The flood of existing IPs
(intellectual properties)
into the MMOG marketplace prompted me to ponder their effects on our
Is the added recognition and likely increased box sales worth the
hassle of
having to deal with the licensor's demands and restraints, not to
mention those
of the often rabid fanboys who know the property better than the
developer ever
could? Or, are developers simply setting themselves up for failure by
setting expectations
that can never be met?


It is existing IPs
that seem
to be getting so much
attention lately, not only for bringing well known and established
intellectual properties
into the
MMOG genre, but also for their almost unanimous failings.

IPs generally fall into one of three
categories. First,
there are existing IPs. These are properties i.e. stories, settings,
and worlds
that were designed with another medium in mind--IPs like Dungeons
Dragons, The Lord of the Rings, Conan, Star Trek and, of course, Star
Wars. Their
settings that were never designed with a MMOG market in mind (and, in
fact, all
of the ones I mentioned predate MMOGs completely.) In order to bring
games into the MMOG medium the developer must obtain the rights from
the owner
of the IP or the licensor. These IPs are widely popular and MMOG
building off them hope to bring their fans into the genre by
fictional settings they already know and love.

Other games walk the line but do not
have to deal with Licensing
issues. IPs like Warcraft and Ultima
have a following already, but
since the developers made the IP they can tailor the game to whatever
want, while only having to put up with fans of previous games.

Then, of course, we have the IPs that
were created
specifically for the MMOG market--games like EverQuest,
Dark Age of Camelot
and City of
. These games can simply create whatever they like
since they are bound by no previous setting at all. However they do
have an
uphill fight in that they start off without an existing fanbase. They
must work
harder to convince players to try their setting.

It is the first category that seems
to be getting so much
attention lately, not only for bringing well known and established IPs
into the
MMOG genre, but also for their almost unanimous failings.

When MMOGs first came out over a
decade ago, existing IPs
were only a pipe dream. Games like Ultima
, EverQuest and Dark Age
of Camelot
released with little
to no lore already known in their games. Even Ultima
which had a string of successful titles that
preceded its launch, largely scrapped everything other then some names
and a
story or two. These games were quite successful. So what changed?

Star War

was the first big existing IP that developers attempted to make into an
Many players, myself included, rejoiced at the announcement. This was
Online Entertainment and Lucas together--how could it possibly fail?
Well, fail
it did. Were player expectations too high? Was the game too bug-filled
unpolished? Did LucasArts not give enough support to SOE? I believe the
lies in all of these. Regardless of the reason, it was largely believed
that SWG was going to be the first
reach 1 million subscribers. It allegedly didn't reach half that number.

I chalked up the failure of Star Wars Galaxies
to SOE and LucasArts
and went on to seek the
next great game. Turbine announced that Dungeons
& Dragons Online
was under development. How could
this game fail?
Almost every MMOG out there was basically ripping off D&D
anyway (yes, I
know D&D was ripping off Tolkien, don't get me started), so how
could the
game fail? Turbine already had a great reputation with Asheron's
they could make a great D&D MMOG.

alt="Dungeons and Dragons" style="width: 600px; height: 484px;"
dungeons="" dragons="" online=""

How different might
Dungeons & Dragons Online have looked in a Forgotten Realms

The first warning that something was
wrong came when they
announced that the setting for the game was going to be Eberron. Anyone
knew anything about D&D knew the setting had to be the
Forgotten Realms.
It's where Baulders Gate, Neverwinter, Drizzts Do'Urden, and almost
every other
famous D&D game or story took place. Yet Turbine announced they
excited to be developing their game in a new setting called Eberron.
This is
where the issue of licensors having their own agendas comes in. See,
Wizards of
The Coast, the current owners of the D&D license, were
developing a new
setting. They were trying to find a way to sell more books and
supplements. How
better to do this than to make sure your new MMOG took place in your
setting? They didn't care that the game could be better if it featured
the most
popular setting, and Turbine, who wanted to keep the license, had to
through whatever hoops were laid before them. I remember fans yelling
about how
stupid Turbine was for setting the game in Eberron, and true to form,
took the abuse in stoic silence. They knew the game should be set in
the Realms,
but they had to shut up and tow the line. Despite the great revival the
has had, it was a huge failure yet again for existing IPs. What would
the game
have looked like without the other interests of Wizards of The Coast
and their
owner Hasbro? Sadly, we will never know.

Not every existing IP is doomed by
the licensor. Take a look
at Lord of The Rings Online. By all
accounts the licensor was very accommodating and largely let Turbine
make the
game they wanted to make. Turbine released a screenshot showing a
squirrel near
a tree before launch. The forum boards went wild with fans complaining
squirrels in Middle Earth should be red and not grey. It went on for
weeks, for
hundreds of posts... posts debating the color of a common ground
squirrel. How
do you make a game that will not disappoint such a die hard fan?

Since then several others have tried:
Age of Conan, Warhammer
and Star Trek Online,
to name a few. All have been failures compared to what the titles
expected to
bring in. Yet with all of these failures developers continue to look at
existing IPs as a stomping ground for their games. Even the venerable
arguably the greatest RPG developer out there, is trying to capitalize
on an
existing IP. While they are using a previous game they created for the
lore of Star Wars The Old Republic,
Lucas Arts
is still the licensor and everything must be approved by them. Why take
chance? Why make yourself beholden to someone else when you are capable
taking the reins? Are the increased box sales worth the risk when so
much time
and money are invested? They have a well established IP that is already
for an MMOG. I defy anyone to play the Mass
games and tell me that their setting wouldn't make a
far better MMOG
setting. Yet they chase that carrot dangling in front of them like SOE
Will they fare better? I truly hope so, but history tells us not to get
hopes up.

style="width: 600px;" star="" wars="" the=""
old="" republic=""

Will a strong RPG
development team make for a strong game with Star Wars: The Old

Look at the history of the
genre--established IPs where the
developer does not outright own the rights to the property have failed
without exception. Look at what we consider successful MMOGs--they are
all comprised
of intellectual properties owned by their developers. Games like World
of Warcraft, Eve Online, City of
Heroes, Dark Age of Camelot
and of course EverQuest
answer to no one but themselves. The results tell you
everything you need to know.

Are there any existing IPs you think
could buck the trend
and cross into the MMOG genre? Share them with us in our forums. Until
then, I
still have to admit that I want my Dungeons & Dragons MMOG set
in the
Forgotten Realms. I guess I’ll never learn either.

Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016