IP-based MMOs Part 2 (of 5)

While developing a game to an established IP may bring the potential of thousands of players eager to live in the world they have come to know, the property may also be a straight-jacket. Clever developers have found ways around these problems, though.

Game: Dragon Oath IP: “Tian Long Ba Bu” by Jin Yong

In 1963, Jin Yong began serializing his epic novel Tian Long Ba Bu, or “The Heavenly Dragon and the Eight Sections”, in newspapers in Hong Kong and Singapore. Four years later, he finished. Over 230 characters make their way through TLBB’s grand plot of warring sects, intrigue, love, betrayal, blinding, death, demigods and dragons. He was the Robert Jordan of his day — if Robert Jordan had written a chapter of his books every day for four years. TLBB has spawned four films and five movies. After reading about TLBB on Wikipedia, I don’t understand why we haven’t seen a Western adaptation yet. A whole fake CITY was built in order to film one of the series (and is now a tourist destination).

At least we have the MMO version, called Dragon Oath here in the states. Dragon Oath boasts 75 million players worldwide. Yes, 75 MILLION. Publisher ChangYou.com claims it is the #1 martial arts MMO in the world. The player chooses from nine schools of Kung Fu, can apparently eventually command armies, ride dragons and command showy magics. Judging by the quality of graphics, the game, which is in open beta here, should likely run on most anything.

Game: Dungeons & Dragons Online IP: Wizard of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons

First published in 1974 by long-time wargamers Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, early editions of Dungeons & Dragons had a dead-easy character generation technique: roll three six-sided dice and add them up and assign those values in turn to STR, INT, WIS, DEX, CON and CHA — the six characteristics that told the story of every character in the D&D world. If you had a high strength, you might opt to become a fighter. A goodly intelligence would mark you as a mage, and so on. The games were moderated by a (hopefully) impartial Dungeon Master (DM) who would lead the party on adventures appropriate to their classes and numbers. Later editions of the game introduced more rules and many ways of tuning a character just exactly right, but the game itself is still instantly familiar. The character sheet, the iconic 20-sided die, and the DM behind his or her screen cackling evilly as the players blunder into some insidious trap — all would be instantly familiar to a D&D player of any age.

It’s no big surprise that D&D was made into an MMO; the only mystery is why it took so long. Then again, with almost every RPG of the 70s through the 00s explicitly modeling itself on D&D, perhaps there was just too much duplication going on. EverQuest came about as close to an implementation of D&D in MMO form as one possibly could without severely trampling on D&D’s copyright. With a largely faithful implementation of D&D 3.5’s rules and its Eberron setting, the d20 spinning on the screen and the occasional voice of an unseen Dungeon Master, DDO tries its best to pay homage to its pen and paper roots.

At launch, DDO did fairly well, but players did not take well to the heavy instancing and requirements to run dungeon modules time and time again in order to gain the most points and experience with which to level. Since DDO became free to play, player counts, subscribers and income have increased five-fold.

Game: Final Fantasy XI Online and Final Fantasy XIV Online IP: Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy series

Aside from the occasional reuse of character names, general plots and Nobuo Uematsu’s haunting scores, about all that unites the various titles in the Final Fantasy catalog is the name “Final Fantasy”. You can’t get much purer than that in an IP. The earlier games in the FF series tended toward more universal character classes and abilities before 1997’s Final Fantasy VII moved the series toward more individualistic characters with iconic weapons and fighting moves. Since then, creators Square-Enix have outdone themselves in finding new, unique combat methods, weapons and power-ups, aside from a single return to their roots in 2000’s Final Fantasy IX. The Final Fantasy series has been credited with bringing Japanese-style RPGs to the rest of the world, and has spawned two movies, at least one anime, manga and a host of tangentially-related spinoff games.

Final Fantasy XI Online and the in-development Final Fantasy XIV Online take their inspiration largely from the earlier games in the series; players have jobs (classes) with various set skills, and they can train for and change their jobs with little effort, once they have unlocked them. Ridable Chocobos (pony-sized birds almost certainly based on the mounts in Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind) and monstrous Summons make their appearance, and the infamous BCNMs — Burning Circle Notorious Monsters — provide mini-boss battles that could be earned or bought at will. Innovative game mechanics, a strong plot, gorgeous scenery, the famous Uematsu music and an “automatic” English/Japanese translating chat system made FFXI a favorite the world over. It didn’t hurt that it was the first MMO available for Sony’s Playstation 2, predating Sony’s own EverQuest Online Adventures by a year. FFXI Online is, eight years in, still going strong. FFXIV looks to take the best parts of FFXI and improve on the rough bits, and should easily match the popularity of its predecessor.

Game: FusionFall IP: Cartoon Network

Since Cartoon Network started broadcasting in 1992, its blend of classic and original cartoons has made it the discerning teenager’s outlet for original animation when the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon have lost their luster. Their late-night “Adult Swim” block shows experimental animation aimed at older teenagers and young adults. Cartoon Network broadcasts to kids from Ireland to Pakistan. The generally high quality of its cartoons make secret watchers of plenty of adults as well.

FusionFall launched last year to good critical buzz. With kid-friendly systems in place similar to those used by other kid-focused games such as Disney’s Toontown and KingsIsle’s Wizard101 and gameplay based on classic platform running and jumping, combined with ease of play (runs in a browser) and NPCs drawn from most of Cartoon Network’s most popular shows, the game is apparently doing quite well. Launched as a subscription game, FusionFall will go entirely free to play Monday, April 19th.

Game: Hello Kitty Online IP: Sanrio’s Hello Kitty

Originally developed as a simple, semi-abstract decoration for a coin purse in Japan in 1974, within two years Hello Kitty had spread around the world. Now, Hello Kitty and her legion of friends can be found on merchandise of all descriptions available wherever children may be found, including Sanrio-themed stores selling every kind of Hello Kitty branded merch you could think of… except maybe that Hello Kitty AK-47. From her humble beginnings as a coin purse, Hello Kitty has gone on to reign over a media empire that includes two animated series and a dozen video games.

Hello Kitty Online lets players go on an epic quest to find all of Hello Kitty’s lost friends who have scattered across the world. Along the way, you’ll find and raise pets, tend farms, battle villainous creatures, craft clothing and weapons, and unlock and play various minigames such as fishing and water-skiing. The game tends to be grindy (as is usual for Asian imports) but the social tools are second to none. I suspect Hello Kitty Online appeals more to kids moms than the kids themselves, though. Also, your screen will almost certainly run out of pink almost immediately.

Tune in tomorrow for part 3, where we’ll be looking at lords, pirates and little plastic bricks.

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3 thoughts on “IP-based MMOs Part 2 (of 5)”

  1. DDO: I still cannot understand that they are so successful by now. They were not doing that well, heck, they were not even mentioned at all, as if the game did not exist.
    I also vaguely remember this lawsuit that DDO did not get promoted properly. Despite the change to the business model in September 2009 the game did not change that much, and now some players even turned into subscribers (Ethic).

    Fascinating! Still, I rather prefer the Baldur’s Gate style D&D adaptions to DDO. I tried to get back into the game, but it did not *click*. LOTRO clicked, DDO did not. Guild Wars clicks a lot, you should try it again, Tipa. ;)

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