re: Why Software-As-A-Service Could Be A Dead End
The game you mention is what is referred to as an MMORPG - the same fundamental class of game that includes World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, Eve Online, and many others. These games will never offer a version that will allow players to interact with the perpetual game world when the player is offline because, well, when you're offline you don't have access to the perpetual game world.
The point of these games is not single-player game play. The point of these games is, in terms that many readers here are probably more familiar with, crowd-sourcing. For example, these games include missions/quests/bosses that a single player alone cannot take down. It requires the ad hoc collaboration of sometimes dozens of players to accomplish a given feat/task.
This type of game is a pretty good example of SaaS. The gaming industry - specifically MMORPG's - can offer the business world a few lessons on how best to leverage SaaS.
A point raised in this article is "... someone, somewhere, will get burned on that loss of control". Let's take it to an extreme. A few years ago, a Korean company that makes a series of exceptionally popular MMORPG's created a game called Tabula Rasa. This game was very poorly marketed but, it was a really good game. In fact, it was a terrific game. But, the company that produced the game (NC Soft) seemed utterly incapable of drawing users to it. They just couldn't seem to get behind the product the way they got behind Guild Wars.
After about 18 months, Tabula Rasa was shut down. Although they had a core group of loyal players, those players lost everything that they spent countless hours of the course of 18 months to accomplish. The product wasn't making enough money. Those players got screwed.
And then NC Soft did something remarkable. They began heavily promoting Tabula Rasa by inviting people to come play it for free during it's last month. And people began flocking to it and enjoying it. Then one day, the servers were just offline and never came back.
While gaming is a bit different from big business, the lesson here is the same: becoming too invested in a single SaaS can be devastating. Players of MMORPG's become heavily invested in their product-of-choice and when that product shuts down, as in the stated case with Tabula Rasa, that gamer is really more of less screwed. Meanwhile, the same can serve as a warning to those engaging new SaaS vendors in the business world: by all means, engage a vendor. But always maintain a back-up plan, a means of pulling out and replacing that vendor with another comparable service quickly and efficiently without loss of parity.
With all of this said, I think the parallel's you drew in this article are refreshing. I truly enjoyed reading this and hope that these parallels will encourage other people to think about things differently; to look for cues that they can apply to their decision-making process in new and unexpected places.