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AGC Progress Report and Ring Preview

Dana Massey Posted:
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From AGC – An update on Ryzom and a look forward to the Ring

Jessica Mulligan has a reputation for playing the hero. As a member of the Themis Group, she led the charge that helped Funcom reshape and build Anarchy Online into a successful title after a horrendous launch. Then, she went to Turbine to work on Asheron’s Call. Earlier this year, Jessica took on a new challenge: the Saga of Ryzom.

The job – Executive Producer of Ryzom – lets Jessica live in France and work on taking an MMORPG that had not performed to the company’s expectations and rebuild it. She is a consultant on the project, but defines her term there as indefinite.

On October 6th of this year, Ryzom launched Episode Two of their on-going story line.

“It was always the intention to have the players drive a storyline,” says Mulligan of the company’s recent pursuit of story in their game. The difference since she came on board? They’re actually doing it.

This storyline is truly dynamic. Players determine the outcome. I asked Mulligan how much pre-planning they did, and she admitted that while they do have higher goals, the way the players react often destroys their best laid plans. As a result, the company has become very reactive in crafting story for the players that reflects what they do.

Episode Two pits the religious factions of Ryzom against each other in a competition to build temples. This reflects a theological divide within the player-base and was intended to encourage players vs. player combat within the game.

However, the players have the ultimate word. She told of how some players, preferring not to do PvP, had been finding peaceful solutions to the problems. As a result, some story has shifted and been less PvP centric.

One worry with live events is that new players simply will not get it. In Ryzom, Mulligan admits that this is true. However, she does not believe the goal of the live content is to entertain new players. Instead, this is the upper level content.

Another pitfall for live content, especially reactive content, is that when you have more than one server, people will behave differently. Ryzom has three, but the team makes no attempt to keep them on the same track. At a certain level, they must guide everyone to a similar end, that is just the reality of a production, but the path they chose is their own.

They distribute information on these events through their official forums and the role-playing website, which is set up like a newspaper. Mulligan also said there are non-specific plans to introduce the paper into the game itself.

So how has the queen of turning MMORPGs around been doing? In April, when she joined, subscribers were down and the game was struggling. By July, the team had evened things out. Since then it has seen steady, if minor, growth. Jessica is generally pleased with the trend and the progress to date.

The other big project in the can over at Nevrax is The Ryzom Ring, the first expansion pack to The Saga of Ryzom. This expansion is much different from anything ever tried in the MMO space to date. Targeted for a February launch, the Ring provides players with polished development tools that allow them to create adventures and areas for other players.

This addition allows players to build instances on a range of pre-generated maps. The initial version will not allow terrain sculpting. Essentially, the team just updated and polished their in-house tools and gave that capability to the players.

Adventures areas are available regardless of server from a list. The company will not make any attempts at QA and there will be no way for players to rate their experiences. Thus, like any kind of player created content, it promises to be hit or miss.

For Game Masters, there are two rule sets. In the liberal one, players gain no experience or items from their adventures. In the other, players can offer prizes. However, to prevent exploitation, these must be real items that the player themselves has and once won, it is gone.

It is a free expansion, in that you only need to continue your subscription to the game to enjoy it.

How then will it make money? Typically, adventures are only online when the people running them are. If you want more permanence, you have to pay. Pricing has yet to be determined.

In a backwards sort of way, this adds housing to Ryzom. Players can pay a fee to keep an area up full time and only allow their guild into it. In this area, they build a guild ranch or complex. Voila, for a small fee, your guild has its own corner of the world.

“Ryzom Ring is going to be a watershed in MMOs,” said Mulligan. “I think it is going to create a new direction for the industry.”

The Ring marks the first time players will be able to create quests, areas and adventures for other players. The ideal would be a community like Neverwinter Nights has that congregates online to create their own adventures, giving the game’s content a life long beyond what came in the original box.

“The importance of the Ring is if it catches on in the industry as a whole,” mentions Mulligan. Obviously, Nevrax hopes it does well and makes them millions, but just as Funcom introduced instancing in Anarchy Online, Mulligan hopes this expansion will pave the way for more of this kind of content in other major MMORPGs.

And when others start copying them? Well, then Nevrax just has to “raise the bar” on something they’ve already created.

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Dana Massey