Champions Online producer and veteran designer Bill Roper spoke with The Escapist about the launch of Cryptic Studios' superhero MMOG, and admitted that launching a new game in the MMOG industry is pretty damn difficult - but it can be worth it, too.
Bill Roper may be best known to gamers for his work on timeless Blizzard classics like Diablo II and StarCraft, but these days he's hard at work as the Executive Producer of Cryptic Studios' Champions Online, which hit shelves earlier this month. He found time to chat with The Escapist about how the launch had been going - what's it like to launch a new MMOG into a space with dozens of established games?
It's pretty darn difficult, admits Roper: "Certainly, I think that there's a very, very high bar if you're making a (quote/unquote) MMO right now. Maybe an impossible bar." Ignoring launch issues that affect every MMOG from the biggest blockbusters to the smallest boutique titles, a new MMOG is invariably compared to anything that is big and popular with hundreds of thousands of long-time subscribers and years of development under its belt.
This is unfortunate for developers and publishers and players. A new game will come out and get automatically compared to something that has been out for three/four/five years and had tons of development. Wrath of the Lich King came out and introduced the "phasing" concept to WoW, and we've had people tell us that they thought Champions "was fail" because it didn't use phasing. But WoW has been out for almost five years now, and Champions came out twenty-one days ago!
So what's a new MMOG and its development team to do? If most games are "fire and forget" akin to Hollywood films, Roper compared the launch of a new Massive game to the pilot of a new TV show. Since it's only the second or third episode, it isn't quite fair to blame a show for not having six seasons' worth of history and character interactions under its belt, is it? But that doesn't mean that a viewer can't still like the concept and think that they want to be part of the experience: "'Am I on board? Do I want to be part of this world evolving?' Do you like the world, do you like the core game mechanics, are you on board to be with this development team? Do you believe in the developers, are you seeing that they're being responsive and interacting with the community?"
This isn't to say that everything is against the developers of a new MMOG, though. "The biggest bonus we have as developers is the fact that online gameplay is not only accepted but expected in a bunch of games now," says Roper - and sooner or later, the lines of 'what defines an MMO' will continue to blur. Moving forward, Roper thinks, we'll see more developers saying, "[H]ere's a really interesting and fun game, that's also played by a bunch of people online," rather than necessarily worrying about the trappings of what makes an MMOG.
As for Champions itself? It's had its launch hiccups, but Roper is rather enthusiastic about the game's success, saying that not only are subscriptions constantly on the rise, but that "the overwhelming majority of people that have gotten subscriptions play every night. Our numbers of unique logins are ridiculously close to the number of people that bought the game!"
Roper says that he's been "incredibly happy and impressed" by the hard work of the team under him, and while they have more time to play Star Trek Online and offer inter-office feedback these days, the work continues - but more importantly, the communication continues with the community.
That communication, Roper thinks, is critical above all else: "The biggest thing I'm happiest with is that we're incredibly responsive to the community. We talk to them, we let them know what's going on, and we move to address stuff ... We want players to see that we've been working hard, but we've also got lots of stuff in the pipeline. Communication with our community is a key. When there are launch troubles, you have to be assuring the playerbase, 'Yep, we're working through this stuff.'"
To read the full interview with Bill Roper, including his thoughts on the game's recent balance changes, why he isn't worried about Aion, and what hypothetical MMOGs he thinks would sell like hotcakes (hint: Fallout), head on over to our sister site WarCry.