"You take a console experience; consoles are much more visceral, they're much more immediate... But that moment at which I can play with a friend in console gaming, it's everything better."
Williams: That's the thing about MMOs. Basically, doing something with people is just more fun than doing something... You take a console experience, you know, consoles are much more visceral, they're much more immediate, they're more attuned exactly for you and they're fantastic. I love console games. I play them all the time. I've got all the consoles. But that moment at which I can play with a friend in console gaming, it's everything better. It's the MSG of games. And so for us to sort of bring it out more is a really important thing.
We just always assumed that players can always struggle through to find ways of making social match-making but the fact is that we have a lot more casual players as a demographic than in a lot of other MMOs because we have a much broader audience than typically the EQ people. For example, my Dad would never play World of Warcraft. I just can't get him interested in the subject. I barely got him into the theater to see Lord of the Rings.
So we have a much broader audience who's sort of just not used to the idea of the MMO – of like, I will now create my own website and I will start recruiting and I will start creating my guilds. They're just like, "Hey, I'm playing the game." And if they run across somebody and it happens naturally doe them, they're a lot happier and they love it and they say, "Wow! This is even better than I ever even anticipated." But it's great to provide the tools for those people to create the game that pushes them so that they're incented to be able to actually find those other people.
Maginn: So what are we doing about all this? Major new social features – both short-term and long-term. Short-term, we have data services API. We have already released some of that and we are releasing more. This is WoW Armory for us, except that we're not going to put a big, hefty, graphical front-end on ours. We're just going to give you the X amount. We've already done some of this and the results have been pretty astounding. There are websites out there that have tracked every single port battle that ever has happened and its results and ever victory and when it happened and who won. It turns out that players are really happy to data mine. They love data mining. And I'm happy for them to do the data mining because it turns out that we can actually go to their websites and use that as our port stats. Somebody data mined out all of our ship stats and that's the reference we use for our ships now. We don't use our internal reference because the player one is better.
Williams: Players, by the way, do almost everything better than us in some certain respect. The ships that we have in the game, for example: we were originally going to launch with 22 ships and we went across the museums of the world and we found all these ship blueprints and we worked with Akella and they had done a number of ship games. We paid them to model the ships for us. We went through a couple of different cycles and we got some pretty good ships.
Then we opened it up so that players could actually model ships. And we thought, "This is crazy. Nobody's ever going to do it." But it was a little side-project for one of our designers and this one player kept begging him and she did a little yacht. She had never done any 3-D modeling before in her life. Now, we provide the textures, but she did the modeling of it. And we said, "Okay. A yacht. That's amazing. Party! Celebration!" but really how far beyond that can we go? We have 65 ships in the game.
Maginn: Every single one of those over the twenty was created by players. And they were higher quality than the ones we created ourselves.
"For the rest of us, we have a schedule and we have a budget. For a player, next three months, I'm working just on that ship and it's a labor of love."
Williams: Because, you know, for the rest of us, we have a schedule and we have a budget. For a player... Next three months, I'm working just on that ship and it's a labor of love.
Maginn: So, titles. It turns out that it's really simple, cheap, and easy to make somebody feel good about accomplishing something by giving them a title for doing it. The first time you build the biggest ship in the game, we give you a title of Master Shipwright. It's just a little thing, but it is like the game is coming out and shaking your hand. So, I mean, obviously this is a tiny feature but it's one that, like I said, important but not critical so it got pushed off.
In the longer term, we're talking about two things. One is guild options. And by that I mean guilds leveling up and building their own warehouses and all kinds of guild-specific features. As it turns out, people really want the ability to improve their guild. I want to buy it and then tell my whole guild, "Guess what guys? I got us another tab." We don't need another tab. We've got by fine without any tabs. Not all MMOs had banks, but I just want to feel like our guild is important and powerful.
But a bigger and larger and more exciting thing is port governance. The idea of port governance is sort of cribbed from a bunch of sources, the largest of which is Asheron's Call's allegiance system. You get to take over a port and govern it and pull its taxes, control its production, make it into an economic haven or make it into a honey pot to draw pirates and kill them. And the way you do this is by auctioning influence points. You get your influence points by doing your own production, but more importantly by getting other people to pledge to you and building a big, political hierarchy of your minions who will then go out and generate influence, feed it up to you, and then you'll use it to take over the port.