With the recent announcement of Lego Universe going under as of January 2012 and the resulting (and unfortunate) staff layoffs, there’s a lot of blame floating around about just what went “wrong”. Obviously, the lack of enough subscribers (despite a recent move to a “free to play” based business model) is a core reason the MMO met its demise.However, I think a few other factors didn’t help the game one bit and in fact, the project was doomed to failure from the start. Why do I say this with such certainty? Simple. The lack of ANY way to play offline in any form makes EVERY single MMO (no matter how popular), a dead game once the amount of online players drops significantly, making a game too expensive to keep going and a waste of resources that could otherwise keep a dev team at least partially employed…
Call me crazy, but I’ve never understood just why any modern online game that demands as many users as possible get hooked in and spread the word, neglects the money that can be made from offline users who show interest but can’t play for any number of good reasons. Imagine being in an area with lousy internet connection speeds, but still being able to play a single player component of a bigger online game using a character you could eventually bring online at some point. Or imagine being able to take your online character and some solo or co-op quests with you on a portable device, play while traveling and resume at your PC (or console) with any stats, experience and and items gathered intact. This isn’t a new idea, but the concept is being realized in a few games I’m interested in playing, notably Sony’s upcoming PS Vita/PS3 action RPG, RUIN. I’d say an MMO with a well done offline mode will also make more players even more dedicated to the IP, as they’d not only be thinking of their favorite title even more than usual, they’d also have a means to experience it anywhere they can carry a device it can be played on (even without an online connection).
But back to Lego Universe for a bit. As someone who’s interested in game history and the preservation of all types of game content in some sort of physical form, I’m also a bit annoyed (again). This is yet another case where an otherwise interesting game gets released with a death clock ticking down to the day when it’s gone for good (and forgotten completely soon afterward). Of course, those that worked hard on LU as well as the game’s most steadfast fans are the most hurt by the game’s untimely shutdown, so they’ll have the most fond memories of what could have been. However (and frankly), It also didn’t help that the Lego game franchise has been running on vapors for a while and a project as big as a MMO would only show the cracks in the foundation even more clearly.
Despite the massive popularity of licensed property games such as Lego Star Wars, Lego Batman, Lego Harry Potter and others, the Lego series has spawned some duds and at least one questionably weird entry (Lego Rock Band) that made clear the franchise was running out of gas. Nostalgia can only carry you so far and if you don’t find ways to not only gather new followers, but bring as many of the older ones with you, you’re in for a rough ride. Of course, the industry often LOVES pure profit at the expense of common sense (as evidenced by the video game crash in the early 80′s). So it was obvious to me as soon as I heard of the game that someone was thinking about how to expand the already thinly stretched Lego love to the online space without thinking hard enough about how to make sure those who couldn’t play the MMO but wanted more Lego could also get in on the fun.
“Lego is still HUGE, so an MMO will bring all those people who love the toys and games online with the same passion!” probably went the train of thought amongst the folks behind it all. I’d also gather they automatically assumed that most of those millions of console fans would be interested in an MMO with no iconic characters simply because the license was strong enough to carry an MMO for years, picking up new players as it grew in popularity.. Unfortunately, not planning in single player and co-op OFFLINE game modes (with the potential for expansion content which could be released as DLC and/or budget-priced retail discs) that would have kept at least part of the dev team working, Lego Univerese is going the way of many other online games, some of which lasted a whole lot longer before giving up the ghost..
Some of you will no doubt think about or even mention stuff about security issues such as less than honest folks cheating with offline characters before taking them back online. Nevertheless, I’m sure there’s a solution for this that was simple to work in. A family friendly and packed to the gills with security measures to ensure children playing online were SAFE game such as LU could do a simple character/save file content check on any account to insure no hacked characters or accounts were being used. Then again, I have not a clue about game programming, so maybe I’m talking out of my hat here. I doubt it, however, as some publishers have been known to ban modded characters and entire accounts once they’re discovered online.
While I think the idea of offline content in an MMO will absolutely expand the audience for these games, in some cases, certain games probably don’t need these modes because the interest level has been tremendous since they were announced.EA and BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic is one of those games I sincerely wish would had had offline SP/co-op modes, but my brief playtime with the game in two sessions plus chats with assorted BioWare folk revealed they were completely focused on making the experience the best multiplayer Star Wars game they could that played like a single player games in a few important ways. Still, I’d love to see the developer return to the Knights of the Old Republic style of single player game at least ONE more time, as the first game brought many gamers into the Star Wars universe who’d never thought they’d want to go there.
That and, hell, I’d also bet that some long time (and litigious) Star Wars Galaxies subscribers (who haven’t quite let go of that particular online universe) are a lot more than mildly upset with THAT game closing down for good (as of today!). Ask around and I’d say a good chunk of these gamers would want some sort of offline SP and co-op play for them and their longtime friends instead of deactivated accounts and a hard drive full of unusable memories. Oh, don’t get me started on Diablo III, as I’m just glad that Blizzard was wise enough to think about doing some sort of console Diablo game at some point that should (hopefully) feature single player offline as well as co-op modes (if they’re smart enough to want more money, that is).