Yesterday we brought you the first part of our monster interview with Stargate Worlds studio head Dan Elggren. In the second and final part he talks open beta plans, discusses the potential for a console version and insists his game won't end up like Tabula Rasa.
VideoGamer.com: Have you ironed out the details for the closed beta? Is there a date, number of players for example?
DE: We have our internal date that we're targeting which is in the next couple of months. We want to open it up to probably a good couple of thousand each week and continue to add more and more people to the universe. Also within the next couple of months we want to be content complete. We've got content all in the game now. We want people to come in and give us that rough feedback so we can iterate between now and launch.
VideoGamer.com: And when are you planning to launch?
DE: Q1 of 2009.
VideoGamer.com: What about an open beta? Is that something you're going to do?
DE: Yeah. I want to do that just before launch. To me you've got to have a pretty solid product when you go into open beta.
VideoGamer.com: It can kill an MMO can't it?
DE: Absolutely! Age of Conan, I mean they had a miracle patch at launch. I tried their open beta and I was like, 'oh! What is this?!' But then they launched the game. I want to be able to go out there with open beta as like a great way to market the game and for people to play it and have a positive experience that they want to now go buy the game.
VideoGamer.com: Like a demo on Xbox Live?
DE: Exactly. And that's what people are used to right? Everybody wants to play the demo before they play the game. I appreciate that.
VideoGamer.com: You've mentioned Age of Conan not perhaps being ready when it was launched. How much of a challenge is it from a development point of view to make sure the game is ready for launch?
DE: There's a lot of different factors that go into why a product comes out on a date that you have. As I talk with my CEO and my company, we're a start up, it's ultimately up to us to make sure we launch a great game. We're there to launch a great game. For us as a start up company I don't have seven other products behind me right now that are going to be making money for this company. So if I release a stinker that's not ready it doesn't do anybody any good and my company closes down. So I want to make sure that what we launch at day one is solid, it's fun to play and it's gone through those cycles. And so if it comes down to it that we need to slip it to make sure that we have that iteration we'll do that.
VideoGamer.com: It must be great to have that freedom to know what you're putting out is a quality product?
DE: Absolutely. When you put your heart and soul into a product from day one you want to make sure it's awesome, right?
VideoGamer.com: Absolutely. So the first thing I thought of when I saw Stargate Worlds was Tabula Rasa, which is dying. Does the Tabula Rasa case concern you?
DE: There's definitely things you want to look at. The Tolkien based MMOs have done so well, is that really the only avenue that people want to go to? You can look at, is it the IP, that was an original IP? Is Stargate going to open up more doors? The IP is definitely going to help. But to me it's ultimately the game itself that needs to be awesome in order for that to really make a difference no matter what type of game product it is. Range based combat and the way that we're utilising our combat is very different in the feeling. You could just run around like a typical MMO within Tabula Rasa, and yes it's range based but it's still one on one, and I'm going to shoot you and you're going to shoot me until one of us has died. In ours we're not doing hit point battles. Your tactics and how you use the battlefield really makes a big difference. When I've had other people play it, having that light bulb going on, it's like, 'oh yeah, I get it, it is different'.
VideoGamer.com: My flat mate is a massive Stargate fan and has the entire series on DVD. Will there be Easter egg type stuff in the game that only the true Stargate hardcore will notice and appreciate?
DE: Oh yeah. Little things, like I said about the Lucian Alliance, those hardcore guys that really know that universe, will have a ball going to those places that were only implied within the series. Or even places that were destroyed at one point by a Goa'uld bombardment, like Tollana, that you can now go back and see what's happened in that world since then.
VideoGamer.com: But you can't rely on only the people who like the show to make the game a success. How will you get people who aren't into Stargate playing Stargate Worlds?
DE: It's interesting because the Stargate brand could be our biggest asset and also could be our weakest asset at the same time. I want people who have never heard of Stargate as well to come in and try this game. I think the combat system and the mini-games are going to be able to do that. Just because each player has different play styles and I think each one of our archetypes has different play styles. Our soldier, if you only want to run around and shoot and be a part of that tactics you can do that, but if you like stealth, the commando has a stealth tree you can go down and he can now go and do knife attacks and stealth throughout the universe. The archaeologist is really cool because he can actually disguise himself as a Jaffa. He can walk up to one and play a quick conversation mini-game that you can de-spawn that mob without ever firing a weapon. You get all the experience and all the loot, and now you have a completely different play style. I think it's all those different play styles that I'm hoping will attract a lot of people outside of Stargate or even in and out of the MMO market.
VideoGamer.com: Does an MMO need to be licensed nowadays in order to compete with World of Warcraft?
DE: The numbers support that for sure. A lot of the original IPs have fallen. Even the Tolkien based ones, they've tried to do a clone of World of Warcraft and they still fall by the wayside. I think people do want to escape their own universe and if you go to an alternate universe, either Stargate or Lord of the Rings, they want to be able to participate in that universe. I think that's very appealing to people. So an IP definitely does have its pluses.
VideoGamer.com: And if its a license then there's familiarity there and there's less of a barrier to entry.
DE: Exactly. The barriers to entry are some of the biggest things, right? We're hoping through our instanced gameplay for the newbie zones that we're easing people. World of Warcraft I thought did a great job with that. They brought a lot of new people that would have never touched an MMO into the market now. So if they want to come out of World of Warcraft and try us out and see what they can do, I'm hoping they'll find a new home. But time will tell.
