Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Age of Conan - Letter from Gaute Godager

Yesterday the main honcho behind Funcom's Age of Conan, Gaute Godager, let loose a nice long letter to the community detailing what the team's plans are for the game in the next couple of months and throughout the summer. I'll paste the bulk of the letter here in bold with my own thoughts on his words in italics. Here we go...

Fellow Hyborians!

As you may have noticed we have had frequent patches the last two weeks. We hope this will soon start to quiet down, but as long as there are major issues – and there have been – we will dedicate the Conan team to fixing them and giving you these fixes as soon as possible! We have a plan on how to move this game forward because as you know, what you have today is but the platform – the dawn of this world. I hope you enjoy the game as is, but I can ensure you, this is but the beginning!

Our focus from now on can be summarized by these points:

  • We will add content, specifically in mid-late thirties and mid-late fifties and make the leveling speed smoother in those areas, reducing the need to grind.

  • We will have an overhaul of the PvP system – adding consequence and a host of small things.

  • We are fixing bugs you reported through all channels we can get information from.
    We will add a new large outdoor region in the 55-60 range this summer!

  • This is only a small taster! More information about the exciting summer and fall Roadmap will come the end of the next week!

  • We are staffing up Customer Service, Quality Assurance and Community departments!

1. Filling “thin areas” in our content

We have seen that there are certain level ranges of these Hyborian Adventures that do not have the amount of quality we wish them to have. Most specifically these are the end of the Thirties and the end of the Fifties level ranges. We are addressing this in several ways.

Several mid-late thirties dungeons are getting a complete overhaul (Black Castle, Pyramid of the Ancients and Treasury of the Ancients). Several quests are being made fuller and more entertaining. If people wish to revisit these quests, we will add a system to let them try them out again. We are adding first a batch of quests in Eiglophian Mountains (lvls 55+). We are also adding in a bunch of quests that didn’t quite make it for launch in the 30+ areas. Around 60 quests through the game have been flagged as “Lore Quests”. They will now be patched out with full Voice-Over. (Roughly 1 quest per level after level 20)

Basically, this is exactly what I wanted to see on this roadmap more than anything else from a personal standpoint. As long-time readers of my blog might know, I tend to get frustrated and quit on games that don't have questing content from level 1 to the finish line. WoW spoiled me and there's no going back. Even with Conan's fantastic combat, I doubt I'd be very enthused to hit 50 and find myself with little to do outside of killing mobs to level. Sure questing pretty much is exactly that, but the idea of mini-objectives with large experience rewards and monetary ones as well helps mask what would otherwise be mindless repetitive grinding. Here's hoping this makes it into the game before I get stalled in the upper levels. If not, it's either going to be alt time or back to TR for a little while.

2. Overhauling the PvP System

People like our open PvP system. There are many plans on how to give this open free PvP even more meaning and Purpose. In the meantime we will be doing some smaller tweaks, and we plan to get these out sometimes in June. I will not go into 100% detail here, but that will come next week! What I can promise is:

  • An update on how sneaking and perception works in PvP (nothing major, but an adjustment).

  • A change in the amount of information you get when you hover over an other player.

  • An added system of consequence to “ganking”. (Killing much-much lower level players).

  • A system of adding consequence to losing a PvP match, and winning a PvP match + turning on PvP Leveling.

  • A change in how Crowd Control (Root, Knockback etc) works in PvP.

  • PvP gear.

This really doesn't affect me too much yet, as I'm not focused on the mini-games or siege warfare until much later in my character's life, but the simple fact is that the PvP system as it is now is without any real purpose or rewards for those who engage in it. Only those few guilds who have made it to owning their own Battlekeep might have anything to gain or lose by PvP, while the majority of folks really have no reason to engage other than the sport of it right now. Some sort of reward system is needed, and I'm glad to see it's on the drawing board of more important things. WoW didn't have a real PvP system until months after launch, but I'd rather see it sooner here in a game that's MEANT to have PvP as a main draw at the end-game.

3. New Massive Region

We will unveil this location later, but it will feature a host of quests, new monsters and places of dreams or horror. It will be styled towards the players in the late 50s and bridge the experience on the way to Atzels Approach. We have plans for releasing several of the areas that didn’t quite make it for the release.

Hell yes. Though the part about "areas that didn't quite make it for the release" bugs me, because I wonder just how much was cut out due to wanting to hit the May 20th mark. We know that WAR's not coming until the Fall or Winter, so why wouldn't their publishing give them a bit more time to flesh out the game? It would have only boosted the already killer sales the game's seeing (well over 500,000 sold so far but it's the retention that's key). I'm anxious to see this zone, and if all goes well it'll come at the perfect time for me.

