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Five Studios That Should Make MMOs

Jon Wood Posted:
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The List: Five Companies That Should Make MMOs

This week, Jon looks at five video game studios that could really shake up the MMO genre if they chose to throw their hat in.

The number of companies making MMORPGs has skyrocketed in the last three or four years. It seems as though every month or so someone announces either a new studio made up of all-stars from other successful studios, a very large corporation adding to its “online game portfolio,” or an existing studio getting into the MMO business.

Personally, it’s the latter that excites me most. I love the idea of established players in the video game industry making the move over to MMOs. It is, after all, the most logical step in an industry that has become more and more reliant on even its single player games having a multiplayer mode.

It isn’t as though this is a new idea. The most obvious and glaring example is Blizzard with World of Warcraft. Already a recognized and respected name in gaming, Blizzard was able to leverage the company’s success and their staff’s experience into a multiplayer phenomenon that put MMOs on the mainstream map. More recently, the hype created with the simple announcement in 2006 that the renowned RPG kings at Bioware were dipping their feet into the MMO waters was enough to generate and sustain a huge amount of hype for two full years before The Old Republic was officially announced.

So, with the above having made the leap, what other studios would we like to see take on the mantle of the MMO maker?

What do you suppose they could do with modern technology?

#5 Sierra On-Line

Sure, I’d need a time machine to get this one to happen, but I, like many other gamers from my generation, grew up with a steady dose of Sierra’s adventure games.

Founded all the way back in 1979, Sierra On-Line helped to revolutionize the video games industry, making use of the new ability of computers to present graphics along with the text that gamers had become accustomed to.

Over the years, the company produced titles that are remembered fondly by players everywhere: King’s Quest, Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, Police Quest, Mixed Up Mother Goose, the list goes on.

Eventually, in 1996, Sierra was sold to a company called CUC International, which pushed the company’s founder and CEO Ken Williams out the door, effectively ending the reign of the brand as it was virtually swallowed by its new owners (who also owned a promising little company named Blizzard). The people who directed the company’s success for more than 15 years began to disperse.

Today, Activision / Blizzard holds the rights to the Sierra name, and we may very well see an eventual resurgence of the brand, but wouldn’t it be grand if we could see what true innovators like the people behind Sierra could do to online games and MMOs in particular given the technology available to developers today?

Imagine an RTS world with thousands players.

#4 Ensemble Studios

Much like the last company on my list, Ensemble Studios is no more. Never one to let things like “facts” and “reality” stomp all over a good point, I’ve decided to recognize the fact and move on:

Ensemble Studios, the company behind the real time strategy series Age of Empires, would have been a perfect candidate to try their hands at an MMO-style game. The AoE series and Real Time Strategy (RTS) genre in general make use of competition and progression systems and require, as the name suggests, a certain amount of strategy in order to be successful. The games are already built for player vs. player action on a small board, but imagine an enormous world, with thousands of various civilizations building themselves up, making alliances, expanding, and being conquered. It’s the ultimate sandbox experience, full of goals and combat and political intrigue.

More and more, people in the MMO community complain that these games have become stale, that no one is doing anything new. One of the ways to revitalize the overall genre is to expand it. Why not an MMORTS that follows the same rules and conventions laid out by MMORPGs and who better than the guys that brought you one of the most enduring RTS titles of all time?

This was such a great idea that Ensemble themselves tried to pull it off. For years prior to their demise, it was a badly kept secret that they had their toes into the MMO pool.

Unfortunately, the brand itself went belly up in 2009 after the launch of the Halo Wars RTS. Hope springs eternal though, and if you see an MMO in development from studios called: Robot Entertainment, Bonfire Studios or Windstorm Studios there is a fair chance that some of the players in Ensemble will have a hand in it. All formed after the studio’s demise, these companies are made up of former Ensemble developers.

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Jon Wood