Remember back in February of last year when we learned that Funcom inked an exclusive deal for at least three games based on Frank Herbert’s DUNE universe? One of those was touted as an “open world multiplayer” title set to enter into pre-production sometime last year at Funcom’s Oslo studio. There was some hopeful optimism among virtual world fans that open world and multiplayer would mean a real DUNE MMO — and dared we hope, MMORPG? That universe would be ripe for it! It is so deep with so many layers and interactions of technology, religion, politics, and more. Considering the possibilities is dizzying.
Unfortunately for those really holding to those hopes, the most recent announcement dashed them good. DUNE, at least this first title, will be a survival game.
The crushing blow
In the midst of the Tencent offer, Funcom made it quite clear that the focus for the new DUNE game would be a survival game following in the footsteps of the successful Conan Exiles. Depressingly, the one announcement actually fueled the hope of an MMO just a little bit longer; Steven Ma, Senior Vice President of Tencent, quoted,
“We are impressed by Funcom’s strengths as a developer of open-world multiplayer, action and survival games. Funcom has a strong track-record in developing new titles with long life span. We are glad to deepen our relationship with Funcom and look forward to collaborating with Funcom to deliver more exciting and enjoyable game experiences to fans worldwide.”
The first thing listed was open-world multiplayer, with survival being the third one. So yes, as I read this the possibility of a DUNE MMO was still alive. And then I read the official January 2020 investors post. And that, my friends, was that.
In that statement, Funcom spells out that the game will be survival-based, albeit on a bigger scope than Conan Exiles is currently. This is where many hearts fell. But what does that mean exactly? Is that really that bad? While we will have to wait and see how development plays out for the final answer, I don’t see everything about that announcement as instant doom and gloom.
Breaking it down
Investor statements always feel more forthright than PR posts, don’t they? Funcom made some bold statements here, but I think there is still some hope to be found in them. DUNE is not doomed. Here’s some food for thought (and maybe a little sustenance for your hopes).
1. “The Management Board’s recommendation to the Supervisory Board will be to increase the focus on the Open World Survival segment with Games-as-a-Service business model”
I know the phrase “games-as-a-service business model” triggers some very negative emotions in gamers. Lately it seems that folks equate it specifically with predatory free-to-play monetization models. In fact, when I first saw those words, my mind instantly went there too. But I stepped back, and my focus changed. The definition is just about games receiving continued content development over the life of the game, so it is continually growing and changing. And yes, this content that is paid for by some means. But isn’t this exactly what we want? This is the very definition of the MMO living worlds. The opposite is a game that is completed out of the box. So focusing more on the games-as-a-service model is beneficial to MMO lovers who want more MMOs.
The part that is perhaps less desirable to those longing for a MMORPG is the focus on the “open world survival segment.” Survival games seem synonymous with free-for-all PvP and gankboxes in many minds. We’ve shown that is not always the case; there are ways around this, including private servers and carefully planned features. We are just now watching as another major survival MMO, New World, moves away from the idea of gankbox. It is possible to be a survival game and not a PvP gank-fest.
We don’t even know yet how survival-ly this DUNE game will be. Which survival features are focused on by the devs turn out to be more of a deal maker/breaker for me. Will folks have to eat and drink (and poop — you know one game went there!), or will the survival elements be more about building up a home/empire and protecting it from the surrounding environment? Will it be open PvP or have dedicated war windows or arenas? As we’ve seen in our many survival guides, there is no defining set of characteristics enforced in the genre. We can’t just write it off because it is survival. Astroneer is survival, and it is downright cuddly! Now I don’t for one second want a cuddly DUNE game: I want it to have conflict. Conflict just doesn’t have to mean free-for-all, mindless PvP. I am personally hoping the moral dilemma part will be a bit deeper in this title.
And for MMO players who dismiss survival games, I have to say as a huge virtual world, MMORPG fan I am finding some of the best experiences in games lately are in survival games. So if this upcoming DUNE one could be a bigger, better version, then it could be something worth playing. And it will be bigger…
2. “The Management Board believes that the scope and ambition level for the Dune game should be larger than Conan Exiles to allow the game the best possible chance of maximizing its very large potential.”
Is it just me, or does this give you a little hope? This is a pretty positive statement! Does someone there really understand the potential of the DUNE universe? The Conan IP is big, but arguably far more niche than DUNE. DUNE’s saga is deep, delving into the moral dilemmas of the human condition. There is so much for writers and world-builders to work with!
Of course, there is a part of me that knows that the focus on “large potential” could be just on profit or even audience, but I am hoping it’s on the depth of the universe and its possibilities. And yes, for Funcom to do the IP any justice, the scope would have to be much larger than Conan Exiles — in size (maybe we can get massive worlds out of this) and in features (non-combat professions?).
3. “The performance of Conan Exiles and similar games indicates that this genre reports strong lifetime revenues. The recommendation also reflects the belief that both the Dune IP and the Survival games genre are a good match with a large long-term potential.”
The fact that the company is looking at long-term is heartening. I personally prefer something I can settle into for the long haul. I don’t want to see something whipped out, tossed to consumers, then left for a new project. It’s not like we haven’t seen that before. Tencent wants longevity. I do too.
4. “The Management Board is of the opinion that these factors justify a more ambitious Dune project to launch after around two years of production time. Such increased focus would require a redirection of resources from other initiatives, the most significant being the co-op shooter game”
Two things here. One, did you remember that Funcom was working on a co-op shooter game? I had forgotten. I had to blink twice when I read this and go back in my memory (and MOP news posts) to pull that one up. Sounds like a focus on the DUNE project has a better appeal. (Admittedly, that could very much be personal bias talking!)
Two, please, for the good of all things do take some time to do it well. With increased investment from Tencent, Funcom would also have the means to do it well in two years. And there’s the new movie in December to help hype it. So, if this buyout happens, make the game happen. A decent DUNE game. One that does the saga justice. I will be watching. And waiting to play. Bring on the Spice!