Calling on Copernicus

I made a bold prediction to a friend at the end of the Warhammer Beta that by the end of the first year they would have 1,000,000 subscriptions. I still have a level of confidence in that if they make some moves and continue to improve the game. Notice I said ‘a level’. Now that the dust has settled on yet another majorly hyped launch that went ‘well’, people are settled in. We have our new (and quality) Warhammer bloggers. Those of us that take the gaming generalization route always have a lot to talk about. And I want to talk about whats next.

Their aren’t too many major releases on the horizon in the MMO-scape but two have grabbed my attention. Bioware and the Star Wars KOTOR MMO, and the secret title by 38 studios, codenamed ‘Copernicus’. WAR done good if you like more of the same, but surely there is a company out there who wants to do better than just more of the same? Perhaps I AM living in a dream world. While my excitement level is tempered for Bioware and their MMO with their odd announcements of how it will play out as a single player game in a multiplayer space, I have decided to get excited about Copernicus. It is definitely a bit silly because we know nothing of the game, a lot about the founder of the studio, but even less of their intended design. What is the source of my excitement? Hope. After the break.

For all I know Copernicus will just be Yet Another Fantasy MMO with the same old purpose and mechanics with a different lore twist and an interesting art direction. If that is the case, if we have learned anything at all about the past few YAFMMO releases they can probably settle in happy with a few hundred thousand subscribers and make a boatload of cash, all the while not trying to be compared to WoW. There are a few things that I want (actually, NEED, to believe in) that can make Copernicus different. These thoughts are all easily dismissed as fairy tales but of all the upcoming titles, these are things I WANT to believe.

  • Curt is already a millionaire. Millionaires tend to want to stay that way, which would point me to YAFMMO. However a developer working towards his mark in the gaming sphere, as opposed to keeping his $125,000/yr job, can have a little leeway and focus on making an incredible game instead of the same old revenue generator.
  • Curt is a pro athelete. I say “is”, instead of “was”, because you don’t lose that drive as a pro. You get to being the best with a lot of hard work. When you are done ‘playing’, you don’t lose your competitive edge but transpose that into your other projects. Pro atheletes are self-programmed to win (for the most part) and here I am curious what the definition of winning is for 38 studios. Make money? Chip away at WoW? Create an experience unrivalled in the marketplace to perhaps change the way winning is defined in that marketplace? Receive critical acclaim?
  • Curt is a gamer. Our MMO’s aren’t designed by gamers. Yes, the MMO ‘managers’ play other games to see how to make theirs compete on revenue and play style, but they weren’t gamers first. They were people with jobs in gaming. It is a big difference. Surely, Mr. Shilling in his years of gaming has had his own questions on why developers build in crap grinds and dubious mechanics into their products (hint: money) and perhaps because he has been on the receiving end of many of those unfun components he will set out to change the space, instead of capitalize on it.

I am curious what bean-counters he has whispering in his ear and who is calling the shots at the studios on the design. Are the advisors saying “hey, look at how WoW rakes in the cash! We can do that too with a twist!” or are they saying “look at where MMO’s fall short in the marketplace. We can build this thing to fill that role, be different and better.” The real problem here is that WoW has ‘educated’ gamers on expectations, and no one building behind WoW has the courage to move away from the model. Sure, they spin and twist tradtional mechanics and call them “innovations”, but what the MMO market really needs is a product to retrain the masses on what is fun, and what an MMO should be. It is definitely a major challenge. Is 38 studios up for it?

I am going to dare to dream that some of our best hopes for a change in the MMO scape lay with 38 studios, based on complete guesswork, suppositions, and likely unfair assumptions. Someone has to carry that torch for that dream, right?

7 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Oh, you are such an idealist in cynic’s clothing.

    Other than the KOTOR MMO, I’m looking forward to the DC Universe MMO and/or Champions Online. I love the genre and really enjoyed CoH/CoV for awhile. It was the lack of end content and homogenization of archetypes that led to my leaving.

    I think, unlike you, that I’m not looking for some all encompassing MMO to play for the rest of my life. I enjoy sucking the life and marrow from an MMO and moving on. I dont expect to get everything I want so I enjoy my time.

    and just so no one forgets what a stereotype i am, i like purses.

