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ICO Partners Part 2

Julien Wera and Thomas Bidaux on what games to watch, and where the PSN crisis leaves Sony

In part one of our ICO Partners interview, CEO Thomas Bidaux and PR head Julien Wera talked about the various markets for online games internationally, what sets them apart and why the UK is one of the most difficult to crack.

Here, in the concluding half of our chat, the pair discuss the forthcoming big players in the MMO market and how fine-tuning business models will be crucial to their success, as well as what advice they'd offer to Sony post-PSN crisis.

GamesIndustry.bizCore MMOs are still a big part of your business - do they still have a bright future? Is casual and social cannibalising that audience?
Julien Wera

I think we had that discussion not too long ago in our office. Personally, I don't think that AAA, subscription, high-end MMOs are going to go away. There aren't going to be many, that's the thing. You have the top, then then you have the browser-based stuff at the other end of the spectrum. Some years ago you could have some games in the middle - subscription-based but not that high end. They could survive, but I don't think they will survive in the future, unless they really cater to the niche.

There was a lot of talk [at Nordic Game] about Eve Online, it's very high end, very deep, very complicated. It's perfect for a certain type of player. They don't need ten million players. They've got a high revenue, they've got high quality, they've got a retention rate that's crazy. I think they were saying that 50 per cent of people who bought the game at launch are still playing now. It's been eight years.

That's probably the highest retention rate of all of the online games. That's the kind of game that can actually make it. You see different games that are high end and hard core - free to play games like World of Tanks. Very niche, but very well executed so very successful in its niche. League of Legends is the same. It's extremely hardcore, but it's extremely well executed so it does very well.

So I think there's going to be changes, there are always shifts and changes, but I don't think browser-based and Facebook games are going to kill the traditional MMORPG. Thomas - you disagree? [laughs]

Thomas Bidaux

No! I think that it's going to change, but I think that big, subscription-based MMOs will not die either. I think there's always going to be an audience for those games in the same way that there's always going to be an audience for big AAA single player console games. I just think that their market share is going to change, back and forth in some ways. There'll always be a place for that.

I think that the business models are going to become more sophisticated. We came from a really dumbed-down business model which is 'give me money, I'll give you the game' to something with a lot more options.

There'll still be pay to play stuff, but it'll be that you get the game free but pay a subscription or microtransaction - it's going to be more complex, possibly, but a lot more integrated into what is each game's experience. Each experience is going to become more unique. You're not going to be able to say "my game is very different to yours but with the same business model". That's going to be like shooting yourself in the foot.

I think that's why a lot of games fail: because they try to apply business models which are fundamentally flawed for that game's experience.

Thomas Bidaux

That's what we've been doing with online games for the last five years, and I think that's why a lot of games fail: because they try to apply business models which are fundamentally flawed for that game's experience.

I was telling someone today about Auto Assault. In retrospect now, I think that could have been successful as a free-to-play game. Okay the budget and infrastructure weren't meant to sustain that, but from a gameplay point of view maybe it should have been a free to play game with microtransactions. Maybe that's why it failed. Maybe that heavy user commitment business model is why it ultimately failed - it doesn't match the game.

I think that having a sophisticated business model - I was also talking about the League of Legends business model - it's a very very elegant business model. It's nearly unique, very few people do it. People have done microtransactions before, but they've done it in a way that's very specific to the game. It's very elegant. Before I'd played the game, and looked at it on paper, I was very sceptical. I said it was wrong because nobody has done it before.

I was wrong. It's works really well because of the way it's integrated into that game. It's brilliant - I think that's an evolution we need to see. Then we'll see people integrate subscriptions in a very interesting way we've never seen before, that's interesting to see.

GamesIndustry.bizWhat are your expectations for The Old Republic?
Julien Wera

I'm very curious. There's been a lot previews recently. They're trying to do something very different in terms of scenario, storyline. I don't know what the outcome will be. They're BioWare, but there's also Mythic that they can use. I would expect that Mythic has more in-house expertise in online than BioWare. But they're still BioWare, which means a high-end single-player RPG. So the question is, for them, will they actually make the game sticky enough to keep players for several months?

What's tricky for them is that they're putting their name on the line. They're putting their name on the box, it's a very powerful brand for gamers and they're putting it on the line. I would expect that a failure for The Old Republic might have an impact on further communication on other solo games that they do, in terms of branding. I don't know. I'll play it!

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