What could online gaming look like going forward? That was the overall topic discussed by a number of devs as part of in a panel at PAX Online 2020, which was hosted by Margaret Krohn from Ashes of Creation and composed of Ashes of Creation’s Steven Sharif, Amazon Studios’ John Smedley, Crowfall’s J. Todd Coleman, and Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen’s Chris Perkins, all of whom certainly have their own ideas about what a good MMORPG should be.
The panel went over why each of the panelists got hooked on online games and entered the games industry, what each person’s game is bringing to the MMO world, experiences with forming a community around MMOs, and how multi-platform and cross-platform can change things for the genre.
Coleman in particular discusses his previous experiences working with the “WoW themepark model of games” in the “8-88” age bracket, contrasting that with Crowfall, for which he wanted something different. “Before there was WoW, none of us had an idea of what would work because we didn’t know – nobody had tried anything,” he says. “So we tried a bunch of crazy ideas out. Like, Asheron’s Call had a fealty system where you could get other players to swear fealty to you, and then as they were killing monsters, a fragment – it was like a multi-level marketing scheme for experience points.” (Vehement nodding and grinning from the whole panel there.) “You would just gain levels by having people out farming. Weird stuff like that, right?”
But then WoW happened.
“Usually if you look at a genre like FPS or RTS or MOBA or whatever, at some point somebody finds the amazing perfect combination of elements, and then everybody else basically riffs on that. They all kinda take that exact same pattern and make minor tweaks to it. […] We all tried that in WoW and it didn’t work. So WoW came out and found this perfect combination of all these elements, and then everybody tried to make exactly the same with a slight tweak, and none of them were even close to what WoW was. It just didn’t work. [… So for Crowfall] we thought it would be interesting to go back to pre-WoW and look at earlier branches off the evolutionary tree that had promise but basically died on the altar of not-WoW: Because it’s not WoW, it’s clearly not the way you make billions of dollars, so let’s just stop investing in it.”
When discussing the community, there was a point where the panelists addressed what the devs are ultimately attempting to achieve. “Believe me, we wouldn’t spend all our waking days and hours making something if we didn’t care,” said Krohn. “Just to make sure there’s an understanding in separating the developers from the executives,” continued Sharif, “The people that are going in to game development, that are building these games, they usually do it because they’re passionate about games.” This was followed by an interjection by Coleman, who said, “The execs can make more money in another industry with a lot less pain and aggravation, frankly. What I’ve seen is people who come into the games space because they think it might be kind of neat; they leave. They’re like ‘why would I put up with this crap?'”
The panel closed with each panelist’s individual thoughts on the future of online games. On that final topic there was a nice sense of camaraderie among each developer, expressing excitement for each of the aforementioned developing games and speaking against the tribalism of title loyalty. It’s not a particularly revelatory panel, but it’s nice to hear from each dev’s experiences and see them all ultimately come together. You can check the panel after the break, which should be set to play right at the start of the discussion.