* Regarding discussing new features, bringing in new players, helping new players while keeping the game challenging, etc. AKA Onboarding *
So, I absolutely don't mind the questions, commentary, and concerns -- in fact, I welcome them. I think there does come a time with certain proposed systems that discussion for now is done and like I said above just theory-crafting. When it comes to that, while you guys are certainly free to continue to discuss, I'm not going to concern myself with it until it's implemented and testable and I can get real feedback.
I also understand whenever something is brought up that a. wasn't in EQ or VG (seems to be primarily EQ, which is fine) or b. was implemented in another game but not well, that people raise red flags and concerns. This happens internally too, and I totally understand. Indeed, systems never tried before or that have been but poorly implemented in other games require additional scrutiny.
All that said, we aren't making an EQ emulator, which I know all of you know, and we are in a different period (2016 and not 1999). So there are some realities we have to deal with, one of the big ones is there will be a lot of people checking out Pantheon who aren't used to grouping/cooperative/social/community. Some/many may end up trying it and not liking it, preferring instead one of the more single-player oriented MMOs that are prevalent right now. And that's fine. But as I've posted before, I truly believe a significant percentage who haven't experienced the magic of EQ and earlier games *will* love Pantheon, and it's important both to us and you all that we bring those people in and take care of them, at least short term, so they can acclimate.
One other thing I've talked about before is keeping the concepts of 'idea' and 'implementation' separate in our minds. I know it's natural when you hear about a system that sounds similar (in name or description) to one that you've experienced in another MMO and didn't like to have some concern. There's where we need to think deeper and come to the conclusion: ok, was the idea a bad one, or was it the implementation of said idea?
A perfect example was when I brought up that I really want some cool underwater zones in Pantheon, even coming up with an aquatic playable race. When I first brought this up to the team, some were concerned... why? After digging deeper it was because underwater zones in previous MMOs they'd been involved with and/or played was frustrating. Either the controls were a pain, or the experience disorienting, etc. Nobody really had a problem with the concept of exploring an Atlantis type zone underwater -- in fact, most thought that sounded pretty appealing. Nobody really had an issue with trying to create a play experience underwater that was different than on ground, where you have to worry about being attacked from above or below, changing the physics a bit, etc.
The main concern was that, if we were going to tackle underwater zones, that we make sure they are as fun as regular zones, that players don't find out they want an item available only in an underwater zone and go 'ah man, I gotta endure underwater crappyness to get this item'. Totally legit reaction and feedback, and important because when we do tackle it, we know how important the implementation is going to be!
I really think this is the case for most of the other systems we are proposing that were not in EQ or VG. And especially, again, if they sound similar to a system in another MMO that people didn't care for. So again I encourage people to evaluate both the idea and the implementation. If you really don't like the idea, that's fine, say so and why. But if you don't have a problem with the idea or premise behind implementing such a system, but are rather concerned that it's implemented properly, not abused, not exploited, etc. then please make that clear as well.
I know most of you don't want us to create an EQ or VG emulator (especially since other people are working on them anyway). You want us to recapture the spirit, the magic, the x-factor and then bring it into a modern MMO and then also try some new ideas and attempt to move the genre forward in the direction we've all been dreaming about for years. For us to do that, of course, we're going to have to implement and try out some systems that are totally new as well as implement and try out systems that are similar to ones tried in more recent games but to execute on them better.
This will become even more true post-launch when ideas/systems/mechanics/content that belong to the Grand Vision become part of expansions and updates and such. As I've posted before, there are a LOT of ideas I and others have wanted to get into MMOs but have never had the time. If you look at EQ, most of the original team left after the first couple of expansions, then another team came in, changed things to their taste and vision, then they left, rinse repeat. So while it is truly amazing and humbling that EQ is still going on 16 years after launch, I do look at the game and, with all due respect, it isn't the culmination of 16 years of consistent vision, evolving forward with each expansion. A lot of that is my fault because for a variety of reasons I'm not going to dig into, I didn't stay with the game -- I left to start my own company after working on the game for 5 years (with only 2 of those years post-launch). And even when I was there post-launch, I was in charge of other games as well and could not maintain my focus and involvement with EQ. If I had a TARDIS I would probably go back in time and not sell Verant to Sony and stuck with EQ for years and years.
But it is what it is, I don't have a TARDIS, dwelling on past decisions is only useful to a point, and my passion and joy is now Pantheon, and not just the Pantheon we will release, but the game Pantheon will become after launch as well. An MMO launch is like a baby being born -- it's a wonderful event, a beautiful thing, but that baby is brand new to the world and has so much potential ahead of them in life.
