IP-based MMOs: Part 1 (of 5)

Basing your MMORPG on an existing property can be an easy way to get attention for your new game and tap into a base of potential players who are already familiar with the world and its lore. It’s a wonder that more games haven’t tried it. Where’s our Wheel of Time MMO? Our Honor Harrington MMO? Our Sailor Moon MMO? (Oops, didn’t mean to mention that one….)

Well, maybe someone’s working on one of those right now (call me!)

With the help of the super-comprehensive list of MMOs at MMORPG.com, I’ve gathered together a list of all the MMOs I could find that were based (or at least “inspired by”) some other intellectual property. Since there are quite a few, I’ll be covering these in five posts. Today: Absolute Terror through Toontown Online.

Game: Absolute Terror IP: Neon Genesis Evangelion
Gainax’s “Neon Genesis Evangelion” re-invented the “giant robot” genre by adding tortured teens and morally ambiguous guardians to a post-apocalyptic world where the heroes were either protecting the world from complete annihilation, or helping to bring it about — only at the end were there any real answers. Maybe.

“Absolute Terror” is a web-based strategic combat game, and is largely the work of a single designer, Liam Young. The player chooses to fight for NERV or SEELE, the two organizations charged with defending New Tokyo from attacks by the otherworldy “Angels”, giant creatures from an unknown source. By winning battles, you gain the ability to perform more actions. Although I haven’t played it, Absolute Terror seems more akin to pseudo-MMOs like Kingdom of Loathing than any of the others on this list.

Game: Age of Conan IP: Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Robert E. Howard’s iconic Conan the Barbarian sparked a wave of heroic sword & sorcery that predated and arguably surpassed the sort of epic fantasy Tolkein would soon make famous. With a legendary comic series in the 70s and two movies in the 80s that inspired a mini-wave of copycats, Conan has been reintroducing himself to new generations of genre lovers for seventy years.

Funcom strategically released its Age of Conan in the lull before Blizzard’s new expansion for World of Warcraft and quickly gained a huge following, a popularity that soon waned over reports of bugs, unfinished PvP, and a newbie experience that dramatically oversold the experience a player would have once they graduated to the real game. Since then, Age of Conan has essentially relaunched, filling in gaps, fixing bugs, making gear more relevant to the game and adding more PvE content. By all accounts, AoC has become a game well worth seeing for Conan fans looking to play in the legendary Hyborian Age.

Game: Champions Online IP: Hero Games’ Champions
Where pen-and-paper games like Dungeons & Dragons were all about specifying in great and intricate detail the powers and abilities of each carefully defines and delineated class, alternate rule sets like Hero Games’ Hero System allowed the player to make and play a character to fit any template, from spies to warlocks to robots to super heroes. Balancing powers with perks and disadvantages and a combat system that relied upon sometimes intricate formulas, character creation was a lengthy affair in contrast to D&D’s (at the time) roll-and-forget system. Champions, their source book specifically for adventuring in a super hero universe, was a smash hit, and almost every tabletop gaming group took the occasional break from D&D to pull on the spandex and fight a supervillain or two.

Champions Online was the first MMO Cryptic Studios developed after splitting off from NCsoft, for whom they had developed the genre-leading City of Heroes superhero MMO. A last moment rebalancing and a lack of high level content made this game a non-starter in many people’s eyes. It has not drawn the kind of numbers expected; estimates have fewer people playing it than City of Heroes, and with expected competition from SOE’s DC Universe Online and Marvel’s unnamed MMO, the future is not clear for Champions Online. This is unfortunate indeed, as the “Nemesis” system, where you create your own arch-villain to bedevil you, and their famously open-ended character creation system, are unique in the industry.

Game: DC Universe Online IP: DC Comics
DC Comics (the initials stand for the company’s original name, Detective Comics, which kind of makes the extra ‘Comics’ in the name redundant) published Action Comics #1 in 1938 which introduced the world to its most famous illegal alien, Superman. A year later, Detective Comics followed that up with the “world’s greatest detective”, Batman, and thereby firmly planted the seeds of a pulp comic empire that still follows both of these characters and hundreds more. Going from the four-color page to radio, television, movies and even Broadway, DC’s characters have been part of the world’s new mythology for the better part of a century.

SOE’s DC Universe Online, still in development, promises players the chance to fight alongside (or against) DC’s iconic heroes as they defend (or attack) landmark locations such as Metropolis and Gotham City. A fluid power system will let your character switch roles (such as tanking, damage, healing/buffing) at will so that any group of characters will be able to fill the necessary roles. Action-oriented, scripted missions and destructible environments will make this game at home either on the PC or the console. Appropriately, DCUO will be the first MMO produced for Sony’s Playstation 3 game system, followed at some point by SOE’s follow-up, the spy MMO “The Agency”.

Game: Disney’s Toontown Online IP: Disney cartoon characters
Since 1923, Disney’s groundbreaking work in animation has set the standard followed (or at least acknowledged) by every animator since. Boasting some of the most recognizable characters in the entire world — Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, etc. — Disney has turned a mouse into a media empire. They now have the largest movie production house in the world, and their theme parks are a vacation destination for travelers everywhere.

Disney’s “Toontown Online”, loosely based on the world in their cartoons and a name courtesy of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, is a child-friendly game that features kid-safe innovations later copied by other kid-friendly MMOs such as Wizards101. Carefully monitored chat, limited social interactions and non-threatening (but frequently hilarious) actions give kids the freedom to make and play their own cartoon character in Disney’s cartoon world. Though there’s not a lot in Toontown Online to appeal to adults, the game has enough depth to make it a satisfying game to play alongside your younger children.

Tune in tomorrow for tales of dragons and kittens as we explore the next chapter of the IP-based gaming empire.

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9 thoughts on “IP-based MMOs: Part 1 (of 5)”

  1. Having just started playing AoC, I want to throw in my two cents and say it feels like a very good adaptation of Howard’s work. Throughout, there are subtle references to the short stories — and every now and again, to the movie as well! I’m currently reading the short stories for the first time, and I love logging into the game and being like “I totally just read that.”

  2. “I really have been waiting to see more about the Wheel of Time game. Nothing new has been reported for awhile though :(”

    Two things

    First MMOs always take a long time. The realistic project length is probably around 5 years. Some take a lot longer (eg Darkfall). Some are shorter but those generally have low production values. You wouldn’t licence an IP as expensive as WoT then make a cheap game.

    Second they may not have got down to the MMO right away. The way the press release read to me was that they were making other WoT games first then building up to a MMO.

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