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The Veteran MMO Devs Speak

Interviews By Garrett Fuller on September 28, 2012

This past week we got the chance to sit and talk with three of the Advisory Board members at GDC Online. Eugene Evans, Gordon Walton, and Valerie Massey are all hardcore veterans of the MMO industry and video games themselves. Each of them gave their thoughts on the upcoming convention that deals with all things online games. From the expanding mobile and free to play markets to top AAA games, there are also a lot of post mortems on older MMOs and new games alike that any developer would benefit from. Here is what each of them had to say about GDC Online which is coming up next month in Austin, TX.

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Gordon Walton has been around MMORPGs from the beginning and explains that he always comes away from the convention with new ideas and energy. One of the biggest values is networking for new developers or veterans. Gordon feels like this truly is the place to meet people who have been through the wars with games and exchange knowledge to help anyone on the design path. The convention is definitely small enough where you can walk up to people and say hello. The board and the speakers try very hard to keep the format open with questions and networking. 

Another area we talked about was the move to social games and bringing more and more games online. In some ways the expansion of the online game mark allowed MMOs to win the gaming world over. However, with the size of online games, comes the fragmenation of the industry. They are bigger than ever and more fragmented than ever.

Distribution of games has also become a very important part of the industry. Games can list or be listed on multiple platforms and are playable in many different forms. Distributing a game is key to GDC’s talks especially with the changes to market and how games are no longer in a box on a shelf. With downloadable content ever day and more browser and mobile games of high qaulity coming to market, it is important to watch how all of these models make it easier for developers to get their games out there.

Valerie Massey is one of the best community managers in the business. She has seen more changes in community and social media than most over her career. This is Valerie’s first year as an advisory board member and she is happy to work with GDC Online to bring issues to the forefront for new people in the industry.

Val’s first comment about GDC Online explained how social games really have become the new thing. With this trend she also pointed out how much of a social game Ultima Online was back in the day. This led us to talking about how important a social connection is with a game whether it is a small mobile app or a AAA MMORPG. Players do stay because of the social connection and that is something all game makers need to keep a close eye on.

Val also explained that GDC is very much an idea sharing platform. It is here where you get the best ideas for the upcoming games of the future. New developers can pick the minds of veteran game designers to really bring out the best practices in the industry. All of the advisory board members stressed the importance of networking at the conference and how critical it is.

Lastly, Val’s major point about being on the board is getting feedback from the conference.  She explained how important it is for attendees to give feedback to the advisory board and how critical it is for the planning of talks in the future. The board takes feedback very seriously and it does listen to how talks and keynotes are viewed by the people in the audience. Without solid feedback the conference can never improve and it really does add value to the planning for next year when the conference moves to LA.

Eugene Evans has been around games more than most people have been alive. A true veteran of MMOs, Eugene talked a lot about the marketing and business side of the convention. Eugene’s focus when we talked was all about helping the start ups. He wanted to let attendees know that they should come away from GDC with the tools to focus on what makes a successful game. GDC brings that culture to life.

Eugene also talked about the diversity of the tracks with so much on Free to Play, Mobile, and Social games really bringing challenges to developers. Gamers play in a lot of different ways now and these challenges remain a focus of GDC Online. Eugene explained that devs should be taking advantage of these new platforms. What was different ten years ago is now mainstream and these are the trends that developers face. GDC gives the development teams lessons in what worked for the past and how to plan for the future.

Also, Eugene was quick to defend the current MMO models and explained how much online games have worked and that they are all part of a branching family tree. You should never write off previous models because you don’t know when that trend will come back into vogue.

Overall, Gordon, Eugene, and Val have a wealth of knowledge about games and the industry. True veterans are the best to listen to and there are a lot of them that make it to GDC Online. Next month we will be at the conference and looking at a number of great talks and panels, as well as meeting with many new developers on their up and coming games. It is a great show and we look forward to seeing all of you in Austin!

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