So I guess it comes down to something like this:
1. What systems and such do we want to take from the first generation of MMOs and bring them back because, especially for our target audience, they've gone missing from the newer MMOs. I think we have a pretty clear picture of that, both from ourselves and from the community.
1a. Which of these systems need some tweaking or adjustments based on what we've learned in the last 16+ years?
1b. Which of these systems need to be changed because many in our audience have jobs, spouses, responsibilities, etc. and cannot, for example, regularly play 8 hour contiguous sessions? Again, their tastes in gaming haven't changed, but their situation in RL has.
1c. Which of these systems do we NOT want to resurrect? (e.g. staring at nothing while medding) Or which ones do we, but not to the degree or extent? (e.g. too much grinding or mindless repetition)
1d. Which of these systems that we want to bring back may be alien and unfamiliar to younger MMO gamers who never experienced the first generation of MMOs? And what should we do about that?
2. What new systems/mechanics/ideas/etc. do we want to bring to the game... the genesis of these ideas could be ones that we've had in our minds for years but an opportunity has never arisen to actually execute on them. Or they could be ideas we've seen in other MMOs that we liked, or that we think we'd like if they were implemented a bit differently. Or they could be brand new ideas from some of our newer team members, or from the community, etc..
2a. Do we feel we need them because, again, we're not just making an emulator? And because we want to move the genre forward? I think most people would answer yes even though their first reaction might be skeptical because they're unfamiliar (were not in EQ or VG or earlier MMOs) or that, again, they've seen something similar in another game and not cared for the implementation.
2b. How do we address these concerns? I think we can talk about them a bit, I can better try to explain them, how they'll work, how they are perhaps different than other prior implementations. But, again, at some point, especially with systems that require critical mass (e.g. a sufficient number of people in-game testing them, experimenting with and experiencing) that explanations and theory-crafting can only go so far. In those cases, at some point, I need to ask that you have patience and faith in the team and wait until beta. And please always keep in mind my very real commitment to you all that I mentioned in the previous post: if something doesn't work out when we actually have people playing with it, no matter how cool the idea sounded on paper, I will yank it. We've built the game with a solid foundation and are building the newer systems on top of this foundation so that if we do yank one, the game still works, the core of the game isn't compromised, and it isn't like a house of cards -- the whole game doesn't come crumbling down because we yanked out, say, the Mentor system.
3. Related to previous points, do we need to proactively introduce and acclimate these newer players? I strongly believe we do. I understand that we are making a hardcore challenging game. I understand that not everyone is going to like Pantheon, and we're ok with that. But now that 15+ million people have been exposed to online gaming, it is a statistical certainty that some percentage of them would have loved EQ and other first generation MMOs had they been around and online back then. So it only makes sense that we make Pantheon for them too, not just the old school who was around back then. I know you guys know that just making a game *only* for the old school doesn't make sense. It doesn't make sense for us financially. And I think it doesn't make sense for you players either -- I think many of you are going to enjoy introducing a newer, younger generation into what made the early games so amazing and immersive.
3a. With so many more recent MMOs more single player oriented, what impact does that have on Pantheon? And let me be more specific: many of the more recent MMOs, in the attempt to be as mass market and accessible as possible, have removed anything they think might or could be a barrier to entry to an online gamer. And I'm not posting this to criticize these games per se -- I understand their goals and where they were coming from. But not only did it leave our audience orphaned, it also conditioned newer MMO gamers in terms of what to expect and how to play these games. Some online gamers like a single player experience (e.g. they can solo through the game themselves) but having that experience in an online persistent world. They like feeling part of a greater group of players, they like seeing other real people running around... it makes their experience deeper and more immersive. But they don’t really want to interact a lot with other people, especially actually needing to cooperate with others and work as a team. And that's fine. But for those that do enjoy more social, team oriented, cooperative play, they've not really encountered that in an MMO (they do in some FPS games, MOBAs etc. but those games are more session based – they’re not about a persistent world and they’re not about building up a character for months and years and making a game a home). I truly believe that when they *do* experience all of this in a persistent world they’re going to love it.
But, and this is key, when they try out Pantheon, even those who end up loving the game, at first they're going to assume a gameplay style that they are accustomed to. And if they do that in Pantheon, if they just run off solo and try to fight any mob they come across, things aren't going to go well. And so, before they even experience the magic of shared experiences and a real community, there's the possibility they become frustrated and leave. With EQ, we didn't really think about this much, MMOs were new, there were fewer choices, and so we just let people figure out that they needed to group up and work together organically. But I strongly feel that we can't do that again -- this is 2016, not 1999. Do you guys agree?
