Wednesday, April 21, 2010

ACME Falling Anvil Flattens DDO Offer Wall?

I wasn't initially going to comment on Warner Bros' purchase of Turbine, for lack of any obvious immediate effect on the studio's MMORPG's. However, on further reflection, I'm wondering if the purchase hasn't already caused a bit of damage on DDO.

Turbine's official explanation for last week's offer wall fiasco was that they wanted a no scamware/spyware policy but somehow failed to implement it before pushing the system live. The bit of information that we did not have at the time was that the studio was a week away from being purchased - presumably a bit of information that the DDO team already had. My guess is they rushed the offer wall live before it was ready in an attempt to get it out there before the purchase was announced. If I'm right, they were afraid that the wall would be seen as a mandate on high from the new owners, and that this would only further hurt its perception amongst the community.

Unfortunately, the rush job meant that the wall did not have the best chance at success. This is a problem because the original version's failure to keep the scams away will color perceptions of any future version of the wall. Worse, the incident could affect Warner's view of the game's future potential - "oh, those freeloaders will revolt at any attempt to make their game profitable, so we should just kill it".

Perhaps that's a far-fetched scenario - Warner will probably leave Turbine alone as long as the studio remains profitable. However, this could have an impact in the future, especially if the hypothetical Harry Potter MMORPG is the reason why Warner purchased Turbine in the first place. If the DDO team gets stripped down to send its best people to work on Harry Potter, and the remaining dev team can't deliver as much content to a game that literally depends on new content to survive, this incident could be the beginning of the end for DDO.


Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

The uncomfortable truth here is that an independent company doesn't get sold when things are going well. One business analysis I read said that the likely purchase price didn't exactly deliver a good return for previous investors. (With the caveat, of course, that the terms of the deal were not public, so it's mostly speculation.)

But, I worry that this might be a sign of things getting a bit rough for Turbine. As much as I love them and their games, I can't see them being able to stay the course. The way things are going currently obviously weren't enough to keep everyone happy.

We'll see, I guess....

Green Armadillo said...

Well, I think we can draw our own conclusions from the limited amount of content being added to LOTRO and near total abandonment of DDO before the free-to-play revamp. In the short-medium term, Warner made a bit of a big deal of having unified The One License to kill the game (though obviously it has to remain profitable). DDO is probably still a lower profile game, and might be deemed more expendable if it isn't turning a decent profit.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

Actually, I fret less for DDO than for LotRO in this case. Turbine made a big deal of saying that income for DDO went up five-fold when they started dabbling with free-to-play. Given that there is now a direct correlation between adding content and getting income, DDO is probably going to see a lot more focus.

LotRO, on the other hand, may not be quite so lucky. The talk about "unifying" the licenses could mean that LotRO gets a bunch of additions that were previously restricted. Or, it could mean that the focus will be put on a new game, while the current incarnation languishes. Yeah, that might be the stupid thing to do, but big companies aren't always known for making the best choices.

One twist here is the lifetime subscribers. The Mirkwood mini-expansion was pegged as a way to get those people to pony up more money for playing the game. Is that how things are going to be going forward? Maybe they'll decide to flip over to a similar "free to play" setup to keep people interested?

Not sure. A shame given how much my GF and I are enjoying LotRO currently.

Green Armadillo said...

I've been saying for a while now that Turbine seems to be saving the bulk of the new LOTRO content for future paid updates - the relatively sparse most recent patch did not do much to dissuade me on that front. The fact that they're making diminished monthly revenue from lifetimers (and almost everyone else on the $30/3 month plan) only increases the pressure to release something that costs money.

Incidentally, the survey when you cancel your LOTRO subscription asks if you'd come back if the game were free-to-play. I have no idea how they'd make that work - DDO's instancing model makes paid mini-expansions easy - but they're at least considering it.

My DDO comments became a separate post here.