Trion was founded in 2006 by Lars Buttler, former vice president for Global Online at Electronic Arts, and Jon Van Caneghem, creator of the Might and Magic franchise. The company has offices in Redwood Shores, San Diego, and Austin, where it's picked up a number of NCsoft exes. Trion is in the business of server-based gaming; specifically, developing its own large-scale, server-side platform designed to launch just about any kind of game (big and indie) on a 24/7 live service. Games -- Lars calls 'em "channels" -- are simulated in clusters of servers. From your machine, be it PC or console (Trion has already acquired the rights to develop and publish for PS3 and is currently working with an Xbox 360 developer), you're simply rendering the game, not doing actual computing.
"Digital distribution is just the beginning."
"Digital distribution is great, but just the beginning," Lars explains. To date, digital distribution has settled on delivering the same kind of content we've traditionally bought in a box, but Trion envisions a different future for broadband retail (hint: this is how the company's hooked all those investors). Trion believes the business model has to change, and so does the content. Its service proposes developers "build enough to get out there," and then continue to add on (and patch) as revenue grows and consumer feedback is gained. While it sounds an awful lot like users would be paying to beta test, the ideal "channel" launch would not be incomplete, just have room to grow. Regardless, pricing is going to have to be carefully modeled and will fall into several categories, including subscriptions, item sales, and oft-dreaded microtransactions (but Trion and its partners are a ways away from dealing with that headache).
What's attractive about Trion's platform to publishers and developers is the promise of reduced (or even nullified) piracy and increased profit. Since users only download art assets and other related files, it's nearly impossible to pirate a game from the service. To play, you'll always have to connect to Trion's servers (read: publishers can finally make money in piracy-laden markets). And as a digital platform, publishers cut out the retail middlemen (yes, that means you, GameStop
). On top of this, Lars assures that despite a shift in the business model (i.e., a game can be released and supported over time without the need to front a huge sum for development and, in turn, abandon upon release for the next project), there won't be a shift in development processes. The actual handcrafting of games won't need to be changed, and Trion handles the server-side "heavy lifting."
So are we looking at the future of the industry? That's the
question, ain't it? Obviously Trion's worth the risk of some large investments, but we want to see some actual games before making our call -- there's that Sci-Fi Channel one
, plus a fantasy MMO helmed by Caneghem in the works. Lars promises the next big announcement from Trion will be, finally, about the channels games
. We can't wait.