On Buffy: As has been pointed out by others, everything boils down to whether it can be demonstrated that an AI-type Buffy game would be commercially viable.
My opinion is that it has not been demonstrated. No games have generated a large enough audience to be commercially viable – not even the AI game (although I think that’s because it was the first). No games have generated money, and no games have significantly benefitted their sponsors (namely, AI, Push, Nevada and Spooks). I hate to say this, but devotees of the immersive fiction genre (of which I am one) need to step back and take a long, hard look at how outsiders view the genre.
At best, the genre is unproven; at worst, it is a failure. We might deride EA for making a botch of the multimillion dollar Majestic game, but others in the industry view EA as what it is – one of the largest games developers in the world with some of the best experience. That EA couldn’t make Majestic work, to them, would reasonably indicate that perhaps there is a problem with the genre (and not, as I believe, a problem with the Majestic developers).
There’s also the tendency to make direct comparisons with MMORPGs. This isn’t surprising; MMORPGs and immersive fiction mmoe games share a number of characteristics – but there are still significant differences. Taking a skeptical viewpoint, the fact that MMORPGs make money is not a sufficient demonstration of the viability of immersive fiction games.
I liken the problems in starting up a Buffy immersive fiction game now to starting up a Buffy MMORPG when the genre was first started (around the time Ultima Online was created); in other words, very risky from a commercial standpoint. It’s not the sort of risk you want to take with an established franchise. However, once the risk is reduced and you can see that a particular genre is commercially viable, then the big boys can move in with their big franchises (LOTR, Star Wars, etc).
We are not living in the same economic climate as the 90s, which allowed games companies to spend, and lose, millions of dollars on completely new genres (i.e. MMORPGs). The multimillion dollar failure of Majestic was the last gasp of that era, and rather handily highlights the lesson of excessive risk-taking. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t games projects with high development costs, but you’ll find that all such projects have an established pedigree of money-making.
So, I think that of course it could be demonstrated that immersive fiction games are commercially viable – if you took the AI game, moved it forward 12 months and threw in a few product placements and targeted ads in it, that would’ve been perfect. As it is, the AI game is not the be-all and end-all, and none of what I’ve said should dissuade independent developers (who don’t need the OK from the bigger, perhaps more conservative, players) from taking the moderate risk of making an immersive fiction game.
I don’t want to repeat myself much more about MMORPGs, so here are my thoughts about MMORPGs and the immersive fiction as a whole from 12 months ago, including why I think MMORPGs have significant differences from immersive fiction games.