The Rise of the Fantasy Sandbox MMO - An Exclusive Pathfinder Online Q&A - Page 2

Posted Wed, Jan 09, 2013 by Sardu

Pathfinder Online will feature open world PvP; something that can often be a deterrent for more casual gamers. Could you shed some insight on how the PvP system will work, or how it will appeal to gamers outside of the hardcore crowd?

"We've raised a generation of MMO players who have a visceral negative reaction to the idea of PvP."

I think that PvP is the original sin of the MMO genre. It is the most obvious place where the games have failed to match expectation and potential with implementation. As a result we've raised a generation of MMO players who have a visceral negative reaction to the idea of PvP. If we were a supermarket, it would be like not having a dairy section because some people got sick from drinking the milk. Rather than abandoning dairy, you'd fix the supply chain to protect people's health, and reward them with cheese, eggs, milk, etc. to make their lives more interesting. The MMO industry mostly just shut down the dairy section and walked away.

But I look at the successes and failures over the last 10 years and I see PvP being a component of the successes, not the failures. I see EVE Online growing from 20,000 to 350,000 subscribers in that timeframe. I see World of Tanks exploding in popularity. I see League of Legends become a titan in the online gaming space. Call of Duty and Battlefield are billion-dollar franchises. Halo effectively defined XBox. I can't name an multiplayer online gaming success in those 10 years that didn't have a strong PvP component. (OK, I can maybe put Minecraft in that category - props to Mojang!)

Human conflict is fascinating. It drives the narrative of much of our lives and much of our storytelling. When two people disagree about something or compete for something, it introduces meaning to the experience. The fundamental design goal of Pathfinder Online is "maximize meaningful human interaction", and PvP is one facet of how we intend to do that.

We look at the kind of PvP that exists in MMOs and in previous MMOs, and we listen to what people say about those systems. We see some patterns and hear some standard complaints. PvP brings out the very worst in some folks - it's a license to act badly. PvP often has a terribly unbalanced risk vs reward; you can get more out of attacking other players than they get from defending against you or running away.

We think these are addressable issues. People behaving badly is fixable. People exploiting a game system is fixable. It will take time, a lot of iteration, and a lot of careful development and community input, but I am convinced we can get PvP into the game in a way that adds value rather than removes it.

PvP should be considered no more "hard core" than any other aspect of a successful MMO that requires attention and effort to master.

In a recent blog post you noted that the end of the theme park era for MMOs is nearly over. How will PFO help usher in the next era, and what do you feel will be the major gameplay hooks that make it possible?

The problem with Theme Park MMOs is that they cost too much to make, take too long to develop, and don't sustain large communities over the long term. Everyone looked at the exception - World of Warcraft - and assumed it was the average. But we look at the history of the MMO market since Warcraft released and we see the same pattern repeat itself over and over: A big spike of interest on release, followed in six to nine months by a collapse of player interest, followed by server consolidations and staff downsizing, followed by a game that loses development momentum and stagnates. Every major MMO release since Warcraft has followed this pattern.

Along the way budgets have gone crazy. I would guess the baseline budget for the games you've seen released in the past 2-3 years is $100 million. Star Wars: The Old Republic cost more than $300 million. Yet none of these games - not one - has managed to attract a paying player community of more than a million people and hold it for more than 6 months. The economics of these games don't work. And that's why after The Elder Scrolls Online, there are no announced, high profile, big budget AAA MMOs from any credible studio.

But MMOs as a business are doing really well. Millions of people are playing them. In Asia, they're rapidly becoming as dominant an entertainment format as TV or motion pictures. In the West, whole generations of people are growing up with a virtual identity - nurtured in venues like Club Penguin and Habbo. MMOs as a concept are not going away and the demand for quality virtual worlds is growing, not declining.

"Theme Parks require that development teams keep churning out more content to keep players engaged. Sandbox games can be built around the idea that the players ARE the content."

The answer seems to be Sandbox. Theme Parks require that the game be nearly feature complete before the first dollar of revenue can be earned. Sandbox games can ship with limited features and add more through iteration while still maintaining a high level of customer satisfaction. Theme Parks require that development teams keep churning out more content to keep players engaged. Sandbox games can be built around the idea that the players ARE the content; give them tools to interact with one another and they will happily do so. Theme Parks have a business model that rewards short-term thinking, boom & bust cycles, hiring binges and deep layoffs. Sandbox games have a business model that rewards long-term thinking. You need to scale a Sandbox carefully so that the population doesn't overwhelm the game, and the staff needs to have a good coherence and continuity so that the game can leverage its institutional knowledge.

To me the core defining virtue is persistence. Players being able to make a mark on a game world shared by thousands of other humans is a big deal. Sandbox is all about persistence. You build it, I see it, use it, and maybe try to tear it down. That's a dynamic as old as human civilization. Pathfinder Online is packed full of persistence. Most of the objects in the game, from consumables to weapons and armor to buildings will be created by player characters. Everywhere you go, everything you do, everything you see, will have some aspect of persistence.

I hope Pathfinder Online is a trendsetter. We think we can make a compelling game with a smaller budget and a shorter timeline than the industry has seen with Theme Park MMOs. We think we can get to positive cashflow quickly, and that makes the business self-sustaining. We think there's a nice market segment looking for a fantasy Sandbox MMO and that we have a first-mover advantage. It will be nice to look back in 10 years and see how accurate these predictions are, but I have a pretty high confidence we're on the right track.

We'd like to thank Ryan Dancey and the Pathfinder Online team for taking the time to talk to us about the game. There are a lot of great design concepts behind PFO, and we'll certainly be paying close attention to the game throughout development.

If you want to get involved more directly, be sure to visit the current Pathfinder Online Kickstarter project by Monday, January 14 at 9:00pm EST where you can become a backer and snag a pretty awesome variety of perks in the process.

His use of the milk analogy is flawed. Milk is a staple product that would cut off a large chunk of a supermarket's revenue. PVP in mmos is not necessary, and often times it adds nothing to the game except for whining about class imbalances and aggravation. I would liken PVP to the candy section, which is often small, and produces little income for the store (except on holidays).

I'm sorry, but you had me at Pathfinder (I love the setting), and sandbox mmo... and then lost me at open world pvp. I'm not 100% against pvp, it can be fun if done correctly, but open world pvp adds nothing but frustration to the game... I would want to know how they are going to counter-act higher levels ganking lower levels, because that is not pvp, that is PK. Two totally different produces. PVP implies that there is a fair chance of one of them winning, whereas PK is just someone coming along and killing someone else who doesnt stand a chance of winning.

Good luck to them, and I hope that they see reason and make pve servers too.


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