Interview: New World’s Rich Lawrence on solving PvP problems and defining the sandbox

    
80

I think it’s fair to say that New World is the biggest MMO currently under production in the west, at least among those games not under wraps right now, which means many gamers within the genre are holding their breath waiting to see whether it will truly become the next big thing.

At Amazon’s invitation, we spoke with Rich Lawrence, Executive Producer for New World, to scope out how the game is coming along and just how the studio is defining the game.

MassivelyOP: I have to ask right off the bat: People seem really torn on whether this is a “real MMORPG” regardless of the fact that it can hold 10,000 players. Leakers and testers and bystanders seem to argue that it’s a survival game, a territorial PvP game, or a traditional MMO with PvP. Does AGS actually think it’s more like an MMORPG or survival sandbox? Or somewhere in between? How are we meant to think of it?

Rich Lawrence, Executive Producer: We consider New World a sandbox MMO. MMORPG has specific connotations for most players leaning towards “themepark” progression gameplay governed by narrative quests. We definitely aren’t that – that gameplay is great fun, but not the style of great fun we set out to achieve. There is a core concept in that style we do want to reach though, and that’s directed gameplay. Simply put, a player should have an idea of what to do at any given point in time, and through a variety of mechanisms we’re striving for that to be clear to players. On the other hand, we share a common characteristic of sandbox games, in that you can ignore any hints and just do what you want, and it won’t hold you back. Your ability to progress as a character, see the world, and experience gameplay is not gated by a quest chain.

Maybe another way of phrasing that question: Where in the web of MMOs and online games does New World fit in – is it more like Camelot Unchained and Crowfall, with their faction-based territorial PvP and a low-grind MMO feel, or more like a cutthroat EVE Online free-for-all, or more like a PvP-centric Conan Exiles or ARK? What’s the closest competitor to New World? Who exactly is the audience for this game? Adjacent to that: For a traditional MMORPG player, what’s the key feature of the game that makes it most MMO-like vs. least?

Lawrence: This risks sounding self-serving, but we didn’t make New World in reaction to or modeled after any other titles (it certainly has features you’ve seen before though – we didn’t invent combat!). You’ve named some games I personally loved playing (and look forward to– hi, Mark!), but we just set out to make a sandbox/MMO game, and picked features we felt were fun. The audience for this game should be excited about making their own path in the world and striving with and against others who have the same goal.

Old-school MMO players, particularly the kind of fond of territorial PvP, are surely going to look at a game like this and wonder whether it’s going to make the same mistakes of PvP sandboxes in the past – for example, I’m thinking about the way mega-guilds run roughshod over EVE Online, how territory-capture was manipulated by multi-timezone guilds in Shadowbane, how free-for-all PKing was insufficiently governed in Ultima Online, how pretty much every survival game server with PK toggled on is just a gankfest. I’ve just got to ask how AGS is going to navigate all the pitfalls of the PvP MMOs that came before it? Consider this my Jodie-Foster-in-Contact type of question – how are you going to DO it?

“It’s a goal of ours to make gameplay feel fair overall, even the times when you don’t win.” – Rich Lawrence
Lawrence: It would be folly to say we’ve solved all problems, because we aren’t fully live yet, and some of these features are still in motion. But we have considered in our design all of the issues you have named. Through a combination of how our War mode works, the criminality feature set, sanctuary (safe zone for non criminals), and a few features still in testing, we’ve worked to remove a lot of the “gank” and unfair nature of these gameplay patterns. We’ll almost certainly make some mistakes, but the mechanisms are there to exert some control, and we’ll listen to our players and modify or change out to better ones as necessary. It’s a goal of ours to make gameplay feel fair overall, even the times when you don’t win.

I know AGS has said in the past* it’s going to go buy-to-play without a sub, correct? And while there will be a cash shop, it’ll be “vanity” content – nothing pay-to-win, and definitely no lootboxes. Is that still the plan? What’s AGS’ rationale for thinking this will be enough to sustain the game? If it doesn’t sustain the game, what’s the plan for maintenance mode? And finally, how will AGS balance a vanity cash shop when its world is heavily centered on crafting – are to assume nothing in the cash shop will compete with crafted goods either?

Lawrence: We aren’t ready to share details on our business model and pricing yet, but we’ll keep you posted.

*Lawrence told PC Gamer this in August: “We’re going to monetise as just premium—so straight up you pay a flat rate, come in and join the game, it’s a live service. As it expands, you’re in that community. We are going to have MTX in the game, but no loot boxes, no pay-to-win, it’s all just like additional vanity content.” It’s not clear based on the new response whether that’s changing.

