Age of Conan Director Craig Morrison, Part Two: Gamers are Sociopaths, EQ Clones are Dead, and Why Nobody Reads Quest Text

Gamers are sociopaths? Say it ain't so, Craig.

Part Two of our interview with Craig Morrison picks up right where we left off. Topics covered in this half include storytelling, the control of griefing, and innovation (or lack thereof) in the MMO genre.

(Incidentally, I think that’s the longest article title we’ve ever had.)

The MMO Gamer: I was talking to Ragnar in my last interview with you guys, and we got into the subject of storytelling in MMOs.

With all this talk about fun… does an MMO really have to be fun? Is experiencing a story, being told a story, entertainment enough? Or do you also need an entertaining game mechanic, as well?

Craig Morrison: I think you can have both, because storytelling can be fun to certain people. I do say the game itself has to be fun, but I don’t necessarily think it’s just about gameplay.

Fun is subjective to different people. To some people, the fact there’s a story there is fun. I’m a huge fan of the old adventure games, I’m with Ragnar on that one. I love storytelling in games.

I say to many people, and they kind of look at me strange when I say it, so I’ll be careful: The best adventure game I’ve ever played is Deus Ex.

Because I consider it an adventure game. Yes, it had RPG elements, and it’s in a First Person Shooter end, but it told a story. And I really, really liked that story. For me it was an interesting story, and it’s one of the best games I played.

The MMO Gamer: It was for me, as well. And if you just took away the entire story and left only the game, it would have been a pretty mediocre shooter, for the most part.

Craig Morrison: Yeah.

The MMO Gamer: It had some light RPG elements, but aside from that… The story was what made it a classic.

And I think that’s what’s been lacking in the MMO genre for all these years. I mean, what kind of a story is “Go kill ten rats”?

Craig Morrison: Exactly. And you see that like even in… we’re lucky with Age of Conan, because we have Howard’s world to base it on.

Like I said to you earlier about, Tarantia Commons took inspiration from Howard’s story The Frost-Giant’s Daughter.

And we were able to take a very linear story in one of Howard’s classic Conan tales, and we managed to entwine it through the entire zone. And some players won’t notice. They don’t read the texts.

They are just hitting the button, come on, come on, gimme the quest. I have to go kill this. Ok, I’ll go kill this.

The MMO Gamer: Yes, but the problem with that, is players have been conditioned over the years that the quest text is so banal and meaningless, like: “Hi [insert player name here], you look like a brave [insert class here]. I’ve been waiting for a hearty [insert race here] like you to come along and help me kill these ten rats.”

They don’t even bother to read that anymore, they just hit accept if the reward looks good.

You have to train them from the beginning that the quest text in game Y isn’t that way, or else they’ll just ignore it forever.

Craig Morrison: I think we’ve done a decent job with that with Conan. I think there are some really well written quests there, and some the players, do really appreciate getting through.

Especially through Tortage, our entire early game experience is very story-centric, and game-driven with full voiceover.

It’s a very compelling storytelling experience in many ways, and it something that I really believe in. I love telling stories, and I love for the designers to tell stories.

And some of the gameplay designers? They’re like, “I don’t care. I’m making my encounter fun.”  That’s what they do well.

And then the quest guy, the writer, is the one that makes–because we actually use separate writers, to write the quests, the gameplay and the actual why the gameplay exists are done by two separate sets of people.

I think that’s important. It comes from Anarchy Online, as well. We had a great ability to tell story in Anarchy Online, it’s a very story-heavy game, even for an MMO.

And, that’s something I think follows through in Age of Conan. That it is, there is some very good storytelling there. Yes, you have to accept some of the players don’t notice it, because that’s like what you said, they’ve been conditioned.

The MMO Gamer: So then how do you get them unconditioned?

Craig Morrison: It’s hard, you can’t recondition society fully. It’s bit by bit.

I think when players go, “Oh, that’s really quite a cool story.” And the guy’s like “Oh it was?”

