GDC09: A candid interview with Age of Conan's game director part 5

Is there anything else people need to know about your push to get players back in?

I think one thing we actually skirted around a little bit was the actual content. It's not just about producing content. For me, one thing I love to talk about is the approach to content. I've been really pushing the team to look at content in terms of what we talked about a little earlier about fun and engagement -- making the encounters interesting and dynamic for the players. It's very easy in MMO design to not do that, to put in time sinks.

"It's much more interesting to play the fun parts first."

If you make the content fun and interesting, players will be happy to repeat it because it's actually fun. Yes, they want their rewards as well, but if the encounter is fun and doesn't take a massive amount of commitment -- say they can do it in under an hour -- they're much more likely when they're friend goes, "I'd really like to finish that quest." to go, "Oh okay, I'll come and I'll help you." Whereas if it's a three hour commitment and they have to get a group of twelve people and fight through three dozen trash mobs... they're all barriers. And to me, sometimes they're unnecessary. It's much more interesting to play the fun parts first.

I think the last dungeon we introduced in the previous update called Xibaluku is a great example. One of the first bosses that the players meet is a jailer and as the players engage him, he'll randomly pick one of them to send to jail. They get mind controlled and get walked into the cell and the door closes and a skeleton spawns and they've got to kill it to get a key and get back out. But, it's random -- it's not the person on the top of his hate list. So every time, depending on who gets taken it alters the experience for the player. "Oh, he's taken our main tank." is very different to, "He's taken our primary healer." is very different to, "He's taken our DPS." and it's different every time, so the players can be prepared.

"Now if a player got a zero on a six-sided dice, then they'd be pissed!"

There's a reluctance sometimes in game design, we even fought through it internally as well. [The team] is like, "That's random and the players don't like that." but the players don't actually mind random, as long as they know the parameters. As long as the player's rolling the dice, they know they might get a one. Now if a player got a zero on a six-sided dice, then they'd be pissed!

As long as they know the parameters, players are actually fine with random outcomes -- they actually prefer it because it becomes less predictable. It allows the encounter to become potentially memorable the tenth time they do it. So it's not just that we've added new content, it's that we've added interesting new content that the players will enjoy going through.