Embrace Your Niche

If you have been keeping up with MMO news in the last couple months, I’m sure you’ve heard some part or some version of the saga of Perpetual. First they had Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising (you might still be able to find pre-order boxes on sale at Best Buy), then they got Star Trek Online, then they cancelled Gods & Heroes (if you find the pre-order boxes on sale at Best Buy, don’t buy them), then they lost the Star Trek license. I’m sure rumors will be plentiful about who is going to land that albatross in the coming weeks, until something gets announced for sure.

In the mean time, over at Elder Game, Eric, who worked on STO for Perpetual, gives out advice for whoever gets the license.

I couldn’t agree less. I mean, Eric is a game designer who has worked in the industry and I’m just some schlepp gamer (who also does happen to be a programmer, but only for data warehouses and time management software thus far), so obviously you should believe me, right?

Every point he makes is valid under the assumption that, as he says himself, your intent is to:

Make a game for WoW players who kinda liked Star Trek. That should be your target audience. Trust me, it’ll be fine.

And that’s where I diverge, and the reason I say I disagree with his points. If you follow me around the Internet reading the posts I make on message boards and comments I put on other people’s blogs, you’ll see that I have a gentle disdain for WoW. That feeling comes from the fact that I find the game to be highly polished but bland. I played WoW for 2 years and in that time I can honestly say I didn’t hate it, but I can also honestly say that I didn’t love it either. The game just sort of happened, and its that level of mild pleasure without displeasure that has helped WoW hit the numbers it has hit. And while it is wildly successful and Blizzard executives laugh as they frequently drive truckloads of cash to the bank, it isn’t the only way to do things.

Games like WoW are not inherently bad. In fact, to a degree they are good because they expand the market place, but not every title should or even can expand that market place. As much as people tout the polish of WoW as the key to its success, the reality is that it was and is a perfect storm of game and license. WoW has “9 million subscribers”, which isn’t entirely accurate because some of the asian countries don’t do traditional subscription models, and I’d wager less than half of those are in the US, maybe even the US and Europe. Asia has been big on Warcraft for a long time. But how big is Star Trek in Asia? Do they play Star Trek RTS games like they play Starcraft and Warcraft?

For me, I’d rather see whoever gets the Star Trek Online license embrace their niche and not make a WoW clone set in the Star Trek universe. And while I do agree with Eric that they’ll have trouble making a game that is true to the previous work and pleases all the fans, they shouldn’t just ignore them and make WoW. Can you imagine a game with player created and controlled capital ships, with a captain and officer crews, away teams and engineering staff? Star Trek Online shouldn’t aim for WoW… they should, in my humble opinion, aim for a mix of Puzzle Pirates and The Sims with some Dark Age of Camelot style RvR thrown in, and the only non playable race in the game should be the Borg because players, even chinese gold farmers, have too much personality to be Borg.

Update: Since I wrote this, Eric has gone on to elaborate his opinions. And it doesn’t change my opinions at all.

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