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Jon Wood: Grinds My Gears: IP MMOs

Column By Jon Wood on June 03, 2011

So, now we know that name of Jagex’s Transformers MMO. It’s going to be Transformers Universe. And there was much rejoicing.

Ever since I started this job seven years ago, I’ve been waiting to hear that someone, somewhere, was working on bringing the world of Transformers to MMO players. It seems like a perfect fit. I mean, who doesn’t want to be a giant robot that turns into a car, or a plane, or an outdated Walkman-like tape player? I loved the franchise as a kid, and Transformers: The Movie is still one of my go-to films.

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So, why aren’t I completely and totally psyched at the prospect now that the game has not only been announced, but also titled?

I think that there are a few different reasons. The first is the fact that today’s Transformers franchise isn’t the same as MY Transformers franchise. It’s been all Michael Bay’d and whatnot. I think a little part of me died when Optimus Prime actually used the words “My bad” in the movie.

But in the end, it’s more than that and really doesn’t have anything to do with Transformers at all. Instead, it’s about IP MMOs in general. They just aren’t cutting it for me anymore. By and large, they just don’t work with audiences and with a few glaring exceptions tend to end up a hollow shell of the original source material, or worse, they don’t make it at all.

Personally, you wouldn’t see me funding a new outside IP MMO if I were an investor. The MMO market is unstable and treacherous enough as it is without hampering the project further by saddling it with an outside IP.

Just for fun, let’s take a look at a list of the outside (non-video game) IP MMOs over the last ten years:

Launched

Age of Conan: Very poorly received after launch, improved over time, now going Free 2 Play with only a small handful of servers.

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning: Did well in box sales, with dwindling subscribers from that point. Today it’s still in operation, but led by a very small team at what is left of EA Mythic.

Champions Online: Never got a solid footing, not seen by players as a viable follow-up to the original IP, City of Heroes.

Star Trek Online: Near universally panned as not “Star Trek” enough. It’s currently fighting for subscribers.

Hello Kitty Online: Not targeted at a traditional MMO audience.

Star Wars: Clone Wars: Hardly an MMO, very stuck in the cartoon IP, no character creation.

LEGO Universe: Let go of by Gazillion, now in the hands of LEGO.

DC Universe Online: Bugs, lack of content caused players to leave. Game was not the rousing success SOE hoped it would be.

Dungeons and Dragons Online: DOA until resurrected by turbine’s groundbreaking “Freemium” revenue model.

Lord of the Rings Online: One of the few outside IP games to be considered a large scale success.

Star Wars Galaxies: Confusion over how the IP should be used and treated resulted in the New Game Experience, a move that is still considered to be one of MMO gaming’s biggest ever blunders.

Upcoming

Star Trek: Infinite Space: Set in the Deep Space 9 era. May pick up players disheartened by STO.

The Mummy: This IP is probably coming far too long after the movie franchise was relevant.

Battlestar Gallactica: Players complain that this game is an in-ship only dogfight game. Not really true to the full IP.

Warhammer 40K: Too soon to tell, but players are already complaining about a two faction system.

Transformers: New movies keep this franchise relevant, though it may have lost its 30 - something crowd.

Marvel Super Hero Squad: Decent kid’s game. Will likely appeal to kids who are fans of the TV show.

Marvel Universe: The developers hope it will out-perform DC Universe Online.

Star Wars: The Old Republic: Genuinely one of the most anticipated titles ever. That said, it will be difficult for developers to please fans of the IP.

Honestly, I don’t see how anyone could look at this list and think that starting development on yet another outside IP MMO is a good idea. It very rarely works and in some cases, can spell doom or the developers. Just ask the folks working at Cryptic who just got bought by Perfect World after Atari dumped the asset like a hot potato.

So, my sage advice for this week’s Grind My Gears is simple: Stop making external IP MMOs and focus on the wealth of video game IPs and new, fresh ideas. Not that anyone is going to take MY word for it.

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Jon Wood
Jon Wood has been with MMORPG.com since the summer of 2005. In that time, he has served as new Manager, Community Manager and Managing Editor. Before coming to MMORPG.com, Jon spent time as a writer and quest designer for WISH.
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