Mailbag time...

Thought I'd squeeze a quick post in-between watching the World Cup games and playing the games nabbed in Steam's weekend sale (catching up on Bioshock 2 and trying out Trine, which looks gorgeous if nothing else!). Quite a few of the questions of late have been about my own play habits and if developers really play their own games!

Do you play MMOs a lot when you work on them all day? (Question from Hybril)

Yes! To me, you can't really work in the genre, and have an informed opinion if you don't. Personally in addition to time on our own game, I try and have one MMO that I think I play 'as a player' and three or four I am testing out at any given time, in order to keep up with what our competition are up to! So for example right now the desktop on my laptop looks like this:

So what do I mean by playing 'as a player'? That means I treat one game as actual downtime, relaxation and enjoyment. It might not be the game that is 'most interesting' for research, it's just the game I approach as I would if I was just a regular player. It's what I have some escapism with. Right now it's actually split a little between playing some EVE again and a bit of Fallen Earth as both recent had significant updates that I wanted to check out again. Although both will suffer again once the Starcraft 2 beta comes back up!

Do you play your own game? I mean really play, not just muck around or read Global? (CyanSword)

While working on a game certainly does take out a little of the mystery and the appeal of progression (since I have played everything many times internally, any way, with any class, that I like) I do always ensure I play Age of Conan consistently. I have two max level characters, one in the sixties, and even my 'free level 50' knocking around the mid-fifties, on top of a plethora of low level alts. The only thing that is different from when I would play a game for my own enjoyment, is that I avoid being in a guild. It's just for safety, so that there could never, ever, be any hint of allegations if anyone accidentally found out who my character was and used that to accuse a guild of getting favors. It is very important to me personally to be aware of how players are playing and having knowledge from in game and not just external channels like the forums.

I am also having a blast with the beta of Bloodlines Champions, the folks at Stunlock have made a fine game there, and I think people will enjoy it when they get a chance to give it a go!

What is your favorite MMO? Please don't just say it is your own game! (KrimsonTide)

I have played MMOs pretty much since the genre existed, and there are really two that formed the basis of my love for the genre, both in very different ways. Everquest was my first real MMO addiction. I had played, and enjoyed Ultima Online, but Everquest was the first game that I really dived into, played in a serious guild, did the crazy hardcore raiding of the early days (I was max level in the original, and for Kunark and Velious, I quit playing just after Luclin). I was really gripped by what it meant to be part of a guild community, and the teamwork that was required to complete the tasks in that game. I was also a lot younger and had more free time to sink into a game, I am not sure I would be able to justify the time investment I put into that game if it was around now!

Then came Anarchy Online, the game that eventually lead me to work here at Funcom. I will always love Rubi-Ka for a million different reasons. It just grabbed me and refused to let me go. The great backstory, the well pitched factions, the conflict, Leets, Reets, Yuttos (still love them!), Atroxes in thongs, nights at Baboons and then Reets Retreat, running missions out of Home, exploring the Shadowlands, fighting aliens, Gridstream (you guys rock!), an awesome community (everyone rocks!), poking around all the far flung corners of the game and just generally getting lost in a fantastic sci-fi setting that made just about anything possible...I will always have a place in my gaming heart for Anarchy!

I have played MMORPGs since Meridian 59. I think the current crop of games are pandering too much to the casual crowd. Do you think MMORPGs are dead? (Simon P)

Nope, not at all, I think they are evolving though. While there might never be another Everquest or Anarchy Online, there will hundreds of other games that place community, co-operation and a shared experience at the center of their being. That will bring an even wider audience to the genre, and as the audience expands so will what is offered...but I think there will always also be a space for an old-school inspired title or two as well ;) I don't think it is a bad thing that these games have a wider appeal. It does mean not every game will appeal to those of us who might prefer the older games, or a specific game, and that means those games eventually made for more veteran players will be niche titles...but that isn't a bad thing in and of itself...the genre definitely isn't dead...far from it in fact!

I think when a company is going to sink tens of millions of dollars into a 'triple A' MMO then it is only natural that those games will have a pretty casual friendly approach as they want, and need, to retain more customers than a niche product might. Those types of games though introduce far more players to the genre, and those players end up trying other MMO games too...that's never a bad thing for the genre...

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