[MUD-Dev] Evolutionary Design

Dave Rickey daver at mythicentertainment.com
Fri Jun 14 10:00:58 New Zealand Standard Time 2002


From: "Koster, Raph" <rkoster at soe.sony.com>
> From: Dave Rickey

>> There's something big about the Sims I've never seen anyone
>> comment on, a dog that isn't barking: Where are the clones?

> I think a major part of that is that hardcore gamers by and large
> do not find The Sims to be fun. And the industry is made up of
> hardcore gamers. So they're not interested in working on something
> they do not find fun. I remember telling a manager at Origin years
> ago that I thought The Sims would be huge and very interesting. He
> said (paraphrased), "I've seen it. It's a game where you manage
> people peeing. Not in a million years." Now, I am sure he's eaten
> his words by now, but at the same time, I heard a designer on my
> team make a very similar remark today.

And that mentality prevented cloning of Roller Coaster Tycoon, or
Deer Hunter?  Not even close.  Deer Hunter was even more universally
reviled than Sims, I've met a lot of game developers who aren't
afraid to admit they enjoyed Sims.

>> Why haven't more MMOG's come out?

> There's a jillion of them in Asia. There's the Street Fighter one
> and the caveman one, there's the cell phone one where you roam
> medieval Japan based on a GPS signal from your phone, and it
> reflects the actual weather in the game as you play. There's a
> bunch in Europe as well; I hear that some of the anime-inspired
> ones are about the size of UO or DAoC but nobody thinks of them as
> being "real." In terms of size, I'd guess that EQ is not #1
> (Lineage) or #2, but probably more like #10 or less. More MMOGs
> did come out. We just haven't noticed them very much here.

So I should move if I really want to be on the cutting edge of game
development in MMOG's?  I ain't buying it.  Sure, Lineage is huge,
and there are a couple of other games that have a significant Asian
market share, but EQ *is* number 2 (on revenue, at least, which is
the only metric we can rely on), and it's questionable if there's
anything between it and Camelot.  There's a crapload in the
$20,000-$200,000 monthly revenue range, but I can still count the
games making $1,000,000 a month or more on one hand without running
out of fingers.

The Asian business model, where accounts are free but seats are paid
for, makes anything but revenue figures meaningless.  Lineage may
have 4 million+ accounts, but it makes revenue like EQ would if it
had 600-700K users, so that's the number that matters.  By that
metric, everything else in Asia is the size of AO, or smaller.
According to Jake Song on this list about a year ago, Lineage is
actually extracting *more* revenue per frequent user than the
monthly subscription model used in the US, so in practice Lineage is
nowhere near 4 million.

>> It's been 5 years since UO proved there was real money in it, 3
>> since EQ and AC proved it wasn't a fluke.  Sure, there's some
>> true second generation products planned for release in the next
>> year, but where *is* everybody?

> Failing. Or failing to get money.

Which doesn't answer the question, merely re-phrases it.  Why are
they failing?  I'm a bright guy, you're a bright guy, we work with
some bright people, but the games business has a *lot* of bright,
motivated people in it.  Why can we do it, and they can't?  Why are
the traditional publishers so reluctant to invest money in this
space, and why have most of the cases where they have, failed?  EA
is the only one who made a major push on online games, and so far
everything since UO has bombed, badly.  Hasbro spent millions and
never even announced the game they spent it on.  Mythic had to go to
a movie and television investor for Camelot.  SOE is spending money,
but SOE is essentially a one-product "publisher" that does nothing
but online games.

Atriarch is the best contender I've seen, at least 75% ready to ship
and with some really strong fundamentals when I saw it at GDC, but
Seraphina (sp?) couldn't find a publisher.  WTF?  What I see is
people who "get it", but can't convince people with money, so either
games are badly conceived and pushed through on pure financial brute
force to an ignominious failure at launch, or they are developed on
a shoestring and never really fulfill their potential.

It's not a mystery to me why UO and EQ succeeded, and MCO and
Majestic failed.  I know it's not a mystery to you, and to about a
dozen others I met at GDC (most of whom are on this list).  But it
*is* a mystery to the people holding the cash, and that scares them
away.

The Themis Group estimates $400,000,000.00 dollars of revenue in
this space next year, and I would say that's conservative.  $400
million dollars a year, and no way to explain to the un-initiated
how it works?  And the price of entry is only going up, the next
major round of releases all have price tags attached in excess of
$10 million.  These games have always confused the rest of the
industry, judged *as games*, they suck.  But Lineage, EQ and UO,
measured on gross revenues, are right up there with The Sims and
Myst as the biggest franchises ever.  Why can't we come up with an
explanation of why that makes sense to anyone besides ourselves?

--Dave

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