Is there a chance that AGS will at some point operate versions of the game that aren’t open PvP? If not, what would you say to folks who usually play more traditional PvE MMORPGs to get them paying attention to this one – play support? Or play merchant or scout or crafter?

Lawrence: We believe New World is a PvP game at its heart, because combat is a focus and very skill based in moment to moment game play, which is particularly compelling with other players as your opponents. That being said, we already have areas that are non-PvP, and we’ll listen to the players for guidance on how far we extend that idea. The sandbox approach and plentiful PvE encounters allow you a lot of choice in game style including, as you mention, becoming a crafter by focus, or supplying resources.

I always approach new territory MMOs from the standpoint of someone in a guild – but a small one. Can we expect some sort of alliance system that ensures solo types and small groups and guilds can band together and not be swallowed up by the resident uberguilds in the interests of basic survival? Is that what you mean by going mercenary?

Lawrence: We’re thinking a lot about this, and exploring features that would make it possible for small groups or individuals to contribute to the larger territory control wars constantly happening, either by directly participating or providing support. Stay tuned on that.

Obviously the game is hyper-focused on building and construction of large-scale buildings and towns and forts. What about personal homes? Are individuals going to see personal property, or is it all large-group-based? How accessible is this wing of gameplay for the average player?

Lawrence: We’re passionate about this, and have plans to make building an experience that average players, even non-guilded ones, can participate in.

Can we talk endgame for a bit? Sandbox endgames can get stale within a year or two if there’s no reason to shake things up. Territory MMOs like Crowfall are going with campaign arcs and resets to inject movement. What will AGS do to keep the servers lively and get folks to keep coming back once a server has reached that inevitable equilibrium?

Lawrence: The power of live online development is that we can vary gameplay on a periodic basis to provide challenge and discovery to players.

I have to ask about the NDA – when is it coming down? I have this impression that the fact that the NDA is still going strong (but so many people are testing, and a portion of those seem to be leaking with impunity) means that we’re all getting a skewed take on the game that isn’t necessarily being confronted by the (beautiful) string of screenshots coming out from official channels.

Lawrence: We’re not ready yet to identify the end date for NDA, but it’s driven by our desire for quality. We want to be confident players will have a great experience when they first see New World.

New World is one of the very few non-crowdfunded western MMORPGs of this scale publicly under construction right now. I’m curious whether the team feels any extra pressure because of that, both because the market’s clearly leaning in a different multiplayer direction and because the millions of still-existing MMO players are putting so much hope on this game. Do you feel an extra responsibility to get it just right? Or does it fill you with terror that everyone’s expectations are so high?

Lawrence: Are you trying to freak us out? Because this is how you freak people out. We’re tremendously thankful for the opportunity to work on a game and bring fun to players, and that’s about all the (positive) pressure we need.

Finally: Is there a chance the game is happening in 2019, or should be be setting our anticipation for 2020? :D

Lawrence: We don’t have a release date to share yet, but you’ll be one of the first to know when we do.

We’d like to thank AGS’ Rich Lawrence for fielding our questions. You can sign up for the New World closed alpha right now.

newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
Fervor Bliss

To bad an online bookseller cannot even come up with a story, instead just going to make another mindless virtual PvP mosh pit.

Reader
Patreon Donor
Kickstarter Donor
Loyal Patron
agemyth 😩

Well, thanks to Amazon and Mr. Lawrence for giving MOP their time for this interview, but I don’t think I know any more about New World or what AGS plans to do with it after reading this.

A lot of us are probably already playing this game (at least of the people who bothered to apply for testing) and we just get mostly non-answers. :shrug:

Reader
Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

That question you asked was SO great about which game is this closer to and he just shrugged it off.

It’s not your fault but at that point I stop reading because if a guy who invites you to ask questions doesn’t answer them, he doesn’t deserve me learning about his game.

Random MMO fan
Reader
Random MMO fan

Pretty vague answers which don’t really clarify what this game will be about. Well, there will definitely be PvP, which is a good thing (while I did not participate in large-scale fights in EVE and was mostly a filthy carebear running missions, I did acknowledge the FACT that this type of gameplay was the primary reason the in-game world felt “alive” to me, at all times of the day, between all expansions, like in no other MMO), but not much information about types of PvP and the driving forces behind it… Would also be interesting to hear more about crafting and structure building.

