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r1ft Gaming Blog

A mirror of my gaming blog at r1ft.com. The jaded game designer turned corporate lackey. Feedback is always welcome.

Author: Daedren

Hell Froze Over: An Interview with Funcom's Erling Ellingsen

Posted by Daedren Tuesday September 16 2008 at 10:16AM
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Hi, I'm Daedren. You might remember me from other interviews like "Mark Jacobs: He Didn't Call Me Back" and "Richard Garriott: Corp Por or In Vas Mani?" I write this not with a gun to my head, or a sharp weapon to my balls, but because I'm an advocate of objective journalism in the MMO industry. That means when I strike up a dialogue with someone as unlikely as even Erling Ellingsen, of Age of Conan interview fame, I must adhere to my own code. I think I'm saying that because I've been watching Dexter too much.

A short synopsis of the background leading to this interview: I recently wrote an article titled "Age of Conan: A Post Mortem Analysis" that was, by MMO industry standards, famous enough to have Massively's chief editor send me a couple hookers and a bucket of KFC for my troubles. Some of my readers summed it up as "The harshest review ever done on a game - but mostly true" or "inane babble by a crazed man, obviously driven insane by his socialist European overlords" - in any case, it got the attention of Funcom, probably because I emailed it to all of them.

I eventually came to discussing the article with one Erling Ellignsen. After he realized I was not all fire and brimstone, he lightened up to the fact that reaching out to MMO player base might be a good idea. No one is perfect, of course, and it's only fair to give someone the chance to explain. With that said, I've given Erling 5 questions to answer, and here are his responses:


Daedren: In an interview with Jon Wood of MMORPG.com, you state that "No big features didn't make it in to launch". However, Age of Conan was marketed as a PVP-Oriented MMO. As the game was launched without a PVP system, how is this possible? We understand the need for testing and ironing bugs out, but it really does seem like the PVP system should have been there at launch and wasn't. What gives?

Erling Ellingsen: I disagree with you that the game launched without a PvP system. You could PvP players from day one, both in mini-games, in the open world and in sieges. One of the things we received the most positive feedback on was actually PvP, and Age of Conan is unique in regards to the fact that the majority of our players actually play on PvP servers. We even launched with a PvP cultural server ruleset. However, we know that we need to develop PvP further and that's what we're doing when we're now rolling out PvP experience, levels, armor and the consequence system. Saying that Age of Conan launched without a PvP system would, however, be incorrect in my opinion.

Daedren: In the same interview, you mentioned that "We know better than anyone what issues we are facing with the game". That said, how can you then justify the recent gem changes, the horrible gem balance from before, the past and current in-game itemization, and lastly, failure to fix game breaking problems like gems and epic item farming (effectively ruining the economy) in a reasonable amount of time? What sort of assurance do players have that mistakes like this won't be done again in the future?

EE: I certainly understand your concern, but rest assured that we are doing the best we can at the moment. We would like to fix everything right away, but that's simply not the way it works. These changes take time to develop and implement, and we need to work from a list of priorities. We have done a tremendous amount of improvements since launch, just look at the various patch notes. That being said we know there are still many issues that needs to be corrected, and we are working relentlessly on that. The gem system is being worked on as we speak, and the recent change we did was a temporary one to offer an intermediate improvement until we get it right. We will address all the issues we can, we just need to work from a list of priorities, and that means some issues will be ironed out before others. I know it's hard to be patient about these things.

Daedren: There has been a lot of criticism about Funcom already announcing a pay-for expansion for Age of Conan. A hefty portion of people have been allocated for this project. How can you justify spending time on paid content when basic features (like PVP) are missing from the game, and how can you try and compete with other games like Lord of the Rings Online who provide these content updates at no cost?

EE: I have absolutely no idea where you have "a hefty portion of people" from. Right now the expansion team is very, very small. Our main focus now is, of course, the live game. It would make no sense whatsoever for us to not prioritize the live game -- we need players to be happy with the game or else there isn't much point even making an expansion, so improving on the game that's there is priority number one. We wanted to drop some news on the expansion now because we wanted to show our playerbase that we are making long-term commitments to the game. Again, addressing the concerns the players have about the live game is alpha omega to us. The expansion is far, far away from release and we merely wanted to announce that we are indeed committing ourselves to delivering that sometime in the future. Until then, the live game is top priority.

Daedren: With the release of Warhammer Online and the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, how do you plan to retain players? What is the focus in the next 6 months of Age of Conan to either keep players playing or get them back from other games?

