Establishing a New Colony
A Ten Ton Hammer Interview
with Mike Wallis, CEO of Colony
May 2, 2007
Throughout the entirety of this year, MMO fans have seen the
list of game
development companies working on new massively multiplayer titles grow
to an astounding high. Everyone seems interested in milking the MMO
cash cow, and there seems to be an abundance of talent that is joining
the hunt for the true “next generation” MMO.
Colony Studios is the latest addition to this long-running
list, yet they claim one advantage over many of their competitors
– an enormous amount of experience. According to their
announcement, Mike Wallis, CEO of Colony Studios, believes his team has
more per capita experience working on hit MMO titles than any team of
its size ever assembled.
With over 17 years of experience in the industry himself and
23 titles shipped under his watch, Wallis can certainly back up his
portion of the claim. But his proclamation caught our attention here at
Ten Ton Hammer, and we were eager to hear what he had to about the
Colony Studios team and where the future of the MMO industry was headed.
Congratulations on the founding of Colony Studios. Can
you tell us about how you got the company started?
style="font-weight: bold;">Wallis: Thanks for
your congratulations! A few of us
originally founded Colony Studios back in September of 2005 when we
were talking with Universal licensing about doing an MMO based on their
hit TV series, Battlestar
Galactica. There were many moving
parts to that deal, and it ultimately fell through, but we had formed
the basis of the studio with the intention of creating an
MMO. We lost some momentum, but ramped back up again about 10
months later when we had the opportunity to work with a group of
investors to secure initial seed funding. After securing the
funds, we expanded the team to 10, licensed the Hero Engine middle
technology, and started work on building our first playable.
The team you have put together comes with a ton of MMO
experience. Give us some insight into the team and what background they
bring to the company.
It’s too early to be outing my team members
(that will come later), but we do have very seasoned vets who have
spent a number of years working on MMOs. For example, I was
the senior producer for EVE
Lord of the Rings Online, we
have a senior engine programmer from style="font-style: italic;">Ultima Online, a
WoW, another from Lord
of the Rings Online, a 3D artist from style="font-style: italic;">City of
Heroes, a systems programmer from style="font-style: italic;">Everquest and
another from Dark Age
of Camelot. Some of our folks have been on the
teams for two or more MMOs. With our collective experience,
we have a solid development base and we plan to utilize and exploit our
experience to make our next generation MMO.
title="Mike Wallis" alt="Mike Wallis"
name="photo_j" border="0" height="113" width="150">
style="font-style: italic;">Mike Wallis, CEO of
Entering the next generation MMO market means going up
against a large amount of competition. Tell us your thoughts on where
the industry is going and how you define the term next generation?
There’s competition whether we decide to
create a console game, a handheld, or any other platform or genre and
that’s great. Competition pushes developers to keep
improving their products or get left behind. We look forward
to all the new MMOs coming out and wish nothing but the best to all the
devs out there trying to make their mark.
far as where we think the industry is going with the MMO
genre, it’s all a matter of perspective. The MMO
genre is still relatively new but in gaming terms that hardly
matters. This industry is cyclical. I remember when
FPSes ruled the day and a wave of mediocre products came out and cooled
interest in the genre. Then RTSes were king until a rash of
less than stellar products stagnated the genre. I think the
same is happening in the MMO genre currently. However, we do
hope to shake things up a bit and create not only something that stands
out from the crowd, but to create – overall - what we hope is
a really great game.
The current MMO market carries a large number of
fantasy based titles. You plan to enter with a sci-fi genre game. I
know it is early, but can you tell us a little about this decision and
why it was made?
Fantasy-based MMOs will always be popular because even
though they are based in a world of fantasy, they are still centered on
things people understand. It’s somewhat easy to
imagine swinging a sword and riding a mount. Plus these
titles are steeped in the rich tradition of role playing games, which
historically have been ruled by fantasy based designs.
game style is focused on our players doing things on a
somewhat larger scale than a typical fantasy based game. In
some fantasy based MMOs, players can own houses and craft simple
items. We look to allow players to terraform entire worlds
and manage systems-spanning trade routes. Expanding your
faction’s territory on a galactic scale is also something we
are aiming for.
