Pantheon’s Brad McQuaid on ‘vertical interdependence,’ WoW killers, and attracting nontraditional MMO players

Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen’s July newsletter is one of its better ones, featuring a Q&A with Visionary Realms’ Brad McQuaid himself. A few highlights:

  • McQuaid is touting vertical interdependence, the idea that lowbies and highbies in a game have something to offer each other and can even play on some level together “in a way that’s not exploitative, but still meaningful.”
  • Community is at the core of his game’s value system; it sounds as if he believes large communities erode that small-town feel and make relationships too easy to shirk, and consequently, Pantheon’s servers will be sized to be both “lively” and the kind of place where everybody knows your name (and takes into account your bad reputation).
  • He even weighs in on the purported shift from group-centric gameplay to solo gameplay, pinning it on the mass-market appeal of World of Warcraft and the subsequent industry me-toos. “These mega-expensive attempts to create a WoW killer did indeed harm the MMO gamespace and MMO developers,” he writes. “The player who is really focused on community, challenge and long-term investment has been orphaned.”

The newsletter also includes a peek into the game’s AI design as well as a bit on the challenge on just how to “explain to all of the other gamers what kind of game Pantheon will be” — in other words, how to reach out to non-MMORPG players, including the “younger players who are gravitating to [Visionary Realms’] type of game”:

“For some, it’s easy to make comparisons to some other MMOs, but we wanted to make something different as well. We wanted the same core of promoting social interaction and understanding of true risk vs. reward but we wanted to be able to communicate this kind of experience to players who have never played some of these other MMOs. So for us, a big part of our journey has been in reaching out to these players—the ones who are thrill-seekers, who fill their hard drives with co-op games, who desire and thrive as part of a large community. We wanted to not only reach them but welcome them into our growing community.”

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46 Comments on "Pantheon’s Brad McQuaid on ‘vertical interdependence,’ WoW killers, and attracting nontraditional MMO players"

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Alex Malone

Vertical interdependence is definitely something worth exploring, however in my opinion it is treating a symptom (difficulty in grouping up) rather than addressing the root cause: vertical progression / power gaps.

If you really want to create a thriving community where everyone can play together with minimal barriers, you need to adopt horizontal progression. It is much harder to design and its a tough sell to an audience that is addicted to bigger numbers, but it is the only type of character progression that makes sense is a massively multiplayer environment.

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Armsman

Wow – Brad’s spewing out the same kind of stuff he did just before his wildly successful “Vanguard: Saga of Heroes” was released…remind me how much of a HUGE success V:SoH is today?…oh, wait… ;)

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Anthony Clark

Anything from Smedley, or McQuaid is immediately ignored by me.

After years of suffering though their Vision in EQ, I gladly jumped ship once there was actual competition in the mmorpg market. His ‘damage to the market’ is the fact that they have to compete now, and the majority did not, and does not, like his concepts of pain in gameplay.

I have no desire for a sadomasochistic online experience. He, and Smedley need to just stop with online games. I wish them the best in life, and other pursuits; however, their names are poison to mmorpgs to me. I will not be in any virtual world of their creation.

Phone_Guy
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Phone_Guy

Vertical Independence is very important to me as my core group of friends have vastly different amounts of time to invest into a game. One element which has been phased out of modern games but I would like to see return is unbound itemization. One of my favorite elements of Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot was farming and collecting gear. I would collect gear sets and items for guild mates. I hate the concept of bind on pickup / equip. I understand why it came into existence, but its still annoying.

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Melissa McDonald

Bind on Equip is OK as long as there is item giving/trading. Bind on acquire is awful, especially when you get a juicy piece of gear that isn’t for your own class.

Reader
Stropp

Absolutely!

I know the reasons behind the BoP and BoE concept, but the one big negative this achieves is a reduction in random acts of generosity and a pay it forward mindset.

I remember, quite clearly, a number of times as a newby in a game having another player come up and examine me and open a trade window and drop in some currency or gear. There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you are the recipient of a generous gift. (Except maybe being the giver of that gift.)

I’d also like to see a re-examination of the rulesets that prevent assistance when in combat, especially healing. EQ2 was the first game, as far as I recall, that prevented other players from helping a player when they had engaged a mob or a group of mobs, including getting random heals or buffs. Sure, lots of players ran past others fighting with low health, but there were always those who dropped a heal when someone was in the red just at a critical moment.

It’s those sorts of activities that build a great in-game community. Is it any wonder that the removal of these abilities has resulted in games having much more toxic communities?

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Josh Whipkey

Brad “Designed Downtime” Mcquaid everybody!!!

Yeah!!!!

Steely Bob
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Steely Bob

“there’s always gotta be some asshole who honks in the tunnel”, my dad used to tell me.

Reader
Slaasher

Hahahahaha. I have to remember that one.
Appropriate too.

Reader
jaif13

“The desire to play with your friends, in a group, cooperatively, against the AI…”

Level-based, trinity-based, gameplay is the antithesis of this vision of playing with friends, cooperatively, against the AI, because it doesn’t work if all your friends have to be the same level, and someone has to play a class they don’t like in order for the others to have fun.

