How Important Is Intellectual Property To The Success Of A MMORPG?
A few days ago I posted an article about MMORPGs I’d love to see and I briefly touched on Intellectual Property (IP) in MMORPGs. I realised pretty soon after writing it that a huge amount of MMOs are based upon already established IPs. It made me wonder – exactly how important is the IP to the success of a MMORPG?
I’ve been mulling over this question a lot the past couple of days (mainly whilst in the shower dreaming up my perfect MMORPG) and I’ve come to the conclusion that IP bares no real impact on the long term success of a MMO. The evidence for this is pretty strong. Not only is World of Warcraft by far the most successful MMORPG and yet not based on a particularly strong IP (or at least it wasn’t when it launched) but plenty of games which have had strong IPs have failed to meet their expectations. Age of Conan and Warhammer Online are two good examples of this and we only need to look at the Matrix Online shutting down to see how bad it can get.
Sure, you may argue that the stronger the IP, the more likely the long term success of the game. I can’t really argue against that because is a very subjective thing. Is Star Wars a stronger licence than Star Trek? I have no idea. I do know that if you look at subscription numbers though, very few MMORPGs have gotten past 500k regardless of their IP.
I do think however, that IP can play a very large part in the initial success of a MMORPG. Age of Conan, for example, had an astounding success in base sales (1 million units sold, I believe) but that failed to translate into long term subscriptions. Same goes for Warhammer Online.
Intellectual Properties and their franchises come with a lot of attractive benefits to MMORPG developers. Clearly defined worlds, recognisable content and, most import of all, large fan bases. Star Wars: The Old Republic is receiving a lot of attention purely because it’s a Star Wars game and this is obviously great for BioWare because they can cash in on that to drive initial interest and sales.
Capitalising on intitial sales for the longterm is a very different ballgame though and no IP will save a bad game. They can even compound the problem by increasing initial expectations to unachieveable levels. The bottom line, in my opinion, is that a MMOs IP can be potential very appealing ititially but it’s the gameplay and game mechanics that will ultimately determine its success.