Is it a good idea to base MMOs on books?

Book or game, which is more epic?

I updated the title to better reflect what this article is actually about. I got a few too many comments on my mirrors from people thinking I’d like all MMOs to be based on books.

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.


MMOs are not known for their ability to tell a good story. Actually, their better known for telling fragmented and 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.

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 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…

1 comment

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  1. Brian Johnson

    I kind of like the idea of creating MMOs based on books. Some regular MMO games on the market usually have some standard storyline that mostly will be forgotten once gamers finished those games. So i think it would be much better if future console and PC games, especially MMO games will be basing their storyline on books.
    Brian Johnson recently posted..How to Get a Better Understanding About Bioshock Infinite Plot?

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