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Saryhl's Soap Box

A place where I will explore the redeeming qualities or inadequacies of Past & Present MMO Ideas and Community Aspects. Education is Key.

Author: Khayotix

Preventing an MMO Sunset!

Posted by Khayotix Friday September 14 2012 at 9:12AM
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In the lifespan of MMOs, we have seen quite a number of them! A "Sunset" as they call it. The Sunset of an MMO is never a joyous time, as there are always devout players whom have vested interest....nay deep love for said MMO.  People develop deep connections with others, friends, comrades, lovers. They get provided a world where they can feel happy and alive, outside the every day drudgeries of real life. But when someone decides it is time to pull the plug, is this really something that should be happening? In my blog today I will cover the cycle of how MMOs get Sunset in my opinion, and how to prevent it.

Everquest Classic

First off the cycle looks like this:

X MMO Ages ---> X MMO becomes less relevant as a result ---> New blood does not flow in ---> Player population declines ---> Less revenue for Developer ---> ultimately leading to Sunset.

Age plays a HUGE factor into a game. When a game launches more often than not, it is presented in a state of the art engine, has beautiful looks, and some pretty awesome systems as well. Systems don't age quite as badly as engines do, but acquiring new systems as well as updating old ones is important. To keep a game feeling fresh, it also has to look fresh. The fresh look and feel keeps it relevant, allowing new players to enter the game because it keeps interest up.

Before I continue, This next part is very important for the players of said game. Keeping the look fresh is is a two way street. If you don't want your game to eventually die, you need to accept that the Developers will have to upgrade the engine, which means new renders for races, environments, textures etc. A lot of players cry about possible changes due to it not being true to the original flavor of the game. This is where it is up to the Developers to make sure the engine upgrade and assets for said game are recreated to match the original, but in a newer fresher additional polygon type of way.

Since games especially MMOs are subject to technology changing as fast as I can do a load of laundry, they tend to age in dog years. A five year old MMO is over the hill as far as looks are concerned. To combat the aging, the engine and system upgrades should be done every 4 years, and the acquiring new systems should be ongoing like with most expansions.

EQ- Shadows of Luclin Upgrade

SOE had the right Idea with Everquest. Shadows of Luclin marked an engine/assets upgrade that came with smoother character models and textures, they also upgraded alot of NPCs and Mobs however this seems to have fallen by the wayside in lieu of other games rushing out the door in the genre.

Everquest 2

Ask yourself this though. What if Everquest 2 never existed? Instead Everquest got its graphics updated to the engine used for EQ2, and SOE added the newer systems from EQ2 into EQ. You would have a game evolving over time and staying fresh and relevant, and now was being upgraded again into the Forgelight engine being used for Planetside 2 and EQ Next.

Everquest Next

Evolution instead of death.

What about Asheron's Call? If AC had gotten an engine upgrade to AC2, It could have been HUGE for that game as well. Instead all these games are aging and not handling the problem.

While I don't know for certain that it would be cost effective, I believe converting an existing game to a new engine is probably cheaper than a completely new development. Logically it would stand to reason that half the work is already done as well as paid for.

The new cycle would look like this:

X game ages ---> X game gets an engine and systems upgrade ---> X game stays relevant ---> New players continue to try the game ---> population remains steady or grows ---> Profit margins remain steady or grow ---> Cycle restarts.

Thus effectively preventing the sunset of said MMO.

Thanks for reading,

please leave your comments below.

SOE_Brasse writes:

Interesting viewpoint, and thank you for tackling one of the hardest topics for any publisher.  

Now, insert standard disclaimer here: this Dwarf works for SOE. My opinions and views do not necessarily represent those of the company, etc. and so on...

No one likes to shut down games. It invariably hurts a lot of people. SOE only does it when we have to. If the game is not losing money (thorugh server costs, etc.), then we'll keep it running for whatever small number of people are still there.

Graphics upgrades are the most suggested "fix" and are often possible, but  if it requires an aging engine be replaced, usually not cost-effective - you may as well make a whole new game. Ohai, EQII!  

At the same time, EQII itself is old now (for a game) at 8 years, and the venerable EQ is working on its 19th expansion at 13 years of age.  Why are these games still running? The players who have made these games their home base - they ain't budging. There is SOMETHING about these worlds that holds them there. Community, content, and that odd magic that a person's favorite game has.

I will say it here though: content is king. However, FUN is queen, and if the game is not fun (a state that every player assesses differently, I might add), no degree of graphics or volume of content will help it retain players. This is a REALLY tough business, and players vote with their time and wallets - a true democracy, hehe.

We made a very tough decision this year with EQ Mac. We announced it was sunsetting, but the very small, close-knit and dedicated player base quickly demonstrated how much they loved their version of Norrath. Smed made the call to keep it going.

Don't even get me started on SWG though - I am still grieving for it. along with a lot of other folks. Sometimes there simply IS no good choice, and we have to move on. Once again, online life mirrors real life...

;-)#

Brasse

Sun Sep 16 2012 10:23AM Report
Khayotix writes:

First off I want to Say Thank You Brasse for posting on my humble blog, I truly Appreciate it.

Second, Thank you for the insight into understanding how the cost can vary greatly based on if the existing engine can be used or a new one is needed.

This gives me Alot of Faith in the Forgelight Engine for the longevity of Planetside 2 and Everquest Next, because the Engine according to what I have read from Smed, is built to upgrade and can handle resolutions much higher than are available currently. This leads me to believe that They will be able to upgrade the graphics of EQ Next as needed more easily than in previous itterations of Everquest. :)

I am glad to know that SOE will not shut down a game that is still making money. That is especially important now as City of Heroes is being threatened by its Publisher NCSoft even though it was still profitable and operating in the Black.

I have a profound respect for SOE, and this just serves to reinforce it.

Sun Sep 16 2012 4:57PM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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