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.

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15 Comments

  1. Piper says:

    I would say that Star Wars: The Old Republic is receiving a lot of attention because of the best seller status of the single player Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic game developed by Bioware. Otherwise, if it was being developed by the same group that did Star Wars Galaxies I doubt you would see even a fraction of the same level of interest.

  2. Ogrebears says:

    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)

    WTF???? WoW had a really really strong IP prior to launch. Warcraft,Warcraft 2, Warcraft 2 Beyond the Dark Portal, Warcraft 3, Warcraft 3 The Frozen Throne, A board game, 1/2 a dozen books before WoW was even relived to the public.

    The entire world is based off the event that happened in those games. So Wow has a really strong IP prior to launch.

  3. [...] more here:  How Important Is Intellectual Property To The Success Of A MMORPG … This entry is filed under Success. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 [...]

  4. Gordon says:

    @Ogrebears I’d definitely say that compared to Star Wars, Star Trek or Warhammer, Warcraft was certainly less well known and well recognised. You’re right, it wasn’t totally new and had Blizzard had a good reputation so that undoubtedly worked in their favor but there huge subscription numbers didn’t happen just because it was a Warcraft universe based game.

  5. Why would someone choose to play an MMO?
    Why did I choose to play WoW as my first MMO?

    I saw Everquest, and it didn’t interest me. To me it was just a generic fantasy world. Then I heard all the horrible rumors of addictions and babies in cars on hot days, for hours.

    So those rumors made me not want to play MMOs, even Warcraft. But then my friend showed me the game, and the idea and appeal of an MMO made sense to me (still looked like just some fantasy setting, but with an artstyle I recognized).

    Then I got into the storyline and everything that was happening, and that’s why I stayed.

    Those who like MMOs already, knowing it’s a Warcraft game would bring them in.

    The difference between WoW and Warhammer, AoC or SW:G, is that Warcraft is THEIR lore. So they have the flexibility to make it be whatever they want (just like EQ), and still have a recognizable IP (and Warcraft was very recognizable, it was very very popular).

    Warhammer got mostly the geek crowd that liked warhammer (which I neverplayed, and think the humor is weak). AoC, got the people who wanted something different from WoW, and who like Arnold in the old movies (I never read the books, who would?).

    The IP is important to bring someone who is not an MMO player in. For example, who would go into most MMOs without knowing the IP, or without it being free to play without first already liking MMOs?

  6. I just realized I never touched one of the main points of your post.

    To the long term success of the MMO the IP is not important.

    For the initial sale and buzz, the IP AND the Company making it, is the most important.

  7. Gordon says:

    I agree completely, Pangoria. I started playing EQ when it first came out, not because of it’s IP, but because of the game. The whole concept of some massive online world utterly blew me away.

    I think however that players are now jaded and accustomed to the whole MMO genre and need carrots to get them going, hence the increasing popularity of developers to pick well known IPs. They know that Star Trek will have a large fan base and will attract a certain amount of players. Whether it will sustain them or not is a different question.

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