Alex: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me John. I've got quite a few questions here, hopefully you'll be able to answer some of them. How are you doing today?
John: Great; and there tend to be very few questions I don't answer.
What influenced your decision for the new logo your studio recently unveiled this past week?
From our perspective, the owl's eye that is at the core of our logo sort of says everything for us. It's kind of nice for us to have something that we believe in, that we also got to have a hand in making. That owl's eye is a reference to us staying up late and to gamers being nocturnal and we feel like we are a bunch of gamers ourselves. At the same time the eye also has the sun breaking in the eye and that speaks toward our vision moving forward. This isn't just a corporate logo, it's something our team feels really proud of and it gives us a really good feeling. We really feel like our identity is shining through that.
In a recent gamesindustrybiz article, you were quoted saying "As much as we loved being a part of Sony--it was really a great time there--the opportunity to go beyond the horizons we have is really strong at this company. We really want to get out there and make Xbox games, and make mobile games." Can you talk more about your future plans to pursue other gaming platforms and whether that will be an additional element to this studio, or will you transition away from PC gaming?
Let me start at the last part first, because when I get a question like that, if I'm not careful how I answer people might think I don't like PC. PC is our primary focus for all of our games. Period. We love PC, we're never going away from it. If you walk around this company we do have console players, but we mostly have PC gamers. So that's never going to change. It's mostly about multi-platform development, we're very excited about bringing our stuff to the Microsoft platforms. The Microsoft audience for online gaming with XBox live has been awesome, and we're excited to finally get into that ecosystem.
The same is true of mobile. In fact I would say our interest in mobile platforms is really big because we've all been carrying these phones in our pockets and we've never been able to do anything with them before. So our interest level is there, but main focus is and is always going to be the PC. Even in terms of making them, it's still going to be the same that we always have - PC first.
When it comes to PC games, your studio has primarily - if not exclusively - been focused on MMORPGs, which these days seems to be a bit of an ambiguous term for a genre. What would you consider key attributes of an online RPG today, and what do think will make them successful in the near future?
For online RPGs, I do agree with you that the lines are blurring significantly. I think the days of this kind of MMO we all play today (that are best summarized by WoW, EQ, EQ2) - I don't think you're going to see people making those kinds of games anymore. We've been making those kinds of games for a while and I think the genre has to evolve. I know for us, we're evolving it with EverQuest Next, where our goal is to make it different from this generation of MMORPGs. We are changing what makes these games unique.
We're seeing games like League of Legends and DOTA and all these other games with shorter session lengths - that seems to be where gamers are headed. That's not to say that we're not going to have depth in our games. If you want to sit down and play for twenty hours, you're going to be able to do that - we just want to make sure the players with only 45 minutes are going to have a good time too. To us though, it's all about what works for each game. I do think our new stuff will be focused on making games that are attractive to players with shorter gaming sessions, but also maintaining the type of depth we've always been known for.
Speaking of depth, when EQN was announced, your relationship with Storybricks seemed like a clear statement that AI-driven emergent content was going to be the heart of the product. Since that relationship ended, has your dedication to that style of gameplay changed?
Let me clarify this whole thing a bit. I've never actually come out and done this, but I should do so.
I found the Storybricks guys in a very interesting way. I saw an article that they had written and a lot of the kind of stuff they were talking about were things we already planned on including in EverQuest Next - both from a design standpoint and also from a coding standpoint. Though, at that point in time, we hadn't yet announced EQN. So the Storybricks guys had never done this before, and we brought them in basically as contractors who physically worked in our building for over a year. We did that so our own AI guys could watch and make sure that the kind of AI we wanted for EQN could be delivered.
Ultimately that never materialized for various reasons, but basically what we first worked on with them never moved past its initial stages. So we ended up parting ways and moving that stuff to our internal AI team. Since AI is the most important aspect of EQNext, we wanted to make sure that it would be done right - and that meant doing it internally by our coders that have a lot of experience in the industry.
If you could have been a fly on the wall during the internal conversations I had with our team when I first found Storybricks, you'd have known that what they were talking about was exactly the kind of stuff we were already talking about for EQNext. And that, to us, is the absolute center of EverQuest Next. It isn't the destructible world or the building, none of that stuff; the AI remains the number one thing that will separate EQN from the rest of the pack. I mean, how boring is it to go into the same stupid zones, seeing the same stupid monsters, and seeing them do the same stupid stuff? That's boring. We want our NPCs and our mobs to have real lives. We are very focused on that, and that focus will not change.