Like you mentioned Onyxia. I remember when I played World of Warcraft, one of the first times my guild, in the very early days, raided Onyxia, one of the players, who was a really heavy hardcore role-player, really liked the Warcraft universe.

We were there at the gates ready to go, and he popped up and he’s like, “Ok, who knows why we’re here?” And we are all kind of like, “Loot! To kill the dragon!”

And he says, “No no, who knows why we’re here?” And they were like, “Guys! You’ve just done a three day, 12 part quest that told you the story of why you are going to kill this dragon. Did anyone read it?”

And we are all like, “No, don’t think so,” and suddenly feeling very guilty about not doing so.

So even though it’s like I’m really interested in the story, even I hadn’t paid much attention.

I knew that it was a key quest, and as a guild we were going to raid it, so, go get a key.

And so I think it’s hard, that conditioning. But you just have to keep trying. You can’t give up. I think the day developers give up and go “No, you can’t tell a story in MMO, so let’s not even try,” is a very sad day.

I think it’s much better to fight. And A: if you only reach thirty, forty percent, even less, the players, that’s fine. But, you know, it’s there for those who appreciate it.

Continued on next page…

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  1. #mmo Age of Conan Director Craig Morrison, Part Two: Gamers are Sociopaths, EQ Clones are Dead, and Why Nobo..

  2. Age of Conan Director Craig Morrison, Part Two: Gamers are …: Because I consider it an adventure game. Yes, it..

  3. Mattt says:

    Interesting interview! But I disagree about the idea that players just want to ruin other players' experience.. ganking is more than that.. when I stealth up and kill some guy unexpectedly, it's more like the challenge of stealthing around and not getting killed and then dropping my stealth in a dangerous area and not getting killed by anyone else while killing that guy. I guess the victim is getting screwed over but now he's learned a valuable lesson about being PvP – you can die (and not just unexpectedly – like was mentioned earlier, people too much are choosing easy targets to PvP against… PvP should mean you can die at any time).

    It was the same as a PKer in UO even without stealth.. you could be killed at any moment cause you were an outlaw. And on the flip side, one of them could kill you! We all knew the rules. But I guess not everybody liked them. Maybe that's why we need the niche MMOs.

    Ganking in pvp in a faction pvp system makes perfect sense, though, because it's war. You better believe I'll use any (legal within the game) advantage I have in the pursuit of victory for my faction!

    • tempus says:

      Most of those ganking are just trying for the easy kill. They make the life of lowbies a misery.
      When asked politely why they do it, many of them say, "Because I can". They have no empathy for the low-level person trying to read a quest, no care for anyone in the world save themselves and their K/D ratio or that extra 1 PvP point.

    • I both agreed and disagreed with what Craig was saying. I'm a big advocate for sandbox worlds, with as few restrictions on player actions as possible… which means if you want to up and kill somebody standing in the middle of town, go right ahead.

      But, I also think there need to be harsh consequences for those actions to prevent the game from devolving into another Shadowbane.

      Just like in real life, you are of course free to beat, rob, and kill anyone you want, but then don't be surprised when the police show up to send you to prison.

      • Mattt says:

        I missed out on Shadowbane but I thought UO did a decent job of self-policing. Although I had a PK character, I spent much more time hunting and killing PKs. I also thought it was a great touch that they could only go to Buc's Den, where they would have to band together if they hoped to use the bank.

        I think you run into problems with level based games where even a few levels of difference between players creates a massive advantage. In UO, players didn't have to be maxed out or with great items to put up a fight against player killers – meaning players could more easily dish out those harsh consequences.

        • Many other games might create a massive advantage for the person being higher level, i think that AoC is one of the few level based MMO's that doesn't really create that much of a massive advantage, ever since i rerolled on Fury (EU server) iv been killing people higher level then me all the time. Unlike many other MMO's you can actually change the outcome of a fight if you know what you are doing, which are impossible in some games. And i am talking about killing players even 20 levels higher, one vs one – happens all the time. So it really doesn't apply to this game IMO, which is great.

