by Cody “Micajah” Bye and Tony
“RadarX” Jones

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by Steve Danuser and Jason Roberts (38 Studios)

Over the past year, Ten Ton Hammer has been actively pursuing the story
behind 38 Studios, the up and coming MMOG development studio that is
working on a yet unnamed fantasy massively multiplayer online game. Up
until recently, this has meant discussing things with the executive
members of the studio – Brett Close, Curt Schilling, R.A.
Salvatore, and Mary Kirchoff to name a few. However, recently the gates
were opened and the development team was able to stretch its legs
around a few select members of the media. As always, Ten Ton Hammer was
the first crew on the scene, and we had an excellent discussion with
Steve Danuser and Jason Roberts at this year’s ION Games
Conference. We hope you enjoy the first part of the discussion, and
make sure you check back in with Ten Ton Hammer for the conclusion!

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Ten Ton Hammer: When
you’re making a game after the phenomenon that was World of
Warcraft, what kind of features do you look for when building this
game? Do you do things differently? The same?

style="font-weight: bold;">Jason Roberts:
*laughs* That’s a little bit difficult to talk about at the
moment, other than how we approach our product. We’re really
focused on producing a quality experience and we’re not shy
about looking at things that have worked in a wide variety of games,
not just MMOs. Then we pick and choose the best aspects out of each of
those and try to integrate them into a single whole and see how that
plays out.

Steve Danuser:
Some people might say “Oh you’re just trying to
make a WoW clone or an EQ clone” and the thing of it is, all
games of this type have faced certain problems and challenges where
they needed to figure out a solution for it. In some cases, games have
done it right before. We always examine those stories and see if
it’s really the best thing to suit our needs. If it is, then
there’s no shame in doing it that way. If it’s
proven that it works and it works with our vision for our game, then
there’s no shame in it. But it’s the reexamination
of these things and trying to find out if the previous games have used
techniques that we should use.

That said, we’re tweaking and evolving things as we go along,
and in some instances we’re creating whole new solutions or
features that are completely different from what people have seen in
the past. Yet if someone’s done it right before,
it’s good to build off that base.

Design philosophies across design teams in MMOs are often the same. In
a lot of cases, it’s all about making it accessible, fun, and
that sort of thing. But having a philosophy and executing upon that
philosophy are two different things. So we’re really focused
on how we’re getting from point A to point B and iterating on
that process.

Ten Ton Hammer: When
you’re iterating this early on in the experience, do you go
through everything with a fairly fine toothed comb and make sure
you’re only including the quality experiences into your game?

style="font-weight: bold;">Jason:
We’re pretty meticulous about things. We start off with a
core and we build off of that core. We’ll add something on to
the core, and we’ll take a step back and see how that
affected the entire system and how everything works in concert with
each other. If it doesn’t work, you iterate and refine it and
do that process all over again. You do that again and again and again
until you get it absolutely perfect. You continue to grow the whole
thing from there.

Ten Ton Hammer: Are there
times where you just look at something that didn’t work at
all and decide to chuck it out and not even worry about iterating on it?

style="font-weight: bold;">Jason: Yup. And
that’s one of the most difficult decisions to make.

Ten Ton Hammer: Because
you’re throwing out someone’s idea, right?

style="font-weight: bold;">Jason: Or it could
be something that you really like as a standalone idea, but it
doesn’t necessarily work in the context of what
we’re trying to do. We try to have very very clear goals on
what we’re trying to achieve, and if it doesn’t fit
those goals, it probably doesn’t belong in the game.

Steve: One
of the things I like doing on DVDs is watching the deleted scenes and
the director’s commentary because they’ll talk
about why a scene was cut, what it’s original intention was,
and why it got cut. Oftentimes a director will talk about how he loved
a particular scene and how he thought it was great, but after putting
it all together it just didn’t fit. You end up cutting away
some of your finest flowers, but those flowers just aren’t
cohesive with the experience that you’re trying to create.

You have to be really objective about things like that and realize that
there will be things you love and become attached to, especially early
on. Now that we’re getting to the prototype phase where we
actually build stuff, you have to prove that it’s fun, works,
and is cohesive with the whole of the product.

Jason: And
you have to look at a lot of things as a return on investment. If you
have to invest this much time in order to make something, it better
work out because some things just take way too much time to develop for
the game.

Ten Ton Hammer: Are you
starting to do focus group testing? Since you were talking about
Hollywood, I wonder if you were doing something similar?

style="font-weight: bold;">Steve: Our marketing
VP is doing some concept testing where she’s basically taking
some of the concepts into folks and testing that out on some focus
people just to get their reactions. It isn’t so much to
determine whether we should keep something or cut something, but just
to inform us a bit on the things players are really responding to so we
can choose to focus on that or not.

We’re not at the point where we can give players a chunk of
the game to play through, but eventually we will do that kind of focus
testing and things like that because it does give you some valuable
insights into things players gravitate towards.

Ten Ton Hammer: From more
of a community development standpoint, there really isn’t
much information to work with on the product 38 Studios is building
just yet. How do you work on developing a community that’s
out in limbo? There are people that are excited about the game and want
to talk about it….

style="font-weight: bold;">Steve: My experience
is that doing too much too early can be just as detrimental as not
doing enough when the time is right. Based on watching how other games
have handled that sort of scenario, we’ve decided to be very
low key and talk about the studio rather than what the game is and the
features in it. I’m really more in the belief that we should
give players something that they can sink their teeth into and react to
that rather than reacting to the things we say we’re going to

From day one, I got emails talking about doing a fan site for our
upcoming game, and I was really forthright with those people and said,
“Look, I think it’s great that you’re
enthused about what we’re doing, but it’s just too
early to talk about this sort of thing. We’ll by no means
stop you if you want to put up a message board.” I was just
very open with those individuals and let them know that we
can’t talk about the game. We’ll remember that they
were dedicated, but we’re just not going to be able to give
you the insider information you want.

A project like this is all about looking at the long term strategies
and making sure that when you release information, it gets the most
bang for the buck. As much as you’d like to embrace the fan
site people right from the get go, you have to measure it against the
fact that will giving this particular person insider information going
to be ultimately as valuable as giving one to Ten Ton Hammer or to a

Ten Ton Hammer: While
we’re on community, what kind of philosophy are you planning
on using? There are obviously extremes like SOE which is very hands on,
and then there are others like NCsoft and EA Mythic that are bit mores
hands-off. How are you planning on implementing your community?

style="font-weight: bold;">Steve: I think
there’s tremendous value in a community being able to look at
somebody – the community manager – and knowing what
their name is, what they stand for, and can rely on them for
consistency. When I started at SOE, I already had my own particular
online identity because I’d run a website before that. It was
one of the reasons SOE hired me was because I was a known quantity.

We’ll get a dedicated community manager who’s in
that sort of role and will be someone I work with that I will work to
establish as that voice. You don’t want to tell developers
not to interact with community, but you do want that focused voice
– someone who can feel the pulse of the community. At any
time know what’s going on.

If you’re really in tune with forums and fansites, you get
this vibe and can tell when things are going well or being edgy.
It’s like the ship captain who can walk on a
vessel’s deck and tell whether the engine is off. The screen
might say that the engines are fine, but he knows that
they’re off. It’s the type of person that can just
feel it, because a community is a living and breathing thing that
evolves and grows. Getting that person who’s really in tune
with that is key to building that sort of long term relationship.

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016