Stargate Worlds, the upcoming massively multiplayer online role-playing game based on the Stargate SG-1 universe, has been confirmed as in development since the beginning of 2006. Cheyenne Mountain announced the game as its first project, and later announced that it would be self-publishing the game under the banner of a new publishing studio called FireSky.
It’s currently due sometime before the end of 2008, although the team are quick to point out that that’s in no way a definite lockdown right now. The game will take place within a sprawling sci-fi world, with “all the planets, as many as we have time to build,” all of which players can discover and explore.
GameSpot UK chatted with three people involved in the MMOG in a roundtable discussion: Stargate Worlds studio head Dan Elggren, FireSky senior vice president of strategic operations Joe Ybarra, and FireSky senior vice president of product development Rod Nakamoto.
Ybarra is a veteran of the games world, who started in the industry more than 20 years ago as a producer for Electronic Arts. He has worked on games including M.U.L.E., The Bard’s Tale, The Seven Cities of Gold, and The Matrix Online.
Nakamoto is also an industry old timer, having started out developing one of the first sound cards for the Apple II computer, and has worked for (among others) Electronic Arts, Activision, and Sega. Games with his name on them include Wing Commander: Prophecy, Eternal Champions, and NASCAR Thunder 2003.
Elggren describes himself as a “Stargate enthusiast,” and got his break in the industry working as a QA tester. He formerly worked for Electronic Arts as development director, and developed games including three Medal of Honor titles, as well as Command & Conquer: Generals Zero Hour.
GameSpot UK: Don’t mean to rush you, but have you guys locked down a definite date yet?
Dan Elggren: As you know, building an MMOG is a very difficult process, and the release date has to be somewhat flexible to account for the complexities. We have announced a tentative window of winter 2008, but we are continually evaluating the scope and quality of Stargate Worlds to ensure we release the best game possible.
GSUK: What are you most excited about so far?
DE: One feature that we’re really excited about is the noncombat play style that will be available to the Archaeologist archetype. MMOs, with a few exceptions, don’t really give players many options when it comes to navigating the play space. Generally, the only way you progress is through combat. The archaeologist and, to a lesser extent, the scientist will have a noncombat path they can take, even when teaming with a group of soldiers and commandos.
This is a big deal in MMOGs, and we believe it will open up Stargate Worlds to an entirely new type of gamer who wants to be a part of [an] MMORPG experience but doesn’t want to be continually killing enemies to advance their character.
GSUK: Do you think that in social gaming, the social aspect will become more and more important, and the gaming less and less so?
Joe Ybarra: It’s not a matter of games becoming less important, not at all. This is actually about an intersection between two equally important aspects. If there is one thing we’ve learned through observing the MMOG space and primary research, it is that the social networks gamers build inside MMOGs are a key part of their enjoyment. It’s the guilds, the five-man raid teams, and even pickup groups. The network is key, but developers have, in general, provided no more than basic tools for gamers to build them. That’s one of the first things we’ll change.
Absolutely gameplay is important. No one is going to play a bad game because it has a great social-network tool. Games have to be fun, or they fail.
GSUK: Can you tell us more about Project: Ascension?
Rod Nakamoto: Project: Ascension is a code name for a framework for fun games, much like a shopping centre is a framework for stores. A mall has big anchors like Macy’s and Nordstrom’s here in the United States. In much the same way that a mall brings together disparate stores and restaurants to offer a great entertainment package, Project: Ascension will bring together a variety of games, all in the online space. There’s much more to it than that, but that’s all we can tell you about [it] at this time.
Obviously Stargate Worlds won’t have the full dynamic of Project: Ascension at launch. The full depth can’t be achieved until there are multiple titles existing in the framework. We’ll be announcing more of those titles this summer.
GSUK: And what the snap is SNAP?
RN: SNAP games are the pieces that fit into the Project: Ascension framework. They aren’t all MMORPGs in the classic sense, but they all share an online element.
