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Vicarious Existence

To blog about what is going on in the MMO genre from a casual MMO player's viewpoint.

Author: UnSub

Marvel Universe Online Officially Dead; Wouldn't Be Profitable Enough

Posted by UnSub Monday February 11 2008 at 8:46PM
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It's been broken as a story in a few places, but an interview with Microsoft Game Studios head Shane Kim has revealed the official cancellation of Marvel Universe Online, Marvel Comic's MMO. It appears that both Microsoft and Marvel have decided to walk away from the project with the reason being:

"When we first entered into the development and agreement of the development of Marvel Universe Online, we thought we would create another subscription-based MMO. And if you really look at the data there's basically one that's successful and everything else wouldn't meet our level or definition of commercial success."

It's exceptionally hard not to jump to the conclusion that the "one that's successful" is World of Warcraft. If that's the level set for success, then I have to assume that Microsoft Game Studios is never, ever going to get a MMO released and will probably cancel 99% of its titles under development. It's estimated that WoW generates an annual revenue of over $1 billion dollars and an annual profit of $520 million (those are projected figures; according to other info Blizzard, driven by WoW, actually did a bit better than that in 2007). I think I can safely risk what little credibility I have and say that WoW is the most profitable MMO ever. It could even be the most profitable PC game ever, because it's still earning huge bucks.

Comparing anything to WoW is not a fair basis for comparison for success. It's the outlier of outliers in the MMO world, having huge player numbers as well as using a subscription-based payment model. Oher MMOs might have millions of players, but they typically don't also have sub-based models that drive revenue. Subs-based games can be very profitable, but tend to have a smaller number fo players. WoW has the best of both worlds.

There are some alternative thinking that could be in play, also around player numbers. It's possible that MS Games Studio requires their games to sell millions of units in order to be successful (just like their top selling console games) - this certainly isn't guaranteed for MUO, which would require more money to develop than a single player game. Perhaps Marvel weren't sure their game would gather at least a million players, which is a pretty rare thing in the MMO genre anyway. The numbers to support the development of a MMO are already pretty shakey, especially since 'sure-fire' hits like Star Wars Galaxies or Vangard: Saga of Heroes can come nowhere near meeting market expectations.

In the end, I think the decision to cancel came down to risk. Console-based MMOs are risky since they have rarely been done. PC MMO players may not have come to play a MMO built for consoles. Alternate payment models like real money transactions (RMT - I know some other places call it 'micro-transactions') are not that popular among Western gamers and also putting that to Western console gamers who don't play MMOs... yes, it's a risk.

But these are risks that should have been pretty clear from the start. If anything, the MMO market has become even more attractive to release games in, and if MS / Marvel thinks that releasing the next iteration of Marvel Comics Online sometime after 2010 is going to make things easier for them, they are sadly mistaken. MUO was announced post-WoW and I can't see that the MMO market as having structurally altered past that point in a way that would dramatically invalidate MUO's development (although Vista flopping might have helped put the breaks on a Vista-exclusive MMO for PCs).

Strategically it also seems like a dumb move by MS Game Studios. It leaves MS Games Studio without a next-gen MMO for either Vista or the Xbox 360, leaving Sony much closer to getting into the cross-platform MMO area first with The Agency. MUO was meant to finally add a MMO for the Xbox 360, but this kind of cancellation just adds to my hunch that the Xbox Live architecture can't handle massively multiplayer scaling particularly well. The cancellation also makes MS Game Studios look incredibly flakey when it comes to MMOs - they've killed or off-loaded several MMOs (like True Fantasy Online or Vangard) that they'd spent money on developing without ever seeing a return on investment.

The news also makes me feel sorry for Cryptic Studios. I'm a fan of their output (City of Heroes / Villains) and really wanted to see them release something new. Since the MUO teaser is still up on their website, I'm guessing this official announcement probably took them a bit by surprise, even if they knew it was coming. It also changes the perspective of their sale of CoH/V to NCsoft - assuming they don't have to pay any money back to MS / Marvel, they probably needed an inflow of capital to further develop some of their own MMO properties. A rumour exists they'll be announcing something new on February 18 - I hope they do. I'd hate to see Cryptic close after showing so much potential.

All in all, this just adds another sad chapter to history of the Marvel Comics MMO and its third cancellation. Someone's really not trying here.

ABRaquel writes:

I've completely scrubbed MGS from the map, they constantly cancel MMOs. Like the ones you mentioned and also Mythica (even though it was due to a legal battle with Mythic).

I hope the rumors about Cryptic getting Star Trek license are true, at least they would have a new project.

Mon Feb 11 2008 9:10PM Report
Anofalye writes:

If Rodo see your Blog, he is sooo totally gonna annoy Smed with that argument from these guys...only 1 MMO meet our definition of a commercial success....LOL


Uppercut at SOE!


It is quite funny however, I am not sure which MMO has the best revenue per capita invested...WoW bring in major revenues and is the most profitable in raw number, but in % of the investment, I wonder. :)

Mon Feb 11 2008 9:31PM Report
UnSub writes:

According to my knowledge, WoW cost $55m in development costs. Which means, in 2007 alone, it made about 10x its intial investment. That'd be a hard number to top for any MMO.

... some MMOs probably do better per capita, but the market tends to be less interested in such things compared to the overall size of the operation.

Mon Feb 11 2008 10:20PM Report
Shogoo writes:

Personaly think there refering to City of Heroes/Villains as it would have been a Super Hero game not fantasy...

Tue Feb 12 2008 12:12AM Report
Hexxeity writes:

CoH has only suffered under the current dev team, but I guess that team works for NCSoft now, not Cryptc.  I would really like to see the remnants of the old Cryptic team do a new game -- and I'm kind of glad it won't be tied to Marvel.  That is an IP fanboi disaster waiting to happen.  Or one that will never happen, I guess.  Probably for the best.

Tue Feb 12 2008 9:09AM Report
Soriin writes:

Wait...wait...Did you forget about Age of Conan?  Not sure if you're just saying the Division that makes games will be behind Sony or if the 360 will be left behind by the ps3 in regards to mmos.

Tue Feb 12 2008 10:43AM Report
Deathstrike2 writes:

This is truly disappointing.  I really enjoyed my time in CoH, but I never once really felt like I was playing a superhero.  I always got the feeling that I was playing more of a sidekick.  Plus, the game engine they used in CoH was really limiting (for example, no power customization).  I had hoped that Cryptic learned a lot from CoH and could put that knowledge to work making an extraordinary SuperHero MMO within the Marvel Universe.


Tue Feb 12 2008 7:40PM Report
Drmccoy writes:

Concerning Cryptic, it was only a few weeks ago that Perpetual Entertainment laid off a bunch of employees and cancelled both their upcoming games, Gods and Heroes(cancelled ~3 months ago and then cancelled Startrek Online). Rumours were that Cryptic hired many of those laid off from Perpetual and the thought here was they would pick up on Startrek Online. So my guess is Cryptic will announce Startrek Online as their next game.

Tue Feb 12 2008 8:45PM Report
UnSub writes:

Soriin - I didn't forget about AoC, but when I went looking on the official site yesterday, the Technology section indicated that there were currently no plans to put AoC on any consoles. This confused me, because I thought it had been confirmed.

As a side note, the Xbox 360 does have a MMO in FFXI, but I didn't really classify that as a next-gen MMO given that it was 2 years old before it was ported to the MS console and also exists on the PS2.

Tue Feb 12 2008 9:33PM Report writes:
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