Globalization is killing MMOs

Sounds weird? I have to agree.


I happened to read a rather interesting article in the Spiegel magazine tonight which is no, not the Mirror people read in the UK, but happens to have the same name if you care to translate it. It’s the only piece of print news I read regularly, mostly because they spend humongous amounts of time on thorough background investigation and are dedicated to a kind of independent journalism that is rare to find these days. Also, I love reading more than ten pages on the same subject.

Anyway, I came across this long interview with the ex-chief publisher of the Vogue and shockingly enough started to read, although the whole fashion biz is one of those things I am not interested in in the slightest. But I like interviews on people’s lives; they tend to present different perspectives that we’d otherwise never brush in our own life. Also, my bathwater was still warm and fuzzy and I had no more articles to read otherwise.

Riiiight….it appears that Miss Roitfeld was chief publisher and a designer for the Vogue for 10 years and had a blast. For the most part. Not so much during the second half. Less and less towards the end. A lot is currently changing in the world of haute couture, less freedom and more pressure, which is why the lady decided to quit and kiss the Vogue goodbye. Here is an English extract from that interview:

Roitfeld: For 10 years, it was a hell of a lot of fun. But, toward the end, it unfortunately got less and less fun. You used to be able to be more playful, but now it’s all about money, results and big business. The prêt-à-porter shows have become terribly serious. The atmosphere isn’t as electric as it once was, and they now have about as much charm as a medical conference. But it takes just one good fashion show to get things exciting again.
SPIEGEL: If fashion can tell us anything about the age it’s created in, what do you think current fashions tell us?
Roitfeld: Today’s fashions don’t let people dream as much as they used to. Twenty years ago, fashion was a promise – something that was part of your life and perhaps enriched it, something that reflected a particular era. If you look at advertisements these days, all you see are handbags. They aren’t about dreams anymore; customers are buying objects now, not dreams.
SPIEGEL: Is that why you left Vogue in January?
Roitfeld: Ten years is a long time – and especially 10 years in a gilded cage. They were wonderful years; but, sooner or later, birds want their freedom again.
SPIEGEL: Your French publisher said the time for being provocative and trashy was over.
Roitfeld: I’d put it this way: Fashion needs glamour, provocation and broken taboos.
SPIEGEL: Was it your decision to go?
Roitfeld: Absolutely. And at the perfect moment. The French edition of Vogue had never been more successful, had never had more readers or advertisers. And it had never made as much money. For 10 years, my American publisher, Jonathan Newhouse, let me do what I wanted, even when he thought it might be crazy. But it couldn’t have gone on for much longer.
SPIEGEL: Is this the end of era?
Roitfeld: Creativity needs space and a willingness to take risks, but businessmen don’t like risk. What’s more, designers are coming under more and more pressure. Today, a dress can’t just please the women in Paris; it also has to please those in Beijing, Tokyo, Moscow and New York.
SPIEGEL: Is globalization making fashion more boring?
Roitfeld: At the very least, it’s leading to a lot of compromise. But globalization is only one factor. Today’s designers no longer have to create two collections a year; they have to create four: spring, summer, fall and winter. And some fashion studios also add haute couture twice a year. Who can possibly manage all that? Good designers are artists; they’re fragile people. [Source]

Ring any bells? If not, try the following experiment: substitute all the words highlighted in red with the following replacement words:

Prêt-à-porter shows = PR/game conventions, fashion = games/MMOs, handbags = item rewards, Vogue = Blizzard, French publisher = investor / Activision, Jonathan Newhouse = Michael Morhaime, dress = game, women = gamers, collections = content patches, haute couture = major content patches / special promotions.

And then let’s assume Roitfeld = Ghostcrawler. Maybe few years from now. Or let’s assume he joined Blizzard in 2004 and this is 2014. In any case you get the point.

The point of all this being…

The point is: it’s happening everywhere. Grey suits calling the shots. Grey suits finding their way into anything that has grown a little successful on its own through genius, vision and hard work. Investment, bigger business. You pay, you have more say. Even if you really shouldn’t. Roitfeld is just one example of when the world of art clashes with the world of more money.

The globalization claim is rather interesting in this context; after all MMOs live of being online and global. At the same time, the point the interview makes still applies: there’s a huge pressure today to please all markets world-wide, every type of audience, every type of player, maybe even on several platforms. Catering to all of that with the same game is a monstrous attempt that matters zero to the individual player. The pressure to produce (quantity) on game designers is high, the freedom restricted by so many demands. Risk taking is a big no-no. Cloning WoW is boring but safe(r). When it comes to business, globalization is just another word for capitalism.

And MMOs are business.


  1. The fact that a company that does over a billion in revenue for over 5 years now, still has a game competing with games like Rift that take 50 mio to develop, says it all.

    Instead of creating the best possible MMORPG, they just want to make money. And if the competition doesn’t push them, they don’t move.

    That’s unfortunate for us. But it is also unfortunate for them, because eventually the competition will push. And there’s always a good chance they do it in a surprising way.

  2. ..”there’s always a good chance they do it in a surprising way.”

    There’s probably no other way than this way.
    I’m always surprised to read that new MMOs should rather copy WoW; I understand that you want a stable base and re-inventing the wheel isn’t necessary – I can also understand that Rift for example didn’t dare to deviate too much.

    but at the same time, from personal enjoyment’s PoV, I don’t want all MMOs to be the same. the problem seems to be though that developers right now aren’t looking to actually reach ‘for the top’; they’re just loooking for a part of the cake, a safe deal. something to milk, not to take risks with. it was much easier for Blizzard in 2004 – there was not really anyone to “beat”.

    we won’t see anything new and exciting as long as nobody is willing to take real risks.

