IP Based MMOs Are High risk
By now you’ve probably all read about the real reason for Star Wars Galaxies’ closure. Turns out it had nothing to do with profitability (well, OK, not strictly true but, even if SWG wasn’t making huge profits, we can assume that it wasn’t making a loss), developer motivation or lack of fan devotion but rather because SOE’s license ran out on the Star Wars IP. Yep, it was only a five year deal. Gee, kinda short sighted don’tcha think?
OK, OK, I’m sure SOE had the option to renew the license should they have wanted to and, in reality, the decision was theirs to shut down SWG rather than George Lucas’ due to a combination of lack of high profitability and the impending sense of doom that Star Wars: The Old Republic filled their increasingly stained pants with. Bottom line, if SOE had wanted to save SWG and renew the license, they could have regardless of how economically insane the decision might have been (I’m guessing a five year Star Wars license costs somewhere in the realm of five to ten gazillion dollars – I know, I missed a career in finance, right?).
Still, the simple fact is that had SWG not been utilising a Star Wars license and had instead been based on an original IP then the game would still be running today. And probably next year. And the year after at. I mean, heck, just look at games like Vanguard, Asheron’s Call and Anarchy Online (to name but a few) that continue to successfully tick over for years regardless of low interest. Perhaps they aren’t the most widely supported or updated MMOs on the planet but they still keep thousands of players happy, plenty developers and designers in jobs and bring in a modest annual turnover in the process. Everyone’s a winner, baby.
Not the case with IP driven MMORPGs though that require massive renewal fees. I mean, for any game to able to afford a license cost for some major sci-fi or fantasy brand then it’s going to have to be bringing in a fair amount of cash to justify the cost. This, in turn, means the game needs a lot of players and a lot of subscribers, making the entire venture high risk not just for the development studio but for the player as well. There are a lot of unhappy folk out there seething over their favourite Star Wars game getting the axe. Quite understandable too as MMOs are not something that you just casually invest in but rather, often very strong, communities of friends and peers.
So ultimately it’s the fans who suffer. Yes, maybe SWG wasn’t the most popular MMO around (of course SOE would’ve coughed up the license fee if it had been) but I do feel that its players deserve more than just being told it’s getting shut down with no hopes of them being ever to play it again. Buy a single player Star Wars game and you can play it ’til your heart’s content for as many years as you want without worrying about George Lucas asking for more cash – unfortunately this isn’t the case with the online world though, much to detriment of you and me.
Perhaps SOE should have been more upfront about this license expiry right from the start, informing fans that the MMO – depending on its popularity – had a limited lifespan? At least that way players would’ve known what they were in for and better prepared themselves. Maybe it would’ve scared a few people off but, in my opinion, you just can’t beat transparency and honesty.
All-in-all, it makes me worry about the future of some of the other IP based MMOs out there. Lord of the Rings Online, Warhammer Online, Age of Conan, Star Trek Online… how long can we truly expect them to last before their IPs come up for renewal again and the developers decide it’s not worth the cost? Sure, maybe LOTRO is doing fine now but what about in three years? And WAR, AoC and STO are hanging on by a thread as it is – can we really expect Mythic, Funcom and Cryptic to fork out for what will no doubt be atrociously high license fees when they can’t even hold onto full development teams? IP based MMOs are starting to seem like quite a risk for all involved now.