  2. As a fellow Copernicus optimist, I couldn’t agree more. (In the interest of full-disclosure, I will admit that I run a 38 Studios fan site.)

    I think another noteworthy asset that Schilling has already demonstrated is his ability to put together an effective team. One might attribute this to his experience as a pro-athlete and an online-gamer alike. He seems to be the polar opposite of the visionary-demigod mmo designer (Brad McQuaid anyone?), in the way that he has surrounded himself by a team of professionals that are already legendary in their respective fields. This is really exciting to me.

    Also, the 38S team has been uncharacteristically supportive of their small, but growing fan community, even in this ultra-early stage of development –a good omen, for sure!

  3. @VB: Clothing optional, regardless of the label. Rule #1 of this blog. I am not looking for a life long MMO, just a 1-3 enjoyment. I am tired of 1-2 month dissapointments. As for the DC, I collected comics (past tense) and was a Marvel guy through and through. Besides, an MMO on an X-box controller doesn’t get me hot.

    @Grish: I’ll defintely check your site out, thanks for the lead. Especially since I have unreasonably adopted 38S as my big hope I should probably do more research. Interesting to see you use the same pro-sports ties in your thoughts – are we putting too much pressure on CS? I agree the best way to build a business is to surround yourself with the absolute best. Hopefully ‘best’ in market will translate into a different type of MMO, and doesn’t mean “best” at producing the same. =) Also promising to hear about the support, hopefully it flows through the development process!

  4. Thanks for the link, but just to clarify, my blog is about MMO gaming in general, it just happens to be very WAR heavy right now as that game is dominating my time. Also on the nitpicking front, Curt might not be retired, and could play next year, depending on his options. (yay tiny details)

    As for the post, which I mostly agree with, I do think 38 studios has the chance of making something different, it just depends on what their goal is. If its 5 million+ subscribers, they are going to make WoW+. If the goal is to have a much smaller, but much more dedicated fan base, we could see something unique. Personally being all WoW-out, I’m obviously hoping they surprise us.

  5. @syncaine: Sorry for the WAR label, I didn’t get introduced to your blog until WAR, and I check it often and (as you say) it is dominated by WAR chat so I made the poor assumption =)

    Honestly I think it is impossible for anyone to make a WoW+ clone and get 5 million subscribers. I think a unique product that changes the landscape may, but if it is more of the same I don’t think it is possible. All “those” people are going to be split between WAR, AOC, WoW and any other YAFMMO that comes out in between.

    As for Curt’s retirement – with the whole Brett Farve experience, it is probably safe to say there isn’t a pro athlete alive that is officially retired =P

  6. Very nice article! For the past while I’ve been proclaiming 38 Studios to be the best hope we have currently of making a MMO that has the potential to dethrone WoW. It’s quite possible that they could do it but I’ve learned not to put too much faith in MMO companies after Sigil broke my heart with the Vanguard debacle.

    If a MMO is to beat WoW it will be a winner take all mentality much like the way WoW took most of EverQuest’s subscriber base. The only other pathway to success is by reinventing the MMO altogether. That option seems less likely given the fact that I’m not sensing any major revolutionary advancements and ideas from the current design team — at least on their blogs.

    My worst fear for Copernicus is that it will be another WoW clone aimed at the same casual demographic or even worse — the Xbox Live demographic.

    The only thing from Blizzard they should emulate is their “done when it’s ready” philosophy. Of course that is all possible because they are their own publisher. Scott Cuthbertson their Director of Creative Development understands this very well, so there is hope!

    I like what I have seen thus far at least with the concept art — they are stylized fantasy somewhat less cartoonish then WoW but I absolutely love them. It remains to be seen if they can translate the feel of the art into the actual game world.

    Curt has been smart to assemble an outstanding business team for 38 Studios. At least they should avoid many of the mistakes that were made by Sigil re: Vanguard. I hope that they have a great tools department as well. Creating tools for your scripters and designers is essential for the success of your project.

    I wish them all the best and hope they do produce a great MMO. We really need something besides WoW to be hugely successful.

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