The Think Tank: Name your MMO dev dream team

Shawn Schuster
S. Schuster|01.09.14

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The Think Tank: Name your MMO dev dream team
The original Dream Team
While playing our favorite MMOs, we rarely sit down to think about the people who poured their blood, sweat, and tears into granting us these gaming experiences. Well, at least until we come across something we don't like. Then the blame game begins. But the truth is, it usually takes a large team to assemble a proper MMO, and no one or two people should be held accountable. Well, unless you're literally making an MMO entirely by yourself.

So I asked the Massively team members whom they would have on their MMO dream team. Would they pick out talented individuals or talented groups of designers? Check out the complete list just after the jump.

I would love to get the art teams from Ryzom, The Chronicles of Spellborn, and Firefall to make me a sandbox that has zero combat. I'd need to pull in Rolf from Wurm Online and the crazies who put together Salem to help me come up with a system for dying, the type of dying that comes from starvation, takes days to wrap up, and needs medical staff (other players) to prevent. I'd then want to ask Rod Humble from Linden Lab about creating a game that allows players to do almost anything (my game would be tuned down, of course, from Second Life) and will hire Scott Hartsman to head the whole thing up because he's not only charming as all get-out but as been doing this for quite a while. Also, he knows how to tell people to scram... at least he's good at it on Facebook.

After that, I'd need Harry Mack, the person who brought us Spiral Knights' music, to create a soundtrack (he'd be partnered with Glitch's sound team), and John Smedley would throw in some ideas about monetization. If anyone is going to take a chance, it'll be him.

The hardest part would be choosing a community manager, simply because the list is so large. I'd go with Linda "Brasse" Carlson to head up community management in the end and leave the rest of the hiring to her.
My mind immediately leaps to Raph Koster, responsible for the core worlds underpinning the two greatest sandboxes I've ever enjoyed, but last year I learned that his wife is actually the economist's brain behind a lot of his great ideas, so can I have them as a package deal? Then I'd grab SOE's Emily Taylor for my crafting guru, ArenaNet's Daniel Dociu for my art guy, and whoever made World of Warcraft's combat buttery smooth even after a decade. Finally, I want whatever City of Heroes dev apparently shares my particle effects obsession. MORE PARTICLE EFFECTS!
It's difficult to put together a "dream team" of game developers because so many of the people involved in actually making a good game never get the recognition they probably deserve. EVE Online's development teams are all allowed to write devblog articles on their work that give us an interesting peek behind the curtain, but most companies don't do anything so personal. Hundreds of people work on something like The Elder Scrolls Online or World of Warcraft, but we only ever hear about a few of them by name because they're the high-level producers or the company's preferred faces.

If I had an unlimited budget and could pull anyone from anywhere in the industry, I'd steal the art department from ArenaNet and some of the original game designers on EVE Online, EverQuest II, and Ultima Online to build the ultimate fantasy sandbox. I'd take the server crew from EVE Online to create a scalable single-shard server cluster and put Brian Bossé in charge of server tech because he's an absolute genius. Then I'd put the crew of Massively in charge of PR and hire whichever evil genius is behind Star Citizen's ludicrous crowdfunding efforts to grow a few money trees out back. Finally, I'd hire industry veteran Nathan Richardsson to just walk around the office and be awesome.
At the risk of being contrarian, I'll say that I don't really have a dream team as much as I have a dream game. I imagine that there are thousands of devs who could make the kind of title I like if the mechanics of said title were more popular/profitable.

As for name-brand devs, I'd have to echo Bree in terms of Koster. I'd also be curious to see what Shenmue's Yu Suzuki would do with an MMO creative director credit. I'd hire Knut Haugen to compose the music, and if I had the budget, I'd probably bring Garriott in to do some producing or design work as necessary.
Creative Lead: Scott Hartsman
Crazy Publicity Stunts: Paul Barnett
Composers: Inon Zur and Chance Thomas
Community Manager: Rubi Bayer (of course!)
Audio Director: James Ackley
Flametrolling: Derek Smart
Art Director: Matt Mocarski
Systems Lead: Bill Roper
Humorous Voice-Overs: That guy that does the WildStar Dev Speak videos
And all of the rest of the positions: The teams from Jagex and KingsIsle because they seem like nice folks.
My dream team definitely includes Raph Koster as lead designer as well. Cryptic's Christopher Bruce is my choice for art director, though I think most people will remember him from his time working on City of Heroes. For mechanics design, I would want to put Cliff Bleszinski and Artavan Mkhikian in the same room; CliffyB is one of the most knowledgable designers when it comes to creating emotion through gameplay, and Mkhikian (a gameplay designer on PlayStation All-Stars) is one of the most nitpicky mechanics guys in the gaming industry and is likely to understand how his game works better than anyone. Neither has any sort of persistent online game design experience, though, so it would take a more experienced lead like Koster to utilize their talents for an online game.

Production is a bit harder. I tend to lean towards SOE's production teams more than other companies' teams just because they tend to handle their online properties a little better than most other companies. There are no producers in the MMO world that jump out at me as being really amazing at handling their property
I'd grab ArenaNet's art team, Fallen Earth's audio team (guy), Wurm Online's Rolf and (formerly) Notch as lead designers, and have Scott Hartsman whip them all into shape. Then I'd include Linda Carlson as Community Lead and a bunch of EVE Online network designers and economists. Not only would I enjoy their talent, but I would close my eyes and pretend that I was working with Bjork.

What do you get when you throw the Massively writers' opinions together in one big pot to stew? You get The Think Tank, a column dedicated to ruminating on the MMO genre. We range from hardcore PvPers to sandbox lovers to the carest of the carebears, so expect some disagreement! Join Senior Editor Shawn Schuster and the team for a new edition right here every other Thursday.
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