Last week at GDC one of the most exciting panels to me was the Future of MMOs panel that brought together an A list of the who’s who in MMOs today. The members of the panel included Cryptic Studios’ Jack Emmert, Min Kim from Nexon, BioWare’s Ray Muzyka, and Rob Pardo of Blizzard fame. There were a lot of topics touched on, including MMOs on consoles, microtransactions vs. subscriptions, and the rising development costs of the industry in general.
Micrtotransactions vs. Subscription models.
Cryptic Studio’s Jack Emmert: Microtransactions are the biggest bunch of nonsense. I like paying one fee and not worrying about it – like my cellphone. The world’s biggest MMO isn’t item based, even though the black market item GDP is bigger than Russia … microtransactions make me want to die.
Nexon’s Min Kim: When we started we were the little brother; now they are bigger than NCsoft in Asia. Free to play goes beyond core gamers. iTunes has allowed one-off purchases, makes players opt in. They’re just not targeting the core users. Kids can’t afford a subscription, and subs are not a great fit for all players. It’s a viable model depending on who you’re targeting.
I think Jack’s take on the subject seems to echo a lot of how the playerbase currently feels about the subject. A lot of people think “Asian grindfest” as soon as the term Free 2 Play is even mentioned. But Min’s likening of the sub genre to Itunes is a valid comparison. Especially with the younger market which is becoming a larger and larger part of the over all playerbase. Jack Emmert goes on to point out that Blizzard is ” charging for their time” and not their items, which is also a valid point when you look a development costs today.
MMOs on consoles.
Jack Emmert: YES! It’s insane to think that creators could ignore this. It’s ridiculous to think that MMOs won’t migrate there.
Blizzard’s Rob Pardo: The kinds of MMOs out now work better on PC, that doesn’t mean there won’t be good MMO games on the console. There are a lot more PCs out there than even the PS2 – hundreds of millions of potential users, if you do it right. “Pick the system that will be the most fun.”
The panel itself was almost unanimous on the issue: that consoles evolution will be eventual, but make sure that the kind of playerbase your looking to play your title is actually using that platform. There is huge potential for the MMO genre on consoles, especially with the onset of services like Xbox Live and the PSN network. We are just waiting for someone to take advantage of it!
On development costs.
Jack Emmert says: There will be two tiers, because the major publishers are afraid to try. WoW offers an alternative to your game-play, and you need to look at what you can reasonably expect for subscribers. There are a few that are going to try to “pass WoW’s numbers”, which is insane. And they have the money to back that up.
Kim responds: The AAA MMO is unsustainable. Nexon has never tried to launch a title with big budgets or teams. $230 million in revenue and no team is bigger than 100 people. Kart Rider started with 2 people. You need a smart team with a product the consumer is looking for.
Pardo adds: “It’s great to hear people don’t want to try to take on WoW, as a business person.” As a player he hopes more folks do. If you’re going to do a big-budget MMO, though, you’re not just competing against WoW, you’re also going against expansions. You need to track the target; players change their minds as new content emerges. But there are other types of big games that aren’t content driver, like a sandbox. Spore as an MMO wouldn’t have required a huge team
With development costs rising all over the industry, whether it be MMOs, PC games in general or even consoles, it’s getting harder and harder to recoup money spent. And since LOTRO was the last title to even break 100k users since WoW’s release, one can see how this could end up being a very large problem.
You can read the transcript over at Massively to see the entirety of what was touched on.