VideoGamer.com: So when am I getting my console version?
DE: Yeah, I've actually had that a few times! You know Xbox 360, or even Xbox 720, the client's based on Unreal 3, so it's really at that point based on how we adjust the AI.
VideoGamer.com: Can't you just save the file as an Xbox game?
DE: (Laughs) Yeah! So how then would you port that over with the controls? It's definitely something we want to look at down the road and how that ports over to console. I think the client we utilised will open up some of those doors but it's how we cross those controls really that's going to help us with that.
VideoGamer.com: What about a PS3 version? PC translates well to Xbox but less well to PS3.
DE: Yeah. It definitely has its challenges. We're just so focussed on PC I haven't really spent the R&D on it to make sure how viable that is. The success of that is going to open up either how far we go with that, if we move into Asian markets or not, it will depend on the success that we have.
VideoGamer.com: So the success of the PC version will determine whether you look at a console version?
DE: Yeah. And that's something that, you know porting it over to even like a Mac or even some other things, we want to first get this game out the door, we can still focus on Live team and expansions, but from there recruiting other teams that are good at porting those products to really take the package and now port it over appropriately for us.
VideoGamer.com: In terms of system requirements, what are we looking at?
DE: We're Unreal 3, so there are pluses and minuses with that. The way that we've built a lot of the textures and the art was really baking a lot of the actual visual elements right into the texture. So if you take all the great bells and whistles that the Unreal 3 has out you still have the visual appeal. Some of my tech artists that have been working on the game have reduced it to lower end specs and we've had some very positive results. But we don't have an official 'this is our min spec' yet.
VideoGamer.com: But your goal is to make is as scalable as possible?
VideoGamer.com: What's your personal favourite class?
DE: It's been interesting. I play all the different archetypes. I love the soldier because I also want the soldier to play with the staff weapon so there's something definitely gratifying by shooting a staff weapon. There's also something very gratifying about taking a commando stealth and going through a POI and using nothing but a knife to take out all of my enemies, and nobody seeing you doing it. All you see is a bunch of mobs falling over because some stealth commando has gone in there and knifed them out. It's pretty cool.
VideoGamer.com: How will the UI work in Stargate Worlds? Will you be able to modify it?
DE: A lot of people mod their UI. In traditional MMOs there's the one you launch with and then the community goes out and mods it. We definitely want the community to mod our UI but we also added a graphical widget you can use in the game. So let's say you're Joe Shmo that just wants to go around and play with all the different elements on the UI, you can change the opacity, move all your buttons around, add more buttons and you can save a profile and send to friend, because it's just a file on your client, and he can load that up and you can have a drop down list of all the different profiles. So as you're playing as a soldier and the next thing you're playing as a commando, you just swap out your profile and then your whole layout will change based on that.
VideoGamer.com: One of the more frustrating things with World of Warcraft is how rigid the UI is.
DE: Yeah. How many people actually use the original UI to play World of Warcraft? Everybody I see play, they always have a mod installed. We definitely want communities to play around with it, but also I'm hoping that people just with that small widget can do some cool things, put it up on the forums and share it with their friends. I'm interested to see what they come up with.
VideoGamer.com: What kind of pricing model are you looking at?
DE: We're looking at the standard pricing model right now for MMOs. A monthly subscription.
VideoGamer.com: There are a lot of MMOs being shown at Leipzig this year. Warhammer Online, DC Universe Online, Champions Online, Age of Conan. Is the MMO market in danger of becoming over saturated?
DE: It's hard because, OK, you've got 10 plus million people playing World of Warcraft, I think that has benefits to the MMO market, it's opened up that door. And seeing Age of Conan do well, Lord of the Rings do well, I think people just want to have these alternate universes that they can go and play around with. I think the US and European markets are going to start playing around with their pricing models in the next few years and see what variances they can have.
VideoGamer.com: Like micro transactions?
DE: Yeah. Not everybody wants to have five MMOs paying 12 Euros a month sort of thing.
VideoGamer.com: Not many people can afford it.
DE: Yeah exactly.
VideoGamer.com: So you think there are enough players to support all of these MMOs then?
DE: I think people will go and find their unique niche that they enjoy and stick with it with the current pricing models. Once we mature more like the Asian market and we have the ability to play with those different micro transactions, it'll be broader for people to have multiple MMOs that they can stick around with and play with and create new characters with.
VideoGamer.com: Right now you just play one MMO at a time. You might stop after six months and move onto another but I don't know many people who play more than one MMO at the same time.
DE: Yeah exactly. We're hoping with the way that we're doing extra content after live and levelling, instead of having to wait a year, someone might play for six months and then quit, and then wait for the expansion pack. I want to create a service that people will continually go through. It's like watching a TV series - you always watch the next episode. We want to be able to give them new episodes and new content that they're always going back and checking out.
VideoGamer.com: Will you call your expansions episodes?
DE: Mini expansions right? If we move to Atlantis or another universe, then we'll have a boxed Atlantis expansion. But mini episodes and seasons, that's going to be free content that we're just going to hand out.
VideoGamer.com: That's great Dan, thanks for your time.
Stargate Worlds is due out for PC Q1 2009.