How Long Should A MMORPG Be Kept Alive?

Posted by Stropp on December 1, 2012 You might have read somewhere that City of Heroes is being shut down today. Regardless of the right or wrong of NCSoft's decision to shut down a game that was still being enjoyed by thousands of fans, it raises some interesting questions. How long should a game publisher/developer keep an online game alive? Does a game publisher/developer owe it to players to keep a game alive? On the first question, I'm of the opinion that a game should be kept going as long as it still has X number of players logging in every day, and the cost of keeping it going is not an undue burden on the company. On the second, I do believe that a game company has a responsibility to players to keep a game going as long as the first criteria is met. Some of you might think that is a little socialist, but the fact of the matter is that these games are being marketed to players as permanent or perpetual services. No where is it mentioned in the packaging that if the game doesn't do Warcraft numbers every year it will be shut down. Okay perhaps in the EULA/TOS but who reads those right? Maybe I'm being a little too old-school here, but haven't SOE, Turbine, and UO set the standard for longevity and shutdown criteria here? What do you think?
  1. Green Armadillo Said,

    “haven’t SOE, Turbine, and UO set the standard”

    People never seem to remember that Turbine launched a paid expansion box for Asheron’s Call 2 and announced a few months later that they were killing the game due to subscriber numbers. They admitted after the fact that the paid box was a last gasp attempt to grow the game to sustainable numbers. There were no refunds, and I don’t believe they even kept the servers running past the final bill date the way that some games that retired have.

    http://www.mmorpg.com/gamelist.cfm?gameId=1&setView=features&loadFeature=208&fp=1024,768,1305018531,20050830091416

  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Said,

    It depends on the game and on the company. As GA pointed out, Turbine yanked the rug on AC2 pretty quickly. On the other hand, the original AC is still up and running.

    CoH got shut down, but I bet NCsoft will keep Lineage running until they are forced to shut it down.

    Like EverQuest and SOE, those games represent more than just products to the companies in question.

    I do not think you can come up with a formula that covers all cases. And there isn’t just “does it still make money” or “does it mean something to both the fans and the company.” There is also the matter of how far should a company go to monetize a game in order to keep it going.

    I am beginning to think we might be reaching the point of whoredom for LOTRO for example, with the $50 broomstick mount. At that point monetization become all the game is about.

  3. Stropp Said,

    I do remember AC2, but as Wilhelm pointed out the subscriber numbers dropped to the point of unsustainability. I remember running around and not seeing a single other player for hours. However, I agree the paid expansion to dumping the game wasn’t called for, perhaps doing what they had been doing with AC1 monthly updates would have been better.

    I think you hit a note Wilhelm, perhaps some games mean more to the companies than others because they are like a gamers first game and have a nostalgic value.

    As for LOTRO, yeah I saw that about the kiddie mount, dumb if you ask me and totally designed to wring out the last cent. But you have to remember that Turbine is no longer a company of gamer game developers, it’s a company of gamer game developers owned by a huge multi-national corporation.

    But still the question remains, what do you think? Do the game companies owe it to their customers to keep the game going as long as possible?

  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Said,

    “Owe” is kind of a stretch. I do not think any company owes it to their customers to keep a game up that is losing money or that is a distraction to what the company is currently trying to accomplish.

    That said, MMOs are social games, and we play them for a lot of reasons that we do not get from single player games. I do not think a company like NCsoft owes the users anything once they have finished their financial commitment. (And they gave refunds, so they were serious about cutting the cords.)

    On the flip side, an MMO company that shuts down games that still make money while spinning pretty flimsy tales about trying to sell the game off isn’t doing itself any favors. They may not owe the customers anything beyond their current subscription, but they are responsible to their shareholders and owe them to not make the company untrustworthy in the eyes of potential customers. NCsoft is becoming the company who shuts down any game that isn’t running in Korea. Would you now invest time in a new game here that wasn’t running in their home market?

    I think one complication is F2P. When we talk about subscriptions, cutting the cord is easy. But what if the user has invested in lots of cash shop items, housing, mounts, decorations, and such. Again, contractually the company may owe the customer nothing. But losing a lot of virtual property is likely to send the customer away bitter and unlikely to support the company in any future venture, turning a good customer into a critic.

  5. Stropp Said,

    Yeah “owe” is a pretty loaded term. Let’s replace it with responsibility. And as I said, it is contingent on the company not losing money or facing financial hardship.

    There’s a discussion going over at Tobold (http://tobolds.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/answer-to-stropp-how-long-should-mmorpg.html) which is taking a more, let’s say economic viewpoint where companies should consider such things as opportunity cost of running a game.

    That consideration tends to ignore, as you said, the fact that MMOs are social games and because of this have to consider more than just economics and opportunity costs.

    The fact is, as far as I am concerned, NCSoft has shown themselves to be an unreliable supplier. As a player of MMOs I am concerned with continuity of the game. I’m unlikely to buy an NCSoft MMO and invest time in it simply because they have the tendency to pull the plug.

    The F2P angle is also an interesting one. Subs are one thing, but cash shop items have some permanence. It may even be worse for goodwill than canning a sub game. Having said that, didn’t Glitch actually refund a lot of money for cash shop items, or am I thinking of another game?

  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Said,

    @Stropp – Goodwill is an asset, and like any asset that takes time to acquire, you squander it for momentary gain at your peril.

    Opportunity cost should certainly be considered and was, I imagine, the key reason for NCsoft dumping CoH. In my experience in software, there are always many more potential projects and features than any software group can manage. You have to decide all the time on what to spend your limited resources.

    But any discussion trying to take a purely economic point of view that ignores audience goodwill is incomplete, and doubly so when discussing a product that is essentially entertainment. The problem is that it is not a tangible thing that can be accurately measured, and so tends to be discarded by those who want a tidy little argument.

    Were the assets freed up by closing down CoH… since no money was actually “saved” since, as a venture, it was an accepted fact all around that CoH was at a minimum self-supporting… worth the hit to audience goodwill? Will that impact NCsoft’s ability to sell further products to the MMO audience?

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