Buffy Online

[Update: Read Dan’s response to this post along with my comments on his response.]

There’s a bit of talk at the moment of how an AI-type game set in the Buffy universe would be a good thing. I think in general, yes, it wouldn’t be bad, but it wouldn’t be without its faults. Also, I don’t think it’ll happen any time soon.

One of the advantages of the Buffy universe that’s been cited is that it has a vast, complex and rich history. Unfortunately it could make life quite difficult for the producers to find writers and designers that are both familiar enough with the universe to avoid getting facts or the tone wrong, and also good at their jobs. The one thing you don’t want to do is to annoy the fans by making Buffy, Willow, Giles et al, perform out of character. So it’s possible that the history of Buffy may work against it. Now, you might say that this is only a problem for long games, and perhaps you could write a short game that would reduce continuity problems. Perhaps you could, but it’s my belief that AI-type games must be long in order to be good; there must be depth to the game, and by depth, I don’t simply mean depth of universe but also depth of game history.

People don’t think that a Buffy game could pay for itself. I’m more optimistic in this regard – Buffy has a huge advantage in that it has a respectably-sized devoted fanbase that, I would venture, be willing to cough up a significant amount of cash in subscriptions. It helps, of course, that the Buffy fanbase has a good online presence. How much do I think a Buffy game could receive in subscriptions? Six figures.

If you have a look at Majestic and the AI game, you’ll conclude that six figures, even six big figures, is not enough to mount a decent game worthy of the Buffy universe. Majestic cost several million, and the AI game cost under a million (read as: at least half a million, probably much more). However, if you’re willing to take a bit of a risk and get some independent developers to head the game, I think you could afford it with funding coming from the players, targeted advertising and promotional cash.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it’ll happen. While Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy, is undoubtedly a nice guy who would give this sort of game a second thought, I assume that Fox holds all the rights to Buffy; if not Fox, some similarly large and monolithic media corporation. Right now, such corporations are highly unlikely to look upon AI-type games as being useful, especially with the abject failure of Push, Nevada and the ‘ho hum’ performance of BBC’s Spooks, both of which had significantly hyped AI-type games. So, Buffy Online would not be approved, and even if it was, I doubt they’d take the cheap route I outlined above and instead opt for someone like EA to have a go at it – and hence it would haemorrhage money.

What the genre needs is a visibly successful game that demonstrates the potential (or the reality) to make money. There has been no such game yet; the AI game came close, but I think that it simply was created before its time. If the AI game was released after Majestic, it would have created a much bigger splash and revitalised the genre. Never mind though – the genre is far from dead and I’m certain that some dedicated group of developers will before long create a new game able to live up to the precedent of the AI game.

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