GSUK: How exactly are these going to “change the dynamic forever,” as you claim?
JY: Traditionally, when gamers invest in an MMOG, they build up equity in the form of their characters. It’s all about XP, loot, and friends, right? That’s part of the reason why people continue to play games.
We’re developing ways for players to have portability with those elements. Project: Ascension and SNAP games will allow gamers to keep their equity across a number of varied titles. Obviously there are gameplay and balance issues to be worked out, but the general idea is one of portability.
GSUK: Can you tell us about the other projects you are working on as well?
RN: In addition to Stargate Worlds, we have four other products in varying stages of development. This includes Project: Ascension, an additional MMOG based on a licensed property, and two other titles we haven’t announced.
GSUK: Why did you guys take the decision to publish Stargate Worlds yourselves as opposed to seeking an outside publisher?
JY: We originally planned on using an outside publisher for Stargate Worlds, but after spending about a year negotiating with various groups, it became clear that self-publishing was a better option.
We recognize that an MMOG is more of a service than a product, and who’s better positioned to offer the support customers need than we are? No one. We’re building a world-class customer-service team and technical infrastructure that will allow us to build a relationship with gamers rather than have that relationship run through someone else.
What it all boils down to is that we have the talent to do this better than anyone else can. We’ve done this before.
GSUK: By and large, developers and publishers haven’t done a great job of marrying quality games with social experiences, although there have been a few notable exceptions. Why are they successful, where others are not?
RN: We think that the current state of social experiences in games is not really that good. Most efforts feel tacked on. The major difference we foresee between our efforts and those of other game devs and publishers is that our efforts are growing organically. All of our products will be built with social networks in mind from the onset rather than providing minimal tools or tacking them on postlaunch.
GSUK: Do you see Stargate Worlds as being one of those that marry the two effectively and why/how?
RN: The true benefits of Project: Ascension and SNAP games won’t become truly evident until we have a couple of games up and running. Stargate Worlds will have the social tools you expect to see in an MMOG, but the full extent of the “marriage” will come later.
GSUK: Do you not think online gaming has somewhat peaked, and that the market may be becoming saturated?
JY: We certainly don’t believe the market has peaked or become saturated. As broadband penetration increases across the globe, established markets will continue to grow and new markets will open up. In the grand scheme of things, even in the US market, the community of 8-10 million online gamers is dwarfed by other mainstream entertainment options. The top five television shows in the US, for instance, had more than 148 million viewers for the week of April 14, 2008. As more consumers seek their entertainment online, we feel that Project: Ascension will give them a home.
GSUK: With all this focus currently on MMOGs, do you think there’s any place still for good old-fashioned single-player games?
JY: Absolutely! There are a number of developers out there creating fantastic single-player games, but that’s not the space we’re going to be in.
GSUK: Can you give me figures on how many people you see on MMOGs in the future as compared to now?
JY: That’s a very difficult question to answer. According to NPD, 19 percent of online gamers play MMOGs. As new games come online and the genre gains in mainstream acceptance, I believe we could easily see that number double in a short amount of time.
GSUK: What do you think of the gold-farming issue? How are you guys going to deal with it?
JY: Gold farming is a problem for developers trying to build a solid in-game economy and for gamers who don’t want to cheat to get ahead. There are no easy answers to this question at this time, but we are committed to giving our legitimate subscribers a quality play experience. We have some ideas about how to deal with it, but nothing that we are ready to announce at this time.
GSUK: Do you think current MMOGs are overly complex? Will Stargate be easy to pick up and play, or very technical but with depth, like EVE Online?
RN: Current MMOGs run a gamut, from complex like EVE, to relatively easy like World of Warcraft. As great as World of Warcraft is, we believe that it can be pushed further. Our goal is to create a game that is simple to learn yet difficult to master.
As the MMOG market matures, it has to have a lower learning curve in order to attract a broader audience, and that’s part of our inspiration for SNAP games.
GSUK: Thanks for your time.