Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Where Is The Originality?

I started to drop out of popular culture long before 2005 when I started playing World of Warcraft.  Television was lame, with reality TV making an introduction with Survivor and American Idol back in 2002.  Movies?  Besides The Lord of The Rings trilogy (2001-2003), I didn't see anything of interest.  Music?  Country music isn't exactly mainstream, although Taylor Swift and appearances on The Apprentice by Trace Adkins and John Rich put the genre a little more into the spotlight.  Books?  Science fiction and fantasy isn't mainstream either.  In short, I was out of the mainstream and enjoying life.

I wasn't aware just how unoriginal popular culture has become until I looked at last year's top 10 list of movies in terms of worldwide gross.  Here they are:
  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
  2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  3. Pirates of the Carribbean: On Stranger Tides
  4. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1
  5. Kung Fu Panda 2
  6. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
  7. Fast Five
  8. The Hangover Part II
  9. The Smurfs
  10. Cars 2
Nine of the top ten movies were sequels.  And after having a drill sergeant we called Papa Smurf, I wouldn't want to watch the tenth movie as I might become traumatized.

But are MMORPGs any better in terms of originality where their intellectual properties are concerned?  Looking at the five most popular Western MMOs from yesterday's Digital Dozen post, the answer is discouraging.

The 800 pound gorilla of the genre, World of Warcraft, started with an IP created for their successful Warcraft RTS games.  By the time WoW launched on the 10th anniversary of the release of the Warcraft franchise, the game was the fourth one set in the world of Azeroth.  While very successful, as an intellectual property not very original.

While unoriginal in its application to an MMORPG, at least Blizzard created the IP, unlike 3 of the other 4 games in the top 5.  The #2 game, Star Wars: The Old Republic, relies on the Star Wars universe and LucasArts is listed as co-publisher of the game along with Electronic Arts on Wikipedia.  The #4 game, Lord of the Rings Online, relies on the world created by H.R. Tolkien, although Turbine does not have rights to works like The Silmarillion.  The #5 game, Star Trek Online, uses the universe created by Gene Roddenberry. 

That accounts for 4 or the top 5 games.  What about the #3 ranked game, Eve Online?  Bucking the trend amongst the most successful MMORPGs (and movies), CCP created an original intellectual property we now know as New Eden.  CCP didn't just create a world and then leave story generation to players.  Over the past nine years CCP has added to the story to the point that the lore information was reorganized into the Fiction Portal in the Evelopedia.  With thousands of pages of information, famed explorer Mark726 of Eve Travel in conjunction with Seismic Stan has published a lore guide on Freebooted that gives a rather long summary of the Eve Online IP.

But Eve Online launched in 2003.  Are we condemned to see major game studios pushing unoriginal intellectual properties to us?  I don't think so.  Last year's surprise hit Rift climbed as high as #5 on Xfire among video games of all genres and last week was the 11th most played MMORPG.  In April, Funcom plans on releasing The Secret World, an MMORPG in the modern world with the premise that three ancient conspiracies are at war with each other and with ancient evils.  A game about conspiracies promises a lot of originality in looking at myths and legends.

Perhaps the most intriguing use of an intellectual property may come from Curt Schilling's 38 Studios.  Schilling hired R. A. Salvatore to create a world for the company's Project Copernicus that was used for the sRPG Kingdom's of Amalur: Reckoning.  In 2004 Blizzard released an MMO based on a world created for a RTS series.  Will Project Copernicus launch to a ready-made player base already invested in the Amalur world?  CCP had a lot of growing pains as it slowly climbed up the charts.  Has 38 Studios found a winning formula, at least as far as their IP is concerned, to avoid that?


  1. Thanks for the mention. I share your concern that there is a tendency to recycle existing IPs rather than develop new ones. I suspect it's the attraction of the marketing shortcut an existing IP provides.

    I personally believe that EVE Online's New Eden is one of the most well-realised original science fiction universes in existence and is one of the reasons why I am unashamedly a fan of the game.

    In defence of Mark726's "rather long summary", I think that's relative. Given that the offical lore currently stretches to 13,000 webpages, three novels and untold in-game content, I think he did well to deliver a light overview in just a few blogposts, each of which can be enjoyed separately.

    Of course, compared to "it's set in space" Mark's explanation is rather longer, but it's also a whole lot more informative.

  2. I had to describe Mark's write-up as rather long because I can't assume everyone who reads the blog plays Eve. I've seen write-ups on some games' entire world that is shorter than what Mark wrote and he just scratched the surface in what is in New Eden. Part of why I had to mention both you and Mark for this post. That and because I loved it!

  3. Thanks for the shout out! And I'm glad you enjoyed it. The guide wouldn't be necessary at all if New Eden's background wasn't as deep, heh, but it's a credit as much to CCP as it is to the players for combining for such an awesome storyline.