that a game can make a comeback like that. The only exception to that rule would possibly be a storyline or gimmick within the MMO that got a lot of positive attention from everyone. The unfortunate thing about WildStar and ArcheAge is that they don't have a strong IP nor do they have a strong positive gimmick over other MMOs. It's possible that WildStar could do something because the IP's not weak, but it was non-existent before the MMO, and I see little hope for ArcheAge in the west.

Mike Foster, Contributing Editor
@MikedotFoster: It's all about time. On a long enough timeline, players will forgive any mistake. If you right the ship, create compelling content, and ensure that it runs the way it's supposed to run, people will come back. It might take a couple of years, but it will happen. The question, of course, is whether your studio can weather an exodus of players and the resulting revenue trench long enough to convince people that you've changed your ways. There aren't many studios out there that are a. able to spend a year rebuilding a game with minimal income and b. willing to actually try it. There's a reason we were all amazed when Square-Enix un-launched Final Fantasy XIV; most studios would have let it founder due to a lack of any other options.

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 most caring of the carebears, so expect more than a little disagreement! Join Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce and the team for a new edition right here every Thursday.
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