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Catching Up with Dave Georgeson

William Murphy Posted:
Interviews 0

It’s been some time since before we had Dave Georgeson writing here on MMORPG.com. Turns out, he’s been a bit busy, with any number of things! We caught up with the former leader of the EverQuest franchise to chat about his own gaming habits, current projects, EverQuest Next, and his time at SOE.

MMORPG: It's been a while since we ran your series of articles on MMORPG. What've you been up to since parting ways with SOE/Daybreak?

Dave Georgeson: I went through three distinct stages after going my separate way. The first stage was Sloth. For a couple months, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to do nothing at all. And it was wonderful. But eventually it got boring, so that led me to stage two: Hedonism. I unlocked the vault and spent money to go places and do things I'd always wanted to do. I adventured all over Iceland, did Vegas in a true Ratpack-style, journeyed all over Oregon to look up good friends from high school, college, and my life before gaming, bopped over to London for a bit, jumped out of an airplane, drove dune buggies, did stunts in a biplane and more.

Then my third stage set in: Frenetic activity. You see, while stages 1 & 2 were happening, I was also doing phone meetings, creating demos, and talking to folks about funding for one of two great new career adventures. That process has been really, really long. But it's still moving along and if either of the two opportunities I'm chasing right now pan out, I'll be one seriously happy Georgeson. I can't say much about either opportunity (NDAs and business-sense prevent that) but one is a great gaming opportunity and the other is deeply involved in virtual reality and augmented reality. Feel free to ask me questions, but I'll have to speak in non-specific terms only. You understand.

MMORPG: Have you been playing any games? Time to name names!

Dave: Because I've been so embroiled in MMOs, my first weeks spent gaming during my hiatus were all about jumping into other gaming genres to see what had changed and what was cool out there. My quick summary finding: Not much has changed. It's basically the same titles and the same game experiences repackaged out there. I did find a few games that I thought were fun or outside the fold, and one that was so outstanding that I took the time to finish it completely. Here's a partial list:

  • Elite Dangerous: I bought this because of the VR (Oculus Rift) support, and was immediately immersed. VR Goggles were built to do stuff like flight sim cockpits and this is the best example out there right now. Couple that with a good HOTAS set-up and the sense of being in the cockpit is exemplary. Unfortunately, the Elite folks haven't kept the Rift support up-to-date, so I can't play again until their update in November (after using VR, I absolutely refuse to play it on a 2D monitor...it feels crippled) so I'm waiting impatiently for that to happen. :)
  • Alien Isolation: The reviews were rave, and they had a hack for the Rift, so I tried it. It's well-crafted, but it just didn't catch me despite the cool factor of playing as Ripley's descendent. I've played this genre of game a *lot* and this didn't grab me as having a new angle, despite the quality IP work. I might get back to it someday if a friend tells me it's a must-play, but it just didn't click for me initially, so I wandered.
  • Magic 2014 and Hearthstone: I've never been a big card gamer, so I forced myself to plunge in and learn the ropes. It was fun, but after a while, I wanted more depth and wandered away.
  • Evoland 2 : This is the one I finished. I immediately fell in love with the time travel story where you actually changed game mechanics and game engine styles depending on whether you are in the past, present or future. The story was good enough to follow and the walk through memory lane with all those old game mechanics from classic games was wonderful. Every time the game mode switched, it was like putting a quarter in a different machine. This game remembered how to just kick back and have fun and was extremely refreshing. I started it a second time, but like most RPGs...nah. That doesn't happen. :)
  • X-Com, Enemy Unknown: I play this game a lot. It's a fall-back for me. It's starting to wear thin for me, but I've played it many, many times. I'm looking forward to the new one. (I also have the new Fallout on pre-order.)

I also dabbled with Blood Bowl 2, and a few others, but mostly, that was the list. I've also viewed or experienced just about every VR experience in the Oculus Share library, and visited every place I can find that has a VR lab. 

MMORPG: Do you miss Daybreak? The EQ franchise? You were such a big part of it for years.

Dave: Do I miss SOE? Yes, I miss the teams. Those people are talented and fun. I genuinely miss talking to them. Yes, I miss the projects. Guiding EQ and EQII, helping them grow, and breaking entirely new ground with Landmark and EQN was thrilling. But no...I don't think I miss working at SOE. I worked for SOE twice, once with Planetside in 2001-2004, and then again for the EQ franchise from 2010-2015. Both times I departed due to cuts despite quality work and successful products. No harm, no foul. They paid me well, I loved my projects and teams, and there are no hard feelings, but the world is large and exciting. It's time to move on.

MMORPG: If you can't say much I understand, but how far along was EQ Next when you left it, and do you talk with Terry and team at all about progress and where it's going?

Dave: Thar be minefields. Let me answer this carefully. I talk to lots of the dev team folks on a personal level, but we don't usually discuss Landmark or EQN. So I know there have been scope and direction changes, and there were obviously team size changes at the same time that I left. Consequently, that means I don't really know much more than you do about what's going on there now, what the flavor of the game will be when completed, or when it will be done.

