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The Free Zone: Jagex Developing Transformers Online

Columns By Richard Aihoshi on March 28, 2011

Jagex Developing Transformers Online

As you may know, this was announced two weeks ago.  While it certainly didn't cause a major reaction, at least not in game publications that readers of this site are likely to frequent, the news has been like an occasional itch in the recesses of my mind ever since.  While it doesn't have my attention constantly, neither is it gone.  And as I keep returning to the topic, I continue finding more things to think and wonder about. 

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One is the absence of Activision, the game publisher most closely associated with the brand.  While the company obviously has a huge presence in the MMO space, that came about through the merger with Vivendi.  On its own, what did it ever do?  And now, even with Blizzard on board, is that enough, especially when online is the primary driver of growth in the industry?  Frankly, I've been expecting more projects, probably with other studios, and still am, in part because rival EA is much more active in this segment.

I can't help but be curious whether this constitutes a major missed opportunity.  The Transformers IP is relatively unusual, and thus more intriguing than many others, because it's so established in both hemispheres.  It's worth noting that the recent announcement covers North America, Latin America, Europe, New Zealand and Australia.  The global rights haven't been available since last year when it was revealed that a Chinese company, NetDragon, has them for Asia, Russia and the CIS, the Middle East and North Africa.

Because I'm naturally inquisitive about such things, a question I'd like to know the answer to but likely never will involves how and why this split came about.  In any case, the latter's game rates to be out earlier.  The last I heard, it's targeted to launch domestically later this year while the date given for the newly announced one is 2012.

In addition, the selection of Jagex is interesting.  Its key title is, of course, RuneScape.  Although I believe the press release over-stepped considerably in calling it "the world's most popular free-to-play MMOG", it's unquestionably an important factor in the western markets.  That said, its success comes largely from tapping a less than hardcore audience including a higher than average proportion of younger players, in part by making it playable on a very wide range of hardware - translation; the visuals are on the retro side.  While the age aspect is clearly a fit with the IP, it does raise a question as to the types of play and the level of graphics we can expect. 

I also noticed that the announcement didn't say what the game's revenue model will be.  In this regard, despite the above-noted characterization of RuneScape as F2P, it has used a hybrid model for some time, with a monthly fee option that currently runs $5.95 per month.  At this time, my best guess is that we'll see something in a similar vein, with a subscription-style package priced well below the $15 level.  What I don't have much gut feel for is whether there will be content that's not accessible without paying.

Another thing missing that struck me as possibly odd was the lack of any direct reference to the project as massively multiplayer.  It's only described as an "online game".  I don't want to read too much into what may be a meaningless choice of words.  On the other hand though, I still wonder at least a little what the implications are if it is significant.  

Looking at this announcement within the broader scope of the entire MMOG category, it's the latest indication of the ongoing trend toward aiming at less serious but larger target audiences.  Transformers has been on my personal list of IPs with above average potential in the space for a number of years, so I wasn't overly surprised when I learned about either title, especially in light of the increasing focus on younger players.  Assuming Jagex' release makes it to launch next year, I question whether this will still be soon enough to give it a consequential degree of early mover advantage within this market segment.  I do think the inherent strength of the property will help induce trial.

As a closing thought, I'm curious how the two games will compare.  It strikes me that if Jagex' game turns out to fit my admittedly vague feelings as to its possible nature, NetDragon's might be better suited to what the majority of MMORPG.com's readers and I would prefer to play.  Only time will tell.  In the interim, I expect that both will keep popping up to grab my attention from time to time as they progress toward launch.  

The Free Zone The Free Zone Editorials
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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