Nonameplease recently posed us an interesting topic, inspired by a thread on the Star Trek Online subreddit. “It seems most people don’t think the game itself is good enough to play without the Trek skin on it,” Nonameplease wrote. “It would be interesting to see what other franchise based games people think are or are not good enough to play based on the game mechanics itself and not just on the IP imagery?”
We agree that’d be interesting, so we’re tackling the subject for this week’s Massively Overthinking entry. I’ve asked our writers and readers whether they’d play their favorite MMOs without their attached IPs, which MMOs out there would be good enough to play with the IPs deleted, and which ones survive on the strength of their IPs alone.
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): If we allow Pokemon Go on here, no. Ingress is still nearly unknown to the gaming public, as was the formerly-in-development Catan game, so it seems pretty clear that POGO is more about IP than games. Niantic may be improving as a company, but I still feel like it’s better at gamifying tech than actually making good games.
If we go with the more traditional, PC only route, I think Asheron’s Call, Darkfall, or Star Wars Galaxies would all still work quite well without their IP, as long as the servers were reasonably populated. The first two were original IPs, and the latter’s IP was actually a reason I avoided it at launch, and all are still among my favorite MMOs that I refer people back to when talking about game design in general, not just MMOs.
Andy McAdams: I think it would really depend. I have a lot of sentimentality towards something like WoW, but without the history and commitment to the IP overall (horrifyingly bad storytelling aside), I think it would be a pretty lackluster game. I don’t think we, as a community, fully appreciate how much of a pass we give WoW because of the IP, even when we don’t like the game. I think I would play Guild Wars 2 without the IP attached to it. I enjoy how the game plays, I love the classes, and I love the races (that piece might get a little dicey with removing IP, but neither there nor here). The STO example is actually kind of timely because I started binging on Star Trek Discovery again and it made me want to play the game, so I downloaded it. But I know I don’t particularly enjoy the game and I’m only playing it for the IP. For me, I don’t think it would stand on its own.
I think FFXIV is a middle ground. There are plenty of people who play and will defend the game until the end because it has “Final Fantasy” in the name. If you stripped away that IP, there’s a measurable number of those people who I think would immediately dip. Then there are people who genuinely enjoy how the game plays and excising the chocobos from the world might be sad for them, but they would keep playing. I think it’s somewhere in the middle: It’s a good enough game to stand without the franchise fanatics, but I think there’s a decent number of people who play it only because it’s Final Fantasy.
Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): The one game that jumps to mind is LOTRO. I can recall my time covering that game that when something questionable or controversial would happen with regards to design choice, you could hop into zone chat and many players would be completely oblivious. “As long as I can be a Hobbit in the Shire, I don’t care what else they do” was a common sentiment. While I don’t consider LOTRO a bad game, I do think it benefits greatly from the IP, at times to the detriment of design. If all people care about is RPing in Middle-earth, what incentive is there to keep the game up to snuff?
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): It depends on the game and the IP for me. I’m thinking back to when Star Wars Galaxies launched. I was and am a huge Star Wars fan, so of course I was going to play the first Star Wars MMORPG when it came out, and I absolutely loved roleplaying in that universe. But I also left after a year there in part because the underlying game itself was disappointing (it was a buggy mess and there were no spaceships, I mean come on), and I didn’t really fall in love with the game again until years later when many of those disappointments had been rectified. I actually don’t think the finished game really needs the IP, and yep, I’d play it even if it were generic sci-fi because it’s the foundational sandbox mechanics and superlative economy and customization that keep me there in a rogue server to date. As a handy comparison to that, we have SWTOR, which didn’t hold my attention at all, and here I am a grown-ass woman with a Star Wars poster in her living room.
Ben mentioned the other MMO I wanted to touch on here, and that’s LOTRO. I’m not sure LOTRO would have the appeal at all without its IP. As he notes, it’s not a bad MMO at all, but the reason I am drawn to it is the chance to hang out in Middle-earth, not because of any particularly special or standout mechanics in the genre.
Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): Give me a Starcraft MMO, please. I want to be a Zealot. I probably wouldn’t have ever gotten so deep into FFXIV if it weren’t Final Fantasy. I’m pretty sure I would’ve still given it a fair shot, but nowhere near as much as I already have. I think the same applies for Guild Wars 2. If it weren’t a Guild Wars game, I probably wouldn’t have invested as much time as I already have. And I’m pretty interested in the League of Legends MMO if only because it’ll take place in Runeterra, the setting for the franchise.
