Infinitely in Crisis

SupermanInfinite Crisis.  Now that Turbine has announced the closure of their DC Comics powered MOBA, the name seems almost cruelly ironic. The true crisis, it appears, happened behind the scenes while reviewing revenue reports and budget estimates.

I’m not going to go as far as to say “I called it” in regards to the lack of success of this game. After all, anything I’ve ever predicted has been based on pure speculation from an outside viewpoint. However, I always found it difficult to understand why Turbine was putting so many eggs in the MOBA basket and why they entered the market so late. I’ll be honest, as a huge fan of Turbine’s “other” property, Lord of the Rings Online, I felt the sting as more and more devs were moved from “my game” to the next new hotness. I watched as the marketing for my favorite MMO decreased and the hype for a yet-to-be released LOL clone escalated. Speaking of League of Legends, at the same time that IC was being developed, Riot Games was reporting 27 million concurrent users of their incarnation. Twenty. Seven. Million. It’s certainly enough to make any WB executive’s ears perk up, but it leads the casual observer to wonder: how many more MOBA players can there actually be? And why was a company that had never ventured outside of MMO’s suddenly switching genres so drastically?

Infinite Crisis I admit, there was a twinge of envy as each Twitch notification I received from Turbine’s channel led me to yet another sell job for IC instead of a casual romp through Middle-Earth. As we scratched around like chickens looking for LOTRO news to report on, cute little 20-somethings with bright lipstick and lots of eyeliner were espousing the awesomeness of the next superhero extravaganza. Still, if they could somehow pull this off and garner even a fraction of those 27 million LOL players, it would be good for all of Turbine’s properties.

On even further reflection, the move could be somewhat easily justified, if you understand how large companies think. Turbine was essentially repeating the pattern they’d established with LOTRO. They were entering a proven and profitable market using a clone of a hugely successful game and differentiating by slapping on some rock-solid intellectual property. I’m sure they were thinking “We know how to do this! We’ve been here before!” Although this time, they had an advantage. They could design the game as a free-to-play offering from the very beginning, avoiding all of the awkwardness and ill perceptions that LOTRO was forced to endure a few short years into its existence during it’s F2P transition.

The sad truths of the failed IC experiment are that times are different, that MOBA’s aren’t MMO’s, and that not all IP is equal. When LOTRO went free to play, it was the only AAA MMO to have removed that particular barrier to entry (unless you count Turbine’s other property, Dungeons and Dragons Online, which may not have quite been AAA status). So, free-to-play for Infinite Crisis was not much of a selling point. Is the competitive MOBA market saturated? Possibly. If it is, then the only way to gain market share in that segment is to convince existing MOBA players to abandon their current MOBA in favor of yours. This is always tricky, even in MMO’s. Hours and hours of progression is not so easily abandoned, and unlike jumping from WoW to LOTRO, there was no added “free to play” incentive for Infinite Crisis. Why would someone who is established in an existing free MOBA abandon all of that progress to play a different free MOBA? Clearly, Turbine was hoping that the IP would be enough to pull from the existing MOBA player base. Alas, this was not to be. While DC does enjoy a rabid and loyal fan base, I would venture to say that it’s still a bit niche when compared to the mass-market appeal of Tolkien and Lord of the Rings in the post-Peter Jackson era. I’m basing this assumption solely on the reception to every DC-based movie that’s been released during the same timeframe as the Lord of the Rings original trilogy. DC has done a decent job of keeping their IP in front of people, but not as good of a job of pulling in new fans in the same way that LOTR and Marvel have been able to do. Thus, the DC IP did not have the same pull for Infinite Crisis that the LOTR properties did for LOTRO. LOTRO Landscape Do I feel any sense of joy or vindication at the failure of IC? Of course not. People’s livelihoods have been affected by this. Like I said before, my confusion over the business strategy was exactly that (tainted slightly my love for that OTHER somewhat neglected game). I simply questioned the reasons for abandoning a proven game and genre for seemingly greener pastures. My uneducated predictions have been wrong more often than not. With hindsight, however, I do think that the failure of IC is a cautionary tale for attempting to formulaically reproduce success.

Best of luck to Turbine on their next endeavor!

