Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
Funcom's Vision for the Future of MMOs

Printer-Friendly VersionPrinter-Friendly Version
arrowPress Releases
April 24, 2014
PR Newswire
View All





If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM TechWeb sites:


 
Funcom's Vision for the Future of MMOs

October 15, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

This year, Funcom's big MMO launch, The Secret World, went bust. While the beta was a hit, players didn't flock to the title after it got middling reviews from critics; it also came out amidst a market flooded with high profile titles like Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2.

"It's very hard for a new IP to stand out in a landscape of sequels and big-name franchises," post-launch game director Joel Bylos told Gamasutra earlier this year. Project lead Ragnar Tornquist said, "Being different can sometimes be a big disadvantage, particularly when the threshold for losing patience with a game is low."

Craig Morrison, creative director for Funcom's Montreal studio, is facing a very different market for the genre than he was used to. He'd like to see the walls between sub-genres get smashed down, and he'd love to see games launch small and build up, rather than launch big and be perceived as instant failures.

It's a bit disappointing, because everyone was excited to say, "Oh look, it's not in that tiny little wheelhouse of what MMOs are." It becomes "Look, someone stepped out of that line and they got punished for it."

Craig Morrison: Yeah, and we need to try and move beyond that. It's looking to the future and seeing [that] we have to find ways to utilize the potential of the genre that isn't just into this very narrow theme park or sandbox-type mentality, where you want to pre-define things before they're done.

I'd love to get rid of those phrases; I hate the terms "theme park" and "sandbox". To me, the beauty of these virtual worlds is they're community-based and that they can be actual virtual worlds, where players can tell their own stories alongside storytelling from the developers, and that they can merge into one. "Convergence rather than divergence", I think, is the [way], if you want to put it down into one phrase, because there's so much potential for the genre.

The EVE/WoW dichotomy doesn't have to exist.

CM: Yeah! We don't have to look at it in that way, and I think there's so many interesting ways where we can take the best parts of both and bring them together when we're making these games in the future, because we have to get there. Otherwise, the only people who are able to launch games on that scale will be a tiny, tiny handful of developers, and even they're going to be afraid.

You know, you look at the results for The Old Republic and you see a game massively invested in. I don't know their budgets, but I'm guessing something five or tenfold what we've spent on Secret World, at a conservative guess -- where they can retain a million subscriptions and that's a failure. That's a very harsh situation to be in for a genre.

We need to find ways where we can build these worlds. People tend to forget that EVE Online started with 10,000 customers and held that for the first few years, and then it grew organically to where it's now up to 400,000 accounts. And we have to have the space to allow those games to develop like that, because they build better games.

An MMO at the three-year point is a far better game than the MMO that released. And I think we have to find a way as an industry -- and specifically as people working in this genre -- to let that flourish, because that's how we'll build better virtual world games in the next five, 10, 15 years.

It's taking that approach to it, rather than this huge bet that we're going to spend 300 million dollars in the hope of making 2 billion from having a huge mass market, instant hit. When I think the true potential of the genre is in that more slow-boiling, building game that might build up and up and organically build a community.


The Secret World

Well, that's the thing. This is awfully oversimplified, but the failure of a lot of the games to retain their audience is because people play through the content and they reach the end of the content, and then they move on because the content peters out.

CM: Yep.

If you look at EVE...

CM: It's system-driven.

Exactly.

CM: And that's exactly the key. You need to build an ecosystem. You need to build a collaborative set of systems which give the players the ability to tell their own stories alongside yours. And I think a lot of the problem in the genre is people want to make it a partisan discussion. It's like your game's either story-based or your game's sandbox, and to me that's doing ourselves a huge disservice. Because we can take the elements that are really good in a theme park setting, and maybe the strong storytelling can still play a part in a sandbox setting. It's just a different part.

And then the question is how do you do that? How do you bring it in so that your story can sit alongside the player's? And then build the systems up that allow the players to express themselves and be part of the system. That's the beauty of a game like EVE, is that the players are kind of this organic wheel in the middle of all the systems that the designers have made.

