PAX East 2016: Richard Garriott discusses Shroud of the Avatar’s ‘launch’ and future

It might seem as if Shroud of the Avatar has been in early access for a very long time, probably because it has. Technically, it’s still in an early access state. But according to Richard Garriott, whom I spoke to at this year’s PAX East, a great deal of that has to do with the fact that our traditional terms for test phases have little to no meaning any longer. The game is on Release 28, its servers have been up aside from scheduled maintenance for more than a year, there have been no unexpected patches of downtime. In every way, it’s ready for something closer to release.

So this year is the year of its “release,” but it’s also not really that big of a change. In July, the final character wipe will take place, freeing players from any concern of lost data and marking the de facto launch of the MMO side of the game. By December, the first episode of the game’s story content will be fully released. At that point, the game is out and it’s launched, so if you want to mark your calendars accordingly, it’s 2016 as the year of the launch.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the game will be finished; again, there’s the issue of our traditional terminology not working very well in light of the changes to how games are developed and tested. The game state is being controlled in part by the need for marketing, using early test terminology so that players don’t expect something the game won’t deliver. A marketing push will accompany the full story launch, but it’s still not quite the same as a launch, and much of that comes down to the nature of software terminology as we understand it.

Garriott sees the issue being one of having set most of our publicly discussed goalposts at certain points. Classically, he stated that an alpha was feature-complete but not content-complete, while beta testing was complete but buggy, and launch was complete and (hopefully) not buggy. The problem becomes that all three stages of development are very close together to one another, all taking place right before the game is ready to go live.

The result, then, is a situation wherein there’s no real terminology for markers that are further apart, especially in an environment where launches are more or less not launches, since there’s always the possibility of patching later. The existing terms no longer mean what they once meant, but that just means we collectively need better terms to describe the reality of game development and release.

And now, a jaunty tune.

So why is SotA launching this year? Several reasons, starting with the simple reality that most people don’t want to start playing the game seriously until the wipes are done and over with. It’s understandable, of course – why would you build a house if you know it’s going to wiped out? So that’s good enough reason to find a date and declare that there will be no more wipes to be had.

There were, of course, some players who argued that the end of the wipes should coincide with the release of the story, delaying one if necessary to come along with the other. Garriott doesn’t feel that serves the game, however; there’s still valuable testing data that can be had by people playing and experiencing content before the story is ready. It’s more useful to have more people playing.

It also means that the team gets to convert its monetization model earlier and finding what does and doesn’t work. That’s useful for both players and developers moving forward, and it’s a thorny issue, but it’s also a complex one.

The plan, as has been stated elsewhere, is that as of July all of the game’s “pledges” are gone. To pay for server fees (and keep the development team paying its rent and eating food), there will be an in-game store with cosmetics for players to enjoy, along with the one-time fee for people who want to get in on the game. These cosmetics are also meant to rotate rather than being permanent, with older items expiring and new ones being added over time.

Despite that plan, Garriott is aware that there are players who would rather just play a flat fee on a regular basis, and nothing is yet set in stone. The goal is to start finding out what works and what feels positive for players while also succeeding at the aforementioned goal of making money. Players are meant to be able to earn anything they want in offline play, barring very specific pledge rewards, so if you wish to play the game as a single-player experience you won’t have to still be paying for the MMO side as well.

No one said it would be friendly.

That brings up the issue of the game’s extant balance, which has been tweaked over time but still faces the challenge of a single game balanced for both social MMO play and single-player experiences. The initial balance of the game is more as an MMO, with spawns of both resources and enemies set to be reasonable for one or two parties hunting in an outdoor area. For solo players, the game is both throttling down stats as appropriate and offering companions to players in the manner of the older Ultima titles. Such companions are technically possible for the MMO side as well, but the amount of resources required to keep companion AI going means that it’s not very helpful to add them into the multiplayer side right off.

The throttling of the game is also applied to how many other players you see, even in the multiplayer space. Garriott has specifically stated that even when playing solo, he personally prefers the online mode, just because that allows players to see and interact with others more freely. However, the game is meant to throttle down how many players are out in the world at any given time, so a dungeon might be scaled to feature just two parties while a story area features nothing except your immediate party. The game is still meant to have a long-term reason to keep people in the game as an MMO, using long-term faction interplay between player factions and villainous NPC factions as a motivator.

