Discourses #2

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Discourses #2

Postby {CH}ArticleBot » Sep 23 2005, 10:25

Don't worry, this isn't some kind of dark prophecy, and it has nothing to do with this morning's news about a potential Ubisoft buyout. Instead, it is the new article by our columnist Corribus, who explains why Ubisoft decided to work on a first-person action game instead of a traditional role-playing game.
"The fact of the matter is that action games, and particularly, first-person shooters, are among the biggest-ticket items in the electronic games arena, and have been for years. That’s not to say that RPGs are not popular -- but popularity is harder to achieve for individual RPGs because they are consistently held to a higher standard of excellence than more action-oriented games."

According to you, is Ubisoft handling the Might and Magic license the right way? Will you be tempted to give an action game a try? As usual, post your comments at the bottom of the article. By the way, Corribus' previous series of articles, On the Ethical Question of Cloning, can be found here.The Doom of Might and Magic?


I am quite proud of that title. It has a sort of double meaning.
But in order for you to get it, I have to put the title in context,
don’t I?


Image
Dark Messiah will be without any doubt
the most violent Might and Magic game to date.

By now everyone is probably familiar with the "other new
Might and Magic title" -- Dark Messiah of
Might and Magic. From the screenshots and relevant interviews, DMoMM appears to be a fantasy-based
first-person "shooter" along the lines of Hexen or Heretic, those old games
from the ‘90s that used the Doom and/or Quake engines with a fantasy twist to
achieve varying degrees of success. In
interviews[/url] the designers of DMoMM indicate that there will be RPG elements involved
(implying that it’s not just going to be a dry shooter), though the extent to
which those elements will affect gameplay is unclear at this point. It stands to reason, though, that this will
not really be a 1st Person RPG of the likes of, say, the Elder
Scrolls -- the designers make it clear that this is an action/shooter game that
has RPG elements, not the other way around.


So the questions some fans have are: Is this the future of the Might and Magic
RPGs? Why make a FPS and brand it with
the Might and Magic name? And more
pertinently: if Ubisoft bought the Might and Magic name, why did they make a
FPS with it instead of the expected Might and Magic X?


These questions are all fair, and to answer them, it is first
necessary to point out something obvious: DMoMM game really needs to have very
little to do with the Might and Magic storyline to be successful. The game designers indicate that this game
will take place in the Might and Magic universe, but really, the story of some
wizard apprentice toting some artifact across a monster-ridden continent
doesn’t seem like it can (or needs to) largely affect the direction of the
over-arching Might and Magic storyline. In fact, the whole plot seems a little cliché, at least from the
brief glimpses I’ve had of it so far -- so is it really necessary to contrive some
thin connections to the Might and Magic universe? Shooters don’t really need much of a story anyway. All the player wants to do is make giblets
out of the hordes of baddies that get in the way of the end credits, so why are
we being fed a Might and Magic FPS rather than the epic role-playing game we’ve
all been craving. So what’s the
reasoning here?


The fact of the matter is that action games, and
particularly, first-person shooters, are among the biggest-ticket items in the
electronic games arena, and have been for years. That’s not to say that RPGs are not popular -- but popularity is
harder to achieve for individual RPGs because they are consistently held to a
higher standard of excellence than more action-oriented games. By this I mean that critics (and players)
tend to judge only the best RPGs as truly worth playing, while merely mediocre
FPS and action games will often be issued passing grades and (subsequently)
lend themselves to the production of sequels.
This may be partly due to a less-discriminating and less-mature fan base
of FPS/action games vis-à-vis members of the RPG genre. It is also probably partly due to the
relative time-commitments required for playing both types of games. Generally speaking, RPGs require much more
of a personal investment of time and energy than FPS and action games, which
can be played in small increments and do not necessarily need to be "completed"
to be enjoyable. By contrast, RPGs (the
good ones, anyway) are usually long and complex and RPG fans are less likely to
give them a try if they’re not rated well.
Furthermore, even the most derivative entries in the FPS genre can be
enjoyable when played with a group of friends (i.e., multiplayer) a luxury that
standard RPGs often do not have. What
I’m getting at here is that it’s easier to make a successful FPS (in many
cases, stunning graphics are sufficient) than it is to make a successful RPG,
whose fans are more critical of gameplay and design elements and are less
likely to be swayed in by fancy graphics and sound effects.


But Might and Magic is
an RPG franchise, so Might and Magic X (the RPG) would likely be successful
regardless of how good of a game it is, based on brand name alone, wouldn’t
it? Yes, probably, but success is
really all relative and is measured in degrees.


[url=http://www.celestialheavens.com/heroespedia/images/9/90/Hth_combat.jpg][img]http://www.celestialheavens.com/
http://www.celestialheavens.com/heroespedia/images/thumb/6/6d/180px-Hth_combat.jpg[/img][/url]
With the possible exceptions of Jedi Knight II and Rune, the implementation
of melee combat in a FPS always had limited success.

