Yesterday’s announcement of the formation of ArtCraft and a new game with new approach to MMORPG design should have people talking by now. We were lucky enough to go right to the source and spend some time with founders Todd Coleman and Gordon Walton talking about their philosophy on MMOs, their new project, and all that we have experienced over the last decade of online gaming. If you have not seen the site or read their manifesto, please do so now. Here is what Gordon and Todd had to say about their new project, and what we can expect when it’s unveiled in the coming weeks.
Todd and Gordon both opened up with the same line: “I left to start something new.” After years at KingsIsle for Todd who helped create Wizard101, it was time to move onto something fresh. Gordon was moving on from a job at Disney Interactive. The timing just seemed right for them to get together and plan to build a new company and more importantly, a new online world. Both of them are MMO vets to the highest degree.
Todd was part of the core team for Shadowbane and helped make KingsIsle the big time player it is today. Gordon’s resume includes: Ultima Online, Star Wars: Galaxies (Pre-NGE), Star Wars: The Old Republic, and countless other games both before and after. Todd came right out of the gate and said, “Even in advance of having a product to show off, I want people to know we are not trying to make World of Warcraft or League of Legends. We are not trying to define success by market share. We are okay just building a game that we both want to play.” Gordon continued by saying, “I would much rather have 100,000 people who truly enjoy what they are playing. Who enjoy what they have. We are tired of having to build games bigger just to add people and make sales.” The team is very clear that this game is not going to be for everyone. It is going to appeal to players who want depth, risk, and the ability to take chances just like they have in older games. Gordon said, “It is finding the audience that wants the right kind of raw experience. One that will engage, delight, and wants actions to have consequences.” And before we go further, yes the game will be a persistent world MMORPG.
The question on the team’s website is clear, Where Did We go Wrong? Todd explained that the MMO industry went “wrong” after World of Warcraft. Warcraft did a solid job of launching a major MMO that became mainstream. However, after launch publishers and investors all wanted to replicate Warcraft. There was a huge influx of games that tried to model themselves as the money monster which WoW became. Soon everyone was following this model. Games and companies stopped taking chances on their designs. Every online game had to fit into this mold. Gordon agreed that even though Wizard101 was a huge success it also followed this model. Todd mentioned that MMOs before Warcraft made you pay for death in the game. However, what Blizzard did so well was streamline the rules of the death system so there was no longer any real risk but time. Gordon added, “I spent nights sweating while I was playing Ultima Online. The immersion was so high!” Todd agreed, “With Wizard101 the design goal was definitely to reduce the friction that is caused by death in game. It made sense for a mass market game aimed at a younger audience to not have those major penalties. It led the entire industry to build around a single design skeleton and that stopped us from looking for other skeletons.”
Gordon continued that many of the early games and their hardcore consequences turned people off to MMOs. They were deemed too challenging. “What made Ultima Online awesome; also made it horrible for some people.” Players remember losing everything when they died. Shadowbane followed a similar style and during its day was deemed an extremely hardcore PvP MMO. Both agreed that early MMOs got this reputation and it was very hard to rebrand the genre. Then Warcraft became mass market and everything changed. To a degree, they both understand that there’s no going back from WoW.
But the online game industry has been a sea of fish swimming in the same direction. Online games are all becoming free to play. They whole game industry is looking at the mobile market where billions of dollars are being made. To top those trends off, monetization is a huge part of the game industry now. Monetize this and free to play that is the entire entertainment software buzzword. After seeing these trends we started to talk about the rise of the MOBA.
“League of Legends is the World of Warcraft of MOBAs, and how do you compete with that?” Gordon mentioned. Both designers agreed that MOBAs are a genre unto themselves. They were born out of the MMO and RTS worlds to form a new hybrid game that was developed and conquered its own market the world over. It has impacted the online game market in a big way. Todd said that the session gameplay in MOBAs does generate a great feeling among players. There is competition and the adrenaline rush is awesome. However, as a gamer who wants more, there is no longevity in that style of game, no real long term investment in a character or world. Gordon said, “There are great lessons to be learned from League of Legends. The game is its own thing, its own specific genre. We want to go where there are less rules, less even-keeled team-based play.”
This led us to the topic of sandbox MMOs, where both of them have plenty of experience. Sandboxes have made somewhat of a comeback with DayZ, RUST, Life is Feudal, and several others on the market now. Todd enjoyed playing DayZ a lot and how it seems difficult compared to current online games. Still, DayZ was not as painful as older MMOs when you lost experience as well as your gear. Todd mentioned, “There are basically two camps now. In one online game everyone gets a trophy for playing in the theme park. In the sandbox you get to do whatever you want, but there is no real purpose behind it. We want to take things in a new direction.” Gordon agreed, “Our game is definitely a labor of love, one that we want to make and play. In a lot of ways, it’s both sandbox and theme park, but also neither.”
The other topic that always goes with these early project announcements is funding. It seems like every new project has some sort of crowdfunding behind it. Todd and Gordon explained that they both are heavily invested in the game and project itself. They also have support from friends, family, and strategic industry people. The project has been under construction for almost an entire year. This is just the first time they are announcing it officially. With years of experience behind them it is safe to say that Gordon and Todd know how to get a game to launch. There are a lot of options out there and while Kickstarter seems to always rear its head, it is not the only option. Gordon said, “There are plenty of ways to get a game made.”
In building the project we asked if they considered themselves indie developers. Gordon laughed and said, “Well that wouldn't be fair to real independent developers, considering Todd's and my own background.” Todd said that they have a small team right now working in Austin but the group is growing. The timing was right for the project and over the next year they will release more and more information. For now, enjoy the Heraldry on the site, you can see the picture above. They will open up to the community as it grows, with forums and a social site opening soon. Todd said their approach to building a community base reminded him of Shadowbane, when they had to build that community one player at a time. He had a funny quote to describe the players that will enjoy this new project, “Eagles don’t flock.” Todd said, “I enjoy coming to work everyday, to an environment where we are not gearing up to build the next big blockbuster with every feature and every item on a checklist.”
To finalize their thoughts, Gordon began with, “We all have grown up with this medium, with this audience. As players we want something different than what is out there right now. You can see it on the forums at MMORPG.com, and in the many smaller MMO projects being made. As designers and players we all make mistakes. We have done great things, but we’ve also made mistakes. It is all about the experience. No one is perfect, you learn from every game and the audience learns with you. The games you make become better each time.” Todd ended with, “We want to choose our customers in a better way. We want players who want that depth of immersion and fun.”
If you are a fan of old school MMOs, if you have been on this website since the beginning, then we hope you understand how exciting this project is going to be to watch. Think of Todd Coleman and Gordon Walton as two of us who came up through MMOs from their earliest years. These are the guys who made Ultima Online and Shadowbane. No matter how successful Wizard101 and Star Wars MMOs have been, these guys are going back to their roots in a big way. Be sure to sign up for beta and join their community here. Play2Crush.com, along with its heraldry image of many different coats of arms, makes me think that whatever game we’re about to see from these guys, it’ll pit many of us against each other in some way, but it also means we’re liable to band together and form families or factions a la Game of Thrones. Judging by the countdown timer on the site, we’ll know what it’s all about in just a little over two months.