Although Eidos was not showing Age of Conan at E3 this year, Product Manager, Erling Ellingson of Funcom and Rick Reynolds, Sr. Marketing Manager of Eidos were on hand to talk about it.
“We've got our roadmap of patches already out,” said Erling. “And we are working on a holiday version of the game box,” added Rick. The holiday version is just a box which will be fun to give as a gift. We looked at the various versions of Age of Conan boxes that was being shown behind glass as we walked into the Eidos meeting room. Nothing has been decided as to what the holiday premium will be, if it will be a fun piece of equipment or bling, but “If you have any ideas,” said Rick, “I'd love to hear them!”
“We were tremendously pleased with server performance during launch week,” Erling informed me. “We kept bracing for what we thought was inevitable – the server crash,” admitted Rick, “but it never happened.” At present time, I was told that 700,000 accounts were registered, logged in and characters created. Far exceeding their expectations for the game.
Erling boasted that Age of Conan probably had the largest live team around at this time as the entire team is still working on the game. Erling was also pleased to say that their customer service team has been growing by leaps and bounds and are solving almost 100% of all petitions in a day.
I asked about the large number of people that have already reached level 80:
“The speed of levelling is conforming to our expectations,” said Erling. The game design is targeted at getting players to the level 80 end game of siege warfare, city capture and city building. The objective during the journey to the end game is for the player to understand their character, to relate to it and to learn it. Funcom doesn't believe in making a player grind in the lower levels or make levelling hard and slow. To wit, the apprentice system works that way as well. The apprentice is brought up to one level below the “master” and the low level player gets a taste of the world of high level play.
“We've been very pleased with how the Apprentice program is working,” said Rick. “I level slowly and it's a lot of fun to have my healer asked to join a high level group.” The apprentices' Hit points, mana and skills are buffed. That is to say that his ratio of effectiveness is raised to the extent required to be useful in the group. In most cases, the XP the apprentice gains from a high level group is also much better. But one of the main advantages of being apprenticed are the valuable drops.
Erling also gave me an update on the PvP game. The interest of players in the PvP game has also been more than expected with a majority of players on their PvP servers. New PvP XP levels will be introduced and vendors will sell equipment that require certain PvP levels to equip, and the Fugitive system will be implemented. There will be consequences for players who do undesirable actions in PvP such as corpse/spawn point camping and newbie ganking will gain “fugitive” points. A player reaching fugitive status will be be labeled as such. Other players killing this “Fugitive” will not himself earn “fugitive” points and the Fugitive will drop one lootable item.
In the content update to come, players will enjoy a new 55+ zone, Ymir's pass in Cimmeria with new architecture and graphics, a new dungeon, Thunderfalls and a high level dungeon, House of Crom. A major makeover for the UI is expected and of course many new quests. Both Erling and Rick agreed that the 55 – 60 game needs more content.
“Players constantly surprise us,” said Rick. “We found that they were doing things in their 40s that we didn't expect them to tackle until their 50s, hence we have a need to concentrate development in the 55 – 60 content right now.”
The majority of players at this time also seem to be concentrated in the 55 – 60 spread. Erling reiterated that the original AoC team has not been moved to other projects and they are busy focusing on implementing suggestions and fixing bugs and issues brought to their attention by the players.
“We are also focusing on improving community relations and getting information out to our players,” said Erling. Players can expect regular development news, website updates and forum postings. Funcom is also staffing up their community teams. Erling also revealed that they are beginning to break out the team into working on a future expansion.
As we were wrapping up, Rick looked over to Erhling and asked “Did you tell her about Kingship?” The flood gates were opened slightly and I stuck my foot square in. Kingship is a future system whereby guilds can form alliances and can capture and build legendary battlekeeps. These battlekeeps are connected to the major cities and this will be epic warfare indeed. Major improvements to the graphics engine are being made to allow many more players on battlefields. How many is “many more” I wanted to know, and “hundreds” was the response.
Diplomacy will matter in Age of Conan, especially when alliances are built. Currently Guild cities and trading posts are open to anyone unless the guild takes the effort to build walls and a gate that only allows guild members in. In the future, a third option will be available one which allows alliance guilds to enter.
It took some tricky questioning before I received an answer to “Why is the future system named Kingship?” beyond the “That's a good question!” type answer, Alliance leaders will have certain benefits while the alliance is in place. Beyond that, I could not pry anything further out of Erling or Rick,
One last note to close this out this interview of current status and future plans in AoC, players can expect the Xbox360 version of the game to launch in late 2009. Console players will be given a choice of whether to play on a co-mingled server or on a platform specific server. So, that's the update from E3, which shows quite an optimistic future for Age of Conan. According to them, they have surpassed all of their expectations in terms of subscriber numbers and have many things in the pipeline planned.