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r1ft Gaming Blog

A mirror of my gaming blog at The jaded game designer turned corporate lackey. Feedback is always welcome.

Author: Daedren

The Fine Print of a Fallout MMO

Posted by Daedren Thursday November 6 2008 at 7:44AM
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At last! Fallout 3 has swept into our gaming lives, and most people are happy. The game, in my opinion, is pretty damn good. Of course, with a good game like that, coupled with a heap of old-school game fans, it's easy to get all moist on the mere thought of turning the Fallout universe into a MMO. I'm as excited as the next guy at the thought of having anything as cool as the Fallout series take a leap into the genre. In fact, I like the IP enough where I've actually based my theoretical game designs on Fallout (it was either that or Neuromancer, of course) and I even hang out at the craziest, most dedicated fan site that has ever existed for any game: No Mutants Allowed. In my limited dealings with real, actual people in the games industry, I've even been lucky enough to chat with a few of the former Black Isle and Interplay guys. So, it pains me more than anything to say: the Fallout MMO probably won't happen for a long, long time. Sad Panda is sad.

Of course I can't just go spouting stuff like that without some sort of logical argument. So, let's take a look at the Fallout wiki site, that fills us in on some of the boring (although quite relevant) legal status of the Fallout MMO. Basically, it revolves around Interplay being Bethesda's little bitch in every way, shape, and form. Remember a couple years ago when Bethesda bought the Fallout IP but Interplay retained the "rights" to a MMO? There are stipulations. Those are:

  • Interplay has to raise $30 Million by April, 2009.
  • Interplay has to start development by April, 2009.
  • Interplay must launch the Fallout MMO no later than 4 years from starting development (April, 2013).
  • Interplay must pay 12% of subscription fees in royalties to Bethesda if they somehow actually launch the game.

If any of these are not met, Interplay forfeits the rights to the Fallout MMO. (Source)

I want to point something specifically out in this little arrangement (which sounds more like a Mafia deal than a real business arrangement). The initial proposal for the Fallout MMO projected the cost of development between $75M - $100M. That means if Interplay does indeed secure the magic "30 Million" that they're still over 60% under budget for actually making the game. Normally this wouldn't be too big of a deal, as game studios normally don't have a strict production schedule. Unfortunately, this situation is far from normal, and even if Interplay could start production on a Fallout MMO in 2009, they have a strict 4 years to get it out the door - no matter what state it's in.

To compare, games like World of Warcraft and Warhammer had $70M+ budgets and took 4+ years to develop. Oh, and Warcraft had a team of vets from games like UO, Asheron's Call and Everquest helming it up, not to mention Mythic having the Dark Age team at its disposal. Interplay has a couple of the original Fallout guys (Chris Taylor and Jason Andersen) - and, while talented, have no MMO experience whatsoever.

For arguments sake, we can assume that a Fallout MMO could be made in 4 years with the projected budget of $75M. That leaves us to question Interplays ability to secure investments. While the recent success and hype of Fallout 3 might reassure investors that the IP is workable as a MMO, putting money into Interplay is going to be a tough sell to anyone with money. We're talking about a company that, 2 years ago, was over $5M in debt and had to sell it's top IP just to not get their knees broken.

So, in a nutshell:

  • Interplay, a company in financial disarray, needs 30M large to just start production on the game.
  • Interplay currently staffs no experienced MMO developer of any sort
  • Interplay has a strict 4 years to release the game, no matter what the state is
  • Interplay then has to pay 12% royalty to Bethesda and can also not profit from any Fallout IP related merchandise.

In short, it's not looking good for an Interplay based Fallout MMO. I have a gut feeling that of the $30M that Interplay needs to raise, they have about $29M to go. Only one public announcement has been made of investment (and it was for 2M shares of Interplay, not even $1M USD). Sadly I don't think Interplay has the mettle or the personnel to be trying to keep everything all secret squirrel. Unless Santa comes with a fat check this Christmas, it looks like it's going to be permanent lights out for good ol' Interplay.

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This light is: ZeniMax Studios.

It's not the coolest name for a game studio, but whatever. This studio is Bethesda's little secret. At the moment, they're officially working on something that seems to be interestingly uninteresting. They bought a MMO game engine license that makes it look like they're doing, well, something. What I think they are doing is just biding their time. They are probably just laying the groundwork for their potential Fallout MMO, which they'll have rights to in either May 2009 or May 2013, whenever Interplay decides to concede victory and try to escape the country without being killed by their investors.

ZeniMax and Bethesda will have exclusive rights to the Fallout IP and MMO as soon as Interplay officially voids the contract. From the above keypoints, it's probable that this will happen. The MMO industry is a fickle and dangerous business to be in. Bethesda has both the talent (and more importantly) the cash to back a huge MMO project. In fact, when you think of it, Bethesda was pretty sly about this whole thing: they bought the Fallout IP rights from Interplay, probably discounted for the Fallout MMO rights. They then put these stipulations into the contract - knowing that they'd be done with Fallout 3 in Q4 2008 or Q1 2009 - enough time to revive the Fallout IP interest and then dive into the Fallout MMO in April 2009 - since they seem to know that Interplay can't possibly raise $30M on this speculative venture.

So, maybe it won't be a long, long time. Actually, ZeniMax seems to have their shit together (no surprise) more than Interplay for the Fallout MMO - as they've already got an engine picked out and possibly have a team (not just a couple guys) actually working on the game. They could have it out and humming by, say, 2011 or 2012 if things go well. I guess all that's left for us to do is sit back and enjoy some Nuka Cola, since it looks like the boys at Bethesda have us covered.


Fallout Online - ZeniMax Entertainment

Coming 2012

That's my prediction anyway!


Original article here.