The Daily Grind: Would you rather an MMO be backed by a publisher or investor group?

    
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Polygon (via Gamasutra) put out a piece last week covering Kowloon Nights, the Hong Kong investment fund that is basically backing a bunch of upcoming games all over the genre map. None of them appears to be a traditional MMORPG, but a couple of the multiplayer titles jumped out at me. For example, the studio behind Duelyst originally ran a Kickstarter and signed with a publisher, but for its next game, it sidestepped both to sign on with the investor group for the budget and the flexibility to do something “bigger and more experimental.” That made me ponder whether part of the MMORPG genre’s problem right now isn’t that it leaped from AAA publishing to Kickstarter – might we see more originality if there were more Kowloon Nights – and NantWorks – in MMO land?

Of course, there are other options in this version of would-you-rather; it’s handy when a friendly bajillionaire shows up to bankroll a game, or a studio is still operating on the success of its latest title, or it can pull a cool $200M from crowdfunding. But those aren’t really the norm for MMORPGs.

Would you rather an MMO be backed by a publisher or investor groups?

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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Hikari Kenzaki

It really doesn’t matter where the money comes from, you still need someone to fill the role of producer.

There needs to be someone who can keep the project on track and make sure that it meets the goals and actually releases a finished product. There is no saying this can’t be someone who works directly for the developer, but software engineers (in any field) who are also good producers/project managers are rare.

Far too many independent studios get stuck on “I just want to add this one other thing and then we’ll… ooh… what’s this other thing, we should add that, too” rabbit holes.

We all know a studio or three with millions of dollars in funding that still can’t get a finished product out the door.

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Sally Bowls

There is also the public vs private aspect. Public firms may have access to more capital. However, it can make a huge difference with a public company if they get $100M on Sept 30th vs Oct 1st. So a public publisher might not be as understanding of schedules as one would hope; perhaps even less than private investors.

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styopa

I think the worst examples of publishers are…when they start to act solely like investors. Don’t get me wrong, the POINT of a game business is the business of making money, but one would at least like to rationalize that perhaps a publisher has *some* sense of what the game is and should be, at least in their mind.

Otherwise, the race to monetization is going to mean that everything will eventually evolve into Kandy Krush.
(You mean like WoW?)
Er. Yeah. /sadface.

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Sally Bowls

To add to the conversation, it also depends on the game developers. What do they need; where are they weak? globalization? marketing? strategic planning? Developing a complete game product is more than designing and producing the software. Also, some devs need … chaperoning is what I mean but a tad pejorative so let’s go with “structure.” IMO, Star Citizen could have benefited from some authority figures having a few – but not too many -“back here on Planet Earth” talks with management. Someone who has done well managing a business unit – not game – is more likely to just need the cash.

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packagegrope

either of those is better than backed by whales. then you get shroud of the avatar.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

There really isn’t any difference. Publishers are owned by investors. Decisions are pushed by somewhat different dynamics because you have an additional layer of managers, but it is still wanting the highest returns.

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wratts

The nice thing about publishers is that you generally know what their play is. They’re looking to distribute and operate the game and take a cut of the box and cash shop.

An investor group you really can’t be sure; are they effectively entering the publishing market? Are they looking to flip assets or IP once a product launches? Are they harvesting data, money laundering, or some other shady objective that would explain why they’re entering this market?

I don’t think there’s a “generic ballot” answer to this question, since you really do need to know which publisher or which investor. It’s not as if either group is guaranteed to fit a particular mold

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Tobasco da Gama

Yes, agreed. If anything, I think I’d just J. Random Publisher over J. Random Investor when it comes to things like caring about building a solid brand reputation. All else being equal, I’d expect an investor to be looking for immediate return on investment over every other consideration, whereas a publisher has to be thinking about the longterm viability of their business.

(Publishers that are publicly trade companies muddy the waters here a bit, of course, since they often get taken over by investors who don’t give a shit about longterm viability as long as they can pull out their profits before things start falling apart.)

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Armsbend

Investors literally never care about the game itself – simply what capital they can pull from it in the future. Whether that be from DLC costumes, a money laundering game or from selling it’s assets when it fail s – they just don’t care. Why would they?

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Does not check email

they only want the balance sheet to go up or the dividend check each quarter and generally do not care how it happens.

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Toy Clown

I remember the most frustrating thing I experienced as a gamer in ArcheAge is learning that what we wanted as a playerbase fell on deaf ears. We couldn’t band together to create threads asking for change, because they threads never made it to the people who could give us the change. The publisher kept telling us they couldn’t really relay our wants to the Korean team.

While publishers of other MMOs haven’t been as bad as Trion, the entire ArcheAge experience left a bad taste in my mouth, especially since the game was changed so much to “fit” NA-side with changes none of us really wanted.

I’ve had good experiences with BDO’s publishers. They relayed player suggestions and desires for changes directly to Korea and in a much faster way. While Kakao wasn’t the best at communication, which I think is a fault of how publishing is set up? They took care of the game, I felt.

I’m just not a fan of having a middle person who doesn’t allow the playerbase to connect with the development team.

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wratts

That’s a good point, in that one thing an outside investor may likely provide is the opportunity to self-publish and maintain connectivity between the developer and the player base. I do think the Trion/ArcheAge experience is one of the most extreme examples of a studio stepping away from player integration through a publisher, but clearly it happens

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Bryan Correll

Hmmmm. NCSoft vs. Columbus Nova.

/em runs away without answering the question.