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Last week, I attended an event hosted by Trion to see the debut of three upcoming MMOGs - or rather, the debut of two upcoming MMOGs, and some very scant details on a third. The first two games, Rift and End of Nations, were interesting, but what really caught my attention was the mysterious third title: Syfy Action MMO.
Everything about Syfy Action MMO is very under wraps at the moment (including its title, although many have posited that it may be One Earth) but what makes the game interesting is what had initially been announced back in January. The game is being developed concurrently with a TV show based on the same universe. Which is intriguing, sure, but ultimately feels like a bad idea.
Put aside all thoughts of "Wow, the game isn't even announced yet and they're already working on licensing deals?" The side-by-side development is the entire point to the venture; it's the hook. Hill proudly trumpeted how the co-development of game and show together would lead to one cohesive world (One Earth makes sense as a title when you think about it this way), with ideas, themes, places and characters from one appearing in the other.
Hill also offered some insight as to how the two might play off each other. If a given problem was presented in the show - say, a bad guy who needed a good talking-to, and by talking-to I mean "killing" - then the problem could be dealt with by players in the game. The players and guilds who solve said problem would then be mentioned in the TV show, forever immortalizing them as part of the series' canon.
If you do something noteworthy in-game, you'll be recognized outside of it. It's the same principle of notoriety that is central to RealTime Worlds' upcoming APB, only more so. You just get a statue of yourself? Psh, I was in a TV show! Many WoW players only dream of one day being immortalized as an NPC or an item, but Syfy Action MMO builds it into the framework of the game, instead of being a fun little extra whenever Blizzard is feeling a bit whimsical.
Ignoring the potential pitfalls, such as having to canonize the triumph of "SuckMyD of the Happy Bunny Ninja Clan," I just can't foresee any way that the events of a game could be integrated into a TV show where the final product wouldn't just feel like a chaotic mess, pandering to the players by namedropping as many of them as possible over the course of an hour.
TV and games have inherently different development timetables, but let's give Syfy and Trion some credit and assume that they've worked that hurdle out already. The trouble here is that Syfy and Trion aren't putting their eggs in two baskets, they're putting their eggs in a single basket held up by two cords - if either one snaps, the whole thing comes tumbling down.
What if the game does all right but the show fails? Well, then you just have an action MMOG where the main hook isn't a factor anymore. What if the show is a success, but the game is not? It's a better outcome (for Syfy), but still one that necessitates quite a bit of scrambling and removes the mutual, symbiotic relationship that was at the core of the world.
For that matter, the game's success could be potentially fatal, too. Good MMOGs can run for over a decade - hey there, EverQuest, how's tricks? - but how many sci-fi TV shows do you know that do the same? Is the interplay between show and game worth spending money on a tired TV series that doesn't get the ratings it once did? I've never seen Stargate SG-1, but I have it on good authority (read: my boss) that a ten-year run was a mite longer than it should have been. Ten years from now, One Earth: The Game might be chugging along, but One Earth: The Series will be a horse that needs to be put out to pasture, if it hasn't been laid to rest already.
Syfy Action MMO is a really cool idea, and I applaud Syfy and Trion for trying something new. It might be a worthwhile venture in a short-term light - profitable, entertaining even - but I can't see any way for this to have long-term legs. There will be a point when the different natures of television and video games simply can't reconcile any more, and trying to force either one won't be pretty.
John Funk is just jealous that he'd never be mentioned in the show.