3b. If you do agree, then what can we do about it? First, I don't think there's a simple answer. It's almost like a powerful bacterium that you have to attack with multiple antibiotics. I think you veteran players will play a key role, especially those of you who enjoy taking a newbie under your arm and introducing an MMO to them. But I think we need to go further -- I think we need to reward and actively encourage veteran players to help (again, this is what I call vertical interdependence). An obvious approach is, of course, a Guide System -- these worked very well in the first generation of MMOs and they are arguably going to be even more important in Pantheon. So that's the community side of things.
3c. Next is what's caused the most commotion and concern amongst you, and that is systems in-game that exist specifically to introduce gamers new to the social, grouping experience or to help them make real, lasting in-game friendships, and generally to foster and promote community building. Most of the concern I hear is that these systems could be looked at as 'easy-mode' or 'catering' to the new players. Or, worse yet, that they could be abused and taken advantage of by more experienced players. And I understand and hear that. On one hand we're promoting Pantheon as a hardcore, challenging game, and then on the other hand, we're bringing up these ideas to make the newbie's experience 'easier', or at least more welcoming and less jarring. I can see that, from a limited perspective anyway, those two goals could be seen as contradictory or at odds or even mutually exclusive. And to a point I think those concerns are certainly valid to bring up, because we have to make sure they are NOT at odds. But can we think of ways to gently bring in newbies, not scare them away, show them the magic of cooperative play and community while keeping Pantheon a hardcore, challenging game? We've certainly thought about that a lot and the answer is 1. Yes and 2. We have to.
So again, please do discuss these things, express your concerns, etc., but also do so realizing the need that we accomplish both, and help us with solutions. Something I've always stressed to my teams is that it's pretty easy for an intelligent developer or gamer to point out potential problems with a system. But what does that really accomplish? The true challenge is not just pointing out potential problems, but coming up with solutions, work arounds, different approaches, etc. Yes, it's harder to do, but it is *so* much more useful to us and it's really a huge part of game development. It's about smart and creative people coming together, recognizing problems and challenges, and then coming up with solutions. And I'd like to (and do) include all of you in this as well. I've seen a lot of not only great new ideas posted here and elsewhere, but also people thinking outside of the box and coming up with solutions and different approaches to address problems in MMOs, both the old ones and the new ones.
Anyway, long post, but I felt the need to really go into this, not just to address concerns about a Mentor system, but to try to address the big picture. I hope that most of you understand where I'm coming from and that this is helpful. The only people I think this truly won't resonate with would be 1. those who truly do just want us to make an EQ emulator and 2. those who really don't want any newbies in Pantheon, who would be content to have Pantheon merely be a haven for those of you who've felt abandoned and orphaned by the newer MMOs. If you fall into one or both of those categories, then I'm going to have to be really straight up with you: Pantheon isn't want you think or want it to be. Hopefully you think about all of this more and change your viewpoint. But I'm going to stand firm on those two statements: not an emulator, and not only for the old school gamer.
If you do agree, however, that Pantheon needs to move things forward, be a modern game, incorporate new ideas, then please consider those that we've revealed and talked about, and those we will in the future, keeping all of the above in mind. And if you do agree or at least understand that having a financially successful game allows us to keep working on the game long term, please understand the need for us to reach some subset of the 15+ million online gamers out there. And the need to proactively ease them into a game like Pantheon, the likes of which they've probably never experienced. Pantheon is most certainly a product of passion -- we're not just doing this to make money -- if we were, there are *far* easier genres to tackle. MMOs are hard, perhaps the hardest game genre. You've got to really be in love with them to work on them. But it's also about being profitable. The members of this team have families and bills and RL to contend with -- our dream is to create a great MMO that remains popular for months and years and that brings in the money that allows us to pay people what they deserve, to build the team as necessary, to create a working environment where people can focus on creating a great game and then keeping it great after launch without worrying about how they're going to pay bills or make ends meet. So the more people who end up playing and loving Pantheon the better. No, we're not going to veer away from the Vision to try to make an extra buck. No, we're not going to chase the wow-killer agenda that unfortunately a lot of MMOs did chase. We're just fine making a fantastic game for our audience. And that audience, when it’s made up of old school gamers as well as some percentage of newbies, is plenty large enough for Pantheon to be very profitable. But I do have to keep both groups in mind -- I need to make sure you guys are getting the game you want, that we're listening to you all, etc. But I also need to do whatever I can do make sure those who've never experienced the magic feel welcome and comfortable right away and aren't frustrated and chased away before they even have a chance to experience the magic we and you so dearly want to bring back to MMOs.
Anyway, 'nuff said, my verbose mode was certainly ON so hopefully you actually made it to the end of this post, but I wanted to cover it all and then bring it all together, so you guys understand why we're doing what we're doing. I look forward to any comments, questions, etc.