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Rewind: Should MMOs be Made From Books?

The following post was originally published on September 15th, 2009. It’s an intriguing topic, in my opinion, especially so with LotRO becoming more popular and titles like SW:TOR filling up our gaming horizons. What do you think, should MMOs be made from books and existing IPs or is there more value in creating a new IP and building from the ground up?

I love to read. Books have the power to take you away to another time and place and make the impossible possible. Not to mention, the scope of a novel is greater than any movie or TV show could possibly encompass, so we find some of the most epic and enthralling entertainment in a literature.Given this, it’s not surprising that MMO companies have turned to books as settings for their games. The biggest one is, of course, Lord of the Rings Online. Most people would admit that the game has done fairly well for itself. Players, myself included, like the idea of running around through a world they fell in love with long before.

Another game that picked up the literary stick and ran with it was Warhammer Online. Most people would attribute that game to its tabletop roots but there’s definitely parts of the game derived from the authors that made the world their own. Warhammer, though perhaps not as successful as some of us had hoped, is another title that pays homage to the written word that formed it.

Yet, part of me wonders whether or not books have much place being turned into MMOs. In many ways, they’re bound to disappoint.

Story

MMOs are not known for their ability to tell a good story. Actually, their better known for telling fragmentedand shallow stories, which is why SW:TOR is getting so much attention for including Bioware’s “fourth pillar.” Compare any series of quests in LotRO to Tolkien’s own work and you’re bound to walk away feeling let down.


Malus Darkblade

MMOs right now simply don’t have the means to deliver story in a way that can touch the emotions of most players. 100 words of quest text can never compare to the battles of the fellowship in Moria. Nor can any battleground come close to the ferocity of Malus Darkblade facing off against a group of Skinriders.

Limits of Scope

A good book simply has more room to move. It’d be great if an MMO could bring to life a world true to the author’s description but that’s not realistic. Instead, hobbits can run 900 mph through the hills and barrows.

Modern day design can’t capture a “world” in the same way an author can. The end result is that fans of the book wind up coming into the game and finding the place they’d imagined shrunk down to five minute runs and pvp zones.

Hindered Development

One of the biggest reasons I have doubts is the simple reason that most books are never designed to be games. When development companies pick up existing IPs, they’re limited by the setting of the tale. If dragons never existed in the world, they can’t just go and make a new “Dragon Lands” zone. It wouldn’t fit.

Both Warhammer Online and LotRO are limited by this. I’d imagine that they have to check their Ps and Qs before they take any risks implementing new stuff into their games. If they break the rules of their borrowed world, its true owners aren’t going to be very happy. On top of that, a minority of the players will be happy to give them hell for breaking the lore.

In the end, my doubts settle with the fact that books can simply do things better. Players that come for the books eventually feel the novelty wear off and are left with only the cropped down vision of the world they cherished. Those that do stay will do so because they enjoy the game.

The way I see it, using literature as a basis for a game is a shaky decision at best. The fact is, developers may find themselves having to ignore good decisions for the game because of the limits of the IP. It’s a delicate balance. I want a world but that doesn’t mean much if the game doesn’t play well. Make a new IP and a game that’s fun to play and you’ll find that sales will follow, even without making A Song of Ice and Fire Online.

Now, making a book from an MMO is a different story

4 comments

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  1. Maxivik

    Unless your WoW and are willing to change the Lore!

    Just ask my friend Pat, he got banned on the forums for simply posting “Fix the lore” over and over =P

  2. Salsero

    Yeah, I think you have to be willing to disconnect the story from the world and just implement the world. Although LOTRO’s epic quest lines are an interesting way to work the story back in.

    Let’s face it, unless you’re talking about an IP like LOTR or Star Wars, people won’t be approaching it with a lot of preconceptions anyway. Using an IP just gives you a leg up on developing environments/races/classes, etc.

    Some interesting ideas from my reading experience are: Raymond Feist’s Magician series, David Brin’s Uplift War universe, E.E. Doc Smith’s Lensmen series, (something) Hardy’s Master of the Five Magics. I wouldn’t mind seeing these get the MMO treatment; and I don’t see why people who aren’t familiar with the IP wouldn’t just approach it as something brand new, like Allods or FE.

  3. Cindy

    Actually no I don’t think they should make MMOs from books for one simple reason: the MMO, or game, will NEVER be as imagined by you and their thousands of fans. And since we don’t imagine exactly the same way there’s just too much room for disappointment. Both LotrO and AoC were met with instant disappointment and while LotrO did really well despite that it did some more because it’s a solid and very good game then because it’s Lord of the Rings, imo.

    If anything they should make books from MMOs. I’d buy an Adventures in Vana’diel book any day, or EQ books for that matter, which exist. :D But the other way around is very tricky and subject to the creator’s vision and not the myriad of fans.

  4. Sara Pickell

    Something from my older, and perhaps angrier, days, but very relevant. http://soagcure.blogspot.com/2009/02/mmo-ips-and-little-bit-of-philosphy.html

    Basically, the problem with working on an MMO out of a book is that it gives you locations… and that’s about it. In exchange for having a few locations laid out, you now have to do quite a bit of design level work arounds to implement fun systems while trying not to contradict established lore. You are also practically guaranteed to fail sometimes so long as your goal is to have a fun game.

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