Reader
Sorenthaz

“PvP game at heart” is an immediate red flag. A PvP game with PvE in it is basically just a wolf with sheep’s clothing, trying to lure sheep in for the wolves to slaughter. Hard to imagine this being nothing more than a gankbox unless they add in some structure and order to it. You simply cannot expect people to behave and work together in a setting where there are no rules/meaningful consequences.

Reader
Leiloni

a setting where there are no rules/meaningful consequences.

I think you’re assuming too much.

kjempff
Reader
kjempff

Yeah and so far no pvp mmo has come up with working systems to prevent the gankbox syndrome – the wolves will exterminate the sheep (content aka other players) and begin eating eachother (prey on the weak) and in the end starve themselves to death (game dies because no sheep players aka content is left).

Reader
rafael12104

So, I had to wait a bit to digest this interview to avoid a knee-jerk reaction. Heh. And I’m not sure there was much to digest. I was glad to learn from Mark that at least Rich has a good pedigree. It adds credibility.

So, in broad strokes, I didn’t find anything really new. But I suppose that is normal at this stage. As a player that will PvP but focuses on PvE, I was disheartened to get the impression that PvE is only a small vestige tied to PvP and limited.

The thing is, in my experience, PvP MMORPGs with lasting power open up more and more PvE content because there are many that gravitate to PvE in between the relatively short PvP encounters. There is a magic mixture there.

And to follow along Uta’s point, there needs to be flexibility in the game to attract those players that are in it for the things that aren’t PvP.

As an example, take BnS, the game I play most at the moment. It is known as a PvP game and a very competitive one with a big Esports presence in Korea. And yet, the bulk of the content they release is PvE. It is a theme park so that makes a difference, but at the very least devs realized early on that the players that stay are those that find a good PvE experience. Whereas PvP players are more likely to play a while and then move on to the next shiny new PvP game.

I could go on, but I’ll save you the layers of text on this wall. Suffice it to say that those non PvP pieces become very important in the long run. Neglect those and the players looking for a world to experience and it will be a meteoric rise and fall, and that is if the game is good at all.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Richard de Leon III

well, good thing they are clear about the pvp, gonna avoid this train wreck.

Reader
Baemir

So it’s a trainwreck because it has a PvP focus?

Reader
Loyal Patron
Rottenrotny

Ahhh, the old Stop liking what I don’t like.

Classy.

Reader
Chris Ochs

Amazon has multiple motives with this game. I don’t believe making great games is even their primary goal. An interview with Smedley on Venture Beat gave a clue when he said Bezos told him I don’t care what you make as long as it uses ridiculous amounts of computation.

Amazon not only has their own game engine but all of their other services that they would like game developers to use. I think making games is more of a gateway into the game industry for them, a way to get a foothold and then eventually dominate the technology used there.

And hey if they do a good job of that, as a game developer I have no issues at all. But I’m highly skeptical about their ability to produce great games.

Reader
Dan

I know “someone” that has been in the alpha since day one. This person knows it is a gankbox of the highest magnitude, with very little character, mechanics or world depth – but this “person” I know sure will tell you the world is pretty. The forums are alive with posts with suggestions and often even full on development/design documents trying to get AGS to more in a more dynamic and retention driven mmo world – but the devs will not budge. Whats more, the developer focused pvp elements of the game are shallow, repetitive and without much reason.

Reader
Utakata

“We believe New World is a PvP game at its heart, because combat is a focus and very skill based in moment to moment game play, which is particularly compelling with other players as your opponents.”

Why does it have to be? There is nothing stopping them from achieving their goals with this game without the PvP, or PvP least put on a back burner.

There seems to be a real attraction to creating toxic ingame environments with these so called indie developers there days, IMO. Because with all the flowery words and libertarian apologetics, you never going to get the gank out of Open PvP and/or FFA PvP. So let’s get real. And enough already.

Reader
Crowe

I agree. But it seems like developers think that’s what we want. Even though most of these PvP games seem to last briefly at best.

Reader
Utakata

Even if it where to become successful, I am still not sure the reason and/or obsession with PvP in games that probably do okay without the PvP focus.

Reader
Arktouros

It’s been explained multiple times.

Your argument basically is like saying “Why don’t ice cream companies just make Vanilla ice cream? What’s this obsession with Chocolate ice cream? They could accomplish the same basic function of ice cream as Vanilla as they could with Chocolate.” Some people like Vanilla, some people like Chocolate. Right now there’s a lot of Vanilla on the market, it makes sense companies are going to eventually aim to supply the Chocolate market.

