Bill Roper Talks Champions Launch

John Funk | 24 Sep 2009 23:28
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WC: Fantasy MMOs are pretty played out. Now with Champions, City Of, the DC Universe MMO, superheroes might be next. Sci-fi has EVE, Old Republic, Star Trek ... are there any unexplored MMO frontiers that you think might become popular?

Roper: I haven't seen a Western MMO yet. It's really interesting, if you look at genres that sell well in videogames, fantasy and sci-fi are the killer apps, but Westerns? They seem to be popular amongst gamers, but have never done well in gaming. Why don't Western-based games do well? Certainly, having a MMO based on a Western flavor could be big.

I think we're seeing other genres starting to get looked at. Crime ones like CrimeCraft and APB are pretty new - the advent of GTA did so well, and people were asking, "How do we move that concept into the MMO space?" There have been a couple of others... I don't think we've seen classic post-apocalyptic, but we tried to do something like that with Hellgate: London. A Fallout-style MMO would be incredibly popular with gamers. I think there's a lot of fodder out there to be used and puts into a MMO game - single player style games that haven't jumped over into MMO space.

The biggest thing is, you have to be trying to make a game and say "here's a really interesting and fun game, that's also played by a bunch of people online." There needs to be less of a focus on "we have everything that you need to put into an MMO, and it also happens to be a game that's online with a bunch of people playing it at the same time."

It's a very difficult challenge to enter the well-established MMO space. There are certain things that you are expected to do if you're an MMO, and it's a really tough situation. If you do them, you get complaints that "Oh, everybody does that." If you don't do them, then you get chided for not doing it. I think developers will say, "Hey, we love that there are hundreds of thousands of players that want to play together, and are going to be less concerned about the trappings of an MMO."

The biggest bonus we have as developers is the fact that online gameplay is not only accepted but expected in a bunch of games now.

WC: So, MMOs without the trappings of an MMO?

Roper: I think there's a lot of interest in that, but it comes down to: Is the game fun, solid, and a good game? Certainly, I think that there's a very, very high bar if you're making a (quote/unquote) MMO right now. Maybe an impossible bar. If you're launching an MMO, you won't just get compared to your genre in terms of fantasy vs. sci-fi vs. superheroes, you'll be compared to any other games in the genre that players like. "Oh, you're an MMO? Then I'm going to compare you to EQ and WoW and WAR - any other MMO that's big and popular!"

This is unfortunate for developers and publishers and players. A new game will come out and get automatically compared to something that has been out for three/four/five years and had tons of development. Wrath of the Lich King came out and introduced the "phasing" concept to WoW, and we've had people tell us that they thought Champions "was fail" because it didn't use phasing. But WoW has been out for almost five years now, and Champions came out twenty-one days ago!

Going back to the TV-show analogy, it's like if you go back and watch the pilot of a show and then start complaining that it doesn't have complicated relationships between the characters and a rich history to build on. Of course it doesn't, because you're just watching the second or third episode; it hasn't been on the air for six season yet! But you can say, "Yeah, it's really cool, I like it and I want to get on board."

Do I like the world, do I like the feel of it? Yes, there are launch issues, and things that are just "okay," but do I like the structure? Do I like what I do? I'm building the star of the show, so do I like what I'm able to do? If all those things fall in line for me, then I'm on board. As the playerbase matures and as MMOs mature, that's the thought process that goes along. I think we are starting to see that.

WC: Any final thoughts on the state of the game thus far?

Roper: I think that Champions is above anything else at this point in the game. Any game that comes out, you can ALWAYS find something, "Oh, I really didn't like that part." But I think that the biggest thing otherwise is that Champions is really fun. It's been really surprising to me, that the overwhelming majority of people that have gotten subscriptions play every night. Our numbers of unique logins are ridiculously close to the number of people that bought the game!

Even to see complaining in the forums is genuinely good, since we can get feedback and work towards it. But the underlying thing is that the game is fun; you can make whatever hero that you really envision, especially since it has a very open system. If you want to make an electricity based guy, you use the standard electric powerset, but you can tweak and design it, throw in some other powers - you can get in there and have fun. There's going to be more of that.

I just really hope that players that want to be able to come in and make an iconic character in an MMO will come give Champions a try. It frustrates me that it's just a race for equipment in most MMOs, and so when I hit level cap and I've built the best Warrior I can build, I look like every other Warrior in the game. I lose what I've put of myself into the character; I'm not an unique snowflake, I'm the exact same snowflake as everyone else. In Champions, I can come up with an unique look, and I've got a decent chance of being the one person I see who's like this.

What I love most about the game? I'll be running around Millennium City or Burning Sands and I'll have somebody stop and say to me, "hey, that's a cool costume." I never get that in a fantasy MMO, since I look like everyone else. But in Champions, I can show off my creativity. That's pretty exciting for players, to come and have an impact on the world just from making their own iconic character - something that other people will remember.

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