Monday, October 29, 2018

Better The Devil You Don't Know

Last week's big news was the entirely unheralded acquisition of Trion Games by Gamigo. Following the recent equally unanticipated takeover of CCP by Pearl Abyss, this would appear to mark the beginning of a period of consolidation in the MMO market. Syl thinks so.

There have always been mergers and buyouts, of course. The ownership of both IPs and studios changes hands all the time. Sometimes it goes so smoothly and unobtrusively that years later most people can barely remember it even happened.

Othertimes, the journey is crepuscular and labrynthine, as in the history of the company currently known as Daybreak, which began life as a segment of Sony's 989 Studios, later becoming Verant Interactive then Sony Online Entertainment, eventually being sold to... someone... before arriving at its current resting point, which is... well, who really knows?

In both those cases, standing as they do at opposite extremes of the hysteria scale, the games go on. Cryptic are still knocking out content for Star Trek Online seven years later and people still play it. Daybreak did clear some dead wood but the core titles are all up and running with new content still coming down the pipe - for now, at least.

Reactions to the sale of Trion have been surprising. Well, they surprised me. I had been under the impression that Trion's reputation was so abysmal that almost any change of ownership would be greeted, if not with fireworks and street parties, then at least with a grunt of cautious approval.

Wasn't Trion the company that generated negative headline after negative headline for its chaotic mishandling of ArcheAge and its increasingly predatory cash shop practices? Didn't we all bemoan its precipitous decline from nice guy up-and-comer to punch-drunk schlub?

The worst thing anyone seemed to have to say about Gamigo, on the other hand - in fact pretty much the only thing anyone - apart from Wilhelm - had to say about them - was "who?" As a publisher with more than two dozen MMOs in its stable (twenty five, in fact, not counting the four (Atlas Reactor isn't an MMO) just acquired from Trion) I'd say Gamigo must have been doing a pretty good job to have stayed under the radar this long.

Nosy Gamer, always diligent in his research, uncovered the still little-reported fact that Trion wasn't merely strapped for cash; it was on the verge of bankruptcy. As he explained, the unfamiliar term "Assignment for the Benefit of the Creditors", which appears in the small print required by EU law, is the California State version of the more familiar Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Nosy also discovered that the price Gamigo paid for Trion Worlds and all its games and IPs was "in the low USD two-digit million" range: under $15m, then, probably closer to $10m. By contrast, CCP fetched $225m up front with another $200m to come if it hits performance targets. Trion's was a fire sale by comparison.

I've played a few of Gamigo's MMOs. They publish Eden Eternal, a jolly romp with mice that I've enjoyed once in a while and Twin Saga, a game I played for more than fifty levels and write about occasionally.

Gamigo acquired Twin Saga when they bought Aeria Games, who appear to retain some kind of individuality. Twin Saga itself seems to be suffering from population issues since the English Language server was recently merged with the German/French one to form a single  Global Server, but the game persists and the Producer's Letter from August promises " ...a more populated server together with more and more content. Oh yes, Twin Saga is on the road!"

I don't really play any of Trion's MMOs any more. I dip into Rift once in a while and sometimes think of having another bash at ArcheAge but realistically I am not going to play either of them again in any meaningful way. I can't claim to have any lingering emotional attachment to either of them. I also never played Defiance and didn't like Trove.

It's easy for me to look at the sale in a detached, emotionless way and say that I imagine it will be at worst neutral and most likely good for the games. They appeared to be in a hole, operated by a company that now looks like it may have been in freefall. From the outside, this looks more like a fingertip save than a looming disaster.

That doesn't seem to be the general reaction. Massively OP's comments were predictably filled with doom and gloom but I've been more surprised to see bloggers, whose opinions I value more than random MOPpets, posting to say they're quitting Trion games as a direct result of the change - or at least seriously considering doing so.

I align myself more with Kaozz, who said 

"This isn't like Wildstar where the studio is closing down. While they'are reports of a massive layoff, who didn't see that coming with the state of Rift in the last year or so. Not surprising at all. The game has focused on all the wrong things, like the Prime server, leaving the normal servers to flounder and stagnate for far too long. I'm very sad a lot of people lost their jobs, I hope the staff cut from Trion find jobs swiftly and wish them all the best. As a customer I saw a bleak future, this is something better than closure, it's a possible future for these games."
 As always, in the end only time will tell. My guess is that none of Trion's MMOs will close but neither will they get much in the way of new content. They will settle into something more than Maintenance Mode but less than Full Development, a relatively happy medium where they will live out a quiet, unspectacular life for many years to come.

Having the games on the log-in portal of a new Publisher, where they will almost certainly come to the attention of many players who will never even have heard of Rift or Trove, will most likely bring in enough curious newbies to more than replace the exiting bitter vets. How many of those incomers will hang around is another story.

The bare fact is, though, that without this sale or another like it, these games would have closed. Trion was out of luck and out of road. Had Gamigo not come along with a handful of cash the only (legal) hope left for anyone wishing to play these games would have been the newly-announced Video Game Museum.

And that's something that deserves a post of its own.


  1. I appreciate the effort it can take to weave a narrative that has points for all of the links you want to work in. I just get lazy and link them all at the end most days.

    Trion... Trion's looks to have gone from mostly dead to completely dead. I don't know who is going to show Gamigo where the buttons are now.

    As for eight year old Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (The MADE) and their rosy vision, I have a spicy hot take on that queued up for tomorrow's post.

    1. Sometimes - well, quite often really - I wish I could just sit down and bash out a post without all the connections firing up in my mind as I type. I was planning on this one taking me about half an hour but it took mnost of the morning because I ended up on all sorts of websites reading background material and doing fact checking. I found out some stuff about DBG I didn't know (even though it's right there on the main website) like that they have a Studio in Boston. I also found a business website with a discussion from 2015 (at the time of the sale) that clearly named Jason Epstein as the new owner and discussed whether he could do the same for the EQ franchise that he'd done for Harmonix, so someone knew what was going on back then...

      Looking forward to your post on MADE. I was under the impression it was an unalloyed good but I wait to be informed otherwise!

    2. I had the same happen to me with this event. I thought I was going to write something really quick, then I go down the rabbit hole.

  2. I think the huge lay-offs play a big part in the pessimism. It's hard to imagine a MMO continuing business as usual with only a quarter of its staff. And going from full development to maintenance mode has got to be a downer for many active players.

    That and, as you say, the fact that Trion was about to go bankrupt hasn't really been highlighted all that much, so I guess some people may not even be aware that their games only barely avoided a complete shutdown.

    I do love the term MOPpets; I'll have to remember that.

    1. I find the lack of reporting by the MMO/Gaming presson the parlous state of Trion's finances very odd. Even after Nosy posted about it, giving all the relevant links to the legal documents, no-one seemed interested in following it up. It does seem to me to make a VERY material difference to the sale as far as players are concerned.

      Today's revelation that Trion apparently has no employees left at all is interesting too. As Wilhelm says, it's getting to the point where you wonder if anyone will be left who knows how to keep the servers up, even assuming Gamigo want to. Which, of course, they so. After all, even if they got Trion on the cheap, there can't surely be any other reason they bought it except to run the games on. The IPs they've acquired (which would presumably only be Trove and Rift) are worthless otherwise and there won't be much else in the way of assets, I bet.


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