And that's really where I'd love to see the genre go, is taking all the best bits. So you can have a quest-driven game, but it doesn't have to be linear progression. I think games like The Secret World and Guild Wars 2, to an extent, were kind of pulling at the edges of that, to see if we can bring it back to being more virtual world-y rather than a single player game where there happens to be other people doing the same thing as you at the same time. But I don't think anyone's quite there yet.


Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Related Jobs

Crytek
Crytek — Shanghai, China
[04.24.14]

Mobile Programmer
SG North
SG North — Toronto, Ontario, Canada
[04.23.14]

Director of Live Production
Linden Lab
Linden Lab — San Francisco, California, United States
[04.23.14]

Sr. Front-end Web Developer
Linden Lab
Linden Lab — San Francisco, California, United States
[04.23.14]

Sr. Software Engineer, Back-end






Comments


TC Weidner
profile image
MMOs need only to look at real life to see the design choices needed.

In life there are no levels, just experiences you go through.

We live with in all types of systems, and there is only one main story arc in that.. we are born and we die, thats the arc. Within that arc we can have many adventures and storylines, but they are not necessarily related at all, and once you make certain choices, many many many others are then no longer available. That in itself makes choices immensely powerful and meaningful.

MMO designers also need to peel themselves away from the decades old D&D model of level progression. In real life people wake up and participate in life and we dont get more powerful by days end, yet we still have plenty of motivation to wake up again tomorrow. Imagine that.

So what do we care about. We care about staying alive, we care about our family and its safety. We care about being part of groups. We care about being an accepted members to said groups. We also care about vanity. How we look, and the things we own that show us off to the world. I dont get why housing in MMOs are a after thought, in real life, after our safety they are the most important things to us. MMOS should be based totally around a persons vanity, groups and homes.

Life has the design template all spelled out, when will an MMO designer grasp that and run with it?

Take lifes design and systems, spice them up with some compelling war backgrounds and so forth, and give players another virtual world to play in.

Its time for designer to let go of that ego, realize the game is about the player and THEIR stories. Let them create their paths and stories, Is that really so hard?

Simon Ludgate
profile image
I disagree. Life is the ultimate themepark MMORPG. You're stuck in the tutorial phase whether you like it or not; life just assumes you don't "get it" until you've jumped through the hoops. Then grinding through the newbie zones and the starter dungeons of school until you finally unlock your "real" class at level 25. Then 40 more levels of grinding endless busy-work quests until you retire and reach the "end game" and realize that there's really nothing worth doing all that grinding for after all, and you just dink around and raid or pvp until you give up and move on.

MMORPG progression is inherently built upon real life presuppositions, such as that people with more experience or people who have been around longer are inherently better and deserve more respect.

In other ways though, it's basically impossible to draw parallels between real life and video games. Basic needs like food and shelter are irrelevant in games, as is, for the most part, safety in a world where you feel no pain and just respawn every time you die. Death is about as inconvenient in an MMORPG as missing the subway is in real life. A slight delay, and annoyance, but nothing more.

Vanity is another touchy subject, because for all the people waving the vanity flag, there's tons more who couldn't care less what their character looked like so long as it could pwn everyone else. I'd love to see some real empirical studies into the pervasiveness of vanity as a motivator among gamers and the general population at large.

More importantly though, if a game is based around vanity, it only appeals to people interested in vanity; just like how a game that's based around competition only appeals to people interested in competition. Arguably, there are games out there based on vanity, homes, and virtual property - like Second Life - but I wouldn't play them, because these things don't matter to me. I prefer expression through character development rather than appearance: selection of powers rather than selection of clothing.

That's probably why actual pencil and paper D&D is my favorite game: with such a large plethora of character classes, feats, and customization rules (and without being burdened by the loathsome nerf-bat of PVP balance) it offers so many deep ways to connect with the game world and other players through complex and comprehensive cooperative game mechanics. That's the sort of MMORPG I want to play.