Are there any concepts your company wants to pursue that might have been "outside-your-wheelhouse" prior to this make-over and your expanding realm of influence?
There sure are. In particular on the mobile side - since that wasn't something we were able to participate in before - doing a truly original mobile IP is now a real possibility. So that's very exciting to us, and that is simply something we couldn't consider prior to our departure from Sony. Obviously XBox comes under the same category, but I think mobile better illustrates that, because we never could have even touched that before and it's a whole new platform.
With plans to delve deeper into console gaming, how has this studio's experience been with porting Planetside2 to the PlayStation; has it slowed down the production on upcoming games, and do you expect porting other projects to it and XBox1 will do the same?
No. Those teams that were porting that onto the PlayStation were working alongside our core team, so that didn't slow down any development and I don't expect other future cross-platform work to slow down any new development either.
In regards to monetization, we've seen SOE previously make a strong push towards free-to-play games featuring plenty of micro-transactions and alternative funding methods. Is that still the plan moving forward with Daybreak, and do you still plan to retain the "all-access" option for those who prefer your studio-wide subscription?
We will maintain All-Access. In terms of Free-to-Play being the main monetization method, that is still true, however we've been branching out and trying some new stuff. There's also some elements of Pay-to-Play sticking around. For example if you were to ask me if H1Z1 could end up being Pay-to-Play down the line or stay Free-to-Play, I would say that we're taking a step back and really evaluating what the best tool for the job is. We still want to make H1Z1 Free-to-Play but we may offer some other ways to buy it.
Can you talk about what kinds of monetization methods you might employ for console or mobile games for the future?
You know, we're seeing what works on the PC and we're seeing that it works just the same on the console. So for example DCUO we actually get like three times the monetization rate that we're seeing on the same exact game with the PC. So it varies depending on the platform, but I don't see us changing our monetization tactics much.
I've got some tougher questions now. Have there been any discussions about planning reductions or closures of any current titles - like the original EverQuest for example - or will these games continue to exist well into the foreseeable future?
They will continue to exist well into the foreseeable future. Not only have there been no discussions but we haven't even talked about it because these games are all very healthy. So there hasn't really been a need to talk about that.
Based on many discussions with long-time EverQuest Franchise fans of 15+ years (myself being one of them), what can you say that will bring us all on board with your new direction - basically, why should we be excited about Daybreak's new products? Why should they matter this studio's longest tenured fans?
That's a great question, I don't think anyone has ever really asked it that way.
What you can expect from us with EverQuest, and I'll say the same goes for EverQuest II, we expect that these games which are already out are going to be around here at least five years from now. We plan on leaving the teams on them; we plan on continuing to make content, and we are even accelerating the rate at which we are making that content. We've actually announced that we're going to a more frequent content release strategy so that we can give people more to do during the year rather than just waiting for that end-of-the-year expansion that we've always had.
Here's how I feel: We're talking about supporting a game that is 16 years old, and we as a company have been supporting that game for all 16 years. We've got another game for 11 years, and I think we've shown that we are here for the long haul and there's no reason to think that won't continue or that we will pull back from that. We love EverQuest and we love our players that continue to play, even players that aren't still paying us.
What we recently announced with Project 1999 is the first time we've ever endorsed one of these emulators, and I am really proud of that deal. We never could have done that at Sony. It is really important to us because I never want to paint these emulator guys as anything but our number one fans and the hardest working people I've ever met. So to be able to support it officially like we have, it makes me feel good. I'd like to think that those are the kind of people I would hang with, and those are good people.
On that note, does that open the door for other modders and emulators to start projects for Star Wars Galaxies, Vangaurd, or any other former or current properties for these kinds of experiences?
So Star Wars Galaxies isn't ours. That's a Lucas call entirely. So we're not road-blocks on that. What I will say though, is that we will support people who do it right. On the SWG side, there were some who weren't. There were source code issues - and we need to look at that a little tighter, but in general if people want to do it right we will support them.
Alex: I guess that means our Star Wars Galaxies characters will have to stay forced in their carbon freeze prison cells for now. Thanks again for sitting down with us John, looking forward to seeing what move your studio makes next.
John: Thanks for taking the time.
[That is the majority of this interview. I've also got a few additional quotes with some highly intriguing implications. They are so interesting, in fact, that they warrant their own separate discussions entirely. So keep your eyes peeled for those as I roll them out later today.]
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