      • Firefly says:

        That goes into what Craig was talking about earlier, though. You're saying that people should be allowed to play how they want, as long as there are consequences for playing the "wrong" way. You can't tell a player it's okay to play a certain way, and then at the same time screw them over for playing that way.

        • I was saying players should have freedom of action, but those actions should have consequences. Tying a player's hands and saying "You can't kill somebody here for no particular reason other than we're trying to protect somebody's feelings" is not the same thing as saying "If you kill this guy in this particular spot you're going to be branded an outlaw and hunted down like a dog."

          I thought Craig was advocating more for the restriction side, "You can't fight here," than the punishment side.

          He was right in that, in this day and age, full-on FFA PvP with no restrictions leads to chaos, because there exist a large number of players who get their jollies solely on making other player's lives miserable.

          At the same time, as I think WAR has shown, restricted area-based PvP needs the perfect storm of conditions in order to be enjoyable.

          So, all things being equal, I would prefer the freedom of the sandbox, with no arbitrary restrictions on who can attack what and where, but if you're just wandering around killing everyone in sight for no particular reason, don't be surprised if your game experience soon becomes much more difficult.

          • Firefly says:

            Restrictions like this work for the player who wants that sort of experience (the ganker), but for the victim, it's too late. If you're out in the middle of nowhere and you get attacked by someone you can't possibly defeat, and he camps your corpse so that you can't return, sure, he might be branded an outlaw when he rides back into town, but the victim's experience has already been ruined. I think this problem has already been solved with having consentual PvP.

            There will always be those players who want "freedom of the sandbox" as you say, to always feel like the hunter or the hunted. Or maybe they just want the world to feel more "real." That's why PvP servers exist. And that's perfectly fine. I just get unnerved when people advocate that certain MMO designs should always be used, just because that's how they like to play and that's how they think the game "should" be played. I think that people play MMO's for different reasons, and the developers should just do their best to cater to as large a breadth of play options as possible (within reason of course).

          • To clarify, I wasn't saying that all MMOs should be open world sandboxes, I said that was my own personal preference.

            I think if someone is interested in a closed world consensual PvP game there are enough of those on the market already: WAR, Conan, or WoW on a PvP server, just to name a few.

            There hasn't been a real workable sandbox PvP game along the lines I described since UO… and then they ruined that with what I still think was the very misguided Trammel and Felluca split (the number of unofficial pre-Trammel shards up and running would seem to support that).

            AC on Darktide was kind of close, but Darktide seemed like an afterthought to Turbine, so they never included any sort of real consequence system, it was just regular old AC, except you could kill everybody, so players had to invent their own system with the Anti-PK guilds.

  4. dreamss says:

    while the game has improved much, funcom still has not replied to my support email 1 week later as of why i was banned for a month. they yet to listen or respond to any advocate feedback (which are people who do work for funcom for free since funcom fired most of the staff) OR address pvp exploiters. (we have proof as they are botting and funcom dosent care). no to mention the forums mods are clossing down any thread even ones that are about our forum polytics due flamming instead of just punishing the flammers. and freaking banned me for asking about dam sieges on the tyranny forums.

    i been playing since launch and the problem still there… funcom takes WAY to long to do anything

  5. @Mattt – what you're describing isn't what Craig was talking about. What Craig was talking about is groups of level 80's camping the starter zones and repeatedly ganking the newbies.

  6. tempus says:

    I long for the day when those creating online roleplaying games actually are roleplayers and "get" what rp is about. I guess at least that Craig is honest. But still talk of min-maxing, of gearing up. He talks of story but leaves out those that want to create story themselves, the roleplayers.

    • I've been talking to developers a lot about the lack of RP opportunities… I mentioned in the interview I used to be a real hardcore pen and paper kind of a guy, but I've never role-played in an MMO.

      The feeling that you're stuck into one fixed trajectory, that you'll create a character, then do this zone, this zone, and that zone until you've maxxed out, and then you'll go do these raids for loot, with everything the same for every character you make….

      That's the antithesis of the freedom you're supposed to have when RPing.