Ultimately though, the lesson Craig has to teach is clear: rather than trying to make high-budget and overly-broad games that try to appeal to everyone (and fail), focus on smaller, more tightly focused games that appeal to a small niche, and make that niche grow. For you, he'd suggest making a vanity game. For me, he'd suggest making a hard-core co-op MMORPG. For others, he'd have other suggestions. That's what made EVE popular, and if other developers follow in EVE's footsteps with games that focus on other undeserved niches, we'd all be happier gamers.

TC Weidner
profile image
you miss my point entirely,and make some broad incorrect assumptions. Such as vanity as the ONLY motivator, plus you seem to act as if in real life people dont accumulate skills, they do. They just become more skilled, not more powerful in some fake artificial D&D way.
and this ---------
Basic needs like food and shelter are irrelevant in games, as is, for the most part, safety in a world where you feel no pain and just respawn every time you die. Death is about as inconvenient in an MMORPG as missing the subway is in real life. A slight delay, and annoyance, but nothing more.

----

again misses my point entirely. DAyZ shows via its immense popularity for a half finished MOD shows your assumptions are incorrect. You need to think outside the box. The limitations you speak of our only due to poor current limited design.

Fact remains, all art imitates life, and great art nails life. So why not reach for great art in this medium.

Your analogy of real life to theme park is way way off IMHO also. No one is saying build a MMO based on a US non thinking corporate drone.

Life is what you make it, thats the magic, lets put some of that magic in a MMO. I mean the whole magic of EVE is basically that the game makes your actions count, and several of the systems involved allow for the dynamics of human relationships and groups to come to the fore front of the game. Thats art intimidating life. That is what I am talking about.


Joseph Willmon
profile image
You hit it right on the head. The MMOs that have been rushing into the market to be cut down like storm troopers are trying to be enough like WOW to be easily digested by new players, but they're also learning the wrong lessons; somehow "intuitive design, high production value, and strong mechanics" has somehow been translated to mean "fairly linear content progression with endgame raids."

That's the way the market works though, I guess. We'll have to weather a few more failures before we really get the "emotionally modern" equivalent of UO -- which doesn't mean a literal copy of UO's mechanics, but an online game with thousands of simultaneous users all pursuing interesting goals in interesting ways in an interesting world with interesting consequences.

Archeage and Pathfinder seem to be the current standard bearers for this, and I'll be there to play both on day one (assuming we get Archeage), but they both seem limited in their capacity to really blow up the market.

Ron Dippold
profile image
Here's a thought: Don't release the next one before it's ready.

The thoughts here are interesting, but the Anarchy Online / Age of Conan model of 'Sell a buggy incomplete alpha (even by MMO standards) expecting you can patch it up and add the necessary content over the next two years' model is still your biggest problem. I don't think it was your genre - there were a lot of people interested in something non fantasy. If you can't afford to finance the content without doing this, then perhaps the systems driven approach you discuss will help there.

A S
profile image
You ever notice how it's the companies that can't release successful MMOs that produce these articles about the future of MMOs...Mythic, Funcom etc.

Hate to say it, but Anarchy Online was 11 years ago, stop talking about making the future and make it.

Bernardo Del Castillo
profile image
OK, I'm one of the few that were actually extremely excited about The Secret world, but I'm gonna say something about the game.
I played through the beta and a month of subscription, but I felt that as charming and mysterious as the TSW's universe manages to be at times, my experience was HORRIBLE in each and every other gameplay aspect. It often felt even more contrived, uncomfortable and stail than World of Warcraft, and not as deep and technical as eve online.
The UI is needlessly complex and cluttered, the characters are generic, and the general experience learns nothing from older Grindfests.
Moreover, the aesthetics of the world which should have been a high point are bland at best, and the pay+subscription+microtransaction is a really HORRIBLE idea.
As noted, it's almost impossible to compete with WOW on a content amount level. But it certainly is possible to compete on a gameplay experience and systems interaction level, since WoW actually still feels like a 10 year old game (I remember it feeling old when it came out).
But the only competitive difference and saving grace of the TSW (and sole "innovation" in my opinion) is the "real world investigation" aspect, and even then there just isn't enough of it, it isn't flawlessly executed and it doesnt't really flow elegantly with the world. A single well crafted core system would have changed my mind, but I couldn't really find real polish anywhere.

