Let’s talk a little Firefly Online, the “in-development” Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) Role Playing Game (RPG) that was first announced over three years ago. I’d like to talk about it a bit because it’s connected to my previous thoughts on Firefly being dead and buried, and a culture of fandom that is willing to grasp at any straws that are put in front of them.
First, a quick recap: At San Diego Comic Con in 2013, a company called Quantum Mechanix, who make Firefly/Serenity merchandise on license, and Spark Plug Games unveil a brief teaser trailer, purporting to show a small snippet of gameplay, and promising a 2014 release.
Since then, we’ve had some concept art and a few development announcements, most importantly that the original cast had signed up to provide their voices, which was an admittedly big deal. By the time that this announcement was made, the release of the game had been pushed back a year, with the people behind the project drawing a connection between the two.
And since then…very, very little. The last update on the official website – which I had security problems accessing – was in December of 2015. The last update on the official Facebook page was on March 6th, a brief note promising that the game was still in development. And since then, I’m afraid that all news, comment and discussion from official sources on Firefly Online have gone dark.
I’ve been here before of course, as have so many others. I remember, in my teenage years, eagerly looking forward to Stargate SG-1: The Alliance, a first person shooter set in the universe of my then favourite sci-fi show, promising lots of frenetic SGC vs various aliens action, an interactive chance to live through the kind of moments that had so enraptured me during the shows run. It had a trailer, it had concept art, it had legions of fans following along with every announcement,
And then, development ground to a halt, updates stopped coming and The Alliance never saw the light of day.
Now it appears as if Firefly’s fledgling efforts to get into that most lucrative of entertainment markets has suffered the same fate, Firefly Online looking like so much vapourware, more akin to Half-Life 3 than some kind of WOW-killer. Why does this happen?
Let’s be clear about a few things:
-The game designers behind this project were not some industry behemoth, but a much smaller entity with nowhere near the kind of financial resources to make a top-class MMO come to life. Just recently, I have read and watched much of the furore surrounding No Man’s Sky. There are comparisons to be made. Small companies taking on big tasks often fail,.
-This is all being done under the parental control of Fox, who dropped Firefly during the initial run and have been somewhat bi-polar in their approach since. It’s not inconceivable – indeed, it’s actually likely – that they balked again after some time for consideration.
–As I have mentioned before, with the TV show and the movie, there is zero guarantee that an audience for this game actually exists, the kind of audience who will make the product financially viable and attractive. Always remember the rule, that it isn’t enough to make a profit, you have to show that the same resources couldn’t have been used on something else to make an even bigger profit.
-MMO’s are tricky things, especially in the sci-fi/fantasy genres. We’ve seen Lord of the Rings Online, Star Trek Online, Star Wars Online and The Old Republic recently enough, examples of the kind of licensed efforts that have either received mixed reviews upon release or had varying levels of financial difficulty (or both). The dreaded “free to play” announcement is something that Firefly Online would very quickly have earned, I’m sure.
Why does all this matter? Well, I suppose it annoys me a little bit to see the ever-loyal fanbase of Firefly offered something as tantalising as this, only to have it vanish like a puff of smoke. And it annoys me to see the same deluded masses who are willing to send cash money to Nathan Fillion at the slightest word from him about resurrecting the show treat this project as some kind of glorious rebirth, and not the nostalgia-fuelled cashgrab from Fox that I genuinely believe that it is.
I’m getting so cynical lately, I know, but I feel like this is worth saying. Firefly Online is/was the kind of project that seemed as much abut generating clickbaity headlines than actually making a game, and the sooner fans of the show and the movie come to peace with the lack of a future for the franchise, outside of the very occasional print media, the better.