EE: That's a good question, and I'm sure it will be a challenge! Right now what we want to do is work with our players on addressing the concerns they have and making the necessary changes and improvements that both we feel is needed and that the players feel is needed. We're definitely getting there, and I think you will see us picking up speed in the time ahead as more and more good stuff is coming out. The first part of the PvP update is leaving the test servers now, and I can't wait to hear the player's feedback on it. Then we need to get the consequence system out, and I think we have definitely made a heavy improvement to PvP. We're also rolling out a whole new outdoor area for level 55+ players, a whole new dungeon for level 60+ players, Tarantia Commons for mid-level players, as we have at least two level 80 dungeons in production. Then there is epic raid gear coming for all the classes, and we will continue to revamp content similar to what we did with the Black Castle. We are also looking into loot distribution, making the items more meaningful and making raiding more rewarding. We are committed to improving on Age of Conan and a large number of the changes you're seeing is a direct reaction on player feedback.We will also work towards improving communication with our playerbase, and we want to keep everyone more in the loop on what we are doing with the game.

Daedren: How are the current subscription and server numbers? We've hear rumors of server merges and severe population declines on some servers. Any plans for these?

EE: I'm not at the liberty to discuss subscription numbers due to the fact that we are a publicly traded company. The latest number we announced was the 415.000 customers per August 14th. We will certainly do what is necessary to entertain a healthy community of players on the servers, and if we decide on doing anything such as server merges we will make sure to notify the playerbase when we can. Right now I can not give you any definite plans on this, though. We do, of course, register the feedback we're getting on the forums and we're taking it into consideration.


*

And there we have it, folks. I'm a bit disappointed with the answers, of course, but that's not surprising. If you call "able to attack another player" a "PVP System" then I guess that's your call. Perhaps I should have said "No meaningful PVP System" or perhaps "A PVP System different than Bruce Lee on the Commodore 64." Not releasing subscriber numbers might not be Erling's decision, but I think it's safe to say with Warhammer launching this week and WotLK out in November, Age of Conan is going to have a bit of a difficult time not only retaining players but getting new ones as well. From how Erling talks, Age of Conan is being patched constantly and fixing problems, not introducing new ones. How accurate is that?

I'll be honest: I haven't played Conan since June. That said, I'm not the most informed on the current game status: though word on the street is that the PVP patch still hasn't launched and there are still some glaring performance problems. I've heard from a couple MMO hobos that still play AoC that a real patch hasn't been introduced since July or early August, and that the PVP patch (the one promised in June) is hyped up every week, only to be let down come patch day.

That said, I ask my readers to come up with some questions to bring to Funcom. Of course, I'd like to know peoples response to these answers. I'll be compiling what I consider the "best" questions from readers around and giving them back to Erling in a week or two - that is, if he doesn't put a restraining order out for my vivid pictorial references above.

Consider this an open dialog with "the Funcom". I'd like to hear from both ex-customers like myself and also some current subscribers that still enjoy the game.

Oh, on a last note, here is the three month trend for Funcom Stock. If you're too lazy to click, it's gone from $55 per share to $8 per share in just over 90 days. I'm no market analyst, so I ask for help on this as well. Is that healthy?

Original article is here at r1ft.com

Also featured at MMOCrunch.

Coming soon to Massively!

I wish it could be featured at MMORPG.com but it's not possible. Yay for the Second Life blog about to knock my down into oblivion! :P (Paragus will get you!)

Paragus1 writes:

Another insightful interview with Erling of Funcom.  While we don't get to watch him squirm around like he did with Jon Wood, it definitely is interesting to see that he thinks the game launched with a PvP system.  Warhammer launched with a PvP system, so one has to wonder what game Erling is playing.

Tue Sep 16 2008 10:36AM Report
RudedawgCDN writes:

I left AoC a long time ago and won't be going back.

At the end of the day that's all that matters, they had their chance and they blew it.

Tue Sep 16 2008 11:48AM Report
Resin213 writes:

 Hmm....with recent stock woes it would be interesting to see that number compared to other public game companies. BoA just bought Merrill Lynch, I wouldn't be suprised to see a few aggresive buyouts among game companies, maybe NCsoft and Blizzard eating up everyone else.

As for questions for FC, I want to know about The Secret World.

Tue Sep 16 2008 12:06PM Report
Resin213 writes:

 Hmm....with recent stock woes it would be interesting to see that number compared to other public game companies. BoA just bought Merrill Lynch, I wouldn't be suprised to see a few aggresive buyouts among game companies, maybe NCsoft and Blizzard eating up everyone else.

As for questions for FC, I want to know about The Secret World.

Tue Sep 16 2008 12:06PM Report
Resin213 writes:

 Damn double post.

Also strke NCsoft from my last comment, they're laying people off, probably closer to a buyee than a buyer.

Tue Sep 16 2008 12:58PM Report
TuxedoSLY writes:

Maybe it's been a while since I was in Journalism, but your interview seemed a bit biased and uninformed. We'll strike the fact that you plainly say you haven't played in months. Here's my problems with it.

 

-You talk about a PVP system not being in at launch, but don't give any details on what kind of PVP system you assumed would be in, and didn't seem to accept his answer of there actually being player vs. player combat in the game.

