Flying Lab Software on Pirates, part 2


Maginn: So the next thing about working on an MMO is that everyone knows that MMOs are never done. What that means is that, uniquely on an MMO, you have the luxury of stopping and asking yourself, "What did we do? Did we have vision? What should we have built? How do we get here from there?"

A few months ago, I wrote this:

Pirates of the Burning Sea is a competitive game in which players take the role of adventurers in a romanticized version of the Caribbean in the age of sails and seek fame, fortune, and glory for themselves and their nations.

This is really the vision statement that we should have had five years ago. The amazing thing to me is how closely we followed this vision given that we didn't have it. But there are a lot of places where we could do better and more closely follow the vision.

Williams: One of the things about Pirates of the Burning Sea is people say, "Wow! Five years? That's a pretty long time." It is long. People just don't realize how long projects typically take to go. I mean, you look at something as relatively straight-forward as Halo and that was a five-year project while they tried out all sorts of interesting things along the way.

I was talking to a guy at Microsoft and he was like, "How long would your perfect project be?"

And I said, "Three and a half, maybe four."

And he was like, "Whoa! That's crazy talk! Two years max."

And I said, "Name one of your games that's been successful that's taken only two years." And, of course, he couldn't.

So a lot of what we spent our time on in Pirates at the beginning was very, very small teams so we didn't have the pressures of a large team and a budget that goes along with it. When you've got burn rate and you're running a large team, then you're always pushing to define whatever the flavor of the moment is. You have an idea, fine. Whether we're going with it or not, it's in the game because we're shipping in two years. Of course, what happens with that is you still make a lot of mistakes but now they're very expensive mistakes. We had the ability to sort of sit back and think about what we wanted to do and sort of flesh out, over time. And that was pretty important for the survival of the company as well as sort of the finding out of an organic process this vision that Kevin later defined much more analytically.

"I murdered the economy. And by 'murdered' I mean I introduced insurance."


Maginn: So, the question that I asked after creating this vision was "What do we do now? Where does this take us?"

The first thing is, we couldn't have any sacred plans. If you're going to look at your game critically and reasonably and you're not going to lie to yourself about how you're doing and what works and what doesn't in your game, you can't afford to protect anything, even when it's your absolute favorite system in the game – which the economy is mine. The problem with the economy is that it's great. And you couldn't say "no" to it. You couldn't play the game unless you played the economy. You would have a terribly time if you didn't play with the economy. And so this was sort of the first heart-wrenching moment. It turns out it's easier to kill your kidneys, but I've done it a few times.

I murdered the economy. And by "murdered" I mean I introduced insurance. Insurance gives you a bunch of money when you lose your ship. The net outcome of that is that the rate at which you lose money from losing in PvP is drastically lower. It turns out that when people lose in PvP, the last thing they want to realize is that they have no money left and they can't go back and PvP some more. If you're not ever allowed to lose in PvP, somebody's gotta' win and somebody's gotta' lose and eventually the losers all quit the game. So, I murdered the economy.

This article was originally published on Massively.