Is it time for a MMO Retirement Home?

Why hasn't anyone started a retirement home for MMO's yet? The investment in development is low, there's already a player base, and if game developers are shutting them down, maybe throwing some cash their way would be enough to convince them that they should hand the reigns over to someone who can put their game on autopilot - and leave it available to the players who still have their hearts in the game.

Traditionally, a top-rated game will have an average of about 3 months to reach its peak, before dying out completely 18 months later, if not sooner. When it comes to MMOs, they tend to live a longer life, so long as the publisher has the incentive to continue building into the game. (in other words, so long as there are enough players in the world to make it worth supporting)

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On August 31, 2012, Paragon Studios, the developer of the popular MMO, “City of Heroes”, released a statement that it was shutting down the game on November 30, 2012, due to a “realignment of company focus and publishing support”. Since then, there has been a public outcry amongst the fans of the game, trying to persuade NCSoft, the publisher of the game, and the parent company of Paragon Studios, to keep the game moving beyond the shut-down date. Despite these attempts, on October 2, 2012, NCSoft officially announced that they have heard the cries of the fans loud and clear, and had been working on finding an appropriate suitor to buy the studio and rights of City of Heroes, but despite these efforts, have not been able to do this successfully, and the game will in fact, end on November 30, 2012. (I seriously question whether they actually tried to save it, but that’s a whole other topic) 

C’mon NCSoft! How could you let an epic game like this go away?

Over the years, we have seen many MMOs come and go. Some of the games just lost steam, while others may have sucked right from the beginning, and could never get players back into the game. For City of Heroes, it seems like the game hasn’t lost its steam, and it definitely did not suck, but it seems that NCSoft wants to move in a different direction, and City of Heroes is not part of that direction. This got me to wonder if there will be more MMOs in the near future that will also find themselves in a similar predicament? It feels like such a waste to let these MMOs die, considering that they obviously still have a rabid fanbase, that this alone should be proof that there is still tremendous value left. But who would be willing to acquire the rights, and continue supporting these games?

From a business perspective, I wonder if it would make sense to create a business that could pick up the pieces of these falling MMOs, continue to host them, and hopefully, find a publisher that would ultimately take over? It would be similar to what a private equity firm would do with a failing business, but specifically for MMOs.

Does the Long Tail Apply to MMO?

The first question for me, would be to see if the long tail theory would apply to MMOs?  This is a term that was popularized in 2004 by Chris Anderson, about how retailers such as Amazon, show that collectively, products with low sales volumes, can rival or exceed those of the bestsellers.

This is how the long tail gets its name

So the question would be whether this private equity firm could pick up several MMOs, that collectively, these games could beat out WoW or Guild Wars 2, for example? While these smaller games would have a fewer number of players, the amount of marketing would be drastically reduced since they already have their own built-in fanbase, which have proven that they are willing to pay money to play these MMOs. Additionally, if these MMOs were sold only over the Internet versus at big box retailers, the cost of distribution could also be drastically reduced.  As an added bonus, if these games were Web-based MMOs, there would be an even smaller distribution cost, since distribution would be a moot point.

It sounds like the long tail theory could apply to MMOs quite nicely, especially if you add web-based MMOs to the mix.

Would Other Companies Be Interested?

Aside from starting a business specifically for salvaging failing MMOs, I wonder if this would be of interest to managed hosting providers such as SoftLayer? These companies already host MMOs as a part of their businesses, that creating a group within the company to manage these MMOs would essentially be like gaining a new customer, however, it would also require hiring in game developers to maintain the game, or at the very least, contract with another company to handle this.

This is what your MMO looks like IRL

 

Other companies that might be interested would include online game publishers such as OnLive and GameTap. In the case of GameTap, it seems to be like the place where old games go to live out the rest of their lives. It would make sense that in the future, it could start hosting old MMOs, even if it doesn’t update the content too often. However, in the case of both companies, it would still mean that they would need to hire more people to actually maintain the MMOs, as well as to create new content.

 

These look like they would make good retirement homes for MMOs

 

While this is all purely speculation on the possibility of rescuing MMOs on the verge of shutting their doors forever, I feel that my idea of creating a company, or a business unit within an existing company, set up to saving these games is a valid one. With so much money being poured into the development, maintenance, and upkeep of these MMOs, it is such a shame to see some of the great ones to simply vanish and go away while there is still such a passionate community of gamers still willing to play, and still willing to pay.

The fans of City of Heroes could not change NCSoft’s mind about shutting down, but if NCSoft had an option that would be beneficial to both itself and to the gamers, would it have considered this route? What do you think? Am I crazy to think that creating such a company could exist? Do you think it is better to just let the MMO die, and ride off into the sunset at its height to be remembered on a high note? Feel free to comment below and let us know what you think!

 

Michael Chiu is a freelance writer who has been involved in the venture capital community specializing in investments in video games and consumer electronics. You can find him in front of his TV doing stupid poses in front of the Xbox Kinect, or sitting still at his desk, pretending to look like his working, while alt-tabbing between an excel spreadsheet and Starcraft II.

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