The real question you should be asking yourself is why are you so intolerant of the idea companies providing Chocolate to those who want it?

Reader
Utakata

Strawman. This isn’t about me asking every game not to be chocolate because I like vanilla. I’ve never asked that of the industry nor do I desire it. However, when the market is saturated with one flavor the industry keeps pushing, those who want vanilla and those who had enough of the chocolate will start to protest about it.

As well as, if believe the PvP to be needless and pointless, I’ll also say something about it as well. This game seems to cover all those bases of my valid criticisms.

Reader
Arktouros

You literally said: “I am still not sure the reason and/or obsession with PvP in games that probably do okay without the PvP focus.” Replace the word PvP with chocolate and it’s the exact same thing.

The MMO market has been saturated with PvE titles for over a decade now. You guys love to trot them out as example of how successful PvE titles are over PvP focused titles. Great. You have your Vanilla. The market is full of Vanilla. So why would a new ice cream maker try to make yet-another Vanilla ice cream? That will work for a bit, but when the original Vanillas people were enjoying come out with “Vanilla with Sprinkles!” people going to abandon that new Vanilla for their old Vanilla ice cream. We saw this happen time after time again. It’s why big companies stopped making them.

Meanwhile you got this massive, booming Chocolate Cake market out there. I mean this Chocolate Cake thing is a freaking juggernaut. So game companies get this idea, what about chocolate ice cream? Maybe some, not all, of those people who like chocolate cake will also like chocolate ice cream? There’s no one serving chocolate ice cream right now. The market is wide open.

PvP is as needless and pointless as chocolate is. It’s simply a different kind of content. I could just as easily say all PvE is pointless and needless. It doesn’t hold up because it’s more of a preference than really a fact based argument.

Reader
Utakata

Or pink strawberry either. :(

Reader
Arktouros

Where we come into today and “every single inbound MMO is PvP-Centric” is Utakata’s question of why do all those have to be PvP-Centric? To answer that we have to look at the past market when it was all Vanilla. To that end I said no one was (as in past tense) serving chocolate. Chocolate isn’t asking Vanilla to feel sorry. Chocolate is saying it’s not going to feel sorry for Vanilla that literally dominated the MMO market for a decade or more. The fact that your vanilla is stale is a problem of their own creation because instead of supporting new vanilla they always went back to their tried and true brands of vanilla.

And yes, the lack of innovation in the MMO space has been killing the MMO industry for a long time now. Even these PvP games are just re-treads of old ideas. Albion = EVE. Aria = UO. Camelot Unchained = DAOC. Crowfall = Shadowbane. Even PvE games are getting into the regression thing as well with (haha) “Vanilla” WOW before all the toppings they’ve added on over the years.

Reader
Utakata

We’re onto caramel swirl and strawberry flavors right now. I prefer Häagen-Dazs. You? o.O

Reader
Arktouros

I don’t like either of those ice cream flavors.

Nor am I opposed to those ice cream flavors existing and hope the people who do like those ice cream flavors have a good time! :)

Reader
Arktouros

The developers don’t think PvE players want PvP based games. What they think is that most PvE players already have their PvE games they play because all the MMO market has pretty much released for the last decade was PvE titles. They can release a new PvE title out but time after time again PvE players have shown when their old chosen titles (WOW, FFXMXIDCMVI, etc) put out a new expansion or large patch those PvE players go back to those original games and abandon the new games.

What there isn’t a lot of is competitive based titles out there for MMOs. A lot of companies have tried to make that but as you noted very few have lasted very long. This is because a competitive based game is very easy to get wrong, more so than your standard PvE title. Most failed games can be explained not by a lack of interest but instead a failure of systems holding up to the rigors of a competitive based environment.

While titles like Battle Royales and MOBAs have different characteristics to MMO games they also share many similar characteristics as well. No one is building one of these games thinking they’ll siphon off the entire Fortnite playerbase but if they can capture even a fragment of it (among other games) that’s a huge amount of players. People can try to downplay this, but as last Wednesday showed there were some huge name Twitch Streamers who play said shooter titles just primed and ready to go for Atlas launch on Wednesday with multiples of them in the 40k+ viewer ranges.

It feels bad to be snubbed and ignored. I get it. I get it because for the better part of a decade PvP was basically an afterthought or outright ignored in almost every MMO released. At some point some developer will see this and also try to capitalize on a disenfranchised market and when that happens you’re not going to find me there, pouting, saying they should think of the PvPers too. You guys have fun in your games. Let us have fun in ours.

