Divergence Online’s Ethan Casner on SWG 2.0, open PvP, and edgelords


Star Wars Galaxies-inspired indie sandbox Divergence Online busted out its third alpha and third crowdfunding campaign last week, prompting many of Massively OP’s readers to wonder, “What the heck is Divergence Online?” That’s precisely why I chatted up the game’s lead dev, Ethan Casner, about the status of the game, its open PvP system, and its edgy non-marketing. Enjoy!

Update 9/23/2015 9:30 a.m. EDT: In response in part to your feedback to this article, Casner has announced a stretch goal for a second server that will feature a TEF-based, consensual PvP system.

Massively OP: Some of the assets in your screenshots (and the music!) appear to be dead-on copies of bits from SWG. Are those placeholders? How are you getting away with that without bringing SOE/Daybreak, EA, and Disney down on your head, especially since you’ve been operating for several years already?

Ethan Casner: Just being careful and mindful, more or less. You won’t find anything actually attached to the Star Wars brand in Divergence, such as music (that’s just in the non-monetized video), stormtroopers, or assets that persisted or originated outside of SWG-the-game. As many people have pointed out to me. though, at this stage, getting sued by any mouthpiece on the three-headed beast that is Sony/Daybreak/Disney would end up being a blessing to us! Primarily because I’m constantly reaffirmed through counsel that we’re miles away from any legitimate infraction and just think of the exposure!

In all seriousness, you’re correct in that Divergence does contain many things that resemble SWG simply because… that was the whole point. Some of them are placeholders; some of are here to stay, such as the big harvesters and buildings. The responses I’ve gotten through email and other means when people hear “that old interface” and see the interiors of those buildings they once knew, I can only describe as “quite emotional.” And that’s exactly the response we were going for. You need to understand that this is a community that more or less scattered to the wind 10 years ago. Careers have come and gone since. Relationships, the same. After 10 years, these people are convinced those times are gone and they will never, ever, return. If you’re one of those people, you’re broken on some level. Jaded. Ruined by knowledge of what fun actually was like before… well, this age we’re in of SWTOR. Even if the graphics are updated, and the universe is unfamiliar, the moment you log in and your characters feet touch the cold surface of that cloner, the moment your ears first hear the sound of the harvesters outside, your brain rips you right back there and you’re like a child again.

The decision to go for open PvP is a big sticking point for those in our audience who loved SWG’s consensual TEF system. What made you go that route? Are you not concerned it will limit your audience since there are already so many other sandboxes with this style of play? How will you stop your game from becoming a gankfest, thus negating all the other yummy gameplay bits in the box?

There was a ton of stuff that I personally loved about SWG, thus why we’re doing this, but in no way do I consider it to have been perfection. The TEF system, while there was a /citywarn, was really cool. However as the years went on, I’ve found that I ended up actually enjoying the experience of non-consensual PvP more. At first glance, a person will look at this and say, “Well, obviously in a system that allows anyone to be attacked at any time, all you’re going to get is mindless chaos,” but just like you come to find out in life, things often don’t happen the way you expected they would at first glance.

Is there utter bedlam in EVE Online? Is the black voice of space painted pink with clouds of frozen blood, suspended in the trade-lanes? Not really. What about the hundreds of other open PvP games such as Lineage II? Surely they’re building castles purely out of severed heads by now, right? Not at all.

In fact, oddly enough, investigation will reveal to you the truth, which is that open-PvP MMOs end up being some of the longest-running, most successful MMOs ever, and with arguably the best communities. It’s my personal belief through years of observation that this stems from the type of player that they attract and nurture, and those are the players that Divergence wants.

In my experience, when you find out that you can attack anyone at will, that feeling lasts about four seconds, right up until the moment you realize they can attack you as well, at which point society in these MMOs tends to stabilize. The only thing an open-PvP system does is give you the thing that I’ve personally come to treasure most, which is freedom: the freedom to do something, the knowledge that, should you choose to accept the consequences of that action, you still could do it, is I believe absolutely crucial.