In that sense there is NO comparisson to Guildwars2 which indeed may not evolve the high concept but mechanically it examines the core components of the MMO genre and streamlines, improves and polishes them to invite players in a way TSW only dreams. GW2 learned from cooperative games like Journey and Dark/Semon's Souls, Creating a world around the mechanics that engage players immediately and create a world that feels organic, living and ultimately worth investing time in.
Few elements in this game make me feel like a tiresome Grind. And most systems flow effortlessly with the player experience. More than blaming generic Lore, Funcom should look at what makes a game enjoyable (no, it's not about stripping away system complexity).

Funcom and The secret world delude themselves thinking their "originality" killed them, when in fact the quality of the game killed itself. I had high hopes for the secret world, but I really didn't feel like playing the game they released.

Trust me, Funcom... Make a better game, and people will play it.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Andrew McAdams
profile image
Striking opinion posited as fact, dear sir. I went through phases with TSW -- when I first head about it years ago, I was excited, then it petered off (repeat a few times) until just before launch. I played Anarchy Online (not from launch, but I played for a solid 2 years) and I loved it - the game got me into MMOs and now they are my primary play-titles. I was really excited to see what TSW was going to be like, but I was a bit skeptical as it drew closer to launch (but it didn't stop me from pre-ordering), and I was impressed with the game.

I didn't feel anything contrived or uninspired, but rather the whole game felt inspired to me. That you would also say that the class-less system, with its nigh uncountable number of builds lacks depth is curious to me. Sure, there are some cookie cutter specs, but they sure aren't absolutes - and I've yet to see anyone attack another persons build (something that happened all the time in WoW). And they continue to expand the game, monthly (outside of the little bit there with the layoffs), make bug fixes and just generally add to the world and improve the game.

I liked the game so much that a month AFTER launch, I bought the Lifetime Subscription. But this isn't to say that the game is without it's faults. The combat was fun and dynamic, and I'll be interested to see how the reticle combat plays out in the grand scheme -- it might not be Tera or GW2, but it's a strong leap above WoW. But the world was tiny and some of the capital cities (*cough* Seoul *cough*) felt more like a painted backdrop than an actual city, especially when compared with London and New York.

There were a slew of other little complaints with the game, but make no mistake, it's a good game. It's solid, and it has a lot to offer the medium as a whole. Don't confuse "taste" with "observation," which I feel like you did here, because I disagree with you on a lot of points (not because of observation, but because my "taste" differs). However, despite the smaller than expected launch, TSW is profitable and continue to pump out content monthly as promised. Is it a ton of content? No, but its something new every month.

All in all, if a game of that budget is profitable after a few months -- they did something right.

Bernardo Del Castillo
profile image
I dont know who you were replying to. I'm not sure if it was me.
However, I'm talking from my personal experience playing the game, not as a fact.

Let me explain that I love the IDEA of te game. I loved the IDEA of the open skill system. But the execution is nowhere near standards of the genre. I think anyone can agree that the UI although sometimes stylish and functional, is also rather cumbersome and cluttered, requiring a lot of IN MENU tinkering.

I don't know what combat system you were experiencing but what I played was only marginally superior to WoW. Most of the fights were completely static rotationfests with little to no intelligent action required.

And yeah, characters look, move and behave with the unique distinct feel of a poser plastic doll... The sterility and artificiality of it all reminds me of Second life or PS Home, and although sometimes the aim is to be generic, in this situation it can't be considered positive.
I found some of the animations honestly laughable, particularly some "shooting gun" cycles, which allegedly aimed to look cool had me wondering if anyone had seen them before release.

Maybe a good idea is for funcom to observe a bit what ideas other companies are coming up with. NOT throwing away their original ideas, obviously, but allowing them to present them in a better way to the players, and catering their games to a better defined group.

As I said I really wanted to love this game, and I'm sure it was a gigantic effort, but as many others I just couldn't be bothered to go through the ordeal of actually PLAYING it.

