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Do you think the MMO genre generally is more resistant to change or evolution than most genres?
MJ: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. And as the cost of MMOs not only approaches Hollywood but surpasses most Hollywood films, you're going to get the same kind of reaction among publishers that you do in studios. When you're making a $1 million film, you can afford to take chances. When you're making a $100 million film, you don't put Roseanne Barr in as the romantic lead against Brad Pitt in a comedy about teenage lovers.
I'll bear that in mind.
MJ: Yeah, that's not a good idea. Same with MMOs. If you're going to spend that kind of money on an MMO, it is going to be very difficult for the publisher to say, "Sure, I'm willing to take a huge risk on this game." Making an MMO is the hardest creative thing to make if you're looking for an actual return on your investment.
Does that make it more difficult at EA, which is often seen as a conservative publisher, and as you say is publicly-traded?
MJ: No, not really. It's easier in some ways. Let's look at MMO history over the last eleven years. When Ultima Online went up, let's say that because it had 100,000 subscribers, it was the first really successful MMO. That's usually the metric people use. I used it even when I wasn't part of EA. In those last eleven years, there have been literally hundreds of MMOs that have gone into development. Only two handfuls of them have succeeded.
If you think back to all the games that have been even moderate successes in the MMO industry -- either in terms of total paying subs or return on investment -- you'd be hard-pressed in the triple-AAA space to name more than ten. This is a really tough industry, if all you get in eleven years are ten moderately successful games, and only a handful of very successful games, and only one very, very successful game -- which of course is WoW.
If Hollywood had that same track record for making expensive films, how many expensive films would ever get greenlit? Probably almost none. And the percentage of them that would actually be daring or cutting-edge would be absolutely none.
At EA, at least, we're a big company with deep pockets, people all over the world, our own distribution system. For us to make a big bet on an MMO is a heck of a lot easier than a smaller developer or a small publisher who has to think, "Boy, if we're wrong on this, we're out of business." One bad game doesn't put EA out of business. Not even one bad MMO would put EA out of business. But if you look at the history of publisher in the game industry, as well as some studios, the really bad bets have put some of them out of business. So I think it is actually easier for us to greenlight something like that than it is other companies.
Now, of course there is the other side of it. Being part of a publicly-traded company, and being a large company, new ideas can always be harder to greenlight. That's one of the things that [CEO] John Riccitiello said when he came in. He saw EA was just doing a lot of derivative and licensed works. He put out a call to action for the company to do more original IP and more risky IP. He's re-emphasized this time and time again.
So I think it's not all wonderful; there are always issues. But it's certainly not the opposite. In our case, we were given multiple delays to make the game better and better. Would that have happened at a small studio or an independent?
It does seem like a big MMO killer is simply running out of money and having to launch in whatever state the game was in when the money ran out.