 

-Your obsession with gems and no details to back up your questions. I quote-"recent gem changes, the horrible gem balance from before, the past and current in-game itemization, and lastly, failure to fix game breaking problems like gems ." What gem problem? What was wrong with the balance before? What needs to be done? To someone who doesn't play Conan or never got into the gem portion of it this seems like baseless attacks and accusations to merely put someone in the "hot seat."

 

-Who is being critical of the upcoming expansion release? Give examples! Otherwise it's another case of accusations to be more dramatic. It's like saying "Everyone hates this game." First, that's impossible, and two, it's baseless and without hard facts it's without merit.

 

-Where have you heard rumors of server mergers from? Is this based in any kind of fact or whining around forums by people who feel they're owed something by Funcom? Again, no facts.

 

I'm not saying Conan should be defended or that it doesn't have it's problems. But if we're going to throw stones, let's at least have some real reasons why and not a mob mentality of torching the place because of rumors and emotions.

Tue Sep 16 2008 7:43PM Report
cosimusta writes:

I'm convinced Erling really is a cyborg.  Unfortunately for him, his AI is poorly programmed. Observe....

"I'm not at the liberty to discuss subscription numbers due to the fact that we are a publicly traded company. The latest number we announced was the 415.000 customers per August 14th."

I'm not at liberty to discuss numbers, but here's some numbers that make us look good.  ....  ....   ....   ....

Any question I think of will be useless without a Void Kampf test when answered by EE-bot.

Seriously, I wouldn't trust them with a potato cannon.

 

 

 

 

Tue Sep 16 2008 11:47PM Report
cosimusta writes:

 oh yeah, and the pictures were a nice touch, it's like you know I have a hard time paying attention, especially through EE's longass auto-responses.

<3

Tue Sep 16 2008 11:48PM Report
plaxidia writes:

I disagree with TuxedoSLY on his analisys of your article.. To me it feels more like a gamers view of what we want to know.. And the areas where you are asking for "Facts" TuxedoSLY he clearly says "We have heard rumors. Wich is true and a legitimate way to bring up a question.. Who better to answer directly if a rummor is true or not.

Anyway.. Mr. Ellignsen basically sounds like a clueless frontman every interview anyway.. He trys to spin the issues the public has with AoC and either switch the focus of them or make them sound minor.. Its his job of course. He doesn't want his game to die.. But this kind of reterick and distraction tactic only works for so long and I think that time is over..  They need to put up or shut up and get the game fixed.. I heard that the PvP patch is posponed AGAIN!   Just sad..

Wed Sep 17 2008 2:01AM Report
TalRasha writes:

Question to ask:

With your slogan "AoC is steak, WoW is hamburger". What was your intended subscriber base on the long term plan, such as for example 2 years after release. Where you planning to have around 5 million subscribers?

And a followup question:

Aand is that why there are 50 servers and why the game is setup to create new instances so that there are never more than 100 players in the same virtual world?

 

He will likely answer that he may not talk about it, eventhough it is data from past plans and expectations, just like the 415k number is data from the past, wich he does talk about.

Wed Sep 17 2008 4:00AM Report
Daedren writes:

@Tuxedo: I also disagree with your analysis of my questions.

You ask where I got my information from? My sources? Well, I was the co-guildleader of one of the biggest PVP guilds on an EU server. I still have friends that play. I talk to them. I read the AoC forums.

You want me to have sources and references for my questions, yet you ignore the fact that they were mainly correct, and most importantly, exactly what most gamers wanted to be asked.

I speak for the people because I'm like them. I work a day job, I have kids, I'm what some would call a normal "casual gamer". People like my questioning because it's not candy-coated and it tries to get to the bottom of the real issues.

Anyway, I appreciate your feedback, but my  questions are of sound reason.

Wed Sep 17 2008 4:23AM Report
Daedren writes:

@TalRasha:  Hmm... great questions! Glad to finally have something to use.

The Steak question would be best directed at Gaute Godager, I guess, but he doesn't seem like a very communicative chap.

In regards to instancing... oo, bit of a sore subject there. It might be a bit uncouth to say "So, instancing sucks. Everyone hates it. Any chance you might change that?"

;)

Wed Sep 17 2008 4:25AM Report
cosimusta writes:

 I have a question now.

Question:

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"If The Secret World is ever released, what will they do differently in terms of how they communicate with the game's fan base.  Will there be a forum wipe at the game's launch like there was for AoC?"
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Darkfall is (supposedly)approaching release and it took many of the old threads made and isolated them within their own forum.  It was a good way to clean the forums up, and at the same time showing respect to the veteran posters.  

There were some decisions made for AoC long before launch, such as server types when it came to PvP, that were decided by polls within the forums.  So why shit on them.

I can tell you right now that The Secret World forums are being handled the same way the old AoC forums were handled.  Why seek information on the forums if what you're going to get is a bold faced lie that will be deleted in the future.

Wed Sep 17 2008 2:48PM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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