The way forward for that idea is survival games with a robust PvE engine. All of us can jump in and build a fort, fend off the monsters of the wilderness, and toss gear to the once-a-week guy so he can just join in, while the 24×7 guy can go crazy without out-leveling his friends and leaving them behind.

edit: missed a clause. :-)

Reader
Nater

I have to agree. There’s no such thing as a WoW killer. Blizzard will be the death of its game.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

Although what he’s talking about are actually WoW clones, not WoW killers. Those that tried to make a killer were doing something new and innovative, something different. Me-toos like he is talking about are clones, not killers.

While he was talking about the past, there never will be a WoW killer in the future, it’s too late. Never again will such a high percentage of gamers be gathered up on a single game. WoW can’t even be a WoW killer anymore. There are too many other games out there, way way too many. We’re all spread out all over.

There aren’t just a few games that are played by the Dev’s rules like it or not anymore, there are all sorts of rule sets and adaptations.

Unless some new tech came along to make our brains think we were really there in the game world or something and only one game had it – something totally new and different from current games in a way we can barely think of right now.

WoW couldn’t and can’t be killed, it’s an old King that is going to die of natural causes of age eventually.

Steely Bob
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Steely Bob

“Never again will such a high percentage of gamers be gathered up on a single game.”

we shall see. I’m not holding my breath, but don’t forget what made EQ the revolutionary thing it was at the time (and thus something blizzard jumped all over) was the simple transition from 2d to 3d graphics (and really bad graphics at that).

you are right to say that some unforseen tech or concept in gaming could possibly put a company in the position WoW was in for a decade just because they got lucked into it or got it right or had some other thing that prevented any competitors from really catching. I’m still amazed that LoL dominates twitch numbers.

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Melissa McDonald

may take another few years, but there will be a VR game that is the next big thing. Who knows what it will be, but it will be awesomesauce enough that people will buy in just to play it.
I have seen the future, and it is VR.

Reader
Alex Malone

Meh, I’m still of the opinion that VR is a gimmick, its just not a straight up improvement over playing games on a tv / monitor, too many downsides to it.

Maybe once we get full VR (not just sight) then we’ll have something

Vaeris
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Vaeris

Vertical independence kind of reminded me, in a rough way, of Asheron Call’s Allegiance System. It would be interesting to see that system iterated and bolstered and then entwined into various facets of gameplay (Combat, Crafting, etc.).

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Kickstarter Donor
Tandor

I’m not too sure how you can cater to traditional old-school MMO players and younger new non-traditional players gravitating to MMOs. The chances are you end up falling between the two stools and appealing to neither.

Vaeris
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Vaeris

Will be interesting to see. I’m certainly one of the old school players and I’m steering my kids with respect to MMORPGS down that set of values as far as what is cool or not. I imagine many other old school gamers are too so I don’t think that value set that we prefer is being lost completely.

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Patreon Donor
Veldan

I wish McQuaid would stop saying so many good things. I’m a one MMO at a time person, and there are too many MMOs I’m looking forward to already…

deekay_plus
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deekay_plus

i genereally don’t like mcquaid as a person or what he says, but he hits the nail on the head hard here.

Steely Bob
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Steely Bob

i’ve always liked his cantankerous stubborn mind.

deekay_plus
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deekay_plus

i’ve always thought of him as a hangeron that got lucky.

Brett
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Kickstarter Donor
Brett

“Vertical interdependence” sounds like a reasonable concept. I’d say removing the vertical separation between players is the better solution, but working around it is a decent attempt too.

I don’t agree with his server size argument though. For me, heavily sharded/instanced worlds actually reduce the feeling of a shared, persistent community. I understand when it’s necessary from a technology standpoint, but to deliberately splinter your virtual society into identical little cloned villages – which is only marginally better than everyone living their own version of the same single player RPG – seems silly to me.

Then again, I feel I’m not the target audience for this type of game. I’m way more interested in meaningful story, robust and diverse player civilisations, or just a forgiving (and hence welcoming) world with some interesting and unique gameplay. Pantheon continues to sound way more designed for “hardcore” achievers and PvErs, and so far there’s nothing that has seemed a fantastic USP as far as my interests go.

Reader
Sray

Right with you Brett. The community oriented player has been orphaned, but so has the escapist/activity oriented player. This game is still favoring the “game is serious bizniz” crowd.

deekay_plus
Reader
deekay_plus

stuf he’s said in the past strikes me that way. but the article’s statement’s hit the right notes with me.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Mr_Fester

No one trusts this man anymore, he has burned many bridges and gotten many employees fired because of his past dealings.

Reader
SeedEve

A few years back when everybody was mooning about EQNext and almost everyone would have burned Brad on the stakes . I said that Pantheon will be released and EQN will still be behind closed doors and guess what? EQN is buried and Pantheon has been getting momentum with each streaming.

deekay_plus
Reader
deekay_plus

curious thing. a few years ago before eqn/landmark was canceled the reloaded forums guys called it. that mcquaid mmo had a better chance of launching than those two games. and they turned out right.

