From movies and books to computer games, the concept of the sequel is firmly embedded in the entertainment industry. It's usually a much safer bet to make a new part to an existing successful intellectual property than it is to back an untested product. In the games industry, sequels are a great way to make more money from the same game concept but as usual MMOs have proven to be something of a different animal. Subscription MMOs don't conform to the same rules as non-subscription games, favouring recurring orders and longer-term customer commitment over single purchases. While development studios often take sequels for granted
, I'm forced to ask whether MMOs should have sequels at all
or if a different paradigm is more appropriate.
In this article, I explore the games industry's obsession with repetition as I ask the question "Should MMOs have sequels?"False economy:
From a common sense point of view, a sequel to an existing popular game is a sure bet. As long as the factors that made the first game a success can be replicated, the sequel offers a high chance
that fans of the old game will buy the new one. But in a subscription MMO, the factors that made it succeed are often rooted in the player-base
and therefore incredibly difficult to replicate. EVE Online
, for example, may have crashed and burned by now if not for the various in-game communities and organisations that players have built up within it.
By their very nature, subscription MMOs are entirely reliant on regular subscribers and long-term players. When a sequel is released, players are faced with the prospect of continuing to play an old version of an MMO or starting from scratch in an unfamiliar new generation of the game. It's easy to understand why people can then feel like they've been cheated for supporting the original game. MMO sequels tend not to be as popular as their original counterparts
and the mere presence of a sequel may actually deter people from playing the original. Another important factor is that players tend to subscribe to only a few MMOs at once. Subscribers to a sequel MMO that were fans of the previous game may actually be cancelling their current subscription to do so.
In a nutshell, even a successful MMO sequel may pull large numbers of players from the previous version rather than bringing a lot of new players into the market. The sequel ends up competing with the original and that's bad for business. There is compelling evidence indicating that this has occurred in several previous MMOs
, for example, went from a peak of over three million subscribers just prior to Lineage II
's release to under two million a year later. Although Lineage II
had gained 2 million subscribers at that point, up to a million of them may have been previous players of the first game. While it's not possible to verify this supposition and the release of World of Warcraft
did change the market significantly, the correlation in their subscriber timelines is hard to ignore. Iterative development:
The alternative to the sequel is to use an iterative development strategy to keep the current game up to date. This works extremely well for games with a high rate of player retention
and consistent subscriber growth as they have a high rate of long-term customer loyalty. EVE Online
is one game that follows this strategy, having gone through several complete rewrites of every part of the game over the years. A massive overhaul of the game's graphics is also currently still underway using a staged delivery approach. Ship graphics were the first to be updated with the release of the premium graphics client in the Trinity expansion. Since then, the effects and weapon graphics have been remastered and asteroids have been redesigned to awesome effect