Ever, Jane: Bringing Women's Fantasies to Video Games
MMORPG.com: Please tell us a little about yourself and your game development credentials.
Judy Tyrer: My last position was Senior Engineering Manager at Linden Lab working on Second Life where my team managed 650K simulations running on 10K servers across 3 geographic locations releasing new server code weekly. Judy has experience in running servers at scale. Prior to that I worked at Sony Online Entertainment as Lead Engineer for the Magic: The Gathering: Tactics as well as 6 other mini-games that were part of SOE’s line of MMOs. And before that I worked at Ubisoft as a Network engineer, rebuilding the networking library for the Tom Clancy series to enable server migration.
My first job in the game industry was as a serious games designer working on PLATO, back in 1977. Unfortunately, PLATO was technology ahead of its time. Between its demise and starting with Ubisoft, I worked in distributed UNIX and enterprise software. My paper, "Adding Tightly Consistent Replication to OSF's DFS" was published by Uniforum in the late 1980s when I was a member of the File System Consortium of the Open Software Foundation.
MMORPG.com: Please tell us more about Ever Jane. Why Jane Austen? Where did the idea for developing a social MMO come from? Why an MMO over a single player experience?
Judy Tyrer: I was actually working on an MMO at the concept level and struggling to make the game play I wanted to work when the artist had a horrific accident and lost the use of his hand. A huge fan of Jane Austen, I turned to Sense and Sensibility as a comfort read as I was trying to figure out what to do next. And it hit me like a ton of bricks. THIS, do THIS next. And thus Ever, Jane was born.
MMO is my favorite genre, perhaps it fills in my desire for a robot playmate when I was the youngest child in my family wanting to play games when all the older children were teens and uninterested. For whatever reason, I’ve always loved logging in and having my friends on-line as well. The social aspect is such a strong pull for me.
I don’t think I could make a Jane Austen single player game that would be any fun without having the ability to build incredibly rich AI with a deep behavioral tree and natural language generation abilities. If you have been keeping up with the progress on both these fronts you will know that the technology is far from ready for prime time.
MMORPG.com: Tell us a little about the backstory of Ever Jane.
Judy Tyrer: The world starts in 1790 and we will play it through 1830 covering the life of Jane Austen as well as Regency Period England. The player starts as a student in either Mrs. Hatch’s school for girls or Mr. Button’s school for boys. This is our “newbie zone” and players learn the rules of the game and the rules of the historical times as they prepare to “come out” into society.
Once the player completes their coming out they will move to their home village. During this newbie period players will select which family they want to join and/or families will recruit players for their family. When the player complete their coming out period they return home to their family’s village. But they will have ample friends with whom they may choose to visit, travelling from village to village as the game progresses much as the people of the time did.
MMORPG.com: Give us a thumbnail sketch of the game play elements that are both familiar to MMO players and unique to Ever Jane specifically? Would you characterize Ever Jane as a ‘diplomacy’ game?
Judy Tyrer: We follow traditional MMORPG with the use of stats, only instead of them being physical stats such as strength, dexterity, or wisdom they are personality traits. Instead of killing and looting rats (or goblin or dragons) we invite people and are invited in return modifying our personality traits not through grinding but with strategic thinking, choosing whom to invite based on the trait you wish to raise and guessing how they’ll respond to ensure you raise that trait instead of lowering by badly guessing.
For PVP we have gossip allowing you to embellish an event that occurred to make a player look better if they are your ally or worse if they are your enemy. You can even downright lie, but that is tricky because if you are caught in the lie, the penalty will come back at you two-fold.
We have crafting in the form of mini-games for sewing, embroidery, possibly netting or tatting. We also have the ability to hunt and fish which will feed into the player economy as well. People DO have to eat, especially if throwing a dinner party.
And similar to large MMOs we have large events, only instead of raids they are grand balls. The ball is closest to the MMO progression people are used to as dancing lessons provide our “daily grind”, though hopefully more fun than a grind, and the ball is the opportunity for people to coordinate their actions as they participate in the dances of the time.
We also have quests which encourage people to play and give players guidance that will help with their stories. We hope to curate the quests to the specific stories of players in the world such that we might have two young women both of whom are tasked with getting a certain young man to ask them for the first dance at a ball.
MMORPG.com: There is a prototype available for players to try out. What will they experience playing it? Are there any caveats to what they see there that you’d like to outline?
Judy Tyrer: The prototype was developed to show that we can mount a server, record all the events in the game for gossip, and to show off the invitation system. We added a couple of small minor quests so people would have something to do but the truth is, once you are through the tutorial there is precious little in the world to do. And yet, surprisingly, people are in the world almost all the time. I try to keep one of my monitors in the world during the day and there have been times I’ve wanted to put a new server up and had to wait hours for people to leave the world so I could bring the servers down. The amount of role play I am seeing with the paucity of experiences in the prototype world is amazing. People are really enjoying themselves and wishing there were more.
