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Saga of Lucimia Interview on Sandboxes, Monetization & Group Content

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Our good friends at MMOZG.net recently conducted a lengthy interview with Saga of Lucimia's Tim "Renfail" Anderson that covered a wide variety of topics including SoL's sandbox setting, group and solo game play, monetization and much more.

MMOZG.net (Rigeborod):  Speaking of MMOs, you've said LoTRO is your choice. But it's a theme park. That makes me wonder why Saga of Lucimia is going to be a sandbox.

Tim Anderson: The biggest difference between a theme park and a sandbox is no on-the-rails content. So, while, for example, Lord of the Rings Online has quest hubs (like WoW, SWTOR, so many other MMOs on the market today) where you go from quest hub to quest hub simply following a linear path, there is no path in our game.

In our world, quests don't give experience points, and they are 100% optional. So, when you log into the game, you have the choice of doing anything YOU want as a player.

There are quests, yes. For example, the Volume I content (which follows the novel), is similar in how the Book quests in LOTRO function, or the storyline quests in FFXIV. If you want to do those quests, you can follow along with the main storyline, but you don't have to do those quests if you don't want to.

There are city quests, zone quests, and dungeon quests, all of which operate on a "theme park" system in that they take you from point A to point B and then to C and beyond, but since our game is not reliant on experience points, players do the quests for lore/faction/fun/coin/unlocking new content/etc. as opposed to "because it's the only way to level my character".

Many games launch a new expansion and claim something like "over 5000 new quests for players!"

We currently plan to launch with less than 80 quests, and all of those are what we call "epic" quests, akin to the Coldain Ring and Shawl quests in EQ1, or the epic weapon quests in EQ1/EQ2, or the Book quests in LOTRO.

There are ZERO quest hubs, ZERO milk run/fetch quests in our game. And you don't get experience points from doing them, so for us, quests are lore-driven, a way to focus players into the world, not simply level them up.

MMOZG.net (Rigeborod):   Ok, that is really different from LoTRO. We will discuss it a little bit later... Because there's one thing I still don't understand. Why did you choose to make a sandbox, not a theme park? Epic stories were usually the theme parks' main thing. And sandbox games are usually focused on mechanics, not the plot.

Tim Anderson: Sandbox = virtual world. We are building a world, not merely a video game. Mechanics are a major part of what we are building, but this was first and foremost a tabletop game world, that has evolved since then.

Theme parks are great if you only care about people playing a video game. Virtual worlds are far more important if you are planning on building a living, breathing place where players want to live and breathe, not just play.

We are less of an MMORPG, even, and far more a tabletop game with a digital skin.

It's just that the best genre for us to fit in with is MMORPG because we are essentially building a massive tabletop world where players can come and play together around the "coffee table" that is the Internet.

MMOZG.net (Rigeborod):   Ok, you're creating a virtual world. That means there are two kind of stories there. Ones you tell as a writer - that epic stories we were talking about. The others made by players (and I'm not talking about roleplay) - stories of friendship, of betrayal, of success and failure, of hope and frustration. Which kind is more important and how can they coexist in the same world?

Tim Anderson: Emergent-gameplay (players creating their own adventures, the world evolving without direct help from us, the developers) can only happen through community-based interaction, where the players are dictating how the world evolves and changes.

So, from a player perspective, content created by the players (create your own adventure based on the desires of your friends/group/guild) is extremely important.

However, equally important is to have a realistic backdrop that players can live and breathe in. The world cannot exist if there is no lore, no politics, no racial tensions, religions, conflict, to back it up.

We are creating that space for the players to live and breathe in, but HOW they choose to live within that world is up to them.

MMOZG.net (Rigeborod):   But there's politics made by players in some sandbox games. Player alliances use diplomacy and guns to make their point. Eve online is one example... Or you're talking about different kind of politics?

Tim Anderson: You are talking PvP; we are entirely a PvE game. So, everything is within the boundaries of what we define our sandbox as. Which is entirely a player-versus-environment game. Just like tabletop gaming, when you get together with your friends to play, you are there to have fun together, not try to gank and kill each other, so PvP is an entirely different type of environment.

MMOZG.net (Rigeborod):   As you have said earlier, “we are less of an MMORPG, even, and far more a tabletop game with a digital skin.” What is the main difference?

Tim Anderson: Most MMORPGs are focused on quest content and getting players to the end-game (raiding).

We are far more focused on the world and the cooperative, team-based gameplay of the tabletop setting: sitting around with 5-8 or 12 or 24 of your friends and gaming together in a group-based, community-based setting.

MMOZG.net (Rigeborod):   So, no room for solo players in your game?

