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The Free Zone: RIP Mythic

Column By Richard Aihoshi on June 03, 2014

It's not my fault. Mythic's closing, which was revealed last week, did not come about due to any curse associated with me. Admittedly, I've written quite a bit about the studio and its projects. I can say the same thing about Origin, NetDevil, Artifact Entertainment, Nival, Cryptic, Destination Games and more. That all of these are now either gone completely or substantially changed from what they were is, I assure you, purely coincidental.

I will admit I almost included a comment in my previous column wondering how much longer Mythic would be around. This wasn't because I had any inside information. Neither was it the result of my being highly insightful; it wasn't very hard to see it coming. Frankly, at least part of why I didn't write it was that something inside me didn't want it to come true.

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At that time, I referred to Dark Age of Camelot as “the little game that could”. It would have been just as easy and as appropriate to call the company that made it “the little studio that could”. While I can't claim to know the details, the project was essentially an all or nothing bet. Indeed, although the cost to develop and launch it was modest pretty even by the standards of the era - reportedly around $2.5 million - Mythic only got the title out the door by selling a minority share of itself to a partner, Abandon Entertainment.

I've been an independent contractor and/or a consultant for almost the entire time I've been I've written about games. Starting before then, my background also includes opening my own business, becoming a partner in another and a period during which I advised around 100 potential start-ups. So, I believe I have at least some feel for the kinds of trials and tribulations that can arise when you're risking not just your own money but also the very existence of your operation.

So, I'll definitely miss Mythic. In this regard, I should clarify that I'm mainly talking about the pre-EA company. It wasn't the same for very long after it was acquired. The change wasn't instant, but it was inevitable and inexorable. Within as little as a year or two, although many of the people were still the same, the corporate influence was clearly visible in how the studio operated, communicated with editors, etc. Just to be clear, this wasn't a simple binary shift from completely good to all bad. It was, however, a move toward conformity, away from the refreshing individuality I'd grown used to and had always enjoyed.

In addition, I can't help wondering how much effort went into keeping Mythic alive. To put this into perspective, EA had to be disappointed by the performance of Warhammer Online. But once it had launched, what other projects was the studio assigned to work on? That we know of, Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes, Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar and Dungeon Keeper for mobile come to mind. Do you think any of these endeavors was or is regarded as important? Heck, as of February, even DAoC was outboarded. In this light, while the closing may not have been easily predictable, neither did it come as much of a surprise.

The news also prompted me to think about indie MMOGs in a more general sense. To be honest, I want to believe a they have a decent chance to prosper, if not to the degree DAoC did since the market has grown and evolved a great deal since then, but at least to somewhere above niche status. However, I do recognize that the barriers to both entry and success are higher and more complex than they were a decade and a half ago.

So, will we ever see another Mythic / DAoC? I wish I could list off a bunch or even a couple of likely candidates, or even just tell you that I'm confident we will. Unfortunately, I'm enough of a pragmatist that if forced to wager for or against this happening, I'd put my money on the later. How about you?

Closing queries

Is it still possible for an indie MMOG to become a major factor in today's market? What would have to happen for this to occur, or why not?

What are the pros and cons of crowdfunding for an indie MMOG? 

Which indie MMOGs are you currently playing and/or looking forward to, and why does each of them appeal to you?


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The Free Zone
Richard Aihoshi has been writing about MMOGs since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. As a result, he has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.

He is the former Editor of RPG Vault and his column, focusing on free to play MMOs, appears on MMORPG.com every Monday.
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