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
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
Craig and I hate each other [both laugh]
is no underlying maybe, were in competition with each other.
words “Bloodsport Fridays” [more laughter]
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
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.
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
”. 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
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.
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?
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
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.