      But, it all comes down to economics. You can read a little more of an explanation about this in an interview I did with some of the guys from Carbine Studios…

      The answer on RPing is on page four.

  7. I liked what Craig had to say. He acknowledges that the mmo template is going to change, and that some company is going to take a chance at changing it. Not all companies that take a chance will be successful, but the one that hits it right will be hugely successful and change the genre completely.

    No one wants to play World of Warcraft other than the people still playing World of Warcraft. We've all been there, done that. It's time for something fresh and new.

    IMO, here's some of the key areas that need to change:
    – Quests. The whole "talk to npc, deliver item to other npc", or "go hunt 200 wolves and bring me their pelts" needs to go away completely. There's no point to it and there's no way to fix this to make it more fun. Just drop it and find a new way to initiate a battle or to find new items and gain xp. When I play a new mmo, nothing turns me off more than doing my first FedEx quest. I'm literally bored with the second thing I do in the game (the first thing being character creation).

    – The Social System. There needs to be a way for a player to become an important part of the world, where other players 'need you' or feel compelled to 'kill you'. I'm not talking about random grouping or ganking. I'm talking about becoming someone of importance in such a wide scope as to cause chatter around the world. Where your rank actually means something other than "he's level 50 and I'm level 40, I better stay away". If players can gain popularity throughout the world, they'll keep their subscription. Nerds and geeks aren't very popular in school, so if they can gain popularity in a virtual world, then they will definitely stay. :)

    – The Story. We all know that most gamers just click through the dialog so that they can get the quest underway and receive the item. Hardly anyone reads the text. This will have to change completely. If we wanted to read a story we'd read a book. But this is a game… most people just want to 'play'. Can you imagine the players creating the story? Or, why have a story at all? What if the social system was so good, that the story was all about the players? ;)

    – Factions. Horde vs Alliance is the worst thing ever created. :) A player should be able to make their own decisions which will eventually send them down the path of their choice. Once you've gone down a path too far, there's no turning back unless you really work hard. Like in real life.

    – Rock, Paper, Scissors class design. What is the point of that? Using your class should be 100% skill based. Some baseball players are better than others, right? But you wouldn't put a football uniform on a baseball player and tell him to play like a football player would you? It just doesn't work. You need to give the classes their tools and they should all have a role to play and an equal chance of mastering their role. The 'easy to play, hard to master' template is much better than rock, paper, scissors.

    – Fighting. Ok, so there's 1000 people on my server. Why am I running around alone? Well, I suppose I could type in the chat box 'LFG!'. But that's so old hat most of the time, no one response. Imagine if there was a real true war in this world. Shouldn't I be fighting an epic battle? Where's the front line? Wouldn't this be the place where most people are fighting? Shouldn't there be zones that are more dangerous than others? And I don't mean higher level mobs, I mean more players. I mean, there is in fact a war to be one for some reason or another. Well, give a reason and show me where to fight along with my brothers and sisters!!

    – Crafting. This needs to be dropped completely. I haven't played an mmo yet that has made this fun. Find another way to make money and find special items. This way is not fun at all.

    – Character Creation. This template is so old. You pick a race, class, gender, etc, and then off you go. BORING! You can't do that in real life, so why do that in the virtual world? Shouldn't you be born without any say in the matter? And then after you're born, you can decide your fate.

    That's just a few things that I can think of that really needs to change (IMO). This genre is so stagnant.

  8. Hexxanna says:

    Ultima is a very good game still in these days and has still a subscriber base that challenges most other games. The System of using Skills is great and you can play realy like You want it.
    An Future MMO should contain again a Skill based system where anything is possible, some things decrease each other some increase each other but You choose.

    An crafting system that could work like an cradtrading game where you have your Deck that contains your skill and ressources as your cards and then play out against an the challenge to craft that item.
    You can win big or small or you fail less or complete and such will the crafted item be – uber stuff or bad crap.

    Daoc has the right PvP-System – an Duell Function could be added and thats it.

    Some Epic Storylines that may drive your Chars progress but the crap/grindquests can go away.

