Massively: An interview with Pathfinder Online's Ryan Scott Dancey
Massively: Pathfinder is a popular RPG, but what made you want to go "massively" and "online" with it? Did you look at similar RPGs that did the same thing?
Ryan Scott Dancey: We think that we're at the close of the Age of Themepark MMOs. Since 2003 and the release of World of Warcraft, every AAA MMO announced has been a themepark game, with a budget from $50-$100 million (and some a multiple of that) and a four- to six-year development process. Every one of those games has followed the same pattern: a release to big numbers and a spike in active players followed by a sharp drop to a fraction of the peak. Not one of those games has grown consistently year-over-year (except World of Warcraft).
As far as we know, the last game in this tradition, Elder Scrolls Online, is in its final pre-launch preparation, and after it, there are no big new AAA MMOs in acknowledged development. The industry has realized that the AAA themepark MMO business model doesn't work.
The alternative is sandbox. During that 2003-to-now era, only one game showed consistent year-over-year growth: the science-giction sandbox MMO EVE Online. We think there's a huge market opportunity for a next-generation fantasy sandbox MMO, and that's why we're doing Pathfinder Online.
The sandbox development model is very different from the themepark model. Instead of trying to make hundreds of hours of content, for a sandbox you focus on developing really great systems that let players do interesting things and especially interesting things with each other. We have made "maximizing meaningful human interaction" the key to our development process. That lets us make a game much faster, with a much smaller team on a much smaller budget. We get the game into the hands of players much more quickly, and we can develop the features of the game with the players in real-time, a process we call Crowdforging, which means that we get the benefit of all their accumulated knowledge on what works and doesn't work in the MMO space as well as that of our own development team.
Sandbox MMOs are the wave of the future. SOE has already announced that it's scrapping the work it's done on EverQuest III (EQ Next) to make it a sandbox. I'm sure there are teams working on sandbox MMO pitches inside all the major studios. We have the advantage of being a first mover in this space. We want to carve out some territory and then grow our game slowly and steadily year over year, just as CCP has done with EVE Online.
Youtube: PaizoCon Pathfinder Online Presentation (13 mins)