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Millions of Voxels, Millions of Players

William Murphy Posted:
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Trove, since launching last month officially on Steam and Glyph, has quickly become the #4 title on Valve’s store, and Trion just today is announcing that 1 million active monthly users log into the voxel-based MMORPG.  In short, Trove is a certified hit, and even Trion was caught off guard with its success.

We spoke to Scott Hartsman this week about Trove, its development, and it’s future. Trove may be a hit here in the EU and NA as we’ve been learning, but you might be surprised to know that it’s also now #10 in Taiwan for all of their online games… and it’s not even officially released there. Scott’s Taiwan-bound friend called him the other day to tell him that apparently the game’s taken off there as well. 

It’s no surprise then that Trove had a rocky first few weeks of official launch.  Plagued by login queues, the team scrambled to increase server size and speed up their hardware, going so far as to purchase thousands of dollars’ worth of solid-state drives for their Trove data farm.  But what’s most shocking to this writer is that Trove has been and still plans to continue their weekly patching schedule, with major patches coming every 2 months or so.  They’ve been working on this cadence for five to six months now, and the beauty of a game that’s not reliant on scripted content means they can keep this pace up without sleeping in tents at the Bay Area offices.

The team has a 12 month roadmap they use, at first drawn out with rough ideas of where they want to go and what they want to do. Then, as time goes by and they work with the community, they add and tweak that roadmap. One such feature coming up soon is the much-awaited PVP game mode. With their cadence, and the speed of updates and how they can shift things around, it makes iteration easier and they’re confident that when PVP does come into the game, it’ll be just as off the wall and fun as the rest of the core Trove experience.

Additionally, we asked Producer Adam Hetenyi whether we can expect improvements to the title’s Club (guild) systems. He replied in kind: “We’ve definitely heard the voice of the community and will be working soon on improved administration and permission-related powers for clubs. We plan to include offline club invites, administrative player bans, crafted portals that players can use to connect far-flung areas of their club worlds together, and general building improvements in a future (post-1.1) major release.”

The Mac client is also nearing completion, and it’ll be out soon for all users, and this is yet another area they hope the game’s reach can be broadened. Trove has gone far beyond Trion’s normal game audience, which was almost 100% in the hardcore MMORPG enthusiast camp thanks to titles such as Rift, Defiance, and ArcheAge. Trove’s broader appeal brought a whole slew of new players into the Trion Worlds fold. 

I asked Scott about that broader appeal, and if it means Trion will be abandoning its previous devotion to AAA MMOs and big budget games. His answer, simplified, is “no way”. But like a good CEO (and company) should, Scott and Trion are out of the business of blindly guessing what games the public wants. When they started the Trion Labs initiative that bread Trove, the goal was simple: if we can let our employees propose and make the games they’re actually  passionate about, it stands to reason they’ll actually be good games.

Further to that, two and half years ago when Trove was first announced, Trion was a bit ahead of the curve in that they essentially began their own “greenlight” initiative for their future games. Other companies, such as Wargaming and Square Enix, have recently announced similar plans to crowd-source their communities to find the games players actually have an interest in. If Trove’s original design and founder’s packs hadn’t been successful, if the early alpha game hadn’t been fun, it’s likely that the game wouldn’t have become what it is today.

On that note, Scott reminded me that there was more than one game in that crop of Trion Labs candidates, and that we’ll be hearing about another one in the not so distant future.  It will likely strike more of a “Triple-A” chord than Trove did upon its announcement. But Scott was keen to remind me that Trion is not in the business of taking big budget risks anymore. His goal as a CEO is to provide a safe work place for his employees, one where they can thrive creatively and professionally, and no one has to spend years worrying about pink-slips because the budget on the next game is so high.  Trion Worlds studio is no longer interested in chasing the hit games, they’re interested in finding new ones.

Trove was originally a 2-man team, and it’s now a dozen core people strong, with other developers pitching in across the company.  That’s a far cry from 50, 100, or the crazy 200-man teams other MMOs are sporting. This keeps the overhead down, the core team focused on the game’s ideals, and allows a ton of agile development to happen because there aren’t a dozen different leads on a dozen different teams.

On that note, I posited that Trove could likely find even more success on consoles. While Scott didn’t flat out say it wouldn’t happen, the problem with consoles is the patching and approval process. It becomes really tricky to test and deploy patches on the Xbox or Playstation because you can’t just do it whenever you want to (as the team can with Glyph and Steam). So while it’s something they’ve been thinking about, they’re more focused on getting the Trove Mac client done first, and then seeing where things go.

In the end, Scott believes that Trion Worlds will have a long healthy future with their home-grown games if they can keep to the core ideals that made Trove a success. Studios need to make the games they want to play, do it smart, and get the ideas in players’ hands early to make sure you’re not developing in a bubble.  Indeed I think he may be right. Not every studio or developer will be beholden to the same ideals, but unless you’ve got a surefire hit like Assassin’s Creed, Madden, or Call of Duty a studio’s time would be better spent finding the fun in a new game, rather than trying to recapture what makes other games tick.

Trove, with its Candy Barbarian, Boomeranger, Pirate Captain, procedural worlds, dungeons, and crazy loot has done just that. It’ll be fun to see what kind of good crazy Trion has injected into Trove a year down the road, that’s for sure.  In any case, we’ll know they’ll have had just as good a time creating that crazy as we have had playing with it.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.