Nick Meh
profile image
He's really obsessed with EVE Online. Which I have to say, would be amazing if only he could grasp what EVE is about. He's really second hand on his facts. And I really think he needs to actually say, Hey, I need to stop guessing about EVE and go play EVE for a while. I need to understand the difference.

These qoutes from the interview are obsetting from an EVE player standpoint:

"And that's exactly the key. You need to build an ecosystem. You need to build a collaborative set of systems which give the players the ability to tell their own stories alongside yours."

First part is right. EVE is stucturally sound because of an ecosystem. But that ecosystem is stable because of a negative style penalty system from 'dying'. Players always need to buy stuff. And since all stuff is basically player made, you have a sound ecosystem. A Hack and Slash (as we EVE players refer to your games) can only have an economy in the beginning. Eventually you can't lose you best set of gear, and its not definitely not purchasable, so .. you can at best make your economy potion based. Unless of course you make your crafting system so easy a caveman could do it, then you have no chance of an ecosystem after 1 month.

The second part doesn't even refer to EVE. You think EVE has a story and as a sandbox the player is making theirs happen within that. There is no story. There is a broad overview of major political ideals that are neat. But as for you User Name Jambalya Renyolds, you have no story. What so freaking ever. And there is no interface story ever. Unless you think an overplayed mission agents description you have seen 1000 times before is story. It's not. EVE's PVE side is the most critized completely repetitive un-immersive hunk of junk ever produced. But becuase the game isn't focused on PVE, no one cares.

"And then the question is how do you do that? How do you bring it in so that your story can sit alongside the player's? And then build the systems up that allow the players to express themselves and be part of the system. That's the beauty of a game like EVE, is that the players are kind of this organic wheel in the middle of all the systems that the designers have made."

There's no f***ing story in EVE. Stop using EVE as your basis for story or PVE. Yes, EVE works. But no one has a story.

"And that's really where I'd love to see the genre go, is taking all the best bits. So you can have a quest-driven game, but it doesn't have to be linear progression. I think games like The Secret World and Guild Wars 2, to an extent, were kind of pulling at the edges of that, to see if we can bring it back to being more virtual world-y rather than a single player game where there happens to be other people doing the same thing as you at the same time."

You lost me when you brought GW2 in. GW2 did exactly the opposite of what you are saying. They took a step back from trying to give players a personal story and said "you all have the same exact single player story. Sure we have given some sight seeing routes depending, but that changes nothing about the end story what so ever. But we eliminated side questing and bonus questing all together."
You refer to a single player game where everyone is doing the same exact thing. This is infact what GW2 is doing. You all are doing the same exact thing as a single player, but here, since you will be stumbling over each other, we won't give negative results from hitting the same mob.

"And that's the problem that a lot of these games face now. You build up progression and you get to the endgame and it's only raiding, or it's only PVP, which is completely different to what they've done to get there."

You realize that is EVE's model right. Just basically PVP. If you don't think the PVE generated Incursions or Mining OPS aren't raiding, you are crazy. The difference is, it was never end game. It is the game. But yes, its only PVP truly only PVP. Maybe the answer is PVP is a viable eng game, if only we developers planned to make it more than something other than an afterthought.

"And EVE is really the only one that's constantly done updates, but even then they're like one or two a year. It's like a big push -- this is Inferno, and it comes out and then that's it for the year, or nine months. Personally I much prefer to kind of maybe do something every month. I think every game goes through it right at the beginning -- you're kind of pushing out updates all the time when you launch. But I think actually having -- you know, it's not a new thing."

This is how I know you don't jack about EVE. EVE doesn't release one or two expansions a year. They release 2 major expansions a year. TWO always. Other than the first year of release in 2003. These aren't updates. These are expansions. In between these Expansions, which are free by the way, they do normal updates for balancing and some times features that just can't wait. Neat idea right? Look what's ready. Let's release now. Trivial to EVE players. Extremely frustrating the rest of the MMO industry.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expansions_of_Eve_Online --Linked just because the interviewee doesn't seem to know **** about EVE. Stop guessing! When wikipedia is a reference you are out of the know.