So what about future releases? The first story episode will have a very definite end, with future storyline updates being released as separate purchases in the future. Building the next episode will mean rolling out new stuff for all players, but there will be things only accessible to players who own the second episode due to storyline progression.

For example, Garriott discussed the plan to add mounts and operational boats in the lead-up to the second story episode. Everyone will have access to those, but if you don’t own the second episode, you won’t be able to take that boat across the water to the next major land mass. There may well be valuable artifacts that you can only get from there, giving players both functional and narrative reasons to buy the episode and start sailing across the water. It’s meant to be clear where the breakpoints are and exactly what a player is getting with each purchase.

Story arriving!

The simple fact that the game can tell a story, much less an episodic one, is one of the things that Garriott looks at with fondness in the years since Ultima Online. As he puts it, the team couldn’t figure out a way to make a story work with the game itself, so that wasn’t in the cards for development at the time; the tools to do that exist now. Things can be done now that could not be done at the dawn of the genre. The fact that there are more ways than ever to monetize the game, as well, serves as a positive force; players can have more ways to play and experience the game, and designers can approach the money aspect from more angles.

It’s a bigger world than it was when UO came out. But then, that was the start of something completely new. This year’s release of Shroud of the Avatar marks Garriott returning to the format after seeing what others have done with it, releasing something very new while at once familiar. And if you’re waiting until the game is promising no more wipes before trying out the new thing… you won’t be waiting much longer.

Massively Overpowered was on the ground in Boston for PAX East 2016, bringing you expert MMO coverage from NCsoft, Daybreak, Square Enix, and everything else on display at the latest Penny Arcade Expo!
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44 Comments on "PAX East 2016: Richard Garriott discusses Shroud of the Avatar’s ‘launch’ and future"

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IddingsReva
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IddingsReva

Armsbend LordOfBread And fuckers like you quickly educated me how stupid, toxic and intolerant most modern day geeks have become.

Zheax
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Zheax

In every review that I’ve read about SotA I feel like I live in a different world. Do you even know what it means a crowdfunding project? How long does it take to develop a game, the process, the steps till it’s polished? The only mistake they have committed has been to have complete transparency since the first day with those who don’t appreciate the mechanics of a good game.

I really feel sorry for all the people with this hate inside. Let it go… take some yoga class.

rune_74
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rune_74

Be careful here.  The team is very unprofessional in how it deals with people.  The moderation staff led by a fan of UO listens to it’s high level backers in dishing out moderation.  If you say anything on the forums that they don’t like, especially if you do anything that brings attention from the high backers you will be banned.  It’s not even reviewed, it is banning without any checks.

Even if the game came close to promising what they originally promised, this is enough to avoid.

Recondelta
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Recondelta

Reading these comments and a lot of the information is based on previous builds.  
Anyone who visits the new Brittany and isn’t impressed must not like the MMOs.   The game still have a lot of rough edges but this is going to be a winner.

spider3
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spider3

I was hyped for Sota, put a good amount of Money, hoping it would become UO2.

But it was actually never advertised so, and I definitely did not found the Magic nostalgia of UO coming back. Could be ok, but I disagree to see it as spiritual successor.

Instead I’m considering shards online, after playing it, it gave me this missed Feeling.

So, I will pass SotA, but won’t hate it just for that reason. Except the P2W Land properties for those absurd pledges was definitely a no-go.
Uo was paying your Sub and have the same possibilities of everyone else to own a Castle, with a no-life playing style. Here it is enough real life wealth.

Ironwu
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Ironwu

Well, SotA was never put forward as a real ‘Massive’ Multiplayer game, just as a Multiplayer game.  Based on the Unity5 engine, it really would never have the  horsepower to support huge numbers of players in a single instance location.
I’m ok with that, I think there is a real place for this style of game, and am sort of looking forward to seeing how it all ends up.
That being said, I am still VERY concerned about the ‘random skills’ on the hot-bar mechanic.  I just don’t see how that can work in a real gaming environment (as opposed to to ‘test’ environment).  So much in combat relies on muscle memory, so one does not have to look down at the skills to see what to do.   How does forcing players to constantly be looking at the skill bar to see what is there make for a viable game?
In any case, will see how it all plays out.

