IP Less-Than-Freely: MMOs Based on Licensed Properties

Swoop - Transformers Autobot and Dinobot

Swoop was probably my favourite Transformer. He even beat up Grimlock once.

With the news that Jagex and Hasbro have signed a deal to do a Transformers MMO (guess all that Mech-based development wasn’t a waste then, Jagex) I was reminded of all the other MMOs based on popular nerd properties that have been indicated as “in development” but have had varying levels of success. And by success, I mean “ever being heard of again”.

Tell Us A Story, Grandpa!

I saw some complaints that a Transformers MMO (or indeed any licensed MMO) is somehow a reduction in quality away from the Golden Age where licensed MMOs were unheard of. Which is garbage, because

  • the first graphical MMO was Neverwinter Nights, a Dungeons and Dragons license (and was popular enough to see another D&D setting turned into a MMO in Dark Sun Online);
  • the reason that Ultima Online was so popular at launch was the power of the long-standing Ultima IP; and
  • let’s not ignore all the MUDS / MUSHS / etc. that were unofficial rip-offs homages to particular IPs like Star Trek.


Obviously quite a few licensed / nerd IP MMOs exist (or existed), including titles like

  • World of Warcraft (Blizzard)
  • Star Trek Online (Cryptic)
  • Dungeons and Dragons Online (Turbine)
  • Final Fantasy XI & XIV (Square Enix)
  • Champions Online (Cryptic)
  • FusionFall (Grigon Entertainment)
  • Age of Conan (Funcom)
  • DC Universe Online (Sony Online Entertainment)
  • Toontown Online (Disney)
  • Star Wars: Galaxies (Sony Online Entertainment)
  • Lego Universe (NetDevil)
  • Warhammer Online (Mythic)
  • The Matrix Online (Monolith / Sony Online Entertainment)

and a number of others that no doubt matter to someone. I’ll let you look through that list and judge the varying levels of success these titles have reached yourself.

Popularity and standing out

Existing popularity means never having to introduce yourself to an audience.

Having a licensed IP MMO has its upsides and downsides. Two big upsides are that 1) there is an existing fan base that can quickly mobilise to create buzz around the game and 2) a lot of thinking around the lore and art style has already been done for the developer. This saves time and money at the front end, plus having a game that attracts a lot of online newsprint can help justify increasing the development budget because it is obviously going to be a hit title.

The flip side is that the built-in fan base can be hypercritical of every design decision that somehow draws the game away from a “true” representation of that lore. Plus having a licensed IP gives developers less control over their game:

It’s a very mixed bag.

Something for the Fan(boi)s

Then there are the licensed MMOs that get announced but seem to disappear for evermore. Anyone else remember:

  • The Wheel of Time MMO – announced 2008 by Red Eagle Games.
  • Buffy MMO – announced in 2008 by Multiverse.
  • Firefly MMO – Multiverse again, but this was first announced in 2006.
  • Tom and Jerry MMO – due to launch Q2 2010, you say TurnOut Ventures?
  • Ben 10 MMO – I can’t even sign up to the beta for this one; I keep getting an error message. TurnOut Ventures as well.
  • GURPS – going a long way back for this, but GURPS had planned to launch a Old West and Transhuman Space setting as a MMO then build on additional universes over time, but this project seems to have died off completely.
  • World of Darkness MMO – CCP is apparently hard at work at this, having announced it back in 2007. However, they have been very quiet about it.
World of Darkness

World of Darkness Online will provide another front for the Twilight Fan Wars, at least.

Plus then there are all those IP-licensed projects that start, but never quite make it to the announcement stage (e.g. Deadlands).

Which is a Long Way of Saying…

I understand the excitement around the announcement of a new IP-linked MMO, but such things need to be taken with a grain of salt. If it evens sees the light of day, an IP-linked MMO is bound to disappoint a lot of people because even in the best case a game developer can’t compete with the IP world a player has in their head.

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