Therefore, absolutely you’re right. I’m sure a good percentage of people will see “open PvP” and immediately lose interest based on their first impression, but those aren’t the people we’re looking to recruit; what we want are adventurers.

The SWG emus pull a significant chunk of players who miss old-school SWG; I know I have been waiting for the no-wipe Suncrusher server for what seems like forever. How do you think you measure up next to it? Do you hope to pull players from it?

Virtually everyone I know has an SWGEmu account. And yet, I don’t know anyone who plays it seriously. I’m very, very glad it exists, as I’m sure many people are, but its goals and future are vastly different from that of Divergence.

Primarily, the emulators more or less set out to exactly reproduce the original pre-NGE SWG client and experience, down to the last detail. They want nothing changed. Whereas Divergence sets out to “pick up where SWG left off and develop a whole new experience.” A good comparison might be Victorian houses. There will always be people who want to live in an old Victorian house, as close to original as possible. And yet, there will also always be those who want to live in a new house in the Victorian style. People who want to log in and occasionally relive SWG exactly as it was will be able to do so, but at the understanding that its capabilities will never be greater than it was then. If you want a future, you download Divergence.

Some of our readers reacted really strongly to the way your Indiegogo is worded. Some appreciate the candor, while others… well, one called you an “edgelord” for your blunt, expletive-laden descriptions. Why market yourself in this way?

I’m not really sure what an “edgelord” is, but to be honest, that actually sounds cool as hell! Like I’m a stone-cold Samurai warrior… or is that perhaps one of those trendy new phrases meant as some sort of composite compliment/insult like “tryhard”? I can’t quite keep up with the rate they’re making up internet words, but now I’m totally wanting “Ethan Casner – Lord of Edge” on my business cards!

There was never any actual marketing plan.

I went into business for myself years ago because I realized that, while I can act and conduct myself in a professional manner when I need to, such as when representing others, for me it’s a taxing practice that I just didn’t see myself performing the rest of my life. I’m just a hermit game developer who got stuck being the voice of a project they care passionately about simply because there was no one else able to do it.

In fact, history will show that I/we did try the “professional approach” for several years. It’s just that for all my carefully chosen words and considerate language, it wasn’t until I just sort of gave up trying and went for the “no bullshit approach” that people started responding and our progress really picked up.

You could say that our approach simply targets a different demographic now: those without delicate sensibilities. And when deciding whether or not to invest their money in a new game project, those people seem to care about only three things:

  • Are the claims made true/verifiable?
  • Is the product/game worthwhile?
  • How confident do I feel in the developers’ sincerity and dedication?

Since 2013, we’ve simply been offering up those three things in abundance to all-comers, and since then we’ve yet to have a campaign fail.

I know you said the latest crowdfunding campaign is intended to add combat so the game is more than crafting simulator 2015. What’s wrong with Crafting Simulator 2015, I ask you?! (I would play that.) But seriously, what will happen if you don’t meet your goals for funding combat? Will you release the crafting module anyway?

The crafting module is already released and live. Go check it out! Everything you see in the first and second video is “as it is” in the game right now. That’s a big part of how we do things: We show you what we’ve done with your money up to this point so you’ll believe us when we tell you about the new stuff we want to fund.

Are you anticipating future campaigns after this one, or is this the capstone once combat is fully in place?

We expect this will be the last before launch. There are a number of things that we wanted to offer up for sale in this campaign that unfortunately weren’t in the cards, so we aren’t totally ruling it out, but the goal is to make it to launch without the need.

We’d like to thank Casner for his time and honesty. The game is currently accepting pledges on Indiegogo.

Update 9/23/2015 9:30 a.m. EDT: In response in part to your feedback, Casner has announced a stretch goal for a second server that will feature a TEF-based, consensual PvP system.
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