A while ago, it was announced that Rubies of Eventide, a semi independant MMOG (as in not backed by big publishers and not made by a well known development company) is closing it’s doors after only a short run at being live.
The announcement was made as a post on the Rubies of Eventide forums, by Mark Howe, CEO of Cyber Warrior. The reason for shutting down? Rapidly declining subscribers (806 as of 11/27/2003) and an overall displeased sentiment with the overall development of the game.
That’s fine and all, but that’s not what I want to talk about. This is the beginning of a new era people, and most people seem to be oblivious of it. Did you know, right now, this instant there are probably 100 MMOGs in ‘development’ and beyond a shadow of a doubt, thousands upon thousands in the ‘concept/design doc’ stages.
Since the smashing success of Everquest and Ultima Online, the MMOG industry has seemed like a sure fire way for the common game dev to own a gold house. Literally, nobody ever imagined the subscription model would be so successful. The numbers are pretty obvious to anybody who has added them up though. 400,000 subscribers * $15 USD p/month = “Ale, Whores, and Cristal for everybody! I’m buying!”
Yes. That is what people see MMOGs being. At least on a surface level. Beneath that there is certainly the dreamers who have dreamed of virtual fantasy worlds their entire life and now see chances to be involved in them. Great, what has the result of this been? Everybodies dog and grandma all dreaming about an MMOG design doc that is going to be the next Everquest.
In the beginning, this wasn’t really a big deal nor surprising. People started dreaming, some games managed to make it into development (Shadowbane/Rubies of Eventide/Neocron/Atriarch) while most others never saw the light of day. Those that made it into development then got to go through the trials and tribulation of release.
Now, some of these games are being released. Some of the games have even managed to be successful (Dark Age of Camelot and Anarchy Online come to mind). Others (WWIIO) not so much. The fact is though, in an industry worth as much money as the gaming/MMOG industry, this was never a realistic business model. All of the major companies agree that the MMOG subscription growth can only happen to fast. There is a limited percentage of new growth each year to draw new subscribers from. You think the major companies want to split those numbers, even slightly, between games such as Rubies of Eventide, Horizons, Wish, Lejendary Adventures, or what the hell other MMOG is struggling to surface? Hell no. While the more independant companies might be quite content to get five or ten thousand subscribers, that number doesn’t make a company such as Sony Online Entertainment, or Blizzard, jump with joy (to say the least).
At the same time, the larger companies aren’t interested in losing those people either. What’s the result? The answer is fairly simple. While it may have been realistic for a five or so guys to get together and make an independant MMOG with licensed technology that could compete graphically and content wise with some other MMOGs, there is simply no chance in hell the independant companies will be able to compete with the products that have 20 million dollars poured into them, several years of development time with teams upwards of 30 or 40 people.
One might ask why companies are doing this, when it’s realistic that an exceptional MMOG could still be made with 5 or 10 million dollars. Especially considering it will take that much longer with high subscriptions before repaying the initial investment. So why are we seeing these high risk, exceptionally expensive projects being worked on by the big boys?
Because my fine feathered friend, the bar is being raised, the industry is being bottlnecked. Let’s look at Rubies of Eventide as an example. Right now, with the meager offerings out there, Rubies of Eventide couldn’t keep afloat. Admittedly, design wise RoE was a travesty, but six years ago it probably would have done fine for itself. Fact is, seeing that the game is like a lousy version of EQ/UO, why would anybody spend an equal amount of money on playing a crappier version of either of those games? They wouldn’t, they’d just play the real thing.
A Tale in the Desert has managed to survive on the basis that there are no other games that offer what it does. Neocron is much the same. Anarchy Online when it came out also had the same thing. Dark Ages of Camelot offered full scale Realm vs Realm. Even WWIIO which is horrible is still around. Except now we are finally seeing the next generation of games getting ready to hit stores. When Everquest 2 hits stores, if they offer the best graphics, the best crafting, the best lore and the best content, who is going to play an independant, while innovative game that offers less?
Nobody, that’s who. Due to these impressively large scale projects, the smaller products won’t have a chance. Therefore they won’t be able to get funding, they won’t be able to get subscribers and they simply won’t be able to compete, no matter how innovative they are. The eventual future will leave the industry controlled by four or five companies that can afford the risk and the money to work on projects like this. Thousands of MMOG design docs may live on in peoples minds, but we won’t see a hundred titles in development. Personally, for the higher quality offerings that we are sure to recieve because of this, I’m not complaining.
Goodbye, Rubies of Eventide. The beginning of a new age is upon us.