As I see it, Ubisoft probably had two goals upon purchasing
the Might and Magic brand, in order of priority:


  1. Re-establish the faith of the fan-base
    in the brand name.
  2. Expand the sphere of influence of the
    brand name to attract new users.


Ubisoft clearly recognized that a successful HoMM5 is likely
to accomplish goal #1, so that’s where they started. (A successful MM10 also would have served this purpose, but would
have been riskier because the HoMM series was less damaged than the
role-playing (MM). This is due to the
fact that H4, despite its weaknesses, did enjoy some success and there still
exists a devoted fan-base of this game even today, as opposed to MM9, which was
almost a complete disaster.) Now
consider if the second developed game was MM10 -- what purpose would that
serve? Certainly, if it was good it
could only strengthen the Might and Magic brand name further, but it really
does not work towards goal #2, because the fan-bases of HoMM the strategy
series and MM the role-playing series are already largely (though probably not
completely) overlapped.


Ubisoft is clearly looking at a larger picture here. The fact of the matter is that while the
potential fan-base for future Might and Magic games is substantial and
established, it is really miniscule in the context of the electronic-gaming
consumer base as a whole. This is especially
so because, to this larger base of consumers, the Might and Magic brand is
pretty much dead -- if H4 and MMIX were bad for the brand-confidence of
hard-core fans, they were disastrous for the reputation of the brand-name as
far as the average gamer is concerned.
The last successful games bearing the Might and Magic name (HoMM III and
Might and Magic VII*), were both published in 1999; that’s an eternity in the
electronic games industry. The Might
and Magic name is right now a metaphorical sunken island -- even if it’s raised
above sea-level by a successful new entry in either the HoMM and MM series,
it’s still going to be relatively neglected by everyone out there "on the
mainland" who wasn’t around in 1999 to remember H3 or MM7, because the brand name
doesn’t carry much weight with them. (And I guess if you want to take that
metaphor to its ridiculous conclusion, H4 and MM9 were the disasters of
Krakatoan proportion that blew the franchise off the continent and sunk it
below the waves in the first place.)
What that means is that while a successful H5 or MM10 would go a long
way towards recovering what was damaged by 3DO’s demise (and would clearly
elate most of the existing fanbase -- i.e., you, my faithful readers), by limiting
themselves to sequels in the existing series, Ubisoft would be neglecting the
vast potential that is the other 99% of the electronic-games consumers that are
out there.


What does that mean? While the average gamer may not really
be that attracted to H5, you can bet your rent on the fact that the average
gamer will notice when a flashy new fantasy-based FPS based on Valve’s Source
Engine hits the shelves, because, as I’ve said, successful FPS games are easier
to make. And because that game has the
words of Might and Magic tacked on
the end of it, that’s a way of marketing the brand name to new users (goal #2). So when all the non-HoMM and non-MM players
pick up DMoMM and play it, and like it, don’t you think they might give other games bearing the Might and Magic
name a try?


I continue to be impressed by the way that Ubisoft has
handled a highly damaged Might and Magic brand name. I have already discussed why I feel the direction that has been
taken with H5 is the smart choice, and furthermore I feel that the decision to
make a FPS-ish game bearing the Might and Magic name is just brilliant. It’s what 3DO should have done instead of
dumping all their energy into those pointless HoMM-light games they put out
(whatever they were called). The easy
and obvious thing to do would have been to start work on H5 and MMX
immediately, but wisely they did not, because in some way those games would be
"marketably redundant" -- that is, you’re not going to be attracting many new
players by making two games marketed at the same people, no matter how
successful those games are. Instead, Ubisoft
clearly plans for Heroes V to recapture the old
audience, and Dark Messiah is intended bring in a new audience, to make the potential audience for future games
bearing the Might and Magic brand even larger.



Of course, that leaves the question: Will Might and Magic X
be developed? Most assuredly -- and it’s
the perfect game to be done "third" because it is more likely to be of interest
to any new fans allured by the FPS-RPG Dark Messiah hybrid than games in the
Heroes series. And so while Dark
Messiah may be cheekily called the Doom of Might and Magic in the sense that it
is in some ways derivative of that classic game that launched the FPS genre so
many years ago, it will I believe be quite the opposite of the other, more
literal take on the title of this article: this game will, if done well, hopefully
take the Might and Magic brand name to new levels of success rather than new
levels of decrepitude. So, alas,
unfortunately my title doesn’t have quite the double-meaning I had earlier
insinuated that it might have had – but trust me, that’s a good thing!


* This isn’t a mistake; I consider MM7 to be the last very
good Might and Magic game. MM8 was
certainly playable, nothing like the calamitous MM9, but it was still a very
tepid entry in the series.
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