Wow, people are so depressed over the failure of 38 Studios, the layoffs from the Star Wars: The Old Republic team, and Pitch Black Games' Dominus getting cancelled during Alpha.
38 Studios had apparently been working on their game for six years. They gambled big (rumours of over $100M spent), but I sort of wonder what their strategy was - other than that they wanted to take over World of Warcraft's spot. I had no interest in their MMO Copernicus - there are dozens of swords and elves games to choose from. Turbine has three! Really, can't anyone make an MMORPG in another genre? Does it have to be me?
Well, I guess there's TOR - but it has swords. Really really fun swords. I might go back to it again later. TOR is apparently a huge disappointment with its paltry 1.4M+ players!! (Which makes it the #2 subscription game.) I think the problem there is that they spent a fortune ($200M) making it when they really didn't have to. The game could have launched smaller, but that wasn't what they wanted - they also were aiming to unseat WoW. The thing is, WoW hit the market at the right time with the right product, and Blizzard profited hugely. Like Zynga. Like Facebook. Like Microsoft. My only surprise on hearing about Bioware's layoffs was that they took so long.
Dominus ending right before beta, that is baffling. Apparently they ran out of money at the worst possible time.
None of this is anything new. There are a metric ton of cancelled MMO games. Of those that actually got finished, Warhammer was going to kill WoW, then it didn't. Dungeons and Dragons Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan -- all of these were WoW killers. None of them succeeded.
I don't understand why people can't concentrate more on making good games with reasonable budgets and executing a plan to build a profitable business from them. Oh damn, I just spelled out my top-secret business strategy. (And ArenaNet's, and CCP's, and Turbine's!)
The one big upside of these huge projects that people seem to forget, is that lots of people were paid to work on them. Sure its disappointing to never have your work seen by anyone, but it sure beats not eating. The cynic in me wonders how many MBA types set up game companies just to fleece naive investors.
I think the real concern here is where the money for games projects comes from: the venture capitalists. They're looking for a flashy pitch, a huge upside and a solid exit strategy. Blizzard has been the huge upside in a lot of pitches the last few years. Some people are worried that investment in MMO's is going to come to an end now with these high-profile failures, but I would submit that VC's still have money, and they are dead-set on gambling it to recreate lightning in a bottle. VC's don't care about the games they pay for and they will never accept that Blizzard just won, and be able to leave it at that. So that's good for us in the games industry who want to eat.
I'm making an MMO. I still have funding to continue. It's starting to shape up quite nicely now. Sure, it won't be on the scale of TOR, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. And I'm feeling pretty good about the MMO industry.