Bioware takes the shortcut

I wrote recently about the risks of not developing proprietary technology and we have yet another mmorpg studio who wants to cut the time and bypass that level of development that looks now undesirable for just everyone.

Bioware is going to use for its own unannounced mmorpg project the engine of an unreleased other mmorpg coming from a much smaller studio. The press release is kind of amusing:

Simutronics announced today its first licensee for its new HeroEngine, a complete integrated platform for development of massively multiplayer online (MMO) roleplaying games (RPGs).

BioWare Austin will use HeroEngine for development of its new MMO project. This game will be the first project for the new Bioware Austin studio.

To notice that it’s not Bioware announcing this, but Simutronics, who probably still couldn’t believe that they managed at least to sell their engine, if not their game.

Then there’s that suspicious “first project” claim. That I find so irritating because once again we have another mmorpg studios who hasn’t even started moving the first steps that already hints about what comes after. It may be stupid, but there’s already a quite relevant suspect there.

MMO games are the fastest growing segment of the video games market, with $2 billion in global revenues and growing at a projected $1 billion per year according to DFC Intelligence. Millions of people around the world come together in online games such as World of Warcraft, EverQuest, and Star Wars Galaxies to cooperate and compete with each other.

“At BioWare we selected HeroEngine because it had the most sophisticated and complete development tools available for building an amazing online experience,” said Gordon Walton, Co-Studio Director of BioWare Austin. “Our team wanted a great rapid prototyping environment and to work with experienced MMO developers.”

The first paragraph here is more interested to hype the market than the specifics of the games made. Kind of fun how SWG was put in there as a legitimate third.

Then there’s Gordon Walton, who was behind this choice and that motivates it by saying that they decided to avoid to develop proprietary technology so that they could start working right away on the game itself instead of on the premises for it to happen.

But if *Bioware* doesn’t have the resources to develop their own tools and technology, then who should have them? That’s the point. Bioware isn’t one of those small, amateurish dev studios who are going to tank. You would expect at least a great execution and production value from them. And instead we see them climbing on the shoulders of the much smaller guy.

Yes, it’s obvious that as time passes this particular genre will further specialize and fragment (still a negative trend, but kind of unavoidable), but again I say that jumping that level of basic development is a risk. Instead of developing and *pushing* the technology to achieve your goals, you plan your goals around the limits of the technology you have. This isn’t positive at all. I’d say that you can start sooner, but you’ll also end sooner.

We won’t probably see the results of this for some more years, but even in this case I’m quite skeptical and not all that excited about seeing the result. Considering the overall stickiness of those “VIP” developers to a project I’m not even sure if this studio has legs. It smells a lot of “already seen” and “short lived”.

This “new” Bioware Austin studio doesn’t look like anything new in the mmorpg space (where “new” would be welcome) and instead it looks like it has little to share with the rest of Bioware (that could have been a guarantee of quality). I mean, we were expecting an AAA studio to come in the mmorpg space to build something with a great execution and production value. Where it was Bioware (old) to do something (new) in the mmorpg space. Instead we have a brand new branched studio without experience that has little to share with Bioware’s previous track record (new) with a team built of previous mmorpg veterans external to Bioware (old). New and old are inverted there. The point is: what is left of Bioware beside the name?

To consider also that Bioware’s games have gone through highs and lows depending on which team was working on them (I’m one of those who loved all the Baldur’s Gate-like titles and disliked NWN).

If this announce was their very first move, then forgive me if I don’t take it as a positive sign.

It would have been instead quite interesting if they took their Bioware heritage and made some sort of online version of Baldur’s Gate, within a PvP world and all rendered in beautiful 2D. Take my old idea:

– We take the 2D Infinity Engine and keep it “as is” to create locations. Then we tweak it so that you don’t have just rectangular zones, but instead a seamless world without any zone loading (with UI enhancements to not get lost in perpetual scrolling). All done with “painted” 2D locations, but as a seamless world, like a huge fresco.

– We replace 2D PCs, NPCs and monsters with a layered 3D engine that moves things on top of the 2D backgrounds (which will help to reproduce and detail graphically all the equipment variations and differentiate the characters).

– Ditch the D&D ruleset to start with a new one made from the ground up to be fun and well-paced.

– Develop a completely new character development system that can provide much more personalization. Skill based with loose classes.

That’s something I’d definitely play more gladly than another “cutting-edge”, recycled 3D engine. And I don’t think that Hero’s Journey is cutting edge, also.

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