Tim Anderson: There are TONS of things that solo players can do when they have 15-30 minutes of time to play. You can craft, roleplay, hunt lore, harvest in the direct vicinity of an outpost/city. But you don't play D&D by yourself, you play with 3-4, or 6-8 of your friends. The vast majority of our gameplay is geared towards group-based content. If you decide to leave the safety of a city, it's a dangerous world out there.

YES, there are things to do for solo players, but probably 85% of our game is designed for group players. Think early EverQuest; you could do small things on your own but almost ALL Of that game was group-based.

MMOZG.net (Rigeborod):   Is there's a way to implement reputation as a mechanics (and not just as moderator forcing players to behave)?

Tim Anderson: We're looking into it. *smiling* We'd love to do something where we tie it to the real-life identity of the player, so there is no chance of anonymity. But we have no solution as yet. Not without heavily relying on moderation. Which we will be doing. Player toxicity is something we are 100% against, and we have a 3-strike play-nice-policy in place, as well as a naming policy.

MMOZG.net (Rigeborod):   Roger that. I would like to dig into group mechanics more. Basically speaking, there's almost only one PvE gameplay for groups in MMOs: kill monsters together. Do you think that's enough?

Tim Anderson: We have so much more planned than just "kill things together". There's group-based crafting, group-based diplomacy, but these are things we cannot talk about in great detail just yet. Let's just say that one crafter working by himself cannot build a boat.

MMOZG.net (Rigeborod):   Completely different question: bots, cheaters, RMT - these three accompany any service nowadays. What are you going to do (and already doing) to win this fight?

Tim Anderson: We're designing our game in such a way that bots shouldn't really be an issue. Combat is going to be complex enough that it will require hands-on playing. Cheaters, we'll cross bridges as we come to them.

RMT = we don't have a plan for a cash shop or any microtransactions, so we're pretty much against any sort of money-for-items-inside-the-game. So, in all cases, ban stick as often and as hard as we can swing it.

MMOZG.net (Rigeborod):   The last major topic I would like to discuss with you is monetizing MMO games. Explain your decision on the model.

Tim Anderson: Easy. We, like the vast majority of gamers, hate microtransactions and companies nickel-and-diming us. We want 100% of the game content included for a per-month subscription.

So, we designed our game with that model in mind. We're doing it like it used to be. Box price + monthly sub = 100% of the game content. Although technically we don't have a box since it's 100% digital download =P

MMOZG.net (Rigeborod):   I have never understood, what is the box price for a subscription based MMO. I get nada as there's no game available without subscription.

Tim Anderson: Traditionally, when you purchase the game, you get 30 days free included, so for 40/50/60/whatever, you get the base game + 30 days. After that, it's 15/whatever per month.

The box price is used to cover development costs; the monthly subscription covers ongoing game hosting/live GMs/customer support/all of the ongoing operations of an MMORPG. So, we spend 6/8/10 years developing, against the total box sales… that covers development.

THEN monthly subscriptions cover the costs of salaries related to ongoing management of a live MMORPG. Like servers, customer support, live engineers, etc. With box sales of the expansion covering development of that expansion. Basically. There's more complexities to it.

MMOZG.net (Rigeborod):   So, I still pay 40 - 15 = 25 for nada. Right? I understand the point about covering costs, I do, but still from the player's perspective I just give away 25$.

Tim Anderson: That's a skewed perspective. See my above answer lol (game economics are a separate subject). You pay 40 dollars to buy the base game. You pay 15 a month for ongoing services related to running a live game.

MMOZG.net (Rigeborod):   Ok, let it be that way. Will you provide any kind of trial account?

Tim Anderson: Yes, see above. "Traditionally, when you purchase the game, you get 30 days free included" We'll either do 30 days included, or some sort of basic free trial before you buy.

MMOZG.net (Rigeborod):   No, I mean a trial, to try the game before purchase.

Tim Anderson: Unlikely, but possibly We are 90% against allowing players to try it for free. We have no problem giving a 30-day free trial after purchase, but we are not a free to play title. We are a premium game. You don't get to play Red Dead Redemption for free, you pony up and pay (though you might get access to demos if you have PlayStation Plus or etc.).

If we were a free to play title with a cash shop, sure, but we are not. We expect to be paid for our time and our business model is based on that. I don't make hamburgers for the general public to eat for free, but people can buy them if they want one from my restaurant. If a restaurant offered all of their food for free, they would never make any money and would thus go out of business.

So yeah… It's not set in stone. We will most likely include 30 days with the purchase of the game before you pay your monthly subscription. But we MIGHT also give players a very limited trial. Remains to be seen.

You can visit MMOZG.net to view the original article and can use Google Translate for the extra content.

Thanks to our pal Alex for providing the interview!


Guest Writer