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Guild Wars 2 General Article: MMORPG.com PAX East Panel Report #1

By William Murphy on March 22, 2011

Last weekend at PAX East 2011, MMORPG.com had the pleasure of hosting a panel chock-full of some of the industry’s best and brightest.  Curt Schilling of 38 Studios, Craig Alexander of Turbine, Jeremy Gaffney of Carbine, Scott Hartsman of Trion, Brian Knox of En Masse, James Ohlen of BioWare, and Colin Johanson of ArenaNet were all lined up on the panel ready and eager to answer the questions of the hundreds of fans who turned out to see what these movers and shakers had to say about their favorite pastime and what the future holds.  This is the first part of our panel recap, so be sure to tune in next week for more opinions on the future of online gaming.  After some brief introductions, and plenty of applause from grateful fans, the questions began.

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Our own Garrett Fuller (organizer of the event) got first crack at the panel by asking, “Where do you all see online games headed in the next ten years?  How will they change and how will they evolve?”

Colin Johanson started off by stating that he believes we’re going to see less and less linear content and instead will see more worlds built on dynamic content and games that really are worlds and not just places to visit.  James Ohlen of BioWare went the contrary route.  He stated that the future of online gaming, especially MMORPGs, will focus more on story or the RPG aspect of the game.  Brian Knox came in and said that the expansion is going to be more on the MMO side of things.  That RPGs will have their place, but that more action titles, more FPS games, strategy, etc. will all be coming into the MMO space.  Finally some agreement took place and Scott Hartsman agreed with Brian that MMO is going to invade pretty much every genre of game in some way and that there will eventually be no line between the two.  Sure there will always be offline games, but Scott believes all games will soon sport an MMO or online presence.  Jeremy Gaffney took all previous answers, and said that they all may very likely be true, but that one real innovation he sees forthcoming is player-generated content through giving players more robust and easy-to-use tools. 

Craig Alexander of Turbine said that another way in which he sees the genre evolving is that games will cease to be merely a “product” and will instead become more and more like a service, where more platforms, business models, genres, will all thrive.  He noted that sure we are seeing a half-dozen MMOs released this year in the US… but in the Asian market there are about 400 releasing in the last year.  It’s a different market, surely, but it just shows the gap between the two.  He also said he believes that MMO access will become more than just something you do on your PC.  That you’ll sit at home and play, but also you’ll be able to continue interacting with your world on your phone, your iPad, etc.  Finally Curt Schilling said that the question’s kind of loaded in the sense that we don’t know what’s going to happen in the next six months, much less the next ten years because things are moving so quickly now.  He did say though that he was certain of one thing happening: Facebook is somehow going to strongly impact the MMO space.  Yes WoW might have 12 million players, but some of the casual games on Facebook have upwards of a hundred million users.  Curt believes that sooner or later someone’s going to crack that wide open and we’ll see the same success in an MMO, and that social networking as a whole is going to have a huge impact on the experience of our online games.

We then opened questions to the audience, and the first fan took the mic to ask something along the lines of, “How do you feel about the rise of F2P or Freemium games in the Western market?  Do you think it’s good for the industry?”

Craig Alexander, no stranger to the model as Turbine was instrumental in bringing the trend about, said that they’ve noticed one thing mainly: that people either have lots of time or lots of money and rarely both.  The Freemium model lends itself to this divide, by allowing gamers the choice to either pay or to play, but never to “pay to win”.  He said that a lot of the fears that Turbine was very worried about when switching models, ultimately have not come to pass.  He also believes that this type of revenue model is much better for the health and longevity of the game, because you’re breaking down that flat-fee wall.  Curt Schilling jumped in to add that we’re in a different time and place than we were just a few years ago.  He believes that a person’s most valuable commodity isn’t in their wallet, but in the time that they spend to choose with whatever game they’re playing.  If a player is going to choose to spend their entertainment time with 38 Studios’ product that said time is a valuable piece of currency right up front. 

After resounding applause at that statement, we moved on to the next question for our panel.  What do hot elf chicks have to do with Curt Schilling’s vision of the future?  You’ll just have to be patient with us and check back next week for part two of our MMORPG.com Panel coverage.

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