    A World that is realy living a live cycle with different seasons and a days live of its NPCs.

    One must put all the good things together and bring such a game out.
    Look at Ultima, Daoc, AoC, SWG, Vanguard, Ryzom, EVE for the good stuff and put them in a logical way together in a new world in a way that many people can have their fun playing PvE/PvP/RP/Crafting/Exploring/Living a Fantasy-Life or simple having fun for only an Hour.
    A MMO-World is big enough for all and get RID of that shit Serverboundarys!!!

    And be happy with 500k Subscribers…

  9. zemus101001 says:

    As per the sandbox style of gameplay, i can follow that. One of the most enjoyable experiences i've ever had in an mmo was with SWG (pre-nge). It was a world strongly driven by user created experiences (for me anyway). I don't know how many times I was approached by musicians,entertainers,dancers, who wanted to perform in our towns cantina. At that point the "quest" became, "ok i need to revamp the layout of the cantina to appeal to this entertainers style, I need to fill this cantina by word of mouth and make sure there will be plenty of people here, I need to find the right crafters (chefs and smugglers for drugs) to make it feel like an EPIC event." Or as a crafter myself I would approach miners for certain business arrangements who would then "quest" to find my exact specifications (or as close as possible) of resource spread across SEVERAL different planets and areas. I think the freedom of that world was not meant for everyone to be sure but the ones who DID enjoy that a player could be a Bounty Hunter/Dancer or Combat Medic/Image Designer (niche players if you want to call them) were utterly faithful to it. I'm talking about the freedom where people actually had to get creative in order to fulfill their objective. A Class-less system saw bounty hunters who would dress in plain clothes and dance in a cantina just waiting for their mark to show up. And when they did show up and started bragging on their skills…boom. Mission accomplished, killed from the last person thought possible.

    When the NGE hit and the game went to a more "main stream" template that vainly attempted to emulate the success of games like WoW or EQ the game saw its biggest loss of players since its release. Yea the game was still fun for some people who were accustomed to the blandness of the same template with a different license that most of us today have accepted as the norm, the steep drop off of its most loyal followers is surely a sign that most gamers ARE ready for a game developer to challenge them by breaking that mold. To take a UNIQUE game (SWG pre NGE, or even pre CU for those veterans that remember) and turn it into a dummied down watery version of a more successful MMO with a different skin is only perpetuating the stigma that comes with thinking outside the box.

    I played AoC for about 3 months after launch. I was enraptured by the world and the details, effort, and genuine care that went into the questing world of Tortage. Never i had i seen so much attention paid to a starting area. I FELT epic at level 1. After you left, that feeling slowly disappeared and soon i didn't even bother reading the quest. Bugs weren't getting fixed, client performance was unstable and it just became another hack and slash. You know like the lady friend you have who looks like a genuine beauty but that make-up and glam belie the fact that she's a heroin addict who will do anything for her next fix. I left the game at this point, realizing that it, while introducing new ideas, was at its core the same MMO template.

    Under the lead of a new game directer who recognizes this fact, as mentioned in the interview, I'm almost ready to put my faith back in this game. It's still one of the best, most realistically detailed mmo worlds I've seen so far. I don't believe Gaute did a terrible job only that he wasn't prepared for the level of hope gamers had put into this game. This, to many I know, was to be THE game. Those kinds of expectations are unforgiving of mediocrity. Liken the experience to a rocket scientist who is thrust into the life of a farmer. Could they adapt? Sure, they have all the tools and intelligence they need to maintain. Will that first harvest be a success. Doubtful.

  10. dreamss says:

    it took over 2 months for funcom to address the battlekeep issues AFTER I had to make a big deal, and have funcom's head DBA personally tell silirion about them. the 1 year event was fail… funcom cant even get tech support right. still no reply on why i was banned for a month. here your word of mouth funcom enjoy

  11. Towaton says:

    EQ clones are dead? I think not..if games would revert back towards EQ instead of WoW, I think I would be less bored with them

    [edited, feel free to comment but don’t try to slip ads in on the sly.]

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