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Behind the Curtain: What's in a name?

Craig Withers

How much attention do you pay to the names behind the MMOs we're playing just now? Do you dig up as much information as you can on the developers, producer and designers involved in up and coming games? Do you even pay any attention at all?

I'll be honest – I picked up Star Wars Galaxies based on the licence alone. While I've been a gamer since my Uncle gave me a ZX Spectrum as a child, I didn't know anything about the people behind Galaxies. I had heard about Everquest of course – I wasn't stupid after all – but Galaxies was my first MMO, and I was a noob in every sense of the word. I didn't know anything about the designers, the developers, and I didn't even think to check up on them.

I was a little more aware when I came round to World of Warcraft. I was, and still am, a big Diablo 2, fan, so I knew who Blizzard were. I hadn't picked up Warcraft 3 when it came out, due to the PC I had t the time not being to run it, but I knew that it'd been a huge commercial and critical success for Blizzard, so I knew that it was a safe bet. Plus, it was taking the world by storm already, so it was a bit of a no-brainer.

Maybe I'm just older and wiser now, or maybe the information is just easier to get a hold of, but I pay more attention to the people actually making the game that I'm interested in – I thought this week, we could have a look at some of the names you should be aware of.

Let's start with Raph Koster – he was the Lead Designer for Ultima Online, Creative Director for Star Wars Galaxies and Chief Creative Officer for Everquest 2. Having left Sony Online Entertainment in 2006, he's currently involved in developing Metaplace, which is billed as a 'client agnostic' virtual worlds platform that should, in theory, allow any one of us to make our own world or game. It looks very intriguing.

Richard Garriott created the first Ultima game back in 1980, and was involved in some way with each of the following games in the series, including the seminal Ultima Online. He's currently with NCSoft, and has overseen City of Heroes and City of Villians for them in the past, and most recently was the Executive Producer for Tablua Rasa, a game he thought was so good, he put his name on it. While I can't help but feel there's a little bit of pretension behind the usage of 'Lord British' as his nom de guerre, he nevertheless commands enormous respect in the industry, and deservedly so.

John Smedley is currently the President of SOE and as such, probably doesn't have much to do with the actual development process any more (I could be wrong though). He was Director of Development at 989 Studios, which became Verant Interactive and which in turn became SOE. In the aftermath of Galaxies' New Game Enhancements, Mr Smedley did what others in his position might not have, and stepped up to take a lot of the flak for the change and answer as many questions as he could. Also, despite what many embittered ex-Galaxies players might tell you, he is by all accounts a thoroughly nice guy.

Rob Pardo is currently Vice President of Game Design at Blizzard. He was previously Lead Designer for both World of Warcraft and its expansion The Burning Crusade. That one sentence doesn't really do justice to just how influential this guy has been. Bear in mind that WoW just hit 10 million subscribers – Mr Pardo has been instrumental in bringing the hearts, minds and wallets of 10 million people to Blizzard's front door. In 2006, Time Magazine listed him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. You can blame him the next time you scream, "ZOMG NERF LOCKS!!!111!" as his young daughter plays a Warlock, and what man amongst us can withstand their daughter's tear-streaked face when she's just seen her character slaughtered by some inconsiderate <insert next class for nerfing here>.

Bill Roper has previously held the positions of Vice President of Blizzard North, and Director of Blizzard Entertainment. In his time at Blizzard (just under a decade) he was involved in making all three Warcraft games, both Diablo games, and Starcraft. In 2003, he co-founded Flagship Studios, along with many of the people instrumental in the creation of Diablo and Diablo 2, and he's currently the company's CEO. Flagship recently released Hellgate: London, which disappointed a lot of us by not being as awesome as we had hoped from such a stellar team. A lot of fans blamed Electronic Arts, their publisher, for pushing Flagship to release before the game was ready, but to be honest; blaming EA for bad games is just too easy to be fun any more.

And with that, Alas! We come to the end of it – parting is such sweet sorrow my friends, but I think that's enough names for you to be getting on with for now – I don't want to turn this article into a simple 'who's who' of MMOs. Tune in next week to see whatever it is that's had me scratching my head when I should have been working.

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