MMORPG: Tell us how 2011 was for Conan? What changes are you happy with?
CRAIG MORRISON: I am very proud of what the team accomplished in 2011. It was an amazingly busy year for the game. Between the business model conversion with the new Unchained version, the Savage Coast of Turan adventure pack, and the fantastic content updates we managed with the Refuge of the Apostate, the Pai Kang Districts, and the new scaling daily instances in The Forgotten City and The Breach, we really added a massive amount of new content in 2011. The team worked amazingly hard to achieve all of that, it really was a good year for the game.
MMORPG: What are the plans for 2012 with Conan?
CRAIG MORRISON: With so much content under our belt now, we very much want to go back and focus a little more on systems and system centric content updates. First and foremost is a huge re-vamp of the trade-skill implementation in the game. The original trade-skill system was limited, as Age of Conan was intended as a pure combat driven game, and we were stuck a little with that legacy. As the game matures though we strongly feel that we want to add more options into the game, and have wanted to make changes there for some time. Now we have that opportunity. We want to move the crafting system more towards some of our own favorite crafting systems down the years. Something like the depth you used to see in the previous generations of MMOs.
We also want to go through each of the archetypes a little more than we did in 2011, and give some good solid updates there for things like class balance and progression.
The start of the year will see some the next set of content releases in House of Crom (ED: Released as of publication) and the end of the Tier Four raids, then we will hopefully be able to focus on those more system centric updates through the middle of the year and into the fall.
MMORPG: For the players and the end game how do you keep them engaged? What are the areas they frequent most: PvP, or Raids?
CRAIG MORRISON: For most players it is usually a combination between the end game instances, both daily solo and team, the lower tier raids (which are done a lot as they can be done by mixed 'pick-up' raids as well) and the PVP mini-games. Given we have the max level instances for both solo and team play that still offer rewards for max level players, and have the faction rewards in Khitai, the end-game isn't just about raiding or PVP for most players.
MMORPG: You’ve talked a lot about open world PvP, what areas do you thing work the best?
CRAIG MORRISON: That isn't something we really focused on in 2011 outside of launching the hardcore PVP ruleset on the Blood and Glory servers. It always generates a lot of discussion as it's an emotive subject, with lots of different opinions, and an interesting one with lots of inherent challenges...
MMORPG: What areas can you improve?
CRAIG MORRISON: The challenge with open world PVP content is always finding incentives for people to participate without it ending up that they just game the system to gain maximum reward, take away reward and players don't actually seem to PVP simple for the enjoyment of it, so it is a real 'catch 22' type of situation, and I don't think any MMO has done it perfectly yet. EVE gets pretty close, but they are set up for it from the ground-up and don't have content in the same way a quest based, progression RPG does.
So there is definitely room for finding good solutions there. I do however think it is worth continuing to try, if no-one tries then the genre would just end up devolving into having mini-games as being the only guaranteed form of PVP in an MMO, and I think that would be a shame.
There are also merits to open world PVP, if you can find a way to navigate the pitfalls of how to balance rewards versus the players willingness to game the system rather than earn it in open PVP. That's not a knock against the players either, it's an inherent motivation in any game with a stat based, progression based, RPG system. It just means it is one of the most challenging areas to try and produce new features or content for in an MMO.
MMORPG: Is there a message to players you want to convey for 2012?
CRAIG MORRISON: Just that we will be continuing to add great new features and content, and the trade-skill update in particular has us very excited. MMOs are great because they can be continually developed, and that means we get to layer more and more depth into the experience with new features as well as new content. That's something we are looking forward to doing with Age of Conan over the coming months and years.