The Daily Grind: How should MMO studios handle game reboots?

    
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Over the past several years, we have witnessed several MMOs being rebooted and relaunched, including Final Fantasy XIV, Secret World Legends, and, most recently, Defiance 2050. There are various reasons why studios would want to do this, including addressing key flaws in the original game, switching over to different business models, and benefiting from a new round of publicity and review ratings.

Looking at the above titles as case studies (and more if you can pull up examples), we see both positives and negatives of these experiences arise. Not many players are keen on starting over in MMOs after investing dozens or even hundreds of hours on their characters, and because of this, there is a heavy price to be paid if the relaunch isn’t significantly different and improved from the original.

How should MMO studios handle game reboots? What would you recommend be the steps that studios should take in handling existing accounts, upgrading the game, and starting everything all over again?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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AGx-07_162

If it comes to a point where they must reboot an MMO, it’s either failed (e.g. Bless, FFXIV) or perhaps the original is well past it’s prime and what new technology can offer would reinvigorate an old game (just think of how well WoW would do if they remade that).

Either way, if they are going to pull that trigger I think the developers should take care to gather data from their core player-base regarding what worked, what didn’t, and what could be improved and work based on what’s achievable out of the results. If you expect players to give your product a second chance, you need to operate on a lot of good faith. When something fails, it’s hard for people to want to give it another go, even when you claim to have made it better.

Ernost
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Ernost

Personally I’m not fond of MMOs being rebooted. One of the biggest things that drew me to MMO’s in the first place was that the same game would continue to be updated, and you could continue playing it for years at a time, without having to start from scratch every time a sequel was released.

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AGx-07_162

You might be misunderstanding.

Alex Js.
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Alex Js.

Handling existing accounts? It’s pretty easy – if existing accounts are the paid kind then give them a few months of free sub time and/or maybe some kind of unique cosmetics, other than this there’s no need to handle anything. If the rebooted game will be good enough – the old players will be also playing it, even if they won’t get any “special” treatment for their “loyalty”.

That said, I really wish LOTRO would be finally shut down and go through a proper reboot, with better modern engine, more content (both PvE and optional PvP) and large team to keep releasing newer content more often (including creating new lore/stories in LOTR universe). Too bad that won’t be happening any time soon because no one is willing to invest any $$$ into the remains of Turbine/Standing Stone (whomever still owns the rights to this game). Amazon could be a good candidate but they are already working on some MMO project.

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Sally Bowls

Why does a reboot need to “respect the old players?” If there were enough old players and they were happy enough, there would not be a reboot.

If a radio station (ask your grandparents) switches formats from rap to country oldies, then does it matter whether they retain 0.0000% or 0.0001% of the original listeners? The goal is to get new customers. (In the high tech/VC world, they call “oops we F***** up, let’s blindly chase the next FOTM” as “pivoting.”)

A new version of a game definitely needs to respect the old players. But if you are going to the expense to reboot the game, then isn’t one of the things you can redo is who you target?

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Schmidt.Capela

But if you are going to the expense to reboot the game, then isn’t one of the things you can redo is who you target?

If you are changing who the target players are, wouldn’t it be easier (and less confusing) to just make a different game instead of a reboot?

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Hirku

As a potential new player I care about that sort of thing because if the developer is so disrespectful of their old audience, what’s to say they won’t be the same way to me down the road?

rafterman74
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rafterman74

I guess it depends on what kind of reboot we are talking about. Defiance 2050, for example, should have never happened. At the very least the people who bought Defiance should have kept their accounts and characters.

In most cases, though, I think reboots should be distinct enough that your old players will want to play it along with the new players it should attract. Like if they re-released EQ with a modern look and a bunch of QoL enhancements, it wouldn’t bother me at all if I had to start over again because it would be much more like a new experience.

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Sally Bowls

It is a very narrow niche where reboot works, perhaps not much larger than FF XIV and perhaps SWL.

If it has been a very long time, then IMO, new mechanics make it a sequel not reboot. (e.g., D3 coming 12 years after D2 is a sequel, not reboot.)

A reboot requires a game that is worth rebooting. If the current attempt is too bad, wouldn’t you be better off starting fresh rather than building on a flawed foundation? Your reboot of game XYZ could be XYZ patch NGE or XYZ 2 or XYZ Reboot or CompletelyNewName – is reboot the best alternative?

A reboot will tend to require a large company: if your only product is Shroud of the Path of the MLM and it flops, there probably aren’t the resources to make SotPotM Redux. The more money the company has to redo the game, the more alternatives they have to spend the money on rather than a do-over of a failure.

The game needs to be good enough so that it is worth starting over; not so good that it does not need a reboot.

The changes need to be large enough to warrant an official reboot instead of calling it version x+1. But the changes can’t be so large that everyone says it is a totally different game.

