Loading... September 17th, 2010 - Freedom or Death

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Welcome to the 1,421st edition of Loading...

APB came to a surprising end this week, surpassing the likes of Tabula Rasa and Chronicles of Spellborn for the title of shortest lasting large budget MMORPG. That, while the much smaller, scrappier developer Flying Lab Software announced free-to-play plans for Pirates of the Burning Sea. How some companies weather on and others, despite vast resources, fail, is the subject of today's Loading... Freedom or Death.

The Pulse

You vote with what you view at Ten Ton Hammer, and the result is the Ten Ton Pulse (What is The Pulse?).

Today's top 5 Pulse results:

  1. World of Warcraft
  2. Lord of the Rings Online (UP 1)
  3. Everquest 2 (down 1)
  4. EVE Online (UP 1)
  5. Guild Wars 2 (down 1) 

Biggest movers today:

  1. Star Wars: The Old Republic
    - UP 2 to #19
  2. Dungeons and Dragons Online
    - UP 1 to #6
  3. Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures
    - down 1 to #7
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Loading... A game! A game! My kingdom for a game!

Some ten years ago in a sleepy late afternoon class, I painfully watched as a finance professor quietly cast aspersions on the optimistic a handful of the entrepreneurial track folks. This was not a time of recession, the economy was growing and the dot com boom had not yet gone bust, confidence was running high, but this particular professor wanted these folks to know what they're getting into. Taking aside one student who he knew wanted to start a chain of coffee shops (even to this day, Fivebucks has yet to invade rural Pennsylvania), he grimly went over the failure rate of such ventures: around 80%. That's about 4 of 5 small restaurants, and the number was even higher for establishments with no liquor license. Even if his shops survived, each could feasibly expect to lose money for five years before making a penny, and that was in a "good" economy. I developed a whole new level of respect for entrepreneurs and small businesses that day, and it's something I've tried to carry forward in our coverage of smaller MMO projects on Ten Ton Hammer.

At the foot of the Scottish highlands, in a land known for producing world-famous economists and business minds like Adam Smith and Andrew Carnegie, something went horribly wrong with Realtime Worlds. What killed APB? Reviews of the game were lukewarm at best, the story was paper thin, shooter newbies were inordinately punished, the gameplay repetitive to a fault, but there's almost certainly something more sinister going on here. Luke Halliwell has almost made a hobby of covering the internal dysfunction in the Realtime Worlds organization. Good ideas typically survive bad organizations, and I imagine if we all took a peak behind the Blizzard curtain during WoW's development we'd see the same kind of in-fighting on a much larger scale. You'll find the Blue team scattered across the games development landscape, happy to add Blizzard and World of Warcraft to their resumes, and some, like Mark Kern, have very promising games in development The difference, of course, is that Blizzard was already a mature and prestigious company by the time that WoW went into development, and Realtime Worlds had Crackdown, David Jones, and the same postal code as Rockstar's original studios.

But instead of looking at Sigil or Destination Games, look instead at NetDevil. Auto Assault was perhaps the first financial failure to really shock the MMO world, but sound business decision-making ensured that NetDevil didn't put all their eggs in one basket, but retained their talent to make another game. Now, I don't think we're alone in feeling like they're on the verge of a blockbuster with LEGO Universe.

Or look at Flying Lab Software. This week FLS announced plans for Pirates of the Burning Sea to go free-to-play. Whatever you might feel about the free-to-play porting trend that seems to be gaining momentum (I personally like the all-in Turbine model than SOE's first attempt with EQ2X), it's a good choice for PotBS. Why? Because the game is essentially a lobby and instance game, the map being the lobby, much like DDO, with some overland areas thrown in as episodic style content - an excuse to pimp the game every few months. Fence off the premium areas with something as simple as "Thar be dragons!" style barriers. Or maybe put free-to-play players at such an obvious disadvantage in PvP that they'll be forced to either fall-in with existing players or upgrade at higher levels to participate in port battles and the like, make sure the upgrade paths are visible and accessible to new players. All in all, I think PotBS is uniquely positioned to take advantage of a F2P conversion. But none of that would have been possible had not the talented Rusty Williams and his crew not closely controlled costs throughout the game's existence.

You might wonder why we put a lot of effort into covering glum business news about MMO games. Put simply, it's because we care about the wellbeing of the MMO category. We want to see more Flying Lab Softwares, more NetDevils, more Runic Games, and less Sigils, less Destination Games, and less Realtime Worlds. There's so much these games and companies can learn from each other if they'll just pay attention. That's especially true since the business model experiment phase is just about over, we've largely established what works and what doesn't in the Western market. Complicated, convoluted payment schemes involving multiple virtual currencies - very bad. Unoriginal clones - very bad. Giving a game away free to the Western market and expecting them to pay to advance - bad. RMT stat items in a subscription game - bad.  Sparkly RMT "cosmetic" items in a subscription game - meh, a fast infusion of cash that you pay for in decreased loyalty, use with care. Premium subscription all-you-can-play options in a core free-to-play game - good. Developing items and content based on what sells best in the free-to-play world - good. Box pricing without a subscription or RMT - very good.

