Game Of Thrones MMO: Beta, PvP Combat & TV Series Crossover – Interview
Game of Thrones is a phenomenon. Starting with George R.R. Martin’s first novel in the A Song of Ice and Fire saga, and the insanely popular HBO television series, the fantasy epic has exploded over the last few years.
Free to play MMO developers Bigpoint and Artplant are currently developing a Game of Thrones MMO that will run alongside HBO’s series and will cross over at key points. Fans of the series should be excited, so we had a chat with Rob Ollett, executive producer of Game of Thrones at Bigpoint to find out more.
As the Game of Thrones MMO is based on the HBO series, how closely will it follow the events of the show, and will it stray into territory explored in the books as well?
Bigpoint has the license to the hit Game of Thrones HBO television series and has partnered with Artplant to build an open, sandbox-style MMO that will draw from key aspects portrayed in the series. The Game of Thrones show, of course, follows the lore very carefully, and we’re very sensitive to that.
Our game won’t require players to follow a particular storyline, but will be authentic in terms of the overall experience. As with all of our licensed projects, we work very closely with the license owner, in this case HBO, to ensure everything we develop meets their high standards. Everything we put in-game is reviewed and approved by HBO in advance.
Bigpoint has mentioned that players would have to master both combat and politics to succeed in the game. Can you give us an insight into the various combat styles players can use, and how game world politics will affect progression?
As we’re still in the early production phase, many of these specific details are just now taking shape. Combat will be focused on PvP, with the normal assortment you’d expect from a fantasy MMO – melee, ranged and so on.
The political aspect to the game will be very important, particularly at the guild-level where alliances can be forged and destroyed at will. Throughout the game, players will have a certain status that will rise or fall depending on their actions in the game, as will that status change for guilds and alliances – only the most successful will achieve the title of “The Hand of the King”, for a limited period of time.
What character classes can players expect to use in Game of Thrones?
We plan to release more information on this subject in the near future. That said, player character customization will be important, beginning with the selection of the land they hail from: north, south, or west. Players won’t be locked into rigid skill trees. Instead, they’ll be able to evolve their characters throughout the game.
What can you tell us about the plot of the MMO, and how it runs alongside the plot of the HBO series.
Because our game will live online for many years, the Game of Thrones MMO doesn’t rigidly adhere to the progression of the series. We do, however, plan to incorporate many key events, characters, and locations into the game in a way that makes sense to loyal fans of the series and books, as well as to newcomers all together. Strong knowledge of Game of Thrones isn’t a requirement to enjoy this game.
What sort of quests can players expect to tackle in Game of Thrones, and what options and advantages are open to players looking to play together as a team?
At launch, our focus is to ensure that the PvP aspects of the game are nailed down, which include siege combat – the capturing of keeps, forts, and castles. We will offer quests, but plan to continue to evolve this component post launch.
The core of the game is rooted into swearing allegiance to a particular house. Solo play is possible, but we believe we will have a compelling system in place to encourage group play. Individual players can explore the entire world alone, but they will encounter danger if they wander into areas that they are not aligned with. It’ll be helpful to have friends.
Are you planning to support microtransactions in Game of Thrones?
Bigpoint has a strong policy against forcing players to spend money to progress in our games. In fact, the majority of our community never pays – and that’s fine with us. For a game like this to succeed, there must be a balance.
We’ve been building F2P games for ten years now and have some of the best people and tools in the business to ensure balance and fairness. It’s something we monitor on a daily basis.
In our experience, players who don’t spend money are often better at the game than those who might spend a few dollars for higher-level gear. Experience trumps money any day. Typically, players will spend real money to buy a premium, in-game currency that they can use to buy specialty items. Players can also earn basic currency in the game as well.
Game of Thrones has been developed in Unity 3D. To what extent has this engine helped you push what is possible in a browser game, and just how important is it to deliver high spec visuals in MMO games these days?
As we’ve seen with Battlestar Galactica Online, which is nearing its first anniversary and 10 million registered players, the Unity 3D platform is simply amazing. The visual fidelity we’re able to achieve in a web browser makes most people question whether our titles are really running in Internet Explore, Chrome and Firefox.
Often during demos, we have to point out the appropriate icon to prove it really is a browser. With Game of Thrones, we have even higher expectations.
Together with Artplant, there are no other companies that can build the quality of an MMO for the browser as we can. The browser market is absolutely maturing. With this project, we intend to push the boundaries even further.
Game of Thrones is a transmedia franchise, spanning MMO, RPGs, TV and primarily, books. How important is it for games to go transmedia these days, given how hard it can be to stand out in the constantly crowded MMO market?
We believe it’s tremendously important, particularly in the free to play space. Games that are based on well-known properties benefit from a built-in fan base from the start. Also, since the games are free, players can leave without feeling guilty for walking away from $60 game upfront.
With an IP-based game, the player has a stronger connection to the title, which generally means they’re more excited to get in and see what it has to offer. Working with major licensing partners also has its benefits.
For example, we just announced that we’re building Ice Age Online, which will release in time for the fourth film in that franchise this summer.
Naturally, Fox is planning to heavily promote the movie Ice Age: Continental Drift worldwide, and will have a spill over effect of awareness to the entire Ice Age ecosystem of games and merchandise, of which we’re included in.
What can we expect from the Game of Thrones beta? What key indicators and metrics will you be looking for during testing to help you make this game the best and most balanced it can be? When can we expect the beta to begin, and how will this inform your final release date?
We are aiming to begin the beta later this year for the Game of Thrones MMO. During each phase of that process, from the early private beta, to the more public closed beta, to wider open beta brings its own set of unique requirements and related key performance indicators.
Our goal is to launch the highest-quality product possible, something that will resonate well with the fans and keep them coming back for more. When we launch, all of the core systems will be fully functioning and overall gameplay will look and feel very polished.
Community feedback is critical leading up to launch and beyond. We take their wants and desires very seriously and work to incorporate the most popular requests into our development cycle. Following the initial launch, we continue to add new content and features and optimize everything as much as possible.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing MMO developers today, and if you had the power, what would you do to fix or overcome it?
There are a lot of challenges for developers today. For an MMO, one of the biggest has to be critical mass: If you attract the players, you win, if you don’t, you die. Luckily, Bigpoint has a massive, global distribution network with over 250 million registered gamers hailing from over 180 countries.
Through our partnerships and reach, we can drive a lot of new players into our titles – nearly 250,000 new players sign-up every day. The trick is to make sure they like what they see when they get here. Player satisfaction is our primary goal, and high-quality content is king.