Welcome to part two of my conversation with Divergence Online creator, Ethan Casner. As you read this, DO’s funding campaign will have closed, having successfully met (and exceeded) its original goal of $15,000, making a whole new phase of production a viable reality.
This time we’re talking not just about the game, but about Divergence’s continuing journey to from idea to reality, so let’s dive back into the Q&A.
Lisa: You mentioned lore with regard to factions and it brings me to a common point of contention among some MMO players, the idea and value of story in a game. There are those who contend that a "true" sandbox game has no story whatsoever. How do you respond to that?
Ethan Casner: Our sandbox has no pre-determined story. You were somewhere else. You’re here now. What comes next is up to the players. I do enjoy hypothesizing about the possible shape of the world a year after launch though. I wonder if it’ll be broken up into individual corporate kingdoms with feudal lords battling in the open grassland, or a large zerg empire dominating everything while it’s generals conspire to piecemeal the organization into their own states.
Lisa: Of all the things you've realized in Divergence so far, and all the hopes you've had for it over the years, is there anything that you've just had to abandon?
Ethan Casner: Yeah, unfortunately so. The Divergence universe contains almost twice as many races as we’re including at launch and several more factions, but there’s only so much you can do with such a small budget so I had to chop that down quite a bit. It’s still substantially more than you can expect anywhere else, and nobody knows they’re missing. Nobody except me of course, so it weighs on me a bit. However once the game is successful enough I’m hopeful I’ll get a chance to reintroduce a lot of those aspects into the live game.
Lisa: Technology moves at the speed of thought, Is there anything that you initially thought you might never have in-game that you now find within your reach?
Ethan Casner: Yes, the biggest of these things I would say is probably the game itself! When I started this in 2006, there was no such thing as crowd-sourcing. You were either independently wealthy beyond measure, personal friends of some industry big-wig such as John Carmack, or had a business plan entitled, “We will copy World of Warcraft”.
Additionally, there are even a few features that come to mind such as the modifiable terrain system. Such a thing wasn’t even in the realm of possibility back five years ago, (For a broke-ass indie team) and today it stands as a fundamental pillar to which our game is built upon. Indeed, technology truly is the shiz-nit.
Lisa: To quote Shakespeare, "A man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age." In that vein, and knowing this has been a years-long process, is there anything that you once thought just HAD to be a part of Divergence that you now look back on and cringe?
Ethan Casner: My friends.
Lisa: Of all the things you've been asked about Divergence (by me, or anyone else) what's the one question you've never gotten, but that you're dying to talk about?
Ethan Casner: Yes, actually! I’ve planted the seeds of inquiry but I don’t think it’s taken root in the community yet about just how much involvement the players have within the factions of Divergence. The Terran faction leaders will all be players, as with many of their lieutenants.
We let people choose which ideology fits them the best, then set them loose to serve the campaigns and goals of that group or mold them more closely to their own. This adds an element to the dynamic of the game world and guarantees a state of constant flux as power struggles emerge, minions seek to empower or overthrow their betters, and leaders and officers fight tooth and nail to hold onto their positions of power.
Lisa: How do you see Divergence being funded in the long haul. F2P with a subscription chaser? All sub all the time? Buy the game and walk away? Cash shop? The pledging of first-born children?
Ethan Casner: I’ve had a lot, and I do mean a lot, of people ask me this both on the internets and in person, and my response has always been very cautious. The reason for this apprehension to lock down any one payment model is very simply that people are extremely vocal about which of the two major models they prefer, and when I say prefer, I mean all-but demand.
“I will only play this game if there’s a F2P option” is contrasted to, “If this is another F2P throwaway game I won’t play it”.
There’s no “right answer” but after a lot of careful consideration I think we’re coming close to a really good model.
The working model we have right now isn’t freemium, or straight retail, but we’re fashioning a sort of hybrid system that covers all bases and here’s what we have so far: Everyone pays a retail fee. How much is up in the air. Once that retail is paid however, you have a choice of a monthly subscription or not. I like this model, because we’ve made certain the player is less likely to try to hack the game when the possibility of losing an initial investment is on the table.
What do you get with your subscription you ask? You get to utilize (arguably) the game’s coolest feature, without being granted a combat advantage over anyone else: Terraforming. If you contribute to the game, you get to change the world of that game. There are some other lesser benefits but I think this one overshadows them all.
That’s it for part II. I hope you’re enjoying this inside look at Divergence Online. Join us here in two weeks as wrap our conversation and discover a few things about the man behind the game.