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Ethan Casner Discusses Crowdfunding & The Project's Future

Michael Bitton Posted:
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We recently caught up with Divergence Online's Ethan Casner to get an update on the game's somewhat rocky development and find out where things go from here. In the very near future, Ethan will be participating in a forum AMA here at MMORPG.com to address numerous player concerns over the project and its crowfunding past.

MMORPG: Can you give those who might not be familiar with the game a sort of high level overview of what Divergence Online is all about?

Ethan Casner: Sure! Divergence is first and foremost, a return to what some call “the golden age of mmorpgs”; A period of innovation between around 1997 to 2004 where where the standard for MMORPGs was to be bigger and better than the last game. Characteristic to these games also was that they connected thousands of players in the same game world simultaneously, whereas the modern “MMORPG” is a series of hundreds of game servers, each supporting up to around 60 players. I’m sorry, that isn’t an MMO, that’s Battlefield 1942. Crafting, today, means “I have five metal bars. I create the exact same sword everyone else does”. Harvesting –“I right clicked an ore node. I got ore.” It’s “the new formula for MMOs” meant to artificially inflate your gaming experience with pointless busy-body work, obligating you to unimaginative and boring tasks simply by virtue of the fact that “they exist, therefore you have to do them.” It’s lazy, it’s meaningless, and it has absolutely no heart.

Divergence seeks to burn all that to the ground and remind you what it was like to do things in an MMO because you actually enjoyed them; Not a bunch of intermediary garbage simply because “if I do all this stuff, if I follow this maze, there may potentially be a small nugget of joy at the end of it”. In Divergence, there is no pre-determined path, nor is there an obligatory “end game” that you end up just rushing through the rest of the game to get to, so your actual experience can begin. Do whatever you want, and get good at it. Plain and simple!

MMORPG: In what ways does Divergence Online go beyond the scope of what was available in SWG?

Ethan: I think there are two main ways it accomplishes this; The things that we’ve already done, and the new stuff we’re doing.

Galaxies set the standard, at the time, for a lot of revolutionary new features, such as true player housing, true player cities, and a completely open and fluid skill system.

Our goal was to “pick up where this stuff left off” all those years ago and build upwards from there.

We started with player housing in the open world, which means that you can place a house or structure virtually anywhere you can find flat-enough ground; not just on pre-designated spots or regions.

We then expanded this system to, instead of simply utilizing houses of pre-determined shape and volume, to be constructed in the method of our “Hopper” system. What this involves is crafting or buying a hopper, placing it in the game world, and then you can simply build walls, floors, anything you like around it to design it yourself. You can build tombs to store and protect your caches of materials and resources, armories for your weapons, enormous ballrooms, pretty much anything your mind can envision for your homestead. In fact, you can even pack these hoppers back up and move them anywhere you wish, or just sell it in its entirety to another player.  And then of course, there’s Ferrocrete.

Another distinguishing way we’ve improved on the old systems is that, you can now create and manage an integrated power-distribution grid in any local area between any and all of your power-requiring devices and structures. What this basically equates to is, instead of simply having to “feed things batteries” to keep them going in SWG, you have the option to use a grid to connect all of your stuff to electrical power, such as fusion generators, or other power sources. This can be for personal use, or even on much larger scales, such as controlling your cities street lights, cloning resources, automated defenses, and so on.

MMORPG: What is Ferrocrete?

Ethan: Ferrocrete is essentially our micro-cube-based voxel system. In the lore, it's a material used in construction that contains the properties of both concrete and ferrous metal. In the game, it's one of, if not the, most highly optimized and efficient voxel systems that exist, running at 400% higher resolution than our prototype last year. While still only about 85% finished, it's live right now to all contributors above the $100 range to test and help us improve. In Divergence, the size of which you can build huts, homes, warehouses, castles, or even entire cities complete with skyscrapers is limited only by the range of the hopper(s) you use, and that's determined by the skill of the architect who crafted it.

