Who wants to watch MMO soaps

It’s a busy year for Trion – not only did they release one of the hottest cookies currently in the MMO market this February, they’re also working on an RTS-MMO and recently announced a third MMO project in collaboration with Syfy: Defiance. What is known (or confirmed) about latter title so far is that it’s going to be a massively multiplayer online action role-playing game, featuring action-shooter combat and guns. I guess this is where hearts of utterly disappointed Tabula Rasa players start beating a little faster.

Now, I’m not the biggest shooter fan; I love classic 2D shooters on console, but 3D FPS and similar never managed to catch my fancy. The ‘”war / military” or “space” theme is usually prevalent in most of them, especially online games. However, there was this video on Defiance featured on Trion’s official page that caught my attention, speaking of joining their next MMO title with a TV show. Already in the intro of the film, the speaker announces Trion and Syfy’s rather bold intention: “to revolutionize how people watch TV shows and play video games”.

Quite a daring statement! For those of you who can’t watch the video for some reason or are too lazy to bother (an entirely legit reason), this is what it essentially is about: Defiance is being developed in tandem with a TV show. Both game and associated show are part of the same universe and story, happening during the same time at the same place. One of the developers states that TV shows are a lot more dynamic and evolving than classic video games which are basically static, so this is a new approach to things the genre has never seen before. He makes it very clear that the game and show do not only promote each other, but are co-dependent and co-evolve. While it’s not exactly indicated how they will go about this, it’s rather clear that they want Defiance players to watch the ongoing show in order to experience the game fully. The devs are convinced that there is an audience for this kind of joint venture and said audience wants to “live and breathe that world…which is very immersive….24-7“.

Uhhh…live and breathe MMO land all around the clock – Really?

The future is 24-7?

For fairness’ sake, it should probably be said that the featured video does nowhere near elaborate on how the TV show is gonna work and look like; it is a mere glimpse of what’s to come. The whole idea seems rather original (unlike with BSG online both game and show are being developed side by side) and I salute any developer who dares to think about new ways to enrich the MMO genre. However, ever since watching that film I couldn’t help but wonder whether I really want future online games to go cross-media in such fashion and how this might affect me as a gamer. Trion/Syfy haven’t really let their audience into much information but they’ve given us enough to speculate and let our minds wander which is what I’ll do in the following paragraphs.

Personally, the whole idea leaves me very skeptical. For one thing, I am doubtful whether the assumption is correct that a large part of the MMO audience wants to “live” in the same computer-universe 24-7; not only spending an average of 20hours/week playing the online game, but then also dedicating more time watching the show in front of a screen. Do you see yourself doing this, assuming it would be well-made and captivating? Would you really like to spend even more time on the same thing?

I might imagine this totally wrong, but I cringe at the idea – and that’s not only because I suffer from severe back pains ever since delving into WoW raiding (entirely my own fault too) and should rather be exercising than watching TV on top of gaming. But if anything, I’d like to spend less time “not playing” the games I’m playing, and more time playing them. Meaning, I’d like quality time while being online, no silly downtimes and no extra “duties”. If the whole concept of Defiance revolves around watching the TV show as well, to a point where you are almost forced to partake in both (again, this is speculation), then I am simply not a part of the same target audience.

I would wager that I’m not the only one having doubts over this. I can easily think of more reasons why the average MMO player might not find such a junction appealing – to summarize a few more thoughts:

  • You want to play / do other things besides spending so much time on the same game.
  • You don’t care for game lore and heroes at all.
  • You lack time to watch the show and therefore feel like missing out on big parts of the game.
  • You don’t feel that watching a TV show does anything for your personal immersion.

Each point raises a big question mark. I’m not exactly the greatest lore geek for example, and as far as I know the average MMO gamer is too lazy to read quest texts and will even click nifty cut-scenes away. How would a regular show appeal to this person? Also: does it really increase your personal gaming immersion watching a TV show (about other characters doing things in your gaming universe)? Isn’t the whole point of MMOs that a big part of their content is player-generated and interactive?

I try to think of TV shows I enjoyed watching in the past: there were a few that actually captivated me for a while, resulting in a weekend or two of fulltime season marathons. I’m not a big fan of watching series on TV though, waiting for new episodes week after week. I rather buy the DVD box later, so I can watch them when I have the time. Starring Patrick Dempsey in scrubs is a big plus as well (…).
Besides that, I struggle with the idea that I am supposed to feel “immersed” here: I can identify with my gaming avatar surely, even with the protagonist of a book at times; but TV shows usually “show too much” to really feel immersive, or that’s how it is for me at least. You can empathize with the characters but immersion surely asks for more than that.

