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Joystiq interviews NCSoft's Brian Clayton and Richard Garriott

Jem Alexander

Whilst at the Develop Conference last month we, unfortunately, managed to miss our meeting with NCSoft's Richard Garriott. Thankfully we have still been able to get our questions answered via email. The majority of the following are responses by Brian Clayton, Executive Producer at NCSoft, who was directly involved with the Sony partnership. Richard Garriott answers the final two questions on MMO design.

Why choose to develop exclusively for Sony in the console market?

Brian: Sony has shown a commitment to developing robust console hardware with strong longevity which is crucial to any viable MMO console strategy. In addition, Sony understands that our MMO business model is different than the traditional console model and is giving us the flexibility to develop and publish AAA MMOs. We feel that together our strategic partnership will offer console gamers an experience that can't be matched anywhere else.

Why is now the time to start developing MMOs for the console market?

Brian: Online console gaming has reached a critical mass and now offers a climate where MMOs can achieve reasonable success. While other MMO console attempts should be applauded for their desire to grow the market, they were well ahead of the connected console gaming wave. Combine the fact that every console in this current generation is Internet-ready with the proliferation of home wireless networks and we now have a console environment primed for MMO success.

As a company that focuses solely on MMOs, do you fear that you're cannibalizing your own player base? People rarely play more than one at a time.

Brian: NCsoft isn't the least bit worried about cannibalization in the MMO space. The genre is poised for radical growth (especially on consoles). As long as players leave one NCsoft product to play another--we win! Our strategy to heavily invest in new development and IP will continue to grow our position in the market.

Do you see a point when the MMO market will become completely saturated?

Brian: With continued game design innovation and flexible business models, I don't think the market will ever be completely saturated. Gamers tire of tedium and lack of originality, so it's up to game developers to keep gamers engaged and cultivate the market.

Without going into detail, or giving names, can you say if you have anything in development for the PS3 right now? Or is everything at the planning stages, currently?

Brian: We don't have any announcements to make in that regard right now. We'll certainly let you know when we do!

What sort of plans do you have for the PSP?

Brian: We are not announcing our PSP plans yet. But, we see a number of opportunities with the PSP as a standalone MMO or as an extension to our full-blown MMOs on PC and PS3.

A handheld MMO hasn't been tried before. Is there a reason for that?

Brian: I would argue that developing a handheld MMO could be the largest challenge in game development. For example, the game needs to be developed from the onset to address limited communication tools, screen real estate and controls, which are all intrinsic to providing a quality MMO experience.

We have a number ideas and solutions to address the above-mentioned concerns, but can't go into those details right now.

Do you see pricing for game subscriptions being handled differently on the PS3 than on the PC?

Brian: I expect we'll see some existing PC MMO subscription models carry over to console, but there will be plenty of new and innovative subscription and business models introduced regardless of platform.

How do you plan on making MMOs more immersive and "role play-ey", rather than having people ignore each other and concentrate on stats?

Richard: In Tabula Rasa, we've worked very hard to make your character's attributes and equipment less of a focus then they typically are in other MMO's. We also wanted to make content accessible through story and accomplishments rather than through leveling. Because in Tabula Rasa we have tried to downplay the importance of leveling, players can instead spend their time focusing on gameplay instead of manically grinding to reach new content.

Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game is a bit of a misnomer, considering very little role playing actually takes part. Is there a way of rewarding people for playing 'in character'?

Richard: I believe so. I believe that since Ultima Online we, as an industry, have not placed a great deal of emphasis on this, and though we are taking steps in Tabula Rasa to reward people for role-playing, it is still just the tip of the iceberg. I think as an industry we have a lot of work to do in that area and that there will be a lot of great games out there over the next ten years that will probably do an even better job.

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