Honestly, the opposite is more true for me these days: I’m more likely to play a game if it isn’t an already established franchise, and I’ll especially avoid anything related to Star Wars. While I’ll be willing to play Star Wars Galaxies and SWTOR, those games are my cutoff. If we ever get a new Star Wars MMO, it’ll have to be an instant pass. Star Wars sucks now, and if that MMO ever happens to be good, it won’t be because of the license. I’m still bitter about the newest movies.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): No. I know that tying IPs to MMOs comes with baggage and issues, but when you do it, there’s no going back. You inextricably mix the IP in with the gameplay on every level — lore, world design, classes, NPCs, history, events, and so on. If you try to yank that IP out, to gut it and make it a generic or original game, it’s not going to work. I can’t imagine, say, LOTRO or SWTOR without the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars properties. It would feel like you’ve stepped into a Stepford Wives world where everything’s been replaced by something worse and more sinister.
Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I think IP is definitely the main reason a lot of these games ever even get off the ground. In some cases we have a near one-to-one comparison. As Andrew said with Pokemon Go, we can see it’s basically held up by the IP, but it does have a little bit of its own charm. Even a strong IP on its own isn’t totally enough. The Harry Potter Wizards Unite is basically the same as POGO, but it’s been kind of a flop even if it’s still running.
The fact that I never really went back to SWTOR long-term also is due to the game not being enough on its own for me (although a lot of that was due to poor monetization of the game after they killed the sub). And I certainly played Star Trek Online during its beta only because it was Star Trek. Even at that stage, I knew it didn’t have the right stuff for me.
Guild Wars 2 is an interesting one, though. I think at inception even if I hadn’t already been a fan due GW1, I would’ve loved it. It just had all the right ideas, and they even put it together in a great way. However, as the game is today, I don’t think I would play it if it weren’t Guild Wars. It’s funny because it isn’t an IP that really grabs a lot of people, but I loved GW1 so much that it does mean a lot to me. I know I’d almost certainly buy a Guild Wars 3 if it were released sight unseen.
- ESO: My only past experience with the Elder Scrolls franchise is a few hours in Skyrim, which bored me to tears. I basically only tried ESO because it was a new big-name MMO to try; I stayed because I like the build system and the crafting.
- FFXIV: I never played very far into this, but it feels worth mentioning because as someone with no prior connection to the Final Fantasy IP, I firmly believe this game would be nothing but a historical footnote if not for the brand. Without that history with the franchise, it’s indistinguishable from any number of other Eastern WoW clones. It was like playing Aion with less personality.
- GW2: I never played GW1 and have no connection to the IP. Definitely in it just for GW2’s own merits.
- Magic: Legends: This is kind of an even split. I played Magic as a kid and always thought the setting seemed cool, so the thought of an RPG in that universe was very appealing, but at the same time it’s not like I was a super fan or even recognized most of the places or people in the game. And a lot of it was simply interest in a new ARPG with a cool build system.
- Neverwinter: I don’t really play this much anymore, but when I did, it was before I’d gotten into D&D, so the IP didn’t factor in at all. It was the combat and the Foundry that attracted me. Even now, I’m not really that fond of Forgotten Realms (more of a Ravenloft or Theros man), so if I got back into it, it still wouldn’t be because of the setting.
- STO: It pains me to say it, but I don’t think I’d ever have spent any significant amount of time on this game without the IP. While the gameplay is not without its charms, it’s too arcane and laden with Cryptic jank to really be worth it on its own merits. What makes the game work is the massive amount of love the people behind it clearly have for the Star Trek universe.
- SWTOR: I’m not overly fond of Star Wars, so for the most part I’d say I actually play this game despite the IP. I just really like BioWare’s approach to story-telling. Gotta have my dialogue wheels and cheesy romances.
- WoW: I definitely never would have played this if not for my massive love for the Warcraft universe. WoW was my first MMO, and at the time I found online gaming intimidating (still do sometimes), so I never would have gotten over that hump without my Warcraft fandom pushing me. Even after that, I’ve always found the gameplay middling at the absolute best. People are always baffled that I played WoW for the story; I’m baffled as to why anyone would play it for anything else.