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Massively Exclusive: Funcom's Morrison on player-driven games, new Age of Conan content

Jef Reahard

This month's Age of Conan development update had the potential to be quite depressing in light of Funcom's recent layoffs. There's actually a lot of good news, though, as game director Craig Morrison reveals some juicy bits about AoC's upcoming content release plans.

Due to the downsizing, what was once an adventure pack on par with last year's Savage Coast of Turan will now be released in installments over the next few months. The collective title for all the new content is Secrets of the Dragon Spine, and it will take place in various new playfields along the border of Stygia and Keshan. There will be a new raid, a new outdoor playfield (approximately the same size as Turan), several new dungeons, a new mount type, and a new PvP area.

We had the chance to ask Morrison about the new stuff as well as Funcom's future, and he had some interesting things to say regarding player-driven content and the kind of games the company plans to make going forward. Join us after the cut for the full interview.

Age of Conan - Dragon's Spine boss room
Massively: You mention that the content originally scheduled for the adventure pack will now come in smaller installments throughout the year. I'm assuming the adventure pack was going to have a cost associated with it for both F2P players and subscribers like Turan did, so is that still the case with the smaller chunks? Or will this new content be rolled into the usual patch schedule and perhaps be freely available to monthly subbers?

Craig Morrison: The plan now will most likely be that the content will roll out as free updates for premium players, with more vanity-themed armor being available in the item store alongside those releases. Those armors have been popular with players, so with this approach people should appreciate the great new content as part of their premium status, and there will still be options for micro-transactions on the vanity side. I think that should present a happy balance there.

The dev update says the Dragon's Spine additions are primarily for level 80 players. Is there anything in there for lower levels (or possibly some level-scaling dungeons like the Breach or Forgotten City)?

Age of Conan - Dragon's Spine armor conceptWe may do one dungeon as a dynamic area, but we haven't quite made a final call there. The priority for these updates is to provide relevant new content to the veteran players.

Have there been any discussions about raising the level cap and/or adding additional AAs for those players who already have multiple maxed 80s?

Raising the cap is not something we have planned right now. In terms of more AAs that is more likely, and is probably something we will assess after the current round of revamps and the already scheduled systems work is done and dusted.

The update mentions a "new PvP area" in the works with the Dragon's Spine content. Is that a minigame? An outdoor playfield? Something else?

We have toyed with the idea of it being part of the main Dragon's Spine landmass, but most likely we will go with a new minigame map. It's important that its as accessible as possible, and that's probably the biggest driver there. It's also what the community wanted the most in the summer survey, so we will most likely honor that desire.

Speaking of PvP, do you think we'll see some sort of ranking or ladder system in AoC at any point?

I'd love to add one at some stage, but it's not the cheapest feature to build. It is, though, something I think we may seriously consider next year. It is definitely worth assessing again at least, once the Dragon's Spine update cycles are done with. As other things get done, it opens the door for the team to consider some of those larger ideas.

As a long-time Funcom fan I was disheartened to read the recent Gamasutra article focused on the company's restructuring. The "smaller games" and "shorter development times" phrasing in particular made me think of casual browser stuff or MOBAs instead of the sprawling AAA MMORPGs that the company is known for. Do you think Funcom will make another game of AoC's scale at some point, or is The Secret World kind of the last hurrah for large-scale virtual worlds like that?

I think that depends on your definition. I think what we are saying is two-fold. Firstly, in terms of pure scale, yes, for the time being we definitely want to reduce the budgets, and thus the risks, but likewise we also have a lot of the (otherwise expensive) infrastructure and tech already in place, so we can probably achieve more on smaller budgets than you might think. The Dreamworld platform is worth a lot of development time that we don't have to spend time creating.

Secondly what we are saying is that at a fundamental level we do see more potential in system-driven game formats as opposed to purely content-based games. That though doesn't mean it has to be a small game, EVE for example is a systems-driven game rather than a content-driven game. So it's more about being efficient and trying to create titles that leverage the best part about MMOs, and that's the communities around them! We have been crafting stories for a long time now, and we feel it's also important to start to think more about how we can also let the players drive their own stories. There is a lot of potential there.

Sounds pretty interesting, thanks for chatting with us!

Age of Conan - Dragon's Spine death path concept

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