  3. The sort of behavior we see in business these days, in companies hoping to create successful MMO’s, that of “Risk taking is a big no-no. Cloning WoW is boring but safe(r).”, is an attitude instilled in people at a very, very young age. Let me explain.

    I’ve got two kids, 11 and 8 (almost 9). Their stories from school are such that kid X or Y says, for example, that they have jumped off the highdive at the local pool. The fact is, as I put it to my 8 year old, is that most of them are lying. Why? To fit in, to not be excluded from “the group”, to gain acceptance to the largest audience possible.

    It seems to be a human nature thing which spills over into adulthood businesses, that of wanting so much to be accepted that nobody dare be too creative, too different, for fear of rejection. Yet how odd, wonderfully odd, it is that the greatest things we have in this world are by people willing to be rejected by society because they believe that their creativity and inventions will change humanity for the better.

    I think Nils is right in this, somebody in the competition for a great MMO will do something surprising, they will create something new and accept the risk that they will be rejected. Human history shows us this, somebody will stand up and do something.

    It just sucks that in the meantime so many revert back to their elementary school days and let the CFO call the shots on creativity instead of the artists.

  4. So when was the golden age of MMOs? When were we in Paris? When was MMORPGs about Role Playing? About the epic story? When wasn’t it about keeping people logging in with time sinks to make more money? Keeping people constantly searching for that next item? Or buying gold to get it?

    The way I remember it: never. But I started in Everquest, so maybe it was before then? Perhaps games I didn’t play (like DAOC) fit this description?

    Good looking games are expensive to develop. Even single player games can cost $50 mil. Strangely enough a game like Minecraft got developed. How did that happen?

    WoW was a good refinement of earlier games and exploded the market. And along came the cheap knockoffs, kinda like the fashion industry. But who says there was no innovation: Warhammer, Shadowbane, Guildwars, EVE Online, Daggerfall, Star Wars Galaxies, A Tale in the Desert all had their unique elements. Most failed (or slipped into niche status), got revamped (ala SWG) or “succeded” but on a small scale (e.g. EVE Online and A Tale in the Desert).

    Future AAA MMOs will require bigger stories, better graphics and more engaging gameplay. And yes, they will need to make money. That is the only thing keeping Everquest open at the moment. Someone has to pay for all of those servers.

    But none of that has stopped games like Minecraft from being developed. Or tons of single player iPhone games for that matter. There is room for all of it.

  5. People can only be unsatisfied for so long. I imagine that the people who have had enough will break away and do their own thing at some point. Well at least I hope that’s the case.

  6. @ Gronthe
    I see what you mean in that context, but I’m not sure that is how masterpieces and art are created. but that’s the point, isn’t it – nobody is actually trying to do that at the moment, to break through with something new and astounding. safe road is safe. it’s just a shame (to me) if games are no more about art and creation. Blizzard did of course also learn from others and of course they are there to make money like everyone else; but they did something daring with WoW that had not been there before and when they set out, the game was a huge inspiration.
    but maybe there’s only so many big breakthroughs possible overall.

  7. @Bill
    I can only speak for myself. If you ask for a ‘golden age’, I think there have been MMOs that did a lot better on things like simulation, impact, authenticity, player freedom or atmosphere than for example today’s WoW. even in vanilla, the game was not yet as heavily focused on endgame only and item rewards, as it is today. there were also great differences in cooperation, if you think of instance grouping today and back then.
    if you want to know other names, early UO will always be something for me to refer to in context with MMO virtues. I haven’t played DaoC myself, as for EQ there have been many discussions in the past about how EQ was a great, classic MMO. but overall, from all the MMOs I have played myself the past years, I find aspects in each that I’d like to see combined.

    but the point for me here is a more general one; the issue of how success and popularity change the course of games and development and how the hunger for more success and bigger venues eventually clash with the initial ideas behind a game and in places, the aspects that make it art. this is a common dynamic you can find anywhere; fashion was another example. as soon as something grows very big and successful, it will attract other people that start to influence it too. it will change, often for the worse because it starts turning away from the core elements or philosophy that made it great in the firt place.
    like blog authors that become so popular, they suddenly feel forced and pressured by their bigger readership. while people often strive for ‘more’ in their lives, they do not always know how to actually handle ‘more’.

    I’m not under the illusion that Blizzard was ever developed by a bunch of idealist and altruist artists only, of course it’s a business that wants to make money (and needs to). but there’s a great difference between an enterprise that sets out with its own idea of a good game, seeing how far they can get, and a company where no more the people creeating the game, but investors and stockholders are calling important shots. I remember when the Activision merge happened and all the hot topics at the time on how this will and in places did affect the game.

    blizzard have never been too close to the playerbase (certainly not compared to CCP Games or even Trion), but the more subscribers WoW got, they seemed to lose more touch. I recall a topic by Larisa about the last Blizzard stockholder’s event in this context and also the question of “is it all about money now?” by Gordon from WFS recently. money is being squeezed out in every possible way in WoW, but at the same time content is being as recycled as ever. that does certainly not look very well-balanced to me anymore and I would love to hear the lead designers of the game speak up sometime on what they really think about the state of WoW, and what their artistic freedoms are.

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