Infinite 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?
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. 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