Two weeks after
Infogrames Atari announced it was divesting itself of Cryptic Studios, this morning’s Big Announcement was that Perfect World Co. Ltd. would be acquiring 100% equity in Cryptic for a cool $50 million USD. After their breakup with NCsoft, Cryptic was acquired by Infogrames Atari in 2008 for $28 million.
Naturally, MMO gamers immediately organized their Short Bus Army, driving by forums everywhere screaming the Chinese were taking over, all Cryptic games would be converted to a “pay to win” item shop and Star Trek Online would be converted to Free To Play (“F2P”).
Perfect World Entertainment developed and operates several Eastern-style MMOs, starting with Perfect World International, Jade Dynasty, Ether Saga Odyssey, and others, including their latest entry, Forsaken World.
The majority of the titles PWE developed have indeed been unapologetically Eastern in style, game play, and business model; a very particular style which does not go over nearly as well for Western audiences. PWE has been trying to expand its reach into global markets. Forsaken World is its first in-house title that PWE did research and made design decisions specifically to target Western consumers. I haven’t played myself (just finished installing FW but it’s updating while I write this) to have any personal opinion how well that turned out for them.
However, as part of their global expansion, PWE is not only developing and publishing their own in-house games, but are looking at publishing other studios’ work. PWE published Runic Games’ popular Torchlight last year, then ended up acquiring Runic Games. PWE has maintained a “hands off” approach for Runic, who continues to support Torchlight and are busy at work finishing up Torchlight 2 with a Torchlight MMO also on the back burner. This is an important consideration! To date, PWE hasn’t declared themselves automatic experts on Western gaming success (only 10% of sales of PWE’s games are from non-Eastern consumers) and so has left its first Western studio to their own devices. So much so that there is no mention of Perfect World on the Torchlight website and only a single text-only mention in the “About” section of Runic Games website. Compare that to pretty much any other video game — MMO or otherwise — where you’d see the publisher’s name and logo in several spots. I don’t recall Torchlight fans whining for the past year, do you? But no one whines and cries like the oh-so-self-important MMO Gamer.
More factoids to throw into the puzzle:
The original May 17 announcement from
Infogrames Atari stated that Cryptic Studios was considered a “discontinued operation” as of March 31. That announcement wasn’t any sort of “up to the minute” news at all; it had been effective with full knowledge of all parties for over six weeks.
In the May 16 — the day before the
Infogrames Atari divestiture announcement! — edition of Star Trek Online‘s Engineering Report, Executive Producer Dan Stahl made the following note which, at the time, no one picked up on: (emphasis mine)
STO continues to get great support at Cryptic and the strategic partnerships they are working on for our near future will be a huge benefit for our game. Together we are working on ways to ensure STO has many season to come.
Again, all this was in-the-know at Cryptic for some time. Buying a corporation isn’t quite the same as simply placing an order at a drive-through, paying at the window then driving off with your prize. It takes time, during which meetings take place. If Cryptic is happy with the solution that PWE presents — as Runic Games has been — I see no reason to immediately join the Short Bus Army and proclaim “d00m!” as if the sky were falling.
Cryptic has hired developers after March 31, apparently already knowing more money was heading to the studio:
We also have new blood starting in June as the team adds a new character artist, a new software engineer, and a new content designer. We’re still looking to hire an additional systems and content designer as well. I don’t know about you – but that has me really excited. Anytime our team grows like this is means more awesome is on the way.
Perfect World CEO Michael Chi made the following statements:
“This strategic acquisition will add attractive game titles to our portfolio, which will help us further penetrate into the U.S. and global online game markets. More importantly, Cryptic Studios’ highly reputable development team and its technology platform will further strengthen our well-established R&D capabilities. We deem this as another noteworthy achievement of our global expansion efforts.”
Again reinforcing their strong desire to break into Western markets. PWE’s in-house titles might be big in the Eastern market (I seem to recall Perfect World International having something like 22 million players?) they just don’t cross the gap to Western sensibilities, so it makes zero sense to think PWE will force Cryptic to adopt an Eastern style of microtransactions. Additionally, Mr. Chi makes it very clear that PWE is happy to have Cryptic’s technology in their fold. The Perfect World Engine isn’t a slouch but it’s certainly got its glitchy spots and rough edges but also caters to a different type of game environment than what we’ve seen the Cryptic Engine used for. It is possible PWE could wish to use the Cryptic Engine for their own in-house games? It’s also possible PWE could want to translate Cryptic’s games and bring them to the Eastern market, and that is where it’s not only possible, but very likely, that an Eastern business model could come into play.
Simply going off the satisfaction that Torchlight players have had over the past year of being published then acquired by Perfect World, I see no indication that any harm would come to Cryptic and their existing games. If anything, PWE has the funding to ensure continued development — and therefore continued market expansion– which
Infogrames Atari did not, considering they’ve spent the past decade in a perpetual state of financial woe.