Many MMOs have fallen into various patterns that we
see across games. Things like, leveling, crafting, PvP, raiding etc. Do
you have any plans to break these conventions or offer something new to
style="font-weight: bold;">Wallis: We certainly
don’t want to reinvent the
wheel, nor do we want to come to the table with standard paradigms that
will feel exceedingly archaic once we are ready to ship. If
we go live in 2009, do you honestly think players will tolerate another
MMO chock full of “go kill ten of those
‘xyz’s and bring me 10 of their scalps”
quests? We certainly don’t.
The secondary market is a major issue in the MMO
industry right now. Now that it has become more established, how do you
feel it will impact the next generation of games?
We’ve seen SOE do very well with their
Station Exchange model, and that was only across a limited number of
servers—imagine all the revenue they are leaving on the table
by not capitalizing on the service across all their servers.
I believe as more and more of the early adopter MMO gamers, who were
indoctrinated to MMOs by UO or EQ, age and get married and start
families, they will utilize their now disposable incomes to get ahead
in the game. In other words, since they don’t have
the time now to spend raiding for unique items, they would instead be
more inclined to spend real world money to gain the same
item. That’s a very simple example, but I believe
that is where the next generation of MMOs is headed –
will it impact the next generation of games?
We’ll see more and more games utilize the micro-transaction
model. As developers and publishers see the amount of revenue
a site like IGE makes with transactions, it is an increasing difficult
amount to turn a blind eye toward. Therefore, in the future
we’ll see more and more Western companies incorporate item
exchange and micro-transactions into their games.
title="Colony Studios Logo" alt="Colony Studios Logo"
name="photo_j" border="0" height="150" width="150">
style="font-style: italic;">The Colony Studios
In your press release you mentioned the phrase,
“safe MMO”. When did MMOs become
“safe” in your opinion? How can the industry give
players more of a challenge then just a quick time sink after death?
style="font-weight: bold;">Wallis: The term
“safe” describes MMOs
that basically copy existing paradigms in other games. The
reason I use this term is because MMOs are typically large budget
affairs, so many developers go the “safe” route and
don’t try to go too far outside the lines when designing
their games. This is due to the desire to gain the largest
audience possible. In our opinion, game developers need to
remain true to themselves and to the player base. What this
means for us is that we will never underestimate our players by dumbing
down the experience. Our game won’t intimidate, but
by the same token it will not bore players to death either.
You also mention in your press release that you plan
to have player influenced content. Do you feel games have gotten away
from allowing players to create their own fun?
style="font-weight: bold;">Wallis: Yes, we feel
that the MMO genre has gotten away from
what made the “old school” MMOs great:
community. Many MMOs are now focused on solo play and
that’s fine as players should be able to predict their play
experience when they log in. However, when everybody is in it
for themselves you tend to get a much less connected
community. What you usually end up with is a chaotic
miss-mash of rambling braggarts and Chuck Norris jokes spammed through
chat channels. People are not nearly as concerned with the
community around them as they are with how people can get them
something they want and then leave those people behind as soon as
in no way, shape, or form pegs our game as a
“forced grouping” game. We feel that we
can create a game where players feel that they are “in it
together” and by that we intend to allow players to influence
the flow of the content in the game based upon their combined
efforts. Everyone in your faction will end up relying on you
in one way or another.
You seem to be on track with the game you are
developing. Have you spoken to any publisher’s yet?
style="font-weight: bold;">Wallis: Yes, we have
made preliminary contact with publishers
with whom we have had existing relationships. It’s
still very early in the process, however, and I should add that we are
always interested in the opportunity to dialogue. *smiles*
With the founding of Colony Studios, what can we
expect in the future? Can you tell us some thoughts on where you are
going and what we can hope to see in the coming months?
style="font-weight: bold;">Wallis: The team is
focusing on polishing up our existing
playable, with the secondary priority of adding in new
features. We want to get the project to a state we feel
comfortable with taking it around to interested publishers and
potential investors to secure the next stage of funding that will allow
us to move into full pre-production. We have an additional
nine developers who have committed to joining our studio once we secure
the next level of funding, and that would fill out our pre-production
the coming months for
our new announcements. Thanks for giving us the opportunity
to talk about Colony Studios with the readers of Ten Ton Hammer!