At WonderCon 2011, I caught up with 3 of Trion’s employees, Exec Producer Scott Hartsman and Community Managers Elrar and Zann, about their recently-launched MMORPG Rift.
For full disclosure, these were questions I came up with on the spot, and this was an ad-hoc conversation – the Trion guys didn’t know what I was going to ask.
Me: You came on board about 2 years ago, so how did you help shape or change the direction of the game?
Scott Hartsman (Exec Producer): For me it was really about taking a look at what had already been done, what was already in place, and figuring out how to get from where they were to where we could launch a game that was AAA. And it was amazing to me how much was actually there. I mean it was by far one of the most functional teams with functional technology, and we were in the process of getting the game from Dev mode to Beta mode and later Launch mode. So it was more about guiding, and it really wasn’t about coming in to be Thor with a hammer.
Me: So you had a great staff to work with, a talented staff?
Scott: Yes, an amazing staff.
Me: So how did you guys make the decision as far as the timing of the launch, because I’ve been really impressed with the game after only 5 weeks. I’ve experienced no server downtime (Editor’s note: there have been maintenance windows but they have typically shorter than a half-hour, not the several hours unplanned downtime I have experienced with new titles), no client crashes, no unplanned downtime. So how did you guys, how did you build a case to wait long enough until the game was polished enough to launch?
Scott: It was really simple. We had support all the way up to the Executive Board. All the games that have all flopped in the last number of years have largely flopped because they either didn’t have enough to do or they fell down. And so to us those were the 2 key things, that until we were confident that we were stable, until we were confident that we had enough to do, no one was going to let us launch, so we didn’t have anyone kicking us out the door before it was ready.
Me: So you guys were all aligned about the timing of the launch?
Scott: Everybody was.
Me: That’s good because I feel like that’s been part of what has really killed several titles, the perception of the players.
Scott: I agree.
Me: Congratulations and thank you so much for your time.
Scott: Absolutely, very nice meeting you.
Elrar (Community Manager): We are the voice of the Development team when they are too busy working. We’re there to field the questions from you guys and then go to the Development team, let them know about it, and we get information back.
Me: You guys made a conscious decision to host your own forums and there is a lot of debate about [doing] that, there are some really good articles I’ve read such as Taming the Forum Tiger, it talked about the risk of having your own forum versus letting other people host it. So, how do you guys feel about the interaction with the community, because I feel objectively that the community over-reacted a little bit to some of the changes being put in place in 1.1. People are unhappy with changes, even to those things that are objectively “overpowered” that have been tweaked. What do you do with that?
Elrar: So the first thing you always need to keep in mind is that change is hard, so, when you change something there is inevitably going to be someone who doesn’t like it. So you take that, and then you go: “OK, now is he reacting to the change or to a negative effect of that change?” Once you find that out, then you go: “Is that negative effect a valid concern, is that something we might want to look into?” And then from there we pass that on, and then Development team will take that and use all the metrics they get from the game and the qualitative information they get from the players and combine that to come up with the best decision possible. So, not all negative feedback is bad, and we try and understand why do players feel this way and then address that. Either it’s a perception issue or an actual issue. How can we explain it or improve it so that you come to accept the changes more easily?
Me: If there are inaccurate perceptions about the state of the game or state of balance, how do you guys shape or influence that, because people are going to believe whatever they are going to believe, and I think sometimes people tend to react emotionally on the forums?
Elrar: Sometimes we just need to let it simmer, let people just go out there and play the changes. And then eventually they might come back in a weekend and go “OK, I’m into this” or “I’ve found a build that plays the way I want, e.g. really big crits or something like that.” People adapt to changes, they’ll figure out how [they] can enjoy the game. It’s a very small percentage of people who actually just go “this was too much and I don’t want to play this anymore.” And you know what, sometimes it’s perfectly understandable. Sometimes it’s just not the game for you. There’s so many more people who eventually go “I understand why they made the changes, I don’t like them because it makes my class less fun, but on the whole it makes the game more enjoyable for everyone.”
Rift Schwag FTW!
Thanks Scott, Elrar, and Zann for taking the time to share your thoughts. As the t-shirt says, we’re not in Azeroth anymore :)
Man I’m jealous. Nice interviews and thanks for the transcript.
Nice, wish I could get into a gaming convention. Good to know the guys a Trion are competent and in tune with the community.
Over the past 15 months, I’ve talked to gaming executives across 4 companies now, and IMO the Trion people have their heads on straight. It was really refreshing to hear Scott’s perspective on their mindset on launch readiness.
By comparison, I think Mythic/EA and Funcom badly misjudged how ready their game was, or they were forced to launch early – at least, this is what I had heard about Mythic first-hand.
Before the launch of Rift, I was very concerned that the market would shift away from the rich, immersive MMOs that I love playing towards the more simplistic social games, as I wrote about on my blog early last year. It was looking like the industry didn’t know how to implement the big MMOs successfully. Trion has thankfully restored my faith in that respect.
I hope people reading this won’t mistake me for a “fanboy” for Rift. I write my honest opinions here, and I strive to be objective. I just think Rift is miles better than anything I have seen in years, and way better than the low bar that had been set by other companies that failed spectacularly over the past several years.
Well done mate.
Hey Taugrim! My name is Benny, but in-game name is Seventh (The Guardian Riftstalker/flagger) from Harrow. I had no idea you were in the San Francisco Bay Area! I am local to San Francisco and attended WonderCon without knowing Trion was going to be there. I got to play against you in a few Warfronts and had some fun matches of you schooling me here and there while holding a sourcestone ROFL. Anyways if you are in the San Francisco area hit me up and we can do some PVP talking! I am a secret fan btw… I live out my Warrior fantasies through your videos. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to chit chat :)
My name is Benny, but in-game name is Seventh (The Guardian Riftstalker/flagger) from Harrow
Seventh, I know who you are…
I got to play against you in a few Warfronts and had some fun matches of you schooling me here and there while holding a sourcestone ROFL
…you are the best FC I’ve seen from the Guardian side in our battlegroup, bar none. I’ve yelled props at you in Whitefall Steppes matches when I could spare the time to type.
Anyways if you are in the San Francisco area hit me up and we can do some PVP talking!
We should grab breakfast one of these days, maybe sometime next week. I have a Gmail account, user name is the same as my handle.
Thanks for saying hi!
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