Other MMO Coverage

Archive

Boldly Going - A GDC 2010 Interview with Cryptic's Bill Roper and Craig Zinkievich

Posted Mon, Mar 15, 2010 by Medawky

One of the best aspects of a conference like GDC is the incredible amount access there is to so many of the most talented folks in the gaming industry. While the opportunities to sit down and talk to those people are abundant, it is a rare occasion when you get two of the most talented at one table. Ten Ton Hammer struck gold this year in San Francisco when we were able to corral Cryptic’s Bill Roper and Craig Zinkievich and discuss their newly launched titles of Champions Online and Star Trek Online, how collaboration helps their work environments, the pitfalls of communication and the future of MMOGs.











Bill Roper is the Executive Producer for Champions Online and Craig Zinkievich fills the same role for Star Trek Online, both were so genuinely passionate about the games that we hardly needed to supply them with questions. Our interview quickly turned into an informative rap session that spanned many hot topics and nearly caused us to be late for our next appointment, loosing track of time is indeed the hallmark of a great interview.

Ten Ton Hammer: It’s a bit of a rarity for one company to have two such high profile games, especially ones that launched so close to each other, under one roof. What has that experience been like? Is there an internal sense of competition?

Bill:  No, Craig and I hate each other [both laugh]

Craig:  There is no underlying maybe, were in competition with each other.

Bill: Two words “Bloodsport Fridays” [more laughter]

Bill:  Seriously, one of the things I love about Cryptic and what got me excited to join the company was that there is core tech and core design concepts that all the teams work off of, and like Craig has said in the past “wow I’m really glad that Champs came out first because A, B and C happened and that let us do those things better”.  That’s not only from the Dev’s side, it’s also true for the business side as well.  It changed the whole way we handled the beta process for STO, with Champs we made it very exclusive and tried to create a buzz, but we should have opened it up and got it out there to as many people as possible. When people played it they really liked it, so that’s what we did for Star Trek Online.

Craig: It’s really cool, because we aren’t separated, we’re all right there.  It’s not like oh here is this team and here is this team, everyone is really intermixed.  I remember about a month into Champions Online live where they were running into problems and we were able to say “Guys, guys, check this out, we just wrote tech for that. Do this and this and that all just will go away”. Which makes it really cool, we all want to see each other’s projects succeed and do well.

Bill: Oh and I also want to get rid of a misconception, because it ties into this, we didn’t take a bunch of CO guys and funnel them into STO. I read on the forums where “Oh you guys are communicating now so you must have gotten your guys back from Star Trek”. That just doesn’t happen, we are separate teams.

Ten Ton Hammer: Communication is definitely an important element, but what are the pitfalls in communication, what do you learn from incidents such as the recent furor over griefing in STO and the outcry from the official response?

Craig:  Expect going forward, and Bill can speak to this to, one of the things that Cryptic is going to try and do is to over communicate, to get on the forums and enable more people within the company to actually communicate with the players and tell players things that are going on that maybe other MMO companies won’t say. “You can’t tell them that! That may change” or “Don’t go out there and communicate to them that we are addressing that issue because who knows, something might go wrong and that issue may not get resolved as fast as possible”.  

I think that most MMO companies, and even Cryptic in the past, we have been very careful about our communication with the players.  In the last few weeks we have made a conscience effort to change that and were doing things like “Hey you know you’re working on that issue? Go to the forums and tell them about it.” We’re going to, over the next year; tell you what our plan is. What are the issues we’re working on? What are the ones we’re really trying to find the answers for?

So not at all answering your question about griefing, but going forward over the next couple months we know we are going to make mistakes but we are going to communicate a whole lot more.  I think our communities, after a short period of that kind of change and communication mode, are going to be able to react and not read too much into it like “oh they used these verbs in this order of the sentence”, they are not going to take it as gospel but as more of an open dialogue with the developers.

Bill: Well that’s the hope.  Based on past experience I still expect them to still somewhat pick it apart. But like Craig said, we’re just going to be out there and let people know what our process is instead of just filtering out information that we feel confident about or be as measured in what we say.  I think initially people will still be apt to say outrageous things, but that’s a small minority who will always do that no matter what so we want to speak to that vast majority who just want to know that we know that something is a problem.



Ten Ton Hammer:  How are things working out with the 90 day offer for STO?


Craig:  Oh dear god! Promogate we like to call it. Mistakes were made, facepalms ensued. Going forward there are going to be promotions, part of this is running a business and getting new subscribers and getting box sales but the most important part of this is our current subscribers.  An apology all around for that misstep and we may make mistakes in the future but hopefully all of that has been resolved.

I think that events like this are sometimes what it takes to make sure that our internal communication, between ourselves and Atari are strengthened. I know in the last couple weeks several things have been put into place to ensure better communications. I am never happy with the status quo so I think we can always strive to make it better.

News from around the 'Net