Welcome to Empirical Purple

A blog by Simon Brady to cover a surprisingly wide range of geekiness, in a combination that no-one else does quite the same way. Probably. Either that, or it'll just be Simon talking about the likes of Football (usually the Soccer variety), PC & Tabletop Gaming, WWE, Movies, Music and occasionally even my actual job of Graphic Design, depending on what I'm up to in the world.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Can a 40k MMO Work?

Since THQ has gone bankrupt, they've had to sell on all their individual studios to other companies. Sega got Relic for $26.M, Volition got the rights to Saints Row for $22M and change, that sort of thing.

But no-one has picked up Vigil quite yet. That leaves WWE's games out in the cold for the moment, but also the evidently long-since dropped Warhammer 40,000 MMO, Dark Millennium. A mention of this on Twitter got me and some #warmonger tweeps - Jamie, Richard and Ryan - thinking: how would a 40k MMO actually be workable and, dare we even whisper it, successful?

Is it even theoretically possible? Let's find out... 

There are many problems with launching an MMO, even from a much-loved property like 40k. The very fact it is a much-loved IP by a very fanatical section of the market means the little things that you could usually sweep under the carpet are suddenly massive roadblocks that the community can erupt over, one way or the other.

You only have to be a vague observer to heated debates over 40k fluff (or 'background, backstory and in-universe realism' as some like to call it) to see perfectly meek and mild geeks clash over the minutiae of whether X can stand the sight of Y long enough to team up and kill Z before immolating each other.

But it got me thinking and, armed with my knowledge of both 40k and a bunch of MMOs, I decided to work out how such a thing could be realised. In our discussions we boiled down that the major stumbling points would be:

1. The number of races/factions/sub-factions involved.

Consider, for instance, an Imperial faction, consisting of Imperial Guard, Space Marines, Inquisition, Adeptus Mechanicus, Assassin Temples, Rogue Traders. Then add in Chaos with Daemons, Space Marines and Traitor Guard. Then there are Eldar, Dark Eldar, Orks, Tau, Tyranids, Necrons and Emperor alone knows what else.

Can these be split into 'Order' and 'Disorder' like Warhammer: Age of Reckoning? Only in the most general of terms with Imperial, Eldar and maybe Tau against Chaos, Orks and Dark Eldar. 'Nids and Necrons may have to be the baddies of the piece, and non-playable.

It's already a complete minefield there in terms of starter zones, Co-op, PVP and endgame content.

2. Balancing Space Marines with everything else.

Space Marines are, like the 'Space Marine' video game, supposed to be worth ten times that of a normal human, capable of being one-man armies.

They would immediately be Tank and DPS at the same time. Standard-impenetrable Power Armour plus the best standard weapon in the galaxy, with the ability to be Librarians, Chaplains, Medics, Terminators, Scouts, Assault, Devastators, Veterans and then some... The possibilities for Space Marines themselves are nearly endless, but turn it into 'The Space Marine MMO' and you've suddenly cut out a huge portion of the fanbase. Then again, take Space Marines out and you've probably cut even more of the fanbase adrift into ambivalence.

3. Playable classes, sub-classes and special traits.

Much like the Space Marines problem, every race is designed to have Tank, DPS, Healer, Control and Support classes in their own race, and everyone has a favourite that would absolutely have to be included.

But, taking the Space Marines as an example again, how does one develop a Librarian or a Devastator without having the possibility of a psychic warrior duel-wielding Lascannons before slicing and dicing with a two-handed power sword and self-healing all day? Bear in mind that every faction would have this problem.

4. Player customisation

Again, considering only Space Marines. Do you limit it to canon chapters only, giving the player traits (probably then over-powered) associated with those chapters, or do you allow them to mix and make their own? This is perhaps the easiest problem to overcome, but in a hobby where personal customisation is so highly encouraged, not being able to do so adequately would again kill a huge amount of momentum.

So... where now?

This is the tip of the conceptual iceberg, and doesn't even go anywhere near structure, design, story, endgame, PvP, in-game transactions or anything else. Even designing an MMO from scratch is a huge project, but Warhammer 40,000 may already have too much history and hurdles to be able to accomplish. It's an interesting idea, though, and something I'll devote a few more blogs to answering the questions, along with, probably, coming up with many, many more.

If the Warmongers out there can think of any extra problems that need overcoming, let me know in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter @sibrady. It may only be a theoretical exercise but, who knows, maybe we could pitch it to GW in the future!

Let the brainstorming begin...

EDIT: For the second post on this subject, please look here.


  1. A 40K MMO in the traditional sense wouldn't work but something more akin to Planetside would. Strong focus on massive wars with vehicles, guns and swords. Questing wouldn't really work so the focus should instead be on capturing worlds and holding areas of the world map.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Paul! Questing does present a problem from a predominantly squad-based Tabletop game's perspective, I agree, but that assumes everyone is able to play as a Space Marine/Guardsman/etc rather than ending up as something like an Inquisitor or Rogue Trader.

    My experience with Planetside 2 is fairly small but I do like that concept... with multiple factions comes multiple possibilities & combinations for that sort of map conquest meta - it could even be a PvP sideline to a 'main' quest structure, with control of certain planets/areas allowing you to access certain quests or equipment. Very interesting!

  3. I've not actually played Planetside but I think it has the right set up. It would have to work like most MMOs, giving you access to a small number of armies and types (So say Space Marine, Chaos, Orcs and Eldar to start). Later they would be able to introduce DLC that lets other races come in to play.

    Whilst I agree that playing a trader or inquisitor would be fun, it's very difficult to base an MMO of this so somewhere along the way a developer would have to draw the line and I think a massive universal war would be the best way to go.

    Would love to play a Necron Overlord in the future :P

  4. I think you've got the right idea there, start with a few races and then have expansions/DLC for the rest though, strangely, Necrons and Nids are the first things I'd discount as playable races for their lack and excess (respectively) of customisation and zero character development. They are both the bad guys for *everyone* else, after all.

    Rogue Trader/Inquisitors is perhaps better for a straight-up RPG, rather than an MMO.