PAX Online 2020: Pantheon, Ashes of Creation, Amazon, and Crowfall devs on the future of online games

    
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PAX Online 2020: Pantheon, Ashes of Creation, Amazon, and Crowfall devs on the future of online games

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.

source: YouTube

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Vaeris
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Vaeris

Confused why it’s wrong to be loyal to a given title that delivers what you want. Seems like this is implying that I should buy another title that doesn’t deliver what I want just because they are making a game.

Only one of the games being made represented in that panel has my interest. The others don’t for a number of reasons. Why should I have to contribute to the success of titles that aren’t making what I want to play?

Or am I misunderstanding “…speaking against the tribalism of title loyalty.”

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Solaris

Watched this live. Wish they had another hour. Fantastic panel and all the devs were on point.

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Arktouros

WOW’s success had a number of factors behind it but most of it comes down to things that other developers have no control over. For example one the biggest things when WOW came out was places like YouTube or Twitch just weren’t things yet. You couldn’t go look up a guide to Molten Core and have the whole place figured out in 24 hours of that content being released. My guild was top on our server at WOW’s release and we were straight up hard stuck in Molten Core. We were wiping for 12+ hours a raid session till I came up with the strategy to progress.

Like Coleman is 100% correct there’s now this hive mind like collective intelligence all bouncing off each other to break and conquer these games. In those 12+ hours of wiping we woulda seen tons of clips of ideas on how other groups beat them from live stream Twitch while YouTube guide makers fight to be the first to put out how to beat things for views. Perkins is talking about things like discovery but games like The Secret World which had flat out mind bending puzzles that were available as guides within 72 hours of the game release.

What this means is that companies like Blizzard had time to manage their content better. They could leave Molten Core super hard, then slowly make it easier when the next content drop was impending. Then once that dropped it was the new hard, and the older content was more accessible. However as we saw with WOW Classic once everyone knows what to do it’s just a matter of execution and people are cracking boss encounters in the first 24 hours like most other games.

Games today can’t rely on mystery and figuring things out to elongate a games shelf life. The “hive mind” as it were is going to crack that. You need to design games with interesting end game game play that keeps people coming back because it’s fun to do for fun reasons.

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PanagiotisLial1

To be honest I cant understand the “then WoW happened”. WoW pretty much copied its fundemental gameplay core from another game, Everquest, added some quality of life and tied that gameplay to an IP that was extremely popular among single player gamers so it was bound to generate interest out of pure MMOers as opposed to EQ.

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Arktouros

EverQuest for example was largely repeatable content where you grinded the same camps in the same areas for either XP, money or loot. So for example you would go camp orcs until you had enough orc belt turn ins to level up past orcs so you could go camp the next thing. This has the obvious flaws that reared up in EQ where there would be a lot of fighting over camps/spawns and the like. Things like dungeons weren’t instanced so you would get people who would literally do 24-72 hour marathons camping a spawn to get loot from dungeons kinda thing.

WOW took things to the next level by simplifying a lot of that game play. Instead of camping orcs till you had enough belts, it was a singular quest that you would just go kill 10 orcs. Then you might get a follow up quest to kill orcs and get 5 orc belts. This also meant they were free to design the maps a bit differently so they could fully use them rather than just setting up 6 orc camps across two zones for people to use they could use each part of the map and move people through it. Since people are constantly moving through it you might run into a few bottlenecks (especially at the beginning) but so long as people keep moving eventually it all works out pretty smoothly. Dungeon instances removed the need for marathon loot camping sessions to get what you wanted.

So there’s a significant number of changes there from EQ design that made the genre far more palatable to the “normal” player which is why the genre blew up from thousands of players to millions.

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Bruno Brito

Vanilla WoW’s quest design was leaps and bouds beyond EQ, indeed.

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Blake

Yep what Ark said.

kjempff
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kjempff

The similarities between WoW and Eq were only on the surface, but the core game was fundamentally different.
Wow was the first story driven mmorpg, which was completely different form of mmo than Eq, which was open ended (at the time). WoW and Eq2 were very similar games, and not even Eq2 is very close to Eq on a fundamental level.

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CW Eckert

I would like to point out that Final Fantasy XI, City of Heroes and Everquest 2 all released before WoW and emphasized similar story progression mechanics.

It wasn’t necessarily that WoW innovated anything in particular. Rather, it possessed a gameplay balance, narrative pacing, and established fanbase that collectively facilitated its state of critical mass with little immediate required adjustment. This differentiated it from the earlier examples which suffered various problems at launch such as a lack of guidance or player direction and difficulty spikes, redundancy and pacing, and content divergence / alienation of its original playerbase along with high PC performance requirements respectively.

Even that is an oversimplification, as what followed is far better understood.

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CW Eckert

I’d also like to add Mabinogi to that list, which is also a fairly narrative-oriented MMO. Mabinogi’s biggest problem was that it came to the west almost 4 years late.

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Bruno Brito

Interesting. I’m honestly quite interested in the MOP readers reactions to such panel, specially Ark since he’s way more informed on these things than i am.

That being said, while i don’t think the MMO future is all that brilliant, i do think there’s a valid effort in trying to leave some of the more “WoWy” aspects behind. Not all, mind you. Devs still think that endgame is the only game and streamlining is the only solution.

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Arktouros

I have a personal dislike for Sharif because he stole our guild in ArcheAge then refused to give it back and kept it, in his words, as “a trophy” so it’s hard to set my bias against him aside but otherwise I most of these people are speaking my jam. Loved Margret back from Friday Night Ops in PS2 so glad to see she’s still around.

I’d much rather have companies trying new things and failing then just pumping out the same old themepark games and failing anyways. The MMO genre kinda had this combat evolution with pseduo action combat or action combat that’s fun and interesting but we never had the content evolution. Smed gets this the most and I think PvE games are just way too static to be interesting long term.

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

“The MMO genre kinda had this combat evolution with pseduo action combat or action combat that’s fun and interesting but we never had the content evolution.”

Yep.