We are trying to add more to the world daily, though the amount of PR we need to put in takes precedent and so the quests aren’t going in as fast as people would willingly devour them. But we keep working on it.
MMORPG.com: How do you respond to skeptics who say that the MMO genre “doesn’t need this type of game”?
Judy Tyrer: We were prepared for a huge backlash of just that nature and were delightfully surprised by our reception. Most people haven’t said that. Rather they have said, “Not my kind of game, but I can see a need for it. My wife will definitely play.”
Those skeptics who continue to think this is unnecessary are the same skeptics who would be happy playing the 23rd release of Call of Duty. The game industry is filling their desires. But most people realize that they aren’t the sole arbiter of taste and others have very different tastes from them and those people are seeing there is a market for this game.
MMORPG.com: Is Ever Jane targeting any specific audience?
Judy Tyrer: 3 Turn Productions has as its goal bringing women’s fantasies to video games. We are targeting the well-educated woman of above average intelligence. And while the woman’s market is by no means monolithic, Mr. Darcy is a fairly common fantasy across the board, especially when played by Collin Firth in a wet shirt.
I want to bring video games to a market that is non-existent primarily because it is not being served. Once we start serving this market, I believe it will be huge. Look at the romantic novel market. Look at the romantic comedy film market. These are viable markets and the people in them don’t game because there are no games pitched directly for them.
Someone is going to tap into this market. Why not me?
MMORPG.com: Some have expressed concerns over the subscription pricing, seemingly that it gives an advantage to paying players over others. How do you respond to those concerns?
Judy Tyrer: The game industry has recently moved to a free-to-play model that requires designers to create situations that force people into micro-transitions in order to continue playing. I don’t want to do that. And yet I don’t have the financial resources to mount servers and keep them live for people who want to play without paying. I wish I did, but that kind of money is not at my disposal. Therefore I need to make enough money from the game to a) keep the servers alive b) pay my staff c) pay me so I can eat.
My solution was to have a limited 3 mos. period of time so players can see if they like the world and want to play in it and, if so, they can choose to move up into a subscription tier, even a very small on, or to be hired by someone who then incorporates them into their story as a servant and their subscription covers X number of servants.
We allow people to move up a full rank beyond their subscription through game play. So if you are a free to play player, you can move into the merchant ranks through crafting and have a store. If you start off as a merchant and become wealthy enough, you can move into the gentry, etc.
If this were a zero-sum game, it would be called “Pay to win” and I have seen people on the forums referring to this scheme as a pay-to-win subscription model. But I disagree. As it is not a zero-sum game, there really is no “win”. If we do this right, and we hope we do, the game of the servant should be as much fun as the game of head of the family.
We will have micro-transactions, but not in order to allow people to play. They are to allow people who don’t want to make the commitment of a larger subscription to purchase items individually that they would only obtain with a higher subscription otherwise. So, for example, someone might choose the high subscription price to have an estate and the title that comes with it. Or, a family might decide the family needs an estate and everyone in the family pitch in $1.00 to purchase it as a one- time purchase through micro-transactions.
The world needs a hierarchical system and subscription tiers provides that world easily and freely. If it becomes problematic, as some people believe it will be, we can always alter it. But for now I don’t believe it will be the problem others think it will be so we are going to launch this way. If we change later we’ll have to make sure we are equitable toward those first players.
MMORPG.com: Ever Jane is now live on Kickstarter. How goes the fundraising? There was recently a matching donation program. Is it still ongoing?
Judy Tyrer: We are a little past the halfway point and we have reached just a hair over half our funding goal so I’m not disappointed, but it is a lot more work than I had hoped it would be. I spend probably 6 – 8 hours of each day on PR and the rest of the day (I’m a founder, this IS my life) working on the technology. I’d have a lot more quests in if I weren’t a raging PR machine. But fundraising is our first priority this month.
The matching campaign actually came as an idea from a backer and ran for 3 days. It was a lot of fun really pushing for it and we didn’t quite reach the cap of what this backer was willing to match, but we did well with it, earning over $3K.
MMORPG.com: What else would you like to add? This is the place!
Judy Tyrer: I am super excited about the reception we have been given and am really looking forward to building this at product quality level. But the part that excites me most is watching people play the prototype. I can see where things aren’t working the way I wanted them to, where the performance bottlenecks are, and to get feedback from users.
I think the thing we are doing that is most unique and no one is calling out is allowing our players to be in the world as we develop it. Developing it while live is going to be a HUGE win. We can throw fast prototypes up, get the players in, and see what works. I think our product launch is going to be superior from this one fact alone. NOTHING beats watching players play your game. We now have over 1K players we can tap to see how things play and who will help us hone the game to be the most fun it can be.