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Defiance Interviews: Looking to Push the Envelope

By William Murphy on May 15, 2013

MMORPG: First, let me congratulate you on the launch. I know it's been a rough one, but it's still one hell of a milestone for any studio.  What is the day-to-day like in the office now that the show and game are up and running?

Nathan Richardsson: Thank you! The day-to-day is always pretty interesting as nothing really compares to that launch month. You get far more player feedback to respond to than in Alpha or Beta, everything is on the line, we're working with a large set of unknowns since we're doing so many industry firsts that it's as exciting as it is frustrating. It's an emotional rollercoaster to say the least. I use a new strategy, multiple personalities. Being a man I can't multitask so I found having many personalities each doing one thing helps me work on all the facets of this entire venture simultaneously without going insane.

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MMORPG: What are the top priorities in terms of fixes for the team right now?  I know the disappearing items bug is the toughest nut to crack.

Nathan Richardsson: With launch issues out of the way we're now moving full time to our upcoming DLC and deploying improvements and more show tie-ins till that comes out. We've addressed the disappearing items and other major gameplay issues and outstanding are still some instances of loadouts saving incorrectly, client performance and individual pursuits.

MMORPG: What's the hardest part about balancing the three different consoles' development?  It seems like an awful big undertaking.  Do you think it's hindering the necessary fixes?

Nathan Richardsson: The hardest part is definitely in the unknowns and intricacies of the platforms, where we're doing a lot of stuff for the first time with them on this scale, which ranges from business policies to multiplayer combat to the user interface. I wouldn't say it's hindering us that much, there are complications and certain types of fixes we can't deploy right away but that being said, it's more effective for us right now to gather up a large amount of fixes and deploy them together as it gives us more thorough testing.

It's more a different way of thinking, not as easy single platform development but hey, the future is platform agnostic, online and ... uhm ... "cloudy" so people should be getting ready to develop like that rather than the luxury of single platforms. Until more companies take on those challenges, the entire industry won't improve. We have to create that pain for it to be addressed, from internally to partners.

MMORPG: One of the parts of Defiance that's gone overlooked, in my eyes, is that every week so far you've had "themed" content to go along with that week's episode.  Was all of this stuff planned with the show-runners in advance?

Nathan Richardsson: All our show tie-ins are planned in advance and in unison with the show. That's kind of the entire pitch while the show is running, we have these crossover events. Their value proposition is pretty difficult to explain and show without spoiling the storyline since it's all so new so we didn't emphasize our pre-launch marketing too much on it. Now that it's live, you'll see an escalation of events.

It's also good to mention that after the show season ends, the events continue. Instead of ties into the current season, we have events and people affecting what happens in Season 2.

MMORPG: What about the people that miss this content, though?  When the first season of the show is over, will you open any of the missions, emergencies, and other content back up for people to complete?  Kind of a "reruns" for the game?

Nathan Richardsson: Some of the events are directly connected to a timeline while others are a permanent change to the world. We've gotten a lot of requests for keeping all of it on so we're looking into how we do that. So yes, you will be missing out on some of it, as it is supposed to be a connected experience with the show but that being said, it's intended as an additive experience if you watch the show and play the game. You can do one or the other at any time and enjoy it separately.

MMORPG: One of the things that's most striking to me about the game, is how people play together, but don't necessarily interact via chat or VOIP (speaking towards the PC version here).  Are there any plans to incentivize grouping up and interacting with players a bit more, or some sort of "social hub" place to get people together more?

Nathan Richardsson: Absolutely, even though we're more a third-person open world shooter with lots of people rather than a full fledged PC MMO, we still take our development model from MMOs. We constantly add and improve the experience, social, grouping, clans, clan progression and clan wars is all in there.

There is also one thing to note though, which is perhaps a subtle difference in what Defiance is and what an MMO - is that we want the grouping to be more seamless than intentionally going through inviting someone. You're on a mission or entering an Arkfall and there are others there, so you instantly work together.