 

Superman 2 by Ben Northern at Flickr Creative Commons

Infinite Crisis at Gamescom 2013 by Sergey Galyonkin at Flickr Creative Commons

LOTRO Landscape by Éric Durant at Flicker Creative Commons

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12 thoughts on “Infinitely in Crisis

  1. Pasduil June 4, 2015 / 1:16 pm

    I like to think that pulling the plug on IC is another part in Turbine’s general return to sanity.

    Like I said in my comment on the CMP post about this, it’s really hard to believe the IP matters all that much to a MOBA player, certainly compared with how much it matters in an MMO.

    But I guess Turbine has often proven to be not very good at understanding what matters to its customers in recent times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Braxwolf June 4, 2015 / 1:25 pm

      This is entirely possible, though as I’ve been playing Marvel Heroes, it strikes me that the IP for that game is extremely important. I know it’s not a MOBA, but it’s not exactly a traditional MMO, either.

      Like

      • Pasduil June 4, 2015 / 1:40 pm

        I’ve never got into MOBAs, so I’m just guessing. But there was that Tolkien themed MOBA that I don’t quite remember the name of, and even for as big of a Tolkien fan as I am, the IP wasn’t much of lure into it. And I actually have that game via a Humble Bundle, but never even downloaded.

        Would be interesting to hear from some actual MOBA players!

        Like

  2. tsuhelm June 4, 2015 / 1:25 pm

    Lets hope its a return to sanity and that not too much damage has been done…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. tomeoric June 4, 2015 / 1:37 pm

    I’m not really a fan of MOBAs, so I wasn’t really following news on IC, other than what was mashed in with Turbine / LOTRO news (staff levels, etc.). In all honesty, I thought IC was still in beta/pre-release. Maybe I was blind to the release fanfare or news – but I listen to several MMO and gaming podcasts and I don’t recall any mentions or hype. I don’t think their intent was to fly under the radar, but it sure seems that way.

    Like

    • Braxwolf June 4, 2015 / 2:08 pm

      This doesn’t surprise me. The game was in open beta for over a year and the actual launch was very low key. It makes you wonder what Turbine new about the disappointing numbers and when.

      Like

  4. The Iron Dagger June 4, 2015 / 6:23 pm

    IC was a cash-in on the DCU, nothing more. Although I’m somewhat surprised at its failure – I’ve never seen loyalty as a big thing with the MOBA crowd.

    At the very least, I thought it would do better than Guardians of Middle-earth (which to me remains the Everest of the MOBAfication abomination), given the ‘compatibility’ of the IPs in question.

    Like

  5. c'est fou (@bambocheur) June 9, 2015 / 5:36 am

    I might be more cynical here but this move has me “worried” about Turbine’s long term survival. I’d love to see the dated market strategy memo that led to decision to invest in the MOBA market vs alternatives. I understand they are looking for the next “LOTRO”, which they will need by 2017 to survive but it’s not looking good. I don’t see WBs letting Turbine just “squeeze” by on a balance sheet once LOTRO’s license is expired, In the short term, I more Turbine employees to leave.

    Like

    • Braxwolf June 9, 2015 / 11:26 am

      Yeah, we talked about this a little on this weeks Game On podcast. It is worrying, especially when the only other thing we know they’re working on is a mobile game.

      Like

  6. Yasumo June 22, 2015 / 8:21 am

    This is a issue with MMORPG’s, MMO’s & MOBAA’s they invest money into these games. Most of the time these games are money driven because the company’s expect a huge payout. The problem is the same reused formula, no one wants to play a game that copied another. That’s the “WoW effect” for some MMORPG’s and “LoL” for MOBA’s have been the downfall of most games. If they have millions to invest in a game invest time also to make it unique.

    Like

    • Braxwolf June 24, 2015 / 1:39 pm

      I guess I don’t completely agree that a game can’t be fun/successful if it copies other games. I think plenty of people want to play games that are just re-skins. How many different (and successful) versions of Candy Crush or Temple Run are out there? Heck, every FPS on the market is a direct descendant of Wolfenstien 3D. I like to see companies trying to innovate, too, but not every game has to be a new innovation in order to be enjoyable. Familiarity can also be fun.

      Like

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