It is sometimes said that the launch of a new MMO never really ‘kills’ an older title. The older MMO might lose some players but will continue on in its own way with its already established community and developer Vision.
That might have been true once, but it is increasingly less reliable to believe in. There’s a good case that NCsoft’s shutdown of Lineage in North America was strongly assisted by the launch of RIFT and players moving to this new fantasy title. Now Sony Online Entertainment has announced that their Star Wars: Galaxies (SWG) will be closing in December, which is pretty close to when some expect EA / BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWOR) to launch.
A Blow to SOE
This is bad news for SOE that adds to the string of bad news they’ve been experiencing recently. SOE’s MMO model has been one of keeping older games going as long as possible because they all add to the attractiveness of the Station Pass and its ‘play all these games for one price’ set-up. Sure, not every game will be to your taste, but even if you only want to play 2 games on the list, it makes sense to pay for Station Access.
SWG is one of the more recognisable titles on that list. Even with the launch of SWOR it makes little sense for SOE to cut SWG due to fear of EA stealing players from it. It would happen, but SWG and SWOR are arguably chasing different player types and there is always the chance that with “[p]opulations [staying] pretty steady for a long time now” then they’d remain fairly constant at SWOR’s launch (or rather the sub revenue would remain constant, even if SWG players tried out SWOR).
Hell, even if SWG’s players deserted it the day that SWOR launces, cancellation can come after such things are confirmed. Perhaps SWOR doesn’t launch until 2013 – shutting SWG early only depribes SOE of a cornerstone sandbox title before the state of play is known.
Instead it looks like SOE is canning SWG because it can’t reach an agreement with LucasArts over the next contract. Perhaps LucasArts wanted to raise the royalty rate, or force SOE to take some series of actions that they weren’t comfortable would pay off (such as increased development expenditure on SWG, or some kind of ‘do not compete’ clause). It also wouldn’t be much of a surprise if EA has been very ambitious when talking to LucasArts about the future of SWOR, so that SWG looks very much like the poor cousin as a result.
SWG’s cancellation announcement has allowed multitudes of players to drag out their New Game Experience (NGE) stories and to yet again ‘what if’ a tale that has already been dealt out. It will also be interesting to see if LucasArts or EA go after the SWG emulators (like SWGemu) on the grounds that they aren’t officially sanctioned Star Wars MMOs.
Whenever I hear someone get nostalgic about SWG before the NGE, they usually say something like: “It was a great game at release… richest crafting experience ever.”
I submit that when the first positive that springs to mind when you’re thinking about a game based on spaceship dogfights and laser swords is the crafting system, you’re pointing out the original problem.
It was the greatest of ironies that the Star Wars MMO launched without the ‘star’ part and without the Jedi part. And the ‘wars’ part was iffy as well.
Yep. (I think the whole Jedi problem arose when one criterion for unlocking the class, changing professions, presumed people would play a lot differently than they really do, but that’s a whole different, eight-years-stale rambling.) There were plenty of other issues at launch, like rampant bugs and grindy gameplay, but the lack of Star Wars in SWG was a large one.
More generally, I think having a specific IP, or even genre, sets expectations that a company must consider. If you’re going to make a “sci-fi” game, you’ve got a canvas big enough to accommodate both EVE and Anarchy Online. If you’re going to make a “pirate” game, though, you better have ships firing cannon at other ships… or be at a level of abstraction where it doesn’t matter anymore, like Puzzle Pirates.
IP is a cage in and of itself. A lot of devs love the idea because it saves on lore development and potentially brings in its own audience, but the royalties and limitations of an IP can also straightjacket a MMO as well. As I said, I don’t think SOE wants to shut SWG down, but they don’t have a choice because they can’t agreeably renegotiate the contract with LucasArts.
I’ve got a half-written post somewhere that discussed it; I might now go back and finish it. 🙂
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