It’s been a wild year for PWE’s Cryptic Studios, as it’s been busy maintaining its core MMORPGs but also working on Magic Legends, which began life as an MMO and has since shifted gears – and delayed significantly. That’s the takeaway from a new interview on VentureBeat with Cryptic boss Stephen D’Angelo, who covers a ton of ground on the company’s early history with City of Heroes through Champions Online and Star Trek Online. (Apparently a future piece will cover the company’s modern position.)
“City of Heroes pioneered some gameplay ideas and some technology ideas that — a lot of them have permeated the whole industry since,” D’Angelo says. “People today, anybody who’s played City of Heroes has stories about the world that were important to them. That’s probably the biggest lesson Cryptic picked up about making online game experiences. You have to start by making the world a place people want to visit. […] But there are a lot of technology ideas in there too. The other important one for us that came out of City of Heroes was, they did something called sidekicking, which allowed anybody to play with anybody else. A high level player could bring a low level player to their level and go play content together. We tried to keep that model in all of our games. It makes it far more inclusive for people to play with their friends.”
Indeed, those principles carried through into Champions Online, which – let’s admit – is often the butt of jokes in the MMORPG genre as folks suspects it’s one of the tiniest MMOs kept alive. D’Angelo says the company figured it’d build for five years, maybe seven if the game was great. But Champions is still trucking along, as is Star Trek Online.
“Star Trek Online is a great example. We’re partway through the 10th year. This year we’ll probably have revenues five percent worse than the best year ever. The worst year ever was only 20 percent below the best year. This is not an industry where you spike big, get your big sales, then everyone bleeds away in 18 months, if you keep adapting your games to your customers. That’s the lesson that is the heart of what makes Cryptic and its games successful. We’re constantly figuring out, from our community, what they want. We’re constantly trying to reinvent the game for them. They’re there because they love the world. You can see that in City of Heroes as well. How many people still will hop on a City of Heroes server — there are pirate servers out there — because they love the world? But the trick is to not let that world get stale, to let it keep growing with the people playing it. As long as we’ve been doing that, we’ve been keeping players. Thousands of people played Star Trek in its opening week who are still playing today.”