Runic Games Interview

Article Index

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Perfect World Entertainment
Developer:Runic Games
Release Date:2009-10-27
  • Action,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
The last month hasn't been kind to Flagship Studios. When the company ran out of money, a vast majority of the employees were let go and the Hellgate and Mythos IPs went into limbo.  Flagship Seattle, the team responsible for Mythos, has since reformed a new company called Runic Games in order to continue the task of building a free-to-play massively multiplayer action RPG. To get a better idea of what the company's goals are and what we can expect to see from them in the future, we chatted with Runic's Travis Baldree and Max Schaefer:

GB: Take us through Flagship Seattle's history. When did development on Mythos actually begin and where were you at prior to the beta server being taken offline? How much more time did the game need before it could have potentially been released to the public?

Travis: Mythos began as a test project for the Hellgate:London network infrastructure in October, nearly three years ago. At the time, I was the only person active on the project, and started development in earnest from the Hellgate codebase. After a few months, it became apparent that the game that was emerging was pretty fun, and could succeed on its own, so I was given the green-light to slowly build up a small team. Two and a half years later, and through slow and careful growth, we reached Mythos' last milestone - the release of a contiguous shared overworld. We were in closed Beta, with an Open Beta imminent in October - commercialization was targeted at approximately two months afterward. There really wasn't that much ground left to cover.

Max: We were close enough to see the finish line, and the worst part of it all is that it was already a great game that people were having fun playing.

GB: In your honest opinion, what went wrong? What mistakes did Flagship Studios make that contributed to the company's fall?

Travis: It would be easy for me to armchair quarterback here. I think a lot of factors contributed to this, and Flagship's founders went to great lengths to save the company. I'll probably let Max answer this however, as he has a better handle on it than I do.

Max: I could go on for days answering this question. The shortest version is that we ran out of money. There were many factors that contributed to that, some of it our fault, some of it unfortunate circumstance, some of it other people's malfeasance. I'll focus on what we did wrong. Since Mythos was originally designed as just a test, we were under-capitalized by the time the international rights were established. What started as a free network test had blossomed into a fully-featured casual MMO, and we just didn't secure the necessary funding to complete it, though not for lack of trying. And when Hellgate: London didn't do as well as hoped, our fate was sealed. We've learned a lot from this experience, and made mistakes we'll never make again.

GB: Mythos was going to be free-to-play with a microtransaction system in place as a source of revenue. Do you believe this is still the most viable business plan for a game of this type? Would you choose to go that route again?

Travis: We still think this is an excellent way to approach the market - free-to-play games really allow more people to give your game a chance, and we don't think a microtransaction model has to be overly aggressive to be successful. We'd definitely consider that as a viable route for our project.

Max: We still believe this to be the case. We think the traditional box product model is dying, and if Asia is any indication, so is the subscription model. Free digital downloads are such a relief to the consumer, we think it's a great way to lower the barrier to entry. From there, a well-designed microtransaction model lets the player decide their level of participation, and there are myriad examples around the world that show that this can actually increase the per-player revenue substantially.

GB: What did you learn during the development of Mythos that you can now apply toward Runic's projects?

Travis: At the outset, we kept straying back to old MMO staples - a slower pace, a punitive grind, stretching out playtime for the sake of retaining players. That really wasn't the way to go for us - allowing fast, fun play with rapid advancement works just fine - people will replay if it wasn't a chore to do it the first time, and you have an interesting alternate class to explore. We learned how important enabling player interaction was - making sure that people are around one another with things to do. We were initially heavily instanced, but in the end converted to a shared overworld space that allowed players to really interact meaningfully more often. More than anything else, we learned that the people who make the game and play it are the most important part of the equation - having a good relationship between your community and team helps overcome any number of obstacles, and I think was one of the key reasons that Mythos continued to become a better and better game.

Max: Another lesson we learned was that a good game doesn't have to have all the newest bells and whistles. It's more important that the game is well-designed and fun. And it's extremely important that it run on the computers people have in the real world. Couple that with a good set of development tools, and you have a recipe for success.

GB: How big of a team do you currently have at Runic Games? Have you hired on any other former Flagship Studios employees?

Travis: We've hired all of the original Flagship Seattle team back on to form Runic games - there are 14 of us in all ( and Max ).