We're all in the same boat on that subject! EQN and Landmark were in great shape when I left, and were moving along well. I loved where we were going and was tremendously excited about bringing new game experiences to the MMO gaming space. I'm certain that the current dev team wants to fulfill that same goal, but their tactics are bound to be different now.

MMORPG: VR is probably one of the biggest potential game changers in... well, everything. Not just gaming. Would your VR project be about gaming specifically?

Dave: You've probably heard a lot of discussion about how VR and gaming are a bit of a mis-matched pair right now. The visuals you get often collide with the input that your other senses are providing and thus, people get nauseous, or the environment just doesn't feel right. That's one issue facing VR, but it's also true that VR as a concept is a bit like iPhones were as a concept. People really *do* want this new tech, but they have no idea *why* they want it until they experience it personally and no one wants to take a $350 risk to try it and see. So in order for a VR enterprise to succeed, it has to frontally attack both of these issues.

I can't really get into the specifics of my solutions yet, but suffice it to say that the VR enterprise I'm trying to springboard right now is all about raising awareness for VR so that people strongly desire the peripherals (which then allows more and more people to develop software and experiences for the gear), as well as to immerse them into a non-reality in ways they've never experienced before. It's stupidly fun stuff and I'm extremely excited about it. It also strongly relies on all the tricks, illusions and strategies that I've been developing after a quarter-century of building games and virtual worlds. You'll see. But right now...at this moment...the projects I'm pursuing for VR are not game-specific. But you would be excited by the long-range pitch and strategy docs I've been demoing behind closed doors. It's truly exciting stuff.

MMORPG: On the topic of VR, do you think the buy-in prices we're seeing ($350 for Oculus, $300 for Sony VR, etc) are too high, or just about right? How many folks do you really think will jump in when VR goes retail next year? Or do you think it's something that will get a lot of buzz, but take a while to see high adoption rates?

Dave: The buy-in prices for VR gear are high right now, but that will change. I think it will go down in much the same way that graphics cards were very expensive when they came into being (back in the Voodoo and TNT days). As demand goes up, production volume will increase and costs will come down. Plus there are other (somewhat lesser) options like the phone holders and/or cardboard for the super-price conscious. But VR will not be a fad. It's very much a thing where once you experience it, you do NOT want to go back to a 2D monitor. I know that people think VR could go the way of 3D glasses. They are wrong. VR (and AR) is incredible, powerful stuff. It does not feel optional after you experience it. Everyone will want it. 

If my funding comes through, my initial VR projects are all designed to increase market demand for the goggles. Once more people get them, well...we all win, and then we devs can start building truly phenomenal experiences. I wish I could show you my pitch documents with our projected five-year growth path of VR projects. It's strong, exciting stuff. Someday soon, you'll be remembering 2015 gaming experiences like we currently remember 8-bit video games. 2D monitors will just seem...primitive.

MMORPG: Do you and Smed still talk? Any chance at a reunion there, now that he's starting his own thing?

Dave: John and I haven't spoken since I left SOE. There's no ill-will there. I loved working at SOE. The teams, the projects, and the opportunities were amazing. I wish John the absolute best and expect that whatever he does next will be successful. But our passions lie in separate areas and it seems unlikely we'll pair up in the future again. But who knows? The world is tiny sometimes. Things change. 

MMORPG: How do you feel about MMOs these days? Being so close to them for so long, where do you think the genre's stuck or headed right now?

Dave: It's pretty obvious that the MMO audience size is not currently growing. It's shrinking. Why? Well...in my opinion, it's because most of our MMOs haven't done much to make themselves unique. We use the same game mechanics (leveling, combat, etc.) and then create some loose fiction and differentiating graphics and pretend to ourselves that we're making a completely new, unique gaming world. But the truth is that usually...we're not. The game feels "stale" after playing it for a few weeks because the experiences just aren't unique.

If we want the MMO audience to grow, we have to make the games highly rewarding at a session-length basis, as well as provide long-term goals that require human interaction. But also we need to find new ways to tell stories and involve the gamers in the play of the unique world we're creating. When have you ever felt that your character did anything to affect the virtual world you're playing within? The answer? Probably never. There are a few rare examples. Eve Online does it. The RvR aspects of Dark Ages of Camelot did it. But the examples in our genre are few and far between. We can, and should, do more if we want MMOs to grow and thrive. We must let the worlds change.

The lure of a virtual world is still strong for gamers. But to put it succinctly, an MMO should not just be a single-player experience that has other people playing parallel alongside you. At the risk of over-generalization, I think most people will agree that's what most MMOs feel like currently. And it's not enough. 

I certainly have ideas on what can be done on this front, but since one of my possible new endeavors is an extremely exciting MMO, I think I'll reserve those details for now.


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.