To find some better examples, I should probably be looking around the MMO world. The closest thing that comes to mind are ingame movies or machinima. Obviously there’s a huge fanbase enjoying game movies and I’m certainly one of them. But it’s always been about the impressive work of fans like Baron Soosdon for me and the insane amount of effort gone into their works, rather than wishing for an entire show of the same kind on a weekly base. Furthermore, many longer fanmade films get tedious to watch after a while.
CGI needs to look great to make a whole movie or series, as much as it needs great scripting too (not even Pixar get it right every time). I think there’s a reason why even Blizzard’s official movies are always rather short – cunningly keeping us longing for more.

That’s not to say that Trion/Syfy couldn’t get this part right. Considering how the MMO market works and how competitive it is, I do think they risk to lose quite a few customers though, if they really hold true to their co-dependent concept. But then, the only way to set yourself apart is to take risks.

Do MMO gamers want to watch daily soaps?

“Heroes of Azeroth – Tonight’s episode #22: Why Jaina lost her mind in Cataclysm.”

Yeah, that’s pushing it, I know I know! I’m being deliberately provocative here. I can’t help but wonder how you would create a TV show around an MMO that is co-evolving, immersive and fun to watch, without becoming another prime-time daily soap. And do we really want to know that much about the universe we’re playing in and its protagonists? Where does that leave fantasy and interaction?

No doubt some gamers will enjoy this, I’m not saying there won’t be. For myself I see the time factor as a big issue, among many others. Trion/Syfy are of course very welcome to prove my doubts wrong. Or maybe it’s just a way of getting our attention, when the final TV show won’t be nearly as essential to gameplay as they’re claiming right now, basically being a nice addon for all the die-hard fans.

It’s too early to know, that’s not really the question. But I’m curious: would the average MMO gamer really like to (be forced to?) watch a TV show on top of playing his favorite online game? And: can a TV show really add to a more immersive gameplay experience?

After all, that’s what Trion/Syfy claim in the clip. Certainly as intriguing an approach as a bold one – and a good reason to keep an eye on Defiance launching later this year.


  1. Well.. I’m kind of with you on the ewww front..

    If I want to game, I’ll game, if I want to watch tv, well, I’ll get frustrated because it’s either cartoons, sport or in German, but that’s not the point!

    Although if they ever make the steamy romance novels into a WoW soap, I’m totally watching it!

  2. “..if they ever make the steamy romance novels into a WoW soap, I’m totally watching it!”

    LOL – if that happens, I’m game too! 😛

  3. If I think about a TV series that I actually like, this idea does have some appeal. Dexter, for example, is well-written and engaging. In season, I watch it most weeks and catch up when I can’t.

    I’d be interested in playing in a Dexter universe for a few hours a week. And if my actions there or our collective gaming actions affected the course of the TV series, that’s kind of cool. Likewise, if plot developments in the show fed new content for the game, I could see that being compelling. It works for me. Not that either would be required to enjoy the other, but there would be a synergy that would make sense if you played the game and watched the show.

    Actually pulling that off in a meaningful and timely way seems like it would require a huge amount of work. They’d need to keep it up year-round too. Plus, it’s unlikely that any new series would be a hit like Dexter has been. It’s an interesting idea but the practical challenges seem huge to me.

  4. It depends how well they judge their world setting. For me, both a TV show and a game has to have an engaging world setting before I’ll start taking notice. A TV series also has to have characters about whom, at the end of the episode, I’m thinking “I really hope that bullet/pointy thing/unfortunate scenery missed him/her.”

    *If* Trion manages to do both these things with the TV series and the game, then yes, I’d be interseted to at least give it a go.

    On the one hand, gamers are notorious for a capacity to get hooked on things. If they give us more windows into a world we’re hooked on – I can see the logic. On the other hand, gaming and TV are very different mediums and matter to different extents for some people. Heck, I know gamers who don’t watch TV… We’ll see. I’ll be interested to see how it pans out.

  5. There’s also the problem of internationalization. It’s relatively easy to get gamers to play an English language game (at least I always imagined that, maybe I’m already wrong there), but good luck getting an English-with-local-subtitles TV show into local program. And if it’s dubbed, it will always lag behind considerably.

    So you’re basically cutting off all, or a very very large portion of, your non-US customer base. I’m not sure that’s a sound business strategy…

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