Reader
tiltowait

This is because a competitive based game is very easy to get wrong, more so than your standard PvE title.

Because more than 30 seconds thought needs to be put into the WHY PvP question. If the answer is “Full loot”, return to GO, do not collect 200$/presale. Not all player interaction needs to be deadly. Not all player interaction needs to be pointless mayhem. Risk vs Reward does not have to be black and white, it can have shades of grey. The KEY is to make systems of player interaction that are fun, like a sport, with rewards, then bake that into your game. Put in real gold sinks, and you are in business

Reader
Arktouros

Full Loot is a wonderful example of what I’m talking about how it’s easy to get wrong.

First you gotta ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish with implementing a full loot system. Generally speaking the answer is you want to generate a reward for the victor, create a penalty for the loser, and in general makes you want to avoid death. If I go out and engage in PvP I’m now risking my gear meaning I’ll have to replace that gear.

So that leads to how are you going to let people replace that gear? The best solution tends to be crafting and it’s the reason why almost all PvP games with loot drops focus on crafting (not to lure in “crafting sheep” or whatever nonsensical rationalization people came up with). Crafting can be crowd sourced with labor creating a whole group effort it’s great.

Then where things get super complicated is in tiers of gear. So if you got basic bitch gear as your base but then have DOOM DREAD KILL gear as your Tier 11 equivalent how does that impact PvP? Cause if you’re 100% more effective in T11 compared to the basic bitch that’s not going to work. The flatter the gear progression, if any at all, the better things are.

Where companies get it wrong is they’ll generally make it so gear is too hard or tedious to replace. If you make people grind out materials/money for 6 hours only to lose it in 30 seconds in PvP that’s going to be super bad.

This is why Ultima Online is so heavily praised as a PvP game out of PvP players. It got it’s full looting right. I could die and lose a full set of Grandmaster crafted gear and setup and be back in PvP and actually be competitive in a reasonable amount of time.

The problem with most games you’re describing is there’s plenty of reward, but no risk. You need to have a loser in order for winning to be good. If everyone gets participation trophies it just isn’t very meaningful. That’s why games like Battle Royales work so well, cause when you lose you actually lose but, as discussed above, your investment in that loss isn’t so much that you can’t get back up, dust yourself off, and get back into it.

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

That’s why games like Battle Royales work so well, cause when you lose you actually lose but, as discussed above, your investment in that loss isn’t so much that you can’t get back up, dust yourself off, and get back into it.

Actually, in the typical Battle Royale game, including the two biggest ones — PUBG and Fortnite — you lose nothing on death apart from the time you spent on the doomed match. In fact, even failing in a match can propel you towards your next reward, so not only you don’t have any penalty for losing, you often get rewarded for it.

That, mind, is kinda required in a game where you have dozens of players in a match but only one victor. Otherwise the frustration of losing would reach a boiling point and blow away most players.

Also, there are no rewards for winning that can influence the gameplay. It doesn’t matter if you have already played thousands of matches and won hundreds of times or if you are a fresh player that just downloaded the game, you still doesn’t have any mechanical advantage or disadvantage when compared with any other player. So, in that sense, the only rewards for winning are bragging rights and fluff that doesn’t influence the game.

Reader
Arktouros

you lose nothing on death apart from the time you spent on the doomed match.

Everything in most games can be broken down to a universal currency of time. Getting more gear in Ultima Online just took grabbing some gold, walking over to a vendor, and buying it and there you were combat capable. If you lose it you’re just out the time it took to get the gold that gear represents. Systems that reduce that cost immensely (most battle royales and systems like UO) it makes sense to have a drop based system. Conversely if you compare it to something like a MOBA where you will spend most of a patch buying item after item to “craft” into a super item it doesn’t make sense or would feel good to lose it on death. The item:time ratio is too high in that scenario.

It’s understanding that mindset that sets a lot of PvPers apart from others. EVE players have a saying, don’t fly what you’re not prepared to lose. Which, back to my original point, when a looting system always makes you feel awful for losing stuff because you know the effort it’ll take to get it back is awful then you have a poorly balanced loot system. That’s true for any type of game.

You also basically bring up another point I also addressed above and that’s a loot/gearing system needs to be extremely flat. You don’t want to have a scenario where vets can equip top end gear and just crush noobs all day long. You need to have a system where where the loot progression is flat and is mostly side grades to one another. This is another area where a lot of PvP games get wrong.