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Bill Roper: Making MMOs Work Again
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Bill Roper: Making MMOs Work Again

February 14, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

If you look at this, just look publishers persist and studios close, ultimately. That's how this industry works.

BR: Or studios get bought and become publishers.

Right. No one seems to be able to stick around. No matter how well they're doing for one year, next year they might...

BR: I think the difficulty is that... So, if I was going to make a comparison to film, right, there's a fundamental difference. Companies in film that would equate to independent developers and gaming, there's a difference they do in film.

They work on a movie, they come out with a move, and then they get rid of almost everybody. And they keep that core creative team, which might be five to 10 people. And then they say, "What's the next project?" And then they build up and do that project. They build up and they launch it, because they're still kind of in the box model.

On the gaming side -- and Blizzard is another weird example of this, I think. What gaming companies tend to do is, you don't want to get rid of that talent because they know how to use your engine, they know how to make games the way you want to make games, they become part of your culture. So, even if your game ships and you don't have anything lined up, you’re hesitant to get rid of those people because you're like, "Oh man, he's great. She's fantastic. I don't want to lose those people."

And so you figure out how the hell you're going to pay them. And I think that's another fundamental problem. Obviously, that changes if they all still have work they're doing on the product. But the trick is there's not really funding there. It's not really there.

And the other thing that tends to not happen is they don't cancel online games as readily as they will cancel a TV show. Imagine if they came out and they went like, "Well, you know, the game's been out for three or four months and it's not doing what we wanted, so we're shutting down all the servers." Because of the way they're built up, especially again, in the subscription space, "Whoa, we've got people that have six month subscriptions." Or, "They bought a lifetime sub. Oh my God! They're going to sue us." You know, you start running into these other problems.

So, publishers, a lot of times, may have to bear some brunt of that. But they're bearing the brunt, and it's built into their model of how they're sustaining as a business. Where developers, they're screwed. They close

You know, that's certainly what happened with Flagship. We just could not sustain to keep the doors open. Even at the very end, you got to the point where the board, the five founding members... We were putting our own money back into the company at the end, which as anybody in business will tell you is the stupidest thing to do.

But we felt we were very, very close to a deal to get more funding. So, we paid our final guys' paychecks out of pocket. Like, "Okay, we're going to all try to find some money and pool it together because we really think this is going to happen," and it didn't. Yeah. It's really hard. And it hasn't gotten any easier, right? [laughs] -- which is why some things have got to fundamentally shift.

Do you think that as things move to online, that frees you from publisher deals potentially? If you can go directly the users, would that make it more easy for you guys to manage yourselves?

BR: I don't know. You would like to believe so. Everybody wants to think that they can do the other guy's job better, right? I think the challenge will always be -- whether you've got a publisher you're working with, whether you're self-funding -- is how you make that transition. How do I move between project A and project B? How do I support this other thing, right? I think the biggest challenge in that way isn't the publisher, as much as how do I maintain the development, right? And a lot of that, I think, is through game design.

I think it's one of the reasons the casual market is so sexy right now. You're seeing a lot of people going into that, because it is low-risk. It's much, much shorter timelines. You know, three-month dev cycles. Games cost $75,000, with small teams. And you can crank content really quick. Turnarounds are really fast. You're getting metrics in five minutes. And they are not afraid. Because the games are free, and invariably when they launch, it says "beta," they're not afraid to have it run for six weeks and say, "Okay, that failed. Kill it."

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