Blacksmiths of Intellectual Property: The Rise of Originality in MMOs - Page 3

Updated Mon, Jun 08, 2009 by Cody Bye

And for many developers, this sort of thinking is exactly why they decide to create an original property rather than starting with something that’s already been established. This desire to create a world that not only offer a rich background but also fits into the MMO mold is almost an essential part of the MMO formula.  Interestingly, most of the developers relayed that their own desire to create something new and fresh was as important, or more so, than actually having their game fit into some sort of MMO framework.

“I think the reasons for picking an original IP stem partly from wanting to avoid the complications of acquiring the IP but mostly from the desire to create something new,” Burba said. “Yes, building a game from an existing IP can be excessively restrictive with regard to being true to cannon, legal issues, and the money you give to the IP holder but I think these actually pale to the thrill of taking a world from idea to existence. In many ways I think that this 'creating worlds' task is why many people become developers in the first place. There are worlds and characters and storylines fighting to get out and game makers often find the most joy in breathing these worlds to life. It's a much higher level of freedom and creativity.”

Over at the small independent Quest Online Studios, David Allen has a similar sentiment. “We were able to build our own unique world from scratch; something we wholly own and can grow,” he said. “When you purchase existing IP you have rules and restrictions about what you can and can't do. We weren't interested in that.”

Nathan Knaack, a writer for Hi-Rez Studios' upcoming shooter-MMO Global Agenda, hit this point squarely on the head. "From the very beginning, Hi-Rez Studios knew it would be creating and developing its own intellectual property from scratch,” he said.  “Our Lead Designer, Erez Goren, a big fan of MMOs, funded the studio because he saw an opportunity to introduce a different type of online experience and this vision included the creation of an original world.  Purchasing an existing IP would have significantly inhibited our creative process."

Unlike many other companies, 38 Studios has gone out of their way to ensure that their development of an original world wouldn’t affect their fundraising or marketing efforts. Steve Danuser, Senior Game Designer for the company’s unannounced MMO project had this to say about developing an original IP.

“The reason we decided to create our own IP was based on the fact that we have R. A. Salvatore and Todd McFarlane as our visionaries,” he said. “These guys are renowned worldwide for crafting memorable settings and iconic characters. Combining their talents into an original IP was a no-brainer. With Salvatore and McFarlane guiding us, licensing someone else's IP was never a consideration.”

“In addition, the team we've built at 38 Studios was tailor made to take the framework created by Bob and Todd and bring it to life in a fun and compelling MMOG. Copernicus will be the flagship of our original IP, which will live across a variety of products designed to engage fans of this deep and diverse world and its history.”

However, 38 Studios may be singularly unique in the MMO market. With both Salvatore and McFarlane on board, the game has developed a “buzz” even without having to license an existing world. Their existing fanbase comes in the form of these two well-known storytellers, not to mention the presence of future MLB Hall of Fame pitcher and 38S’ founder, Curt Schilling.

But for the rest of the development teams, creating an original intellectual property – and making it successful – isn’t an easy task. Risks have to be taken, especially in terms of marketing, investor confidence, and public perception. Essentially, an original IP is an unknown entity, a blank slate. So what do the development teams believe is the hardest part of putting together an MMO on an original IP?

“Creating a new IP isn’t as difficult as it sounds,” Knaack stated. “Nobody sits down in front of a blank screen and thinks ‘I’m going to make Star Wars.’ It starts with small ideas, interesting situations, characters, and environments that eventually meld together in a coherent concept. When we began working on Global Agenda, there really wasn’t a story at all, just some ideas floating around about what would make a fun game.  We brainstormed for months and, when the dust settled, some key points stood out as being really definitive of what we were trying to accomplish.  When the time was right to tie all of those ideas together, we worked backwards and the fiction basically wrote itself.”

“Hi Rez Studios has a significant advantage over many other startup game studios:  We’re independently funded,” he concluded.  “That gives us the leisure of working at our own pace on our own ideas.  We never had to sell Global Agenda to anyone, so there were no compromises; nothing was sacrificed to appease our investors.”

But what about those studios that aren’t independently funded? What sort of issues are they forced to solve?

“The main heartache with an original IP is since it can really be anything you have to safeguard against those who want to add the design 'flavor of the month' to it so it will be more commercial,” Burba states. “A rogue investor or producer can decide 'yes, yes, the game is interesting but you should really have X because WoW does.' Bolting on things that work well in other games doesn't always mean it will work well in yours. Sometimes it's nice to have an existing IP to fall back on and wave away insane suggestions as being 'in conflict with cannon.'”

On the other hand, licensed IPs certainly have some distinct benefits, don’t they?

“Marketing people will tell you the advantages of purchasing existing IP, but I think few developers will,” Alganon guy said. “As a matter of fact I've heard of all sorts of problems with existing IP restricting the development of a product. More fingers in the pie. This whole illusion of existing IP making things easier, quicker, etc. is not true. All it brings is potential existing market saturation, which money-makers love, but it offers no other vision except to serve as a vision for those who see to have their vision already established by another.”

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