Rozyn
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Rozyn

mindshadow Rozyn DugFromTheEarth Hey man, I’m just smokin’ the same thing Richard Garriot is.

Sliverstarz
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Sliverstarz

From watching these guys in their dev hangouts, I think I’ll pass on this one. They seem very unprofessional and disorganized, and from all the negative reviews I think I’ll just save my money.

Cramit
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Cramit

This game has made me question it for a long time.  I enjoyed UO, even though not to the extent of some, but I was still looking forward to Sota.  After all the talk over time now about how bad combat is with this combined development of single player and multiplayer, I am less convinced it can work.  I dunno, the entire solo mode scares me and even though I have a friend that plays and enjoys himself, I am not convinced at all.  This one I will probably wait for launch and for others to comment before I even look at picking it up.

Satyros
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Satyros

Meh..

Hounddog74
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Hounddog74

The game is definitely not “horrible” or “shit” or whatever other hyperbolic statement used to describe it. In fact most of the game is excellent and the fact that the community is superior to any other game I’ve played in years doesn’t hurt.
Now, the combat is just flat out bad and even though it has gotten better it’s still way behind what I consider acceptable. Since combat is a core element to these games it’s not surprising people are already writing it off, but if they can pull it together in this one area they’ve got a nice little game on their hands. If they don’t I don’t see myself spending a lot of time in this world, it’s literally the one aspect of any MMO can make or break a game for me.

chriswaters
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chriswaters

Horrible game being released too early.

mindshadow
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mindshadow

Wilhelm Arcturus I’m curious to see the reaction when at “soft launch” in July, everyone realizes how buggy, unpolished and unfinished the game is.

mindshadow
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mindshadow

Rozyn DugFromTheEarth Don’t bogart that joint, friend.  Pass it over to me.

PaganRites
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PaganRites

Dystopiq Combat needs to be tightened up.  Right now it’s a little sluggish.  However, compared to 6 months ago it’s a huge improvement. Personally, because I’m not playing the game for PvP, I would be fine with it in it’s current iteration.  But if I were interested in the PvP offering, it’s not precise enough and I think it would be frustrating.  I suspect combat is going to continue to be a focus until the game launches.

Dystopiq
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Dystopiq

PaganRites How would you describe combat in SotA?

Kithred
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Kithred

Caec Kithred LordOfBread I’m sure I have, but yeah, I was thinking just mmo’s.

Rozyn
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Rozyn

DugFromTheEarth “Open” “beta” – these are just words, man. What are words when they don’t mean anything? This game is an evolution, it’s a stream flowing, don’t dam it up with your words like “launch” and “completion.” Just put those dollars out there maaan, and ride this river into the unknown.

PaganRites
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PaganRites

I’ve been playing SotA for over a year.  I’m looking forward to no more wipes.  Personally I love the game.  SotA has the best player community I’ve ever seen.  All the major guilds from UO have taken up residence in New Britannia.  It’s awesome.

My biggest gripe was avatars.  They were HORRIBLE.  The new male avatar looks modern day.  I can’t wait to see the female avatars.  Really looking forward to playing through the story.

Dystopiq
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Dystopiq

I want a new single player Ultima game. That might be difficult though.

enamelizer
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enamelizer

“Your traditional software development terminology has no power here.”

Caec
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Caec

CaptainHellers padreadamo Thing is, I don’t think they really view it as a core pillar.

Caec
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Caec

Kithred LordOfBread You’ve missed a lot of games, unless you’re restricting it to just MMOs.

jeremy2020
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jeremy2020

I’d call the current state of this game “Sh*t:. I spent the money to try it out. I should have just crapped in my hand.

hugmonster
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hugmonster

breetoplay hugmonster Send him our best wishes and hugs!

pcgneurotic
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pcgneurotic

I logged in last week for the first time in about a year, and the difference is chalk and cheese. It looks and feels 1,000x more like a polished, solid game now. This is only logical, of course, but I think what I mean is that it really *feels* like a real thing now. Heh, I don’t know, I’m not expressing this very well, but it just felt really good to play, and I could see it being totally AAA by December.

infinitytool
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infinitytool

99% of me says this is just another trash mmo
1% of me chooses to comment for others to stay away.

breetoplay
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breetoplay

hugmonster breetoplay At the CURRENT moment Matt is AFK (family emergency mostly on top of exams). Eventually, when BDO dies down, BDO and CMA will be alternated. So we’ll still get both. :D

Wilhelm Arcturus
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Wilhelm Arcturus

I hate to be that guy who just reads the title then comments, but I snorted when I saw “launch” in quotes.

