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Bill Murphy: Who Should Buy Cryptic?

Column By William Murphy on May 19, 2011

During Atari’s May 17th earnings report, the publisher announced plans to “divest” Cryptic Studios, citing that the developer does not fall in line with its move into more casual themed gaming.  Though the move is effective as of March 31st, Atari assured everyone that support of Star Trek Online and Champions Online, as well as development on Neverwinter Nights will continue as normal until such a time that the studio can be sold.  But here’s the question: who should buy Cryptic?  What does this really mean for the future of Cryptic’s games?  I’m not a business guru by any stretch of the imagination, but I do have access to this particular pedestal and I’ll be damned if I’m not about to use it to hypothesize on this little situation.  Tag along on the magic carpet ride, won’t you?

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First, let’s cover what we know Cryptic has at their disposal.  We know they have two games which failed to perform to expectations, but for all intents and purposes appear profitable. We are also aware that they can create a well-designed “Freemium” experience, which let’s face it is all the rage right now in an industry searching for new revenue models.  We also know they have access to a fairly robust and agile development package which allows them to create content at a rather quick pace.  I’m not here to argue the merit of said content, but the fact that a somewhat small studio (for MMO purposes) was able to churn out two AAA MMORPGs in such rapid succession speaks volumes for the development package… even if it’s not best suited to the traditional MMO payment model.

That brings me to the Wild Card: Neverwinter.  This to me is the game that has a chance to make Cryptic a winning studio in the eyes of gamers once more.  It’s going to be F2P from the word go, and takes significant advantage of Cryptic’s instance-oriented engine and their slant towards giving players ultimate control in character creation.  It’s poised perfectly to use well everything MMO stalwarts have found wrong with the company’s two most recent releases.  It could be Cryptic’s return to form, if gets the chance to see the light of day.

But who should try to snatch up the struggling developer to see to it that Neverwinter comes out and CO and STO stay afloat for their fans?  SOE has a long history of helping ailing games and keeping them alive long after they’ve been deemed worthless by others.  And CO and STO are far from worthless, both enjoying a niche by loyal fanbase.  But in light of recent events, is SOE really capable of putting out the capital needed to pick up Cryptic and all their assets?  Despite SOE’s troubles, it is one of the few developers with experience in this realm. 

But what about EA, who has sort of made a habit lately of buying studios?  Of course they tend to buy studios who are more in their prime and bank on profitable IPs.  And chances are whoever buys Cryptic will have to share Neverwinter Nights with Atari (who owns those rights last I checked).  Still, there’s value left in Champions Online and STO.  Perhaps EA wouldn’t mind trying out a F2P model if they’re going to continue their ventures into MMO territory.  Additionally, lord knows there is a wealth of talent in Cryptic they can ship out to help other projects. 

Lastly on my short list of potential buyers is Turbine.  I don’t know Turbine’s finances and if they could even afford Cryptic.  But then I also don’t know how much Cryptic would be going for.  What I do know is that Turbine has sort of written the book on Freemium MMOs, and along with CO who’s to say that STO wouldn’t benefit from the same treatment? 

There are probably some other developers or publishers who wouldn’t mind tossing their hat into the ring.  Gamigo, GamersFirst, and others might have something to offer, but I’m no financial analyst so who really knows.  Maybe the best course of action for Cryptic itself is to remain steadfast and seek out private funding until they can finish work on Neverwinter Nights.  Sure they haven’t had the greatest success as of late, but I’m betting that Jack Emmert and company would prefer to remain on their own with total control.  The only question is if that’s really viable in the long-term. 

In any case, consider this the end of my own musings on the subject.  Though I highly doubt any of my guesses will be on the money, it’ll be interesting to see how this all shakes out for Cryptic.  It would be an absolute shame if CO and STO players lost their homes, and if Neverwinter Nights never had a chance to be enjoyed (or ridiculed).  What do you all think?  I’m betting there are at least a few of you who have some suggestions for Cryptic and ideas on why might pick them up.  Lay out all your thoughts below.  If nothing else, it’s fun to take a guess right?

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He''s been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.

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Bill Murphy
Bill Murphy came on as a full time writer with MMORPG.com in 2010, his extensive knowledge of the genre and ability to turn a phrase have been a welcome addition to the MMORPG.com team.
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