Cross Polination – The New Model of MMO Business

There are two things that are clear about me very early on. I love MMOs and I love to read.


Sometimes the planets align, the stars show the elder signs and my fiction ends up being about MMOs. What’s not to love?


Necessity, famously, is the mother of all invention. If there is any genre of games that has a more vocal following than MMOs, well I must have missed that and I am sure I will be corrected in the comments. The on-line sphere is a jungle full of cut and thrust. Practically Darwinian in some fashions you will live or die by your innovation. Necessity then is if you pardon the redundancy is necessary for the new and upcoming games to stand out ahead of the crowd.


Why then is it when authors thought about worlds where MMOs are part of everyday life, they thought about an all connecting world that other games can inhabit?

Halting State

For the sake of the article we’re going to use Charles Stross‘ excellent Halting State.


This particular article and hope isn’t necessarily inspired by the events of the novel but rather by an interview between Rock Paper Shotgun and Wildstar’s Jeremy Gaffney.

Specifically, what happened when they went to visit Guild Wars 2 and ArenaNet.


RPS: Do you guys liaise with the Guild Wars 2 team at all, to learn from what they’ve got right and wrong?

Jeremy Gaffney: Last week actually, we sent ten of our guys out to ArenaNet and did a big post-mortem on what’s worked for them and what’s not on Guild Wars 2. One of the things they’ve done is so fricking hard, and I don’t know if obvious to users or not, but they’ve been doing three week patches, big new patches every couple of weeks. That’s fricking hard, you look at Riot with League of Legends, their entire company is devoted to nothing but making sure they have a new hero come out every few weeks. With Guild Wars is the same kind of thing, they have 17 individual teams focusing on individual features, who all coordinate on different branches to be able to merge in, have new stuff come out every couple of weeks.


Emphasis is mine.

 Wildstar Cross Polination

Sure they share the same publisher, but as it stands Wildstar is going to compete against Guild Wars 2. Publisher links obviously have made that exchange of information and methods possible. Sony Online Entertainment has its Station pass letting people pay a flat fee to access all of their games. NCSoft lacks something similar. Funcom’s games are either free to play or buy to play and so you can come and go as you want.


Yes there are stores, again we look to Sony and its station cash currency, that let you buy things in whatever game of theirs that you like. That however is as far as it goes.

I’ll never be able to walk my character out of Everquest 2 to a lobby and try some Dragons Prophet. Our digital lives are splintered.


The book mentioned previously envisioned a crime inside a game. A bank robbery in cyberspace. The picture painted for us is one of a collective on-line world where you can move from game to game with certain power and currency conversions in place. Where your digital self is something you can carry with you no matter what you want to play.


Big Business

Business majors or people even minorly interested in money are probably reading this and writing me off as a wide eyed idealist. To be honest, I have to say I almost certainly am. What benefit is there for Blizzard to let people wander out of The Secret World and into Azeroth? They may not stay, they may just be tourists? What good is it to offer an easy way for their carefully cultivated and hoarded players to go and try other things?


From a business point of view, no good at all. For the genre? It could mean great things.


Perhaps one day someone will put together a persistent world whose entire purpose is to be a Steam like gateway to other games. Sign up for your account and store your digital currency in their banks before spring-boarding off to try a Fantasy MMO or seeing if you want to check out the latest MMOFPS that your friends are raving about. Consoles are already working along that line. They don’t just want to be your machine for games, they want to be your machine for all the entertainment you could possibly want. No one company, even if they live on an ever growing tower of money, has the clout to put out multiple high quality games that are different in tone. A Bioware game is a Bioware game, for good or for ill. Maybe I don’t feel like some Bethesda today, maybe I want a little Carbine or Cryptic.

 Wreck it Ralph

Ultimately an online world dedicated to online worlds would resemble the imagined future of Halting State. A world where muscled Orcs can brush pauldrons with Space Marines and post-apocalyptic scavengers while the player no longer shattered into a dozen different selves decides where he wants to be today.


In the meantime, the best we can hope for is cross pollination. Studios or the ever moving crowds of talent in the industry sharing details and dreams to improve the games as we get them. A continued evolution due to necessity and ideally bringing innovation into our lives.


It’s that or just blatantly steal the latest gimmick and forcibly weld it onto your existing properties. Who knows, maybe the Borg were right and assimilation is the only way forward. Resistance, they claim, is futile.

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