The lesson for is to treat your business as a going concern (the prime directive of accounting, by the way), something with a vision, not just a scrum-obsessed single game-centric company. In case you're curious about that particular student, he went on to purchase a dilipated little house, fixed it up by hand, and turned it into a thriving little coffee shop a short distance from where we took that class. He and his wife take on second jobs in the summertime when student populations are low and work hard in the fall and spring. More than seven years later, the vision remains, but they're working hard and seem to be doing all right in the meantime.

Does PotBS have a better chance as free-to-play? Could any of these failed games, from APB on down, have succeeded with a blank check? Share your thoughts in the Loading... forums.

Shayalyn's Epic Thread of the Day

From our Articles, News & Events Discussion forum

APB's Luke Halliwell Discusses What Went Wrong with Realtime Worlds

Realtime Worlds has pulled the plug on APB and shut off the lights. Former APB staffer Luke Halliwell has been vocal about what he feels went wrong with the game's development and particularly its management. Ten Ton Hammer's resident news hound, Martuk, has taken the time to summarize Halliwell's series of blog posts on the subject. If you're a glutton for the drama that surrounds the demise of a game (and whether APB is truly dead or not is the subject of some debate, but that's a topic for another day), this thread is for you. Go!

Awesome Quotes from the Epic Thread

"You know, why do we care? It seems people are just letting a whole bunch of attention whores sound off now. It's done, let it rest in peace. "

- Vaebn

"I do get some perverse pleasure out of it. They did it to themselves and they were hardly the only ones. Tabula Rasa, Vanguard, etc... Of course the trick, for us, remains figuring out who is doomed before we spend way too much money on them."

- SirRobin

New and Exclusive Content Today at Ten Ton Hammer

4 new Ten Ton Hammer features today! 57 Ten Ton Hammer features in September! 1012 in 2010!


GameCrush: Capitalizing On Your Girl Gamer Fetish

The creators of GameCrush.com have developed an amazing set of social networking tools, then placed them into a website built solely for the purpose of getting lonely gamers to pay for online play time with attractive fellow gamers. Borticus had a chance to sit down with two GameCrush "PlayDates," as well as co-founder Eric Strasser, to discuss some of the existing stigmas already attached to the site that will re-launch later this year.


Microcosms: Mysterious Island of Gipat – A Look at Allods Update 1.1

The first major content update to Allods Online added more than just new areas, quests and monsters; it also brought some very specific changes made only for the North American Market. Jason “Medawky” Bolton sat down with Darren Allarde and Krystin DeHaven from Gala-Net to tour the new content, and to get the skinny on the effect of these new changes. Join us this week to find out the community’s reaction and get the lowdown on what to expect as you make your way to the Mysterious Island of Gipat.


New Final Fantasy XIV Screenshots Showcase the Forest Nation of Gridania

Final Fantasy XIV (FFXIV) is rapidly approaching its launch later this month and the PR machine is in full swing. Earlier this week we posted a new batch of screenshots from the desert nation of Ul'dah, but today Square Enix released another round of screenshots with a change of scenery. The latest batch of images offers a look at the forest nation of Gridania. Gridania can be found in the eastern reaches of Aldenard and all the colorful new screenshots can be found here.


WoW -  Rated BGs vs. Arenas

Ever since The Burning Crusade, Battlegrounds have taken a back seat to Rated Arenas both in respect and rewards. That's about to change. Rated Battlegrounds will have the exact same rewards available as Rated Arenas with the possible exception of the Gladiator title and associated mount. How do the two compare and what can you expect? Read on to find out.

Today's Top 10

  1. Deeper into the Rift – A Q&A with Rift: Planes of Telara’s Scott Hartsman
  2. The Heart of Tyria - An Exclusive Interview on Personal Story and Progression in Guild Wars 2
  3. WoW Cataclysm – Deepholm Zone Preview
  4. GameCrush: Capitalizing On Your Girl Gamer Fetish
  5. Rift: Planes of Telara Class & Invasions Video Feature with Russ Brown
  6. Guild Wars 2 FAQ
  7. Aion: Assault on Balaurea First Impressions
  8. WoW -  Rated BGs vs. Arenas
  9. At Worlds' End - A Hands-On Look at End of Nations
  10. WoW - Preparing Your Guild for Cataclysm

Thanks for visiting the Ten Ton Hammer network!

- Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle and the Ten Ton Hammer team

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