Reader
Slaasher

Yeah I disagree with you on that one Mr_fester.

Reader
Crowe

Fester, I’ll have to disagree with the first part of what you’re saying (“no one trusts this many anymore”) because it’s obvious that there is a crowd of Pantheon supporters that do. However, I can’t disagree with the burned bridges/employee firings statements.

Vaeris
Reader
Vaeris

Yeah, to say this shows you haven’t really been following Pantheon. Sure, those old enough remember McQuaid’s past, but the number of folks not willing to give him a shot even if he does everything right and by the book is insignificant. If he puts forth a good faith effort, which he is seeming working hard on doing, the game will speak for itself.

deekay_plus
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deekay_plus

i think it’s that he’s become more of a figure head for the game, guiding design principles rather than being involved with anything “serious”/management. he ‘s not touching the money or the leadership aside from guidinging design so his bad habits are out of the mix,.

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Slaasher

I call conjecture on this.

deekay_plus
Reader
deekay_plus

it’s a known thing since last year…

Solaris
Reader
Solaris

I would say you are wrong on that. This game has developed quite a following. I think Brad may have an indie hit on his hands with Pantheon.

Reader

I agree with all of those bullet points. WOW itself was an amazing game and I enjoyed it greatly early on. Entirely to many cash grab, half ass games were spawned because of it.

While I think his idea of reaching out to non-MMO gamers is a nice gesture. I think it should be more of a footnote and not a pillar. The bulk of his player base is going to from former MMORPG players that are irritated with the status quo.

deekay_plus
Reader
deekay_plus

i find myself agreeing with what mcquaid says here. especially the last bullet point.

i’ve had so many people tell me that making my dream mmo is too costly and too hard. based on these super expensive multi hundred people devved games.

apparently not realizing that some of the most sprawling mmos before wow were made on tiny budgets with teams numbering in the teens and 20s.

mmos are doable with those kinds of numbers again. just have to be smart about how one designs them and to shy away from the sorts of things that make wow killers/clones so expensive.

Reader
Sally Bowls

mmos are doable with those kinds of numbers again.

But I wonder if successfully, profitably doable? Back when The Repop project seemed to be honest, competent people going for a concept quite popular here, there were so many complaints about its – and Project Gorgon and even CU – graphics. Are a sufficient number of customers willing to accept less than AAA? IDK. Cause if not, then AAA polish requires AAA budget which requires AAA size audience … and so it begins.

deekay_plus
Reader
deekay_plus

project gogron’s graphics are improving as per the article just yday or the day before?

repop was hamstrung by HE and idea fabrik’s shenanigans and now that those (bad bad words) are actually fixing the engine problems it’s looking alot better.

in general an mmo doesn’t need wow numbers to be wildly profitable as it is. long before wow with numbers ranging from 80-300k players they were considered licenses to print money.

and there’s plenty of not quite mmo mp games out there that do pretty well with less than blockbuster numbers even with ongoing development and operational costs.

you have to be doing downright poorly in this business like DFO was to pull losses. and DFO’s problems weren’t it’s graphics.

which back to the graphics points – which massively successful mmo’s had ubisoft levels of graphical fidelity to begin with? which isn’t even the expensive thing with mmo’s (hint: it’s questing and dungeon/raid content which is so costly)

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

(hint: it’s questing and dungeon/raid content which is so costly)

Kinda. Depends on how finicky balancing is (particularly for group content meant to be hard), and how many assets exclusively made for the quest or the dungeon/raid there are.

Or, in other words, if you are reusing assets and the content is meant to be easy, you need little more than the writer and someone that can program in the scenario in order to create the content.

deekay_plus
Reader
deekay_plus

want to add in here, even tho my own team is all equity/volunteer based, i think our biggest expenses WILL BE assets as you say. we haven’y decided how much we will go with the asset store vs making our own, but the asset creation software has already cost us a few hundred bucks for single licenses.

Reader
Melissa McDonald

Basically everyone agrees that paying artists is the top expenditure when making an MMO. It’s not the size of the team, it’s the quality/salary of the artists.

Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Space Captain Zor

two words: college interns! :P

deekay_plus
Reader
deekay_plus

assets are actually relatively cheap unless you get silly about it (see star citizen). writing is super expensive for the amount of quest content wow killers/clones have.

and raids/dungeons are just a lot of things that contribute to their expense vs relatively cheap world content that doesn’t involve quests.

so if you’ve got a game that is more systems based and less quest/dungeons based it’s going to be quite a bit cheaper in terms of money and manpower required.

Cyclone Jack
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Kickstarter Donor
Cyclone Jack

More systems also add a much needed depth to the MMO, a depth that has been all but forgotten on their quest “streamline” everything.

deekay_plus
Reader
deekay_plus

i’ll say while systems are much cheaper to do they can also be a huge headache for the leads who are responsible for them to balance and integrate. look at koster’s clusterfucks on swg. it took latter people to make alot of them work.

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