MMORPG: What are your plans for the game's business model at launch? F2P? Subscription? Etc.

Ethan: I get asked this a lot actually. What we’ve been telling people is that, although we haven’t totally ruled out some method of F2P, the game will come with a one-time price tag of around $30, and anyone who contributed at or above that level in our previous campaigns gets in for free. Above that, you have a few other special options you can buy-in at if you like, such as special species. There is also a subscription option, which unlocks other high-profile features, most notably the use of “Ferrocrete”, our voxel building system, in addition to all other methods of construction. The subscription option helps offset the cost of this technology.

MMORPG: Can you give us an update on what has been going on in development since your last crowdfunding campaign was completed?

Ethan: The version of the game in our last campaign and the game of today are virtually indistinguishable from one another. At the end of the last campaign, we had a totally sweet prototype game that people were flying around and creating amazing stuff in every day, but we knew that we needed to take it to the next level and evolve a system of building a game world out of props, into a fully-realized system where all of that stuff actually had substance. The result is our current build of Divergence.

The game right now, has immense potential. We spent everything we got from our last campaign on building the absolute best and most expandable structure for an MMO that we could envision. Right now, you can do things in Divergence that many MMOs, even multi-million dollar projects, are still struggling with and have been for years, primarily because Divergence’s fundamental structure was designed from the ground up to do exactly what we want it to, whereas many MMO projects spend years trying to shoehorn their chosen engine and software into doing things it simply wasn’t designed for, or is otherwise incapable of.

We chose to devote entirely to our crafting, surveying, harvesting, grid, and all of those nifty features, because we realized that there are thousands of other games out there with i-n-s-a-n-e-l-y good combat already, and we had virtually no chance at standing out among them and their budgets. Therefore, we chose to take what we had and devote it entirely to things that did stand out, that no one else was accomplishing, which are the systems you see today.


MMORPG: You recently kicked off another crowdfunding campaign for $15,000 in funding. What's the goal of this particular campaign? What does it mean for the project if you are unable to meet your funding goal?

Ethan: Divergence, right now, is a crazy awesome crafting and city building/management experience with massive potential. But it isn’t what we would consider a “complete game experience”. Without the threat of violence, you have a cool town and tons of resources in a warehouse... So what? There’s no risk and thus there’s no drama. We’ve spent a lot of time whiteboarding a truly solid and fun combat system to mate to our existing game, but the plain truth is that we’re just a two-person operation, and we need help.

And it’s not just combat we want. We need more clothing, hair, markings options. New mounts and vehicles. We want the game to be fat and healthy of content before it hits steam, instead of just being another half-finished, barely playable joke, tossed up for early access to make a few bucks.

As far as it’s financial goal is concerned, I’m confident it’ll meet it, but even if it didn’t, it’s not like we have a choice; This game must be completed, and it must see a true launch, so we’ll find a way to make the money work, just like always. It’s just that, even when you’re running at absolute maximum efficiency like we are now, two people cannot have more than 24-hour days. To get this done in the near future, as opposed to the far, requires us to make new hires and expand the size and power of our development machine. Whereas, having less money to work with extends the development cycle.

MMORPG: Divergence Online has been in development for a long time now. Assuming you meet your current crowdfunding goals, how far away would you say you are from a fully launched product?

Ethan: We’ve been made aware that, due to the drop in requirements, we’re within the guidelines for a launch right now, and could do so at will. But that’s sorta the problem isn’t it. Standards have fallen ridiculously low. If we just launch it as “crafting simulator 2015”, that’s exactly what people who play it are going to say, right before they forget about it and move on. Therefore, we’re sticking to the plan to keep the game in an open alpha/beta state for all contributors until certain criteria we’ve set are accomplished, a lot of which I actually outline in our 2015 indiegogo vid. It could be two months, it could be six, it depends entirely on how well this campaign goes for us.

Stay tuned to MMORPG.com for the forthcoming AMA with Ethan Casner.


Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB