Debate: Should Major IPs (Intellectual Properties) Be Made Into MMORPGs?
Editor's Introduction: We change up the authors - although full credit for topic choice goes to Frank and Garrett who will return next week - but the debate continues. This week, News Editor Jon Wood and myself (Lead Content Editor Dana Massey) debate the merits of making major intellectual properties - such as Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Star Trek - into MMORPGs. Jon takes the side that they should not. I argue that they should.
Jon Wood: There are a number of flaws in the concept of companies developing MMORPGs based on major pre-existing franchises. I can clearly see why it is done. It creates a pre-made customer base and almost guarantees a strong launch. Unfortunately, from a gamer point of view, these games are doomed to fall short. All you have to do is look at game like “Star Wars: Galaxies”, which has been on the receiving end of a never-ending barrage of criticism because the game doesn’t live up to the epic expectations of either Star Wars fans, or MMORPG fans.
What another example? How about the criticism that Turbine has received for their new game, Dungeons and Dragons Online: Stormreach? Players have been waiting for a long time to get their hands on an MMORPG version of their favorite pen and paper game. Now that one is in production, the complaints are coming in about everything from the choice of gaming world (Eberron, which is the newest and least established of the gaming worlds from Wizards of the Coast), to the use of the 3.5 edition rule set. In short, many players are turning away from these games because they do not, and in my opinion, can not, live up to the enormous expectations put upon them by the strength of their individual franchises.
Dana Massey: MMORPGs set in large worlds with pre-existing fan bases are a dream from the perspective of investors. There is pretty much a guaranteed return on the dollars put in and let’s be honest: that is the point of any responsibly developed game.
However, setting aside the issue of money, I also believe that MMORPGs – at their root - offer players the chance to live out their day-dreams and escape to another world. Why then should developers be limited to worlds of their own creation when it is places like Middle-Earth and the Star Wars Universe that got them dreaming in the first place?
The difference players and the marketing departments of game companies need to establish is that MMORPGs provide players with the chance to join a famous world, while single-player games offer players the chance to play out the stories of the characters that inspired them.
Let’s move away from pre-existing titles, and create one of our own. Let’s pretend for a moment that someone was making a Harry Potter MMORPG. Player expectations would be that players go to Hogwarts, probably fight Lord Voldemort and have zany adventures. From a game perspective, however, that is extremely limiting. Sure, they could make a world that revolved around the Harry Potter Universe, with many different schools of wizardry existing worldwide, but people, as a whole, would want the things that they were familiar with, not the universe as a whole.
Dana Massey: The core problem with your example is that you picked an IP that has a focused story: Harry Potter himself. There is some universe there, but unlike things like Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter does not have massive amounts of history and lore associated with the world. If Lord of the Rings were the only book Tolkien ever wrote, I would be less enthusiastic.
It is the responsibility of developers to pick IPs that has fans as excited about the worlds as the individual stories; which is to say appropriate worlds for development. Perpetual Entertainment’s choice of Star Trek has that potential. That franchise has existed and been popular in a number of incarnations. The only common thread is the universe in which the shows are set. Thus, I believe fans of the series will have no problem with the fact that they cannot be Captain Kirk.
From a developer standpoint, yes they are limited to the scope of their franchise. Is that a problem? No franchise – not even Lord of the Rings with its encyclopedias of information – has completely precluded any creativity in terms of adventure and story. Largely, these worlds just cut off certain areas. For example, in a Lord of the Rings MMORPG you probably should not have a magic system where everyone is summoning demons. Turbine has found a way around this. These corners that the franchise paints developers into should be seen as an opportunity to do something unique. These are the differences that make sure franchised games cannot be just like every other MMORPG on the market.
Jon Wood: First of all, a focused story? Not like Lord of the Rings is a focused story… Moving on. Secondly, the franchise is rare indeed that has a universe that is strong enough to support player interest away from the main focus of the original stories… the protagonists. With pre-existing protagonists running around, players are left to portray secondary bit-players at best. To my understanding, that’s not what players want from an MMORPG, players want to feel as though their characters are making a difference in the gaming world. What you are telling players by putting them into a franchise is that they are secondary, and that their actions will have peripheral effects at best.
In my opinion, even slight alterations to our expectations or internal visualizations of what a gaming world should look like, include, or play like, will destroy the idea that we are playing in a world that we love. Suddenly, we’ll find ourselves not looking at the game through the eyes of an MMORPG fan, but rather through the eyes of a jilted fan of whatever the franchise might be
Dana Massey: Basically, you’re arguing that we shouldn’t make MMORPGs out of popular franchises because it is hard. Obviously, the game is going to visually look and feel like someone else’s vision rather than your own, but if the interpreter (the developers) does a good job, this is not an issue. The popularity of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter movies proves this.
Most major franchises took root with a single focused story. Lord of the Rings has Frodo and his band and Star Trek has the original crew. Yet, the difference between these franchises and things like Harry Potter (although the later may develop this over time as well) is that there is a wealth of other information that people consume. People watch Star Trek because it is Star Trek, not because of Captain Picard. Just as people read about Middle-Earth and its lore, regardless of Frodo.
As for players being periphery elements of any established world, well this point is moot. Show me one MMORPG where players are the center of attention? Even if they do someday exist, no world’s history (not even the encyclopedias of Middle-Earth lore) define a world so tightly that there cannot be original content and adventures.
You can cast your vote and voice your opinion (please do both) on this hot topic in our debate thread.