But they are right.  Some people, myself included, have been holding off for an official green light, ready to actually play indicator.  I’ve done enough betas and such in the past, I just want to play a game.

padreadamo
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padreadamo

CaptainHellers padreadamo I love the world, it’s incredibly intriguing despite the lack of the game being “open world.” I just feel as though combat is the weakest link and arguably the most important.

DugFromTheEarth
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DugFromTheEarth

Is this game going to get an open beta? Or is it just going to stay founder/early access right into launch?

CaptainHellers
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CaptainHellers

padreadamo That’s what I suspected. I find it very odd that they can be talking about launching an mmo (Even in the kind of softer launch they’re implying here) and having one of the core pillars of gameplay be in such a state.

I have a lot of time for his Lord Britishness (My first MMO was UO:Second Age) but I’m really not convinced by Shroud.

hugmonster
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hugmonster

breetoplay Sorry for going off topic but is Matt now assigned exclusively to Black Desert or will CMA make a comeback?

Damonvile
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Damonvile

Qarran I can’t help but think it’s going to be Garriott being taught a lesson about game design this time, not the other way around.

Armsbend
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Armsbend

LordOfBread Kickstarter MMOs quickly educated me how greedy and  full of shit most developers are on a personal level.

Kithred
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Kithred

LordOfBread There are a lot of people who are completely clueless. I smirk every time I see someone announcing how a game that just got its base funding from kickstarter will be released the next year. It’s just hilarious, almost as hilarious as all the people condemning the entire crowdfunding system because games take too long to get finished – they’re announced vaporware before they even get the chance. I love it.

Seriously, it looks like Shroud of the Avatar will be the second major crowdfunded game that made it to launch, unless I’m missing something here. If I missed something between Elite: Dangerous and SotA, please feel free to educate me. Can’t really think of anything. This is a great thing. There are a lot of projects that have gone up in smoke, but it looks like these old foxes know their way around, still (Braben, Garriott, Jacobs). Yeah, I kind of count Camelot Unchained being a game that’s going to see launch as well – pretty damn sure about it.

Anyway, this is incredibly good stuff, Lord British!

Qarran
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Qarran

So… I met Richard G. back when he was just peddling games a shareware in random stores.  Had a conversation with him about games in general and what he was trying to do.  He was a visionary then and he is still one.  A very smart and creative man who loves what he does for a living.

I’ll take a look at Shroud and leave the semantics to the marketing guys.  Can’t wait to see what RG is creating now.

padreadamo
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padreadamo

CaptainHellers Combat is bad. I’m a high-tier backer and have a really hard time with the flow of combat and I have, like others, have been VERY vocal on the forums up until a few months ago because 1.) We don’t get acknowledged and 2.) Nothing seemed to change.

Rozyn
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Rozyn

breetoplay CaptainHellers I’ve never felt more sorry for him than in that CMA lol.

Rozyn
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Rozyn

“our traditional terms for test phases have little to no meaning any longer” I feel like that’s just some bullshit excuse to have cash shops in alpha games and get away with half-assed implementation because “Hey, even though you’re PAYING for this, you can’t complain because it’s still in testing!” I’m so done with that line of reasoning, and therefor done with paid early access.

LordOfBread
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LordOfBread

Kickstarter MMOs slowly educate gamers how long it actually takes to make a real MMO.

Good bye publisher announcements 12-18 months before release. That ship has sailed.

breetoplay
Guest
breetoplay

CaptainHellers Can help a little there — Matt deep-dived it in January for CMA:
http://massivelyop.com/tag/cma-sota-2016/

CaptainHellers
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CaptainHellers

I’ve had this for a long time now and I check in from time to time to see how it’s going. Given that’s it’s been about 3 months since I last logged in and they’re talking about “launch” this year I feel I have to ask someone who’s played more recently than me. Is the combat any better than absolute garbage yet?

I’ll reinstall later and take a look. I’d just appreciate comments from someone who actively plays

IndigoSalma
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IndigoSalma

Im actually REALLY looking forward to single player offline mode , and possibly modding.

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