4. Fixing bugs and increasing Customer Service

Funcom has always prided ourselves with having great customer satisfaction. The success so far for this title has left us with the need to increase the size of CS. This will go in parallel with the constant fixing of bugs and other issues that lead people to petition. Included in this is even better testing of the game by increasing the size of Quality Assurance and informing you better about changes by staffing up the Community Department. I know a blurb like this will haunt me always, but I will still venture one: We aren’t satisfied until all our customers are! You know we had a very, very difficult launch of Anarchy-Online! That was a very painful process for all of us working on it – 4 years. You might not understand how driven we are to make sure you enjoy this game, and all the support around it!

The CS part of this one doesn't really matter to me, as I think in nearly 10 years of online gaming I've only used customer service a handful of times. Mind you, I'm all for it but I'm not sure how much it will affect me personally. I've heard some shady reports about Funcom's timliness in terms of their CS staff, so here's hoping that it does indeed improve.

What matters more is the "fixing bugs" part of the equation. Despite the overall playability of the game, there are a TON of bugs. Nothing gamebreaking for me, but we gamers are spoiled at this point byt the relative smoothness of WoW (yes that game again), and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit disappointed by some of the wonkiness left in Hyboria. It's early though, and the fact that they've got this much laid out ahead of them does A LOT to instill faith.

I believe Funcom knows what it takes to make a game exciting and fresh for years. Loyal followers of Anarchy Online will tell you the same. The key for them will doing so in a timely and non-buggy manner. I worry that when WAR or Lich King hits, if AoC isn't in a much better state content wise than it is now, it will lose a lot of steam and never really regain it. They've done a great job of getting box sales, but they need to retain those customers by proving to them that they're 15 bucks is well spent on Hyborian Adventures.

I'm rooting for you Funcom. This is one fine game already, but it needs much more to keep our ADHD gamer brains glued to the screen for the long term. Don't let us down.


Genda Silverspike said...

Good stuff Bildo. I'm pretty much with you. I hope that they can continue to keep the game fresh as it rolls along.

The bug fixing thing is key for me as well. I'm a software tester by day, so software in this state pretty much drives me nucking futs. They got almost all the game-breakers out though, so that makes the game as playable as it needs to be. There are several well documented annoyances, but overall;

GJ, Funcom. Much better launch than I had anticipated.

Anonymous said...

Wait, so a PvP focused game launched without an actually PvP system beyond 'kill for fun'? Very odd.

Also sounds a lot like the LoTRO launch, with a ton of content added shortly after. If they can keep it up like Turbine has, they should be fine.

Anonymous said...

@syncaine: The problem with the PvP is that the much anticipated stuff, namely the Battlekeep Sieges, are comparable to high level PvE raiding. It takes top level players and a huge effort to even get started.

What's lacking is meaningful casual PvP.

I think however, that much ballyhoo has been made of AoC's "PvP focus", just like the "adult" stuff, not necessarily by Funcom themselves. It's a fairly complete game in the sense of having both PvE and PvP.

And yeah, I'll agree, so long as they can keep up it'll all be good. For some of the early people trying to dominate right away, they're outracing content, but that's nothing surprising or new either.

Swift Voyager said...

"so why wouldn't their publishing give them a bit more time to flesh out the game? It would have only boosted the already killer sales the game's seeing "

They may be "stupid like a fox" on this point. Nothing makes people want to renew a subscription more than a pending expansion or content update. With a major addition to the game just around the corner, they may actually increase subscription numbers and box sales further over the next couple months. There's been a lot of speculation about how many of the estimated 1/2 million people who bought the box will actually become long-term subscribers. If Funcom has held back content in order to maintain frequent update schedules the subs will be healthy and Funcom will be wealthy.

"I know a blurb like this will haunt me always, but I will still venture one:"

He certainly knows how to get headlines in gaming publications. The guy is on top of his game right now and he's loving it. Kinda sounds like he's saying "I told you I could do it" to the people who criticized him for Anarchy.

Anonymous said...

Watching from the outside, there doesn't seem to be too much going on in AoC that's a danger to their long-term success. They've identified the challenges they're facing, and they're going to try to address them.

What'll determine their success is how quickly and completely they can address those issues. It seems AoC is a good environment for a certain type of MMO gamer, and there aren't any other MMO's out there that provide FFA fun like Conan's offering.

Is it just me, or did Funcom make a successful Shadowbane, just set in the Conan universe?

I'm not surprised by the lack of content at certain points in the game. That's always an issue in big mmorpg's. I think Funcom rolled the dice by releasing in a good window (No WAR, no WoW), figuring they'll patch in more content as fast as they can. It wasn't a bad gamble.

Bildo said...

It definitely worked out for them.

But they've GOT to cover those grindy spots and get real purpose in for the PvP before the end of the summer.

If not, and WAR hits... I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of folks never looked back at AoC.

I have hope they can do it, but I also had hope Turbine would fix the mid-30s in a timely enough manner to keep my interest. They didn't.

Though really, Funcom's game is all around more entertaining to me than LotRO was, so they have a slight edge there in my book.

Thallian said...