Perfect Ten: The worst-squandered IPs in online gaming

    
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Actually developing a title to not be a boring slog is a skill some developers have yet to master.

There are always going to be differences in opinion about what should be done with an IP based upon a franchise. That’s just natural. The same core universe could be used to make a sprawling sandbox with weak combat but a robust non-combat market and profession system, or it could be used to make a combat-focused experience that focuses on energetic fights, nifty story moments, and little else. In both cases, even if you don’t like the end result, you can understand exactly why the IP was used for this.

Our column today is not about those games. No, this is about games that completely failed to make use of their licenses to IPs, produced totles that did not in any way logically follow from the license that was given, or otherwise took pure gold and turned it into something… less than gold. There’s room to debate whether some of these IPs would ever make good MMOs, but boy, the uses we have were pretty bad.

1. Battlestar Galactica

I still have not yet actually watched this series, so in my mind it’s mostly that science fiction show about how you can get a robot STD. (I’m fairly certain that this is entirely wrong, but I also don’t want to be right.) And I can’t say that this game hasn’t been successful, since it’s managed to wrap up five years of operation. But it also seems like a complete failure of imagination to turn a gigantic, sprawling science fiction setting into a browser-based ship strategy game.

Sure, I know that big space battles were an integral part of the actual show. That’s fine. But weren’t there also, like… people on the ships? Wasn’t part of the thrust that the eponymous Galactica was the last bastion of human beings, with every battle being a defensive action against an overtaking force? Was the show’s storyline really just “vomit a bunch of ships at this stuff until it all blows up?” I’m going to guess not.

Thanks, you got it.

2. Ghost in the Shell

“All right, folks; we’ve got the license for an IP about disconnection from others in future society and the blurry line that defines the self in a world where you are increasingly connected and distributed. It’s like a version of Blade Runner in which everyone knows they may very well be a replicant, and there’s plenty of opportunities for storytelling, different styles of play, cool upgrades, and progression, combined with a distinct visual style.”

“So… generic shooter?”

“Yeah, let’s do a generic shooter.”

3. Game of Thrones

I have nothing against people whose primary vector for playing online games is Facebook. There’s no need for invective there. I don’t think there’s anything whatsoever wrong with just liking to dip your metaphorical toes in the water of gaming. But you could do a wee bit more with a fantasy setting that has a huge following than just a basic Facebook management sim, yes?

Heck, I can’t think of another setting that so enthusiastically encourages multi-faction PvP matchups, and I don’t even particularly care for Westeros. It’s kind of a waste to have a setting that you can do so much with that you then use for the most basic and banal possible style of game. Understandable? Yes, you can definitely understand making a very simple game and slapping the license on it. Commendable? Not so much.

4. Transformers

I respect Jagex quite a lot for RuneScape. I don’t respect them for much of anything else, and time has shown that really, the company makes one thing and very little else. Not that it mattered in the case of Transformers Universe, which didn’t even try to be that one thing – which is a shame, because that would have been better than the half-baked non-game we finally got that never even made it out of beta.

Most people probably do not want or expect to have a Transformers game which resembles my dream title, because it’s completely insane and based on the fever dreams you can only get from someone who has strong feelings about individual Technobots. But still, a proper MMO would be a great thing for the franchise, and considering some of the crap that this IP has gone along with, that’s saying something.

Seriously, Hasbro, give me a budget and some leeway and I’ll have that design document ready to go.

You can, in fact, take all sorts of skies.

5. Firefly

Boy, this is just a project that’s never going to get beyond the concept stage, is it? We’ve had about two hundred versions of Firefly Online be announced, partly developed, and then killed so far, and I imagine we’ll see at least another dozen or so before everyone lets go of the dream.

You know what, though? I’m all right with that, because none of these concepts has ever looked like a game I actually want to play. The most recent version of the game was at least tangentially related to the show, but making a game about shipping goods out of the Firefly license is like getting the IP for The X-Files and then using it to make a game about publicly identifying cryptid hoaxes. Sure, you see where the train of logic comes from, but it’s sort of the opposite of why people wanted this in the first place.

6. World of Darkness

Great job, CCP Games; you bought a diverse and broad IP with the potential for a single MMO investing in multiple directions, and then you killed it repeatedly before finally putting it out of its misery. But at least we got DUST 514 out of all of that, and it worked out really great, just like I’m sure EVE: Valkyrie will look like a brilliant decision later on.

I shouldn’t complain too much, though. It’s not as if I’d want to play in a world that already had a high potential for being a jerk convention when crafted by a company that seems to delight in telling people to be jerks.

There are really other things in the grim future, you know.

7. Warhammer 40k

Eternal Crusade, in and of itself, seems like a perfectly serviceable use of the license in question. Part of the coolness of Warhammer’s hyper-grimdark future playground is that it has such a diverse setting filled with so many possible avenues for exploration, and “big shooty brawl” is a valid use of the license. It’s just… well, it’s the only use of the license. And here was a chance to make a real MMO out of the game, do something neat with it, and instead… nah, more shooting.

Don’t get me wrong, I like shooting stuff in video games. I mean, I really like it. But it’s possible for a game to include things other than shooting stuff and support non-shooting activities even when shooting stuff is in there. I had lots of characters in City of Heroes who shot stuff, but they had the space and opportunity to do stuff other than shoot stuff, too.

8. Borderlands

“All right, this time we have an actual shooter that married itself to a Diablo-like loot system and a whole lot of humor. Seriously, this one is even easier than that Ghost thing.”

“So… humorless shooter only in China?”

“It’s like you read my mind!”

Oh, well, that's exactly like the actual book, you got it cold.

9. Otherland

On some level, Otherland always felt like a silly idea. The future predicted by the novels more or less has already come to pass now; what seemed weird and unusual now reads as familiar. Which is fine; that’s part of what made the novels work. But it makes a game based upon the story seem rather perfunctory.

Even beyond that, though, the actual game basically takes the idea of this ethereal, hyper-realistic world of unreal beauty and danger and boils it down int an MMO. And not even one that seems to be particularly interested in the basic premise that informed the novels in the first place. I’m not saying the game is bad (I haven’t played it), but it’s a pretty wide missing of the point.

10. The Sims Online

How does any of this even happen? I really want very little from a game titled The Sims Online. I want to play The Sims (or one of the later installments, preferably) online. Probably with my wife. Seriously, just let me make a neighborhood with her and we’ll hum along for months. Shut up and take my money, etc.

Or you could make a version of Second Life that’s even more anemic than that venerable chat-room-with-dangly-bits, that’s great too. And then your game failed. How did it ever come to this, we wonder.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
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