The company needs to be successful enough to afford the reboot, but not so successful that they can not justify the reboot.

FF ARR was in the sweet spot, but I tend to think few others will be.

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Sorenthaz

For starters? Respect your loyal paying customers and be ready to go the extra mile to ensure they’re comfortable transitioning into the new game. Funcom sorta/kinda did this whereas Trion barely gave anything, esp. to PC players who don’t have a whole lot of reasons to switch to 2050.

Square Enix obviously is the shining example of how to pull off a reboot. The reboot for all intents and purposes was a complete redesign from the ground up, designed by a team led by someone who was an avid fan of MMORPGs and saw everything that could be done to make a better FFXIV that would last for years to come. Not only that but they gave massive respect to the time and money spent by their 1.0 customers, giving them proper recognition and several incentives to keep supporting the game after the reboot.

While yeah obviously money was a factor behind FFXIV’s reboot, Square Enix did it with class and humility, respecting their past customers and not going “sorry but we don’t care about what you did or spent in the past game”. Secret World Legends at least let folks keep all their cosmetics and vanity unlocks, but I don’t even think Defiance 2050 let people do that. SWL might not have been the best reboot but they at least didn’t completely take a dump on their TSW playerbase. Trino though in usual fashion went the bare minimum, rushed effort route and pretty much pissed off what remnants of a playerbase they had in Defiance. Defiance really should’ve had a proper sequel/reboot done, not the low-effort cash grab that Trion decided to pull. How can anyone believe 2050 will be able to get significant brand new content when it looks like it still has all the same problems and coding infrastructure as the original?

So basically, MMO studios should handle reboots with care and respect to their old guard players. Don’t just reboot for the sake of a petty cash grab that doesn’t show significant changes/improvements with the loose promise that the change allows more content to come.

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rafael12104

Very well said. I totally agree.

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jay

If a studio is going to do a reboot, then the game needs to be so vastly different from the original that it warrants it. Take FFXIV for example, there’s no way that the game could have morphed into it’s current state from the original release. It’s basically an entirely new game from the ground up. This is a proper reboot.

This crap defiance & secret world pulled, is just a desperate attempt to get new blood into the fold. All the while alienating the few remaining players they did have.

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Jeffery Witman

The difference between the FFXIV reboot and the other ones is that FFXIV needed and got a complete overhaul. Defiance and SWL don’t seem to be getting that. They seem to be mostly superficial changes, the kind you’d get in an NGE in most games. I know Square wasn’t being philanthropic. They were in it to increase the revenue of the game. That being said, there was a big difference in how they did it. I’m not gonna say SWL or Defiance reboots were a mugging, but they were definitely shady, like an unseen timeshare that requires an upfront deposit.

I’m not a fan of how some are using reboots like sequels. It reeks of insecurity. We already know no one is going out on a limb to finance big budget games that aren’t based on a proven IP or profitable flavor of the month. Now they won’t even risk doing a sequel and have to make the same damn game again in an attempt to keep 100% of the current players. It’s almost like the Nintendo/Madden model where they just have you buy the same game again every year or two, but with a slightly updated database, or on a new platform.

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A Dad Supreme

They shouldn’t be doing ‘reboots’ unless the game was previously shut down. Reboots are nothing more than a money grab, at least how Trion and Funcom are doing them.

They copied an existing “active” game, marginally made improvements which they probably could have done to some extent to the first game instead, then slap another “new and improved” name on the same, old product.

The only “reboots” that work to a degree are things like console MMOs where they spend a few years and remake most of the original game. Sometimes they fall down like Destiny2, but more times than not, they make better improvements to a sequel.

I think FFXIV did the right thing; they didn’t just rehash the bad FFXIV. They totally revamped the entire game after publicly acknowledging it was trash and had the head guy step down. It wasn’t a case where they took the same game, fixed a few bugs and lag adjustments, then re-launched it under FFXIV: Reborn.

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Robert Mann

Address the weak areas of the game that make it need a reboot. Simple as that.

Those could be anything from outdated engine that is hindering your development options (LOTRO *cough cough*) to renewed balancing, systems, content, etc. You may even be making the entire game over from scratch minus the IP. Just… don’t hold on too tight to things that need adjusted, but also don’t jerk around at every bit of feedback as there will be good, bad, and ugly.

If you aren’t revamping it for a really good reason (or just because $) then take a hard look at the baggage and response that will come from that. Sometimes the better choice is to let things go, and give some limited rights to the community or another studio, or just to make a sequel with what you learned (and specify that, potentially with rewards to current players).

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Utakata

Off-topic: It appears our comment mechanics are going through a bit of a reboot again. o.O

UpayaBlossom
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UpayaBlossom

It is nice! Three cheers for MOP!