Is It A Coincidence?

Is it a coincidence that nearly all of the MMORPG closures of the last year have been NCSoft properties?

Auto Assault, Tabula Rasa, and now Dungeon Runners.

There was The Matrix Online of course. That’s a SOE product. And there was Hellgate London too (I won’t count Mythos because it was never officially released.)  I think that’s all, if I’ve missed any, let me know in the comments.

You’ve got to wonder what is happening at a company when it cans three of its games, of which two were major releases in such a short space of time. The fact that they all seem to be associated with the US operation doesn’t seem to bode well for continued development at the Austin studio.

Of course it just may be that Aion is sapping resources at the moment, and they feel that they need to cut the dead wood.

What do you think?

Let me know in the comments below.

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  1. Aaron

    Last time I was in Austin, a friend who lives there told me NCSoft has a habit of hiring a bunch of people on for each project and then laying them off when it’s done, rather than shifting them to new positions or another project. He mentioned it after I told him I had heard the city has a lot of unemployed programmers. That sort of business strategy probably doesn’t lead to a lot of deep enthusiasm. Perhaps it has effect on their games.

  2. Genda

    I think NCSoft is has made some bad business decisions. It’s pretty clear that the Tabula Rasa deal took a heavy toll on the studio. Years in development, restarted twice, millions they will never get back. I think that combined with the fact that Auto Assault was pure crap (again some bad decisions) and they really didn’t have the option to continue to operate these games.

    Austin still has a vibrant development community, it’s just smaller. SOE and Bioware are very much alive and well here.

    In the end, I do lay this at the feet of Tabula Rasa though. Ironic given the name of the game.

  3. Pete S

    I think the close of The Matrix Online is in a different category, though. That was a game that had been running and dwindling for a long while. AA, DR and TR were all fairly ‘young’ games, and I really thing TR had potential.

  4. Stropp (Post author)

    @Pete S – That’s true. MxO did have a relatively good run. Though, I was actually more surprised that it wasn’t Planetside that closed first. I thought PS had far worse numbers.

    @Genda – Tabula Rasa was a bit of a millstone, but I still think they could have made something of it. AA may have been fixable too. And Dungeon Runners, was that really marketed all that well? There were definitely some poor decisions, and perhaps a lack of understanding of the market and a lack of will to make things work.

    @Aaron – I’ve heard that practice seems to be fairly endemic in the whole industry these days. I did read something a while back that seemed to suggest it was an attempt to have a Hollywood type practice where they hire workers or production companies only for the duration of a feature film. I’m not sure that practice translates to video game development.

  5. Lars

    Yeah, it’s too bad. I had thought I read they were thinking about doing an “NC All” type of account which would resemble Sony’s Station Access. I most likely would have picked it up if they had since I did have fun with Auto Assault. I actually did think Tabula Rasa was pretty fun. And I would have enjoyed popping in and out of City of Heroes.

    I’m not going to pretend I know more than their MBA wielding number crunchers but I think some kind of life support plan would have made far better financial sense.

    I actually did dabble in Star Wars Galaxies, PlanetSide, Matrix Online, EQ, and POTBS back when Station Access cost a more reasonable fee.

    Regarding Dungeon Runners specifically though, I think the freemium model was a bad choice. Especially since the game was annoying to play without it (potions not stacking, etc.). They should have been free with microtransactions from the beginning. With payments for interesting content and not simply to make inventory management reasonable.

    I should feel like I WANT to pay not like I HAVE to. (Dungeons and Dragons Online, for instance, I feel, does microtransactions right. Though I haven’t seen how rare the leveling sigils are yet, so we’ll see.)

  6. Stropp (Post author)

    @Lars – A Station Access kind of deal would have been excellent, it likely would have brought them an overall greater number of subscribers, and breathed a bit of life into the games that needed it.

    I did try Dungeon Runners at one time. The biggest annoyance wasn’t the microtransactions, it was that I was getting loot drops of potions and gear that required me to have a paid sub (or some other transaction) to use. Talk about dangling a carrot that I wasn’t interested in at that stage. I was just checking the game out, and that put me off.

  7. Pete S

    There was a boxed version of Dungeon Runners that was $20 and came with a 6 month “Premium” subscription, which is how we played it. But honestly we used maybe 1 of those 6 months…

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