MMORPG: The EGO system is a tricky beast.  To the typical gamer, it might seem like there's no clear progression, or ways to get more powerful.  But as you unlock more and more perks, and combine them in different ways, it's clear to see that your character does get "moar betterer".  Why did you choose the EGO system over a traditional MMO leveling system?

Nathan Richardsson: We did it for a wealth of reasons. We started by saying that we want you always to be able to play with your friends despite what "level" you are - and be able to play against others despite what "level" they are. So we essentially removed levels from the equation.

You create your own class, you do get better but the focus is more on diversity over time and defining your own playstyle. And always be with your friends. We feel that's important. We realize that's less of a "ding" but we wanted didn't want to restrain everything ingame just to chase a leveling curve.

MMORPG: What about the EGO skills?  Will we ever see more added?  I'd love to be able to place turrets, or have a direct heal or shield or something along those lines.  Maybe even equip two at once?

Nathan Richardsson: Oh yes, there will be more. All of it. I think we have our work cut out for us in both expanding on the abilities in there, making some more meaningful but also new ones, combos, active abilities and so on. I think that if you look at Defiance, how it is a more easy to pick-up and more looking at "what's a fun experience with a lot of people" rather than "let's copy a full-fledged MMO and put it on three platforms" is that you can think about everything that MMOs do and see the untapped potential. Pets? Yes, that could be fun. Deployables? Could be fun to.  But is has to fit with Defiance.

MMORPG: Can you talk at all about the DLC? I know you've put them on the back burner a bit until some of the pressing bugs are ironed out.  But our readers would love to know some of the plans to keep growing the game.

Nathan Richardsson: I think the main thing to mention about our DLC strategy is that they have three components, a free one, a paid one and a store update. We want people to play together, not segregate them so there is always a large free component for everyone. That doesn't mean there isn't some amount of exclusive content in the paid component, there is, but if you buy it, you can always bring your friends with you. We also have a pretty aggressive schedule so in the next year up till Season 2, you'll see 5 DLCs.

MMORPG: To those who are on the fence about buying Defiance, maybe even scared away by the scores a bit, what would you say to entice them to give the game a shot?

Nathan Richardsson: Defiance is like nothing you've tried before, you'll either have fun and like it or you won't necessarily stay for month but still have fun. This polarization is seen from critics and player alike, we even see it very clearly on Metacritic, where players predominantly give us great scores or low scores but all reviews are straight in the middle. We don't mind that, we knew we'd be special. We like being special and we have potential. Being fun doesn't hurt either. So as the song says, the only way is up, baby.

MMORPG: It's hard to position Defiance both as an MMO and a shooter, because it's truly a hybrid between the two.  Say I'm exclusively an MMO gamer, but I'm curious about Defiance.  How would you sell the game to me?

Nathan Richardsson: This is absolutely true and has been one of our main challenges in messaging what Defiance is, the marketing and how to tell our story. We are a hybrid and if people expect a full fledged MMO with a ton of deep systems, Defiance isn't the game you're looking for. We're much more into the "jump in and have fun" where we apply a lot of MMO aspects to that experience such as character progression and that other people have value to you. They either shoot with you someone else or you shoot them in the face.

MMORPG: Now, let's do the same for a shooter-fan.  Someone who doesn't really care for MMOs.  How would you make sure they're not put off by the MMO-centric features?

Nathan Richardsson: That goes directly back to the "jump in and have fun" part, where you don't have to learn a wealth of features beforehand, you don't have to spend years to get ahead or level up and you don't get left behind by your friends.

MMORPG: Lastly, where do you see Defiance in a few months time, a year?

Nathan Richardsson: We'll be trying to push the envelope even more. You might ask, what do I get out of that as a player? Well, we're in this journey with our players so they affect quite a lot where we'll be. We're adding more activities to jump into, more game modes that leverage that open world more, competitive play including clans and social infrastructures and of course much more tied into and affecting what happens in Season 2. But that's just "more". We're also doing different. We think the "more of the same" part of the industry is well covered.


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