So it's not just about updates, its about constant features and expansions that aren't boxed. It's about being plugged into your community and focusing on your project. You lose sight of that though, and your community will make you suffer. As CCP found out in Summer 2011 when an expansion wasn't in line for new content and a leaked letter internally about greed is king went public. So while CCP and EVE are great examples. It also is an example of needy players that are king and are vocal about it.

I want to respect TSW. I really do. And I think saying we wanted to start out small and grow is exactly what players really do want to hear. And from a broad stance, you looking at EVE and admiring it would normally earn you a thumbs up. The problem here is that you are referencing EVE, but don't seem to understand the beast. You can't say we are starting out small like EVE and we will grow, because in the end EVE has a plan to its players for the next few years. We know we have an expansion this Decemeber the 4th with 2 updates in between with major changes and additions. And then we know we have another round of that in 6 months after that. OH ... and then guess what in the next 6 months? That's right some more.

Hell, CCP is releasing DUST 514 on the PS3 F2P with 5 years planned content updates at launch with 20 years of ideas to substain. http://news.mmosite.com/content/2012-10-14/dust_514_five_year_roa
dmap_and_live_for_another_20_years_plan.shtml
And saying that they plan to be able to substain the game for 2 decades. A decade on a platform that may not eve exist in 2 years. Let alone 10.

Admire all you want, but your player base doesn't even know what you have planned for November, let alone 2 years. If you truly want to admire EVE and CCP and want to start making it right, you need to feel the pulse of your community and commit to the content.

Food for thought from the players point of view.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Nick Meh
profile image
Joshua,

My main point was the misplaced admiration to EVE. Funcom does make immersive stories. I think they are selling themselves short when they say story. Most hack and slahses are boring and terrible in comparison.

The other part of EVE gameplay is understanding it. If you believe that EVE is 'farming' then you probably shouldn't play. If your goal was to get straight to mining, then yeah, this is the worst game you ever played. That's why CCP is coming down so hard on Macros. Even typing the word in game will flag you. Its because they know no one in their right mine 'farms' they have bots doing it.

Alternatively CCP has been advancing. And there are much better ways to make ISK.

But yeah, if you don't like your sand castle kicked over, you are going to have a hard time losing. And EVE is very unforgiving very adult community. You very rarely meet anyone young and females are especially rare. They are already rare in gaming, but they are even more so in EVE.

But that goes back to the type of gameplay. You sound like you want to immersed. You want to admire the product. EVE players want the product to admire them.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

btx sqdr
profile image
well, i agree with nick meh on some points. you should not compare funcom games to eve online, not only that eve doesn't care of pve, but also that eve is different in so many ways, yes. but i see where funcom is seeing itself. the more important point might be that the funcom games i've played so far (age of conan, from the beginning until this summer, with many breaks) and the secret world (probably the first two to three weeks) are... somehow unfinished or badly done. imho, the stories are great, the lores are great, better than any mmo i know, because most mmo lores seems replaceable to me. but as a game journalist said weeks ago: funcom is probably unable to create a good mmo, and this is the reason why their stock price is falling into the abyss. it must depending on someone within their ranks. there must be someone who is not inspired or eager enough for making really unique and not only half-ambitioned games, who is making decisions. or what else was age of conan, at the beginning, and this summer? even now, it lacks of ideas or endurance to make it a great game, or an unique one, if you refer to a smaller fan base. there is still talk about pvp and pve problems, there is no eco system (whatsoever) or bigger player impact on the game system at all. eve is unique, dynamic and self-organic. age of conan and the secret world are... well, more beautiful and interesting world of warcraft copies, without players and some pvp features. imho: funcom needs a new art director, an overhaul, a new spirit, someone who not only talking about unique ideas. sorry for saying that, but consider that craig morrison is or was responsible for anarchy online, age of conan and secret world--all ambitioned but not unique or successful mmos.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

[User Banned]
profile image
This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.


none
 
Comment: