Tobold's Blog
Monday, February 18, 2008
Tabula Rasa a "financial disaster"

It's astounding what other websites my readers visit. One of them sent me a link to The Korea Times article NCSoft to Downsize Austin Studio. Fortunately not in Korean. :)

The article says that Tabula Rasa only made 5 billion won ($5.3 million) up to now, compared to development cost of 100 billion won ($106 million). That is more development cost than Blizzard said another MMORPG would cost to make for them. And while talk on the street is that Tabula Rasa is actually getting better as a game since release, it initially got a rather mixed reception.

So now NCsoft is to "restructure" its US game studio in Austin, an euphemism for firing anyone not urgently needed to keep Tabula Rasa going. NCsoft already replaced Robert Garriott from the chief position of the US operation with Chris Chung, and the former is now "free from day-to-day operations". You know you are an important guy if you can't get fired any more, but get a post like "vice president for creative vision" instead. :)
Lesson: MMOs sold on the weight of a person's name don't work.

If I had to guess, I'd say the market probably isn't mature enough for any one person to pick out several components and say 'this is what works'. Mind you, I'm not sure if people do that in any genre, and Sid Meier just got lucky.


Changling bob said...

Lesson: MMOs sold on the weight of a person's name don't work.


I'm sorry people are losing their jobs, but the couple of hours that I endured Tabula Rasa left me with the impression that none of the lead developers were mmorpg players.

The idea of a fps/mmorpg hybrid is hopefully finished for good.

The idea of a fps/mmorpg hybrid is hopefully finished for good.

Bits of this look suspiciously fps/mmo. However, I would also use the word 'awesome'.

Garriot should make the next ultima online , imho Ultima X mmo wil get better reception from public if it hadnt been cancelled by EA.

iirc Tabula rasa developement was filled with mismatched vision, eastwest culture difference and all that stuff..

too much is riding on garriot's name and they forget to make a decent game.

compared to LOTRO with its smooth launch , and seeing other MMO got cancelled before launch and niche MMO like TR and POTBS fizzle should teach other company not to just hop into MMO bandwagon.

LOTRO is the best MMO right now for casuals imho. they will add more content every 2 month..

Over $100 million to make ?....I think the reporter thought of a number and doubled it...cannot see it costing even $50 million to make.
It probably has lost money - but not THAT much.
Also wanted to add.
If you spent $106 million - I think your target audience would be something similar to World of Warcraft's numbers.....and I don't think NC Soft ever thought they would be getting 8-10 million subscribers something doesn't add up here.

and one last thing....its only been out 4 months at most...why is it a financial disaster already ?
If it was you would see the trial times raised to 14 days to get more people and you would also see the retail price drop to below $20 - at the moment the trial is 3 days and the retail price (via = $39.99
Its a financial disaster because the user base growth of an mmorpg follows a well known formula.

Well, one of two really.

1: The "block buster launch" which gives you about 20% of your total user base within the first month.


2: The "EVE / niche long time growth" which builds up a dedicated user base over a very long time.

NCsoft does not consider the second option to be potentially successful. They are a too big company for not optimizing their bussiness towards quarterly or yearly results.
There is quite a lot of bitterness directed at Richard Garriott in the article, which i find a bit surprising. The whole article sounds more like something NCSoft would write and less like a factual news article.

A few quotes:

"Richard Garriott restarted the ``Tabula Rasa'' project more than twice, devouring NCsoft's money earned from Korea and elsewhere"

"Garriott is also on his personal mission to be a space tourist this year, being trained at a Russian space center from last month."

Sounds like they are trying to shift all the blame to Garriott.

Yes, TR was a huge letdown after all the hype. I really wanted TR to be a good SciFi-MMO because all that fantasy stuff gets a little boring over time.

However, giving a basically one-man-show (well, two-man if you count Robert in) 100M USD (if that quote is true) and hoping for the best is not a good strategy. The restarts alone should have been a huge warning sign for NCSoft.
This comment has been removed by the author.
The article says 100 BILLION won, so according to your exchange rate Tobolds figure of 106M USD is correct. I merely rounded that to 100M USD.
I think a lot of anger and hostility is misdirected.
Looking at what seems to be working in wow. And I say seems because I think it's just because there is nothing better out their to compete.
PVP is the big thing. Mainly because of gear but to someone on the outside a PVE game has a thriving PVP subgame and it probably seemed like a great idea to just completely morph the two into a FPS/MMO hybrid. But in practice it was a reasonably fun diversion that had no long term appeal for most. Another lesson learned by the game community.

The fact is for every great game put out there are dozens of really bad ones. But in the current Envirnment you have millions of Bored WOW fans looking for anything else to fill that space and they direct all that frustration at every game that doesn't work for them.
You have to remember Tabula Rasa has been shelved and redesigned a couple of times and this probably accounts for its high cost. It's like if you added together all the development costs for Duke Nukem Forever together you would get some godawful number.

The original Tabula Rasa was more of a fantasy based game from all accounts. They recently made fun of this fact by giving out some in game rewards that would turn your character's head into a unicorn.

The game itself is fun and all its missing is some end game content. If Tabula Rasa introduces a couple PvP zones like WoW's battlegrounds I can see it gaining in popularity. A FPS MMO is very viable but you have to find the right ratio between persistent stats and FPS shooting skills.
Tabula Rasa cost $106 million to develop?! I played the beta and was unimpressed enough to not buy the game because it felt unpolished and too simplistic. What the heck did they spend $106 million on? It can't have been the game, it feels like a shoestring budget production.
Besides EVE there any other success story for a Sci-Fi MMO? True Sci-Fi that is...whether Star Wars, Planetside, Auto Assault, Ryzom even...
They all seem to fall over...
Why cant a decent Sci-Fi MMO work? and who is willing to make one?
(Blizzard maybe...Starcraft could be HUGE!)
I've got a love-hate relationship (with a predominant hate side) with TR. I bought it only to find out that it didn't work.

I followed every step and procedure on NCSoft's support site and logged it as an issue. The only thing I got was a series of cut-and-paste idiotic replies suggesting that the problem may consist in my ISP filtering traffic to them.

I showed that is not the case using a tool provided on NCSoft's support site and got no reply to that (except a reminder that my subscription expired - as if I cared).

Supposedly a US$ 100M game should have some money put into decent support and fixing of show stopper bugs. But whoever was in charge of TR thought differently.

Well, my thirst for retribution is quenched by this commercial failure.
The $100M figure quoted has to do not just with the cost of developing Tabula Rasa #2, which was probably just $20-25M--but buying the Garriott name and brand in the first place in 2001. In 2005, Yahoo financials showed the brothers owning 6% of Ncsoft stock. Do that math--then add the cost of Tabula Rasa #1. It's easy to get past $100M.
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