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Guild Wars 2 General Article: MMORPG.com PAX East Panel - Part 4

By William Murphy on March 28, 2011

You can read parts one, two, and three of our PAX Panel Recap, but to save some time and get to the nitty gritty let’s dive right into the next question from the thousand or so in attendance.

The next fan asked something along the lines of, “There’s a lot of talk about making games more like real life, but how would you make real life more like a game if you could?”

Scott Hartsman’s answer?  “More lives for starters.”

Curt Schilling though wants, “Hot elf chicks.”

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More seriously Scott said that one of the best things in MMOs is that the more time and dedication you put into a game, the more you can actually achieve.  While in real life the cards are often stacked against you and no matter how much time and effort you put in, you won’t always succeed. 

The next question was from a former player of Planetside.  He asked, “Why do you think it wasn’t successful?” And what do the panelists think the future of the MMOFPS is going forward?

Curt Schilling immediately brought up Red 5 Studios’ Firefall, and James Ohlen pondered the rumor that Blizzard’s next project is rumored to be in the same vein.  Colin Johanson said that we’re going to start seeing so many different types of MMOs, from the RPGs of old to the FPS and RTS MMOs of the future.  He said he believes this is because it’s just the evolution of gaming to take things to a more social level.  What began with the MMORPG is only going to spread into other genres.  He said that he also thinks more and more MMOs will start taking bits and pieces from many different types of games too.  He said as any of the panelists can tell you, making an MMO is like making five or six different games at once. 

Brian Knox agreed stating that this is something En Masse is really trying to do with TERA and the “action game” approach they’re taking where you’re not just targeting a mob, but you have to aim, dodge and maneuver actively. 

James Ohlen chimed in next saying that he also thinks it’s just difficult to divorce the MMO from the RPG.  He says that the easiest way to go when creating these games is “RPG” because MMOs are all about advancement systems, and persistent worlds just really fit well with an RPG style.  He thinks it’s very challenging to do this with an FPS or an RTS, and the teams trying to do so will have to be very smart about it because it’s a big problem and one that’s not easy to solve. 

Jeremy Gaffney went back to Planetside and addressed why it wasn’t a massive success.  He was a player himself, and he feels that it many ways the game did work.  But that it just wasn’t that great of an FPS when compared to some of that genre’s top games, and that maybe the technology just wasn’t there to give the gamers the ping rates an FPS needed.  He also believes that the main focus of a truly successful MMO isn’t just “persistent world” it’s persistent character.  He said that he doesn’t think that it’s not that no one wants to try it, because he thinks games like TF2, Battlefield, and so forth already are trying it.  But instead of coming in from the MMO side, they’re starting on the FPS side by giving players persistent characters and unlockable stuff.  He also thinks that in an MMO where you’re going to devote a lot of time, and often a subscription fee, you need to have a reason to want persistence and he doesn’t necessarily see a need for that part of the equation in FPS, in racing games or sports games. 

Curt Schilling added that it’s hard to take risks in the MMO industry mainly because the budgets are so huge and taking a risk can often mean risking tens of millions of dollars on a formula that’s not proven.  Instead, he thinks it will be the smaller studios with smaller budgets that perhaps could drive growth in different MMO types.

The next to last question of the panel was all about splitting PvE and PvP.  The fan asked how do you address games where players become geared up or advanced in one part of the game, shirking the other.  How do you design a system where players don’t have to go down one path of progression, but instead can focus on either?  Or more so when the hardcore players become far ahead of the more casual folks in terms of gear, making them somewhat insurmountable in combat, how do you deal with this too?

Jeremy Gaffney says there’s a lot of ways you can do this.  One of the easiest ways to deal with this in gear-based games is using an expansion as a “reset button”.  Even just adding a new tier, and making previous sets more easily obtainable can work.  He thinks it’s a clever way to re-level the playing field, but he certainly doesn’t think it’s the only way. 

Colin Johanson thinks that another solution is to not make PvP players grind through the entire game and gear up to compete in PvP.  Craig Alexander agreed, stating that this was sort of the goal with Monster Play too.  Separating the systems is sometimes one of the best ways to address gear or level disparity, but it takes careful planning from the outset of your design.  Meanwhile Scott Hartsman said that their solution was allowing players to level through either PvE or PvP, and allow both types of players to obtain their own sets of gear, but not to make the stats on those sets so radically different that one bests the other. 

The final questioner brought up Minecraft and how it’s allowed an unprecedented amount of multi-player creativity to seep out into the gaming world.  He asked the panel what they thought of player-created content and whether it is really going to make a difference in the future of MMOs.

Craig Alexander was first to perk up and say that he’s very bullish on the issue and wants to see it happen, but that it’s not been done extremely well yet in the AAA MMO space.  He sees it happening in the “virtual world” type of games like Second Life, but can we apply it to the principles of RPGs easily? 

Curt Schilling said that for player-created content to work, it needs to be conceived as part of the game from the start.  Like any other major system, there’s a massive amount of resources and infrastructure needed to support such a feature, so much so that it’s going to be something a game uses as one of its “pillars” from the get go.  Craig Alexander added that console games are having success here too, with Little Big Planet, and that it’s not a stretch to say an MMO could really leverage a similar system.

Brian Knox chimed in that it’s really like a “back to the roots” sort of thing, saying that MMOs started in a way where players created the stories, the quests, the events.  But then we moved on to the theme-park style of games to give a more unique and quality content-driven experience.  But he thinks that what the next ten years might hold is “how do we open it back up to the players?” 

Jeremy Gaffney said that why we haven’t seen it done well in a truly massive capacity yet because of a couple key problems.  Problem number one: it’s not easy to give freedom to an awesome young game designer who’s going to make awesome content… and not give the same freedom to someone who’s just going to make giant phalluses floating around.  But Brian Knox said while it’s an issue, that’s where the developer has to come in and make sure not to give too much freedom. 

And with that the we bumped right up against the 6pm hour and the end of the MMORPG.com panel for PAX East 2011.  Now in the second year of hosting this event, we hope those in attendance and those reading our recap enjoyed the look into some of the industry’s most defining minds.  It’ll be interesting to see how some of the games on deck for release in 2011 are received and if we can get their developers to attend again next year.  One thing’s for certain… I think we need to make sure we have recorded footage in 2012.  My wrists hurt.  Thanks for reading, folks!

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