Steve sits down with Lorien Gremore, Lead Producer on SOE’s upcoming spy-shooter, The Agency.
Topics discussed include the “stickiness” of session-based games, striking a balance between FPS and MMO players, and whether or not The Agency even falls under the definition of a traditional MMO at all.
The MMO Gamer: First of all, for those among our readers who may be unfamiliar, could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about what it is you do at SOE.
Lorien Gremore: I’m Lorien Gremore, I’m the Lead Producer on The Agency. I’ve been with the project for a couple of years now… a little bit more than that, actually.
What I do is I lead the production team, we help to coordinate across all the different disciplines on the team, making sure people’s work comes together appropriately on time, and moves through the process of pipelines, distribution, and delivery.
The MMO Gamer: This has been a recurring theme that I’ve been bringing up in my interviews with SOE, and I’d like to bounce it off you, as well:
It almost seems to me as though the company is trying to distance itself from its roots, the more “hardcore” traditional fantasy games like EverQuest, and move towards focusing more on games that can appeal outside of the MMO genre, like The Agency, for instance.
Lorien Gremore: I think it’s a wonderful philosophy that SOE is taking right now. We’re seeing something that indicates that there are more stories to be told, really.
Everybody loves classic fantasy, I love Lord of the Rings, for instance. You can’t get more classic than that. People love a good sci-fi classic, as well.
But there are simply more stories to be told, and the fact that we are engaging in a modern, exclusive, dynamic world, that is optimistic and vibrant with lots of rich storytelling and missions…
It’s just something that we’re bringing new to the space, and it’s such an interesting genre and theme, I think it engages a lot of people’s imaginations right away.
The MMO Gamer: Where I was going with that is, it almost seems as if the age of the 5,000 hour, soul-sucking, life-consuming, quit your job and stay home to play it MMO is coming to end.
And now the “session” MMO, the bite-sized 30 minutes at a time MMO, is up and coming.
Do you feel that The Agency is the—I don’t want to use the word vanguard—the leader of the charge toward this new phase, if you want to call it that?
Lorien Gremore: We definitely try to deliver fun now with no waiting, that’s one of our mottos.
We definitely want to make sure that you have the option of jumping in, jumping out, having a quick experience, or a long-term experience if you’re looking for one.
There’s lots to do in The Agency, there’s lots of different varieties of gameplay available.
This is something we hope keeps people engaged, but also allows people to feel like they’re specializing, doing what they like to do, and able to do it fairly quickly.
You can jump in and do a mission in a few minutes, see how that worked out for you, and then maybe do a longer mission next, team up with a bunch of friends and do an epic mission.
These are all options we’re trying to offer players. We’re not trying to lock them into hours, and hours of long raids and things like that, that you might be tired of from other games. It’s not our speciality.
There’s fun to be had in those things, and I certainly enjoy them on my own personal time, but that’s not the game we’re making, here.
We’re specifically trying to create something that gives people a little more of the options that hopefully they’re looking for, right now.
The MMO Gamer: The flip side to that is, the advantage that the soul-sucking life-consuming MMOs have, is that they’re soul-sucking and life-consuming. They have huge, I guess the technical term would be “stickiness.” People play them for a very, very long time.
There are people, for example, who have been playing EverQuest for the entire decade that it’s been out.
One of the concerns I have as a player about this new breed of “thirty minute at a time” MMOs is, I would use the analogy of Tetris:
Tetris is a great game. You can download it any time you like and there it is, you play for 30 minutes and then put it away. But, most people don’t play Tetris on a constant basis for ten years at a time.
How do you get that stickiness, and keep players coming back month after month within the shorter timeframes you’re aiming for?
Lorien Gremore: I think it’s replayability that really helps us there. Since you are what you wear in The Agency, you have the option of playing any of the roles that are available to you based on your outfit that you choose before each mission.
You could play through a mission as a stealth role, and then play through it again as a combat role and get a new experience that way. You may also want to replay a mission because you didn’t get the highest level of rating on that mission.
So if you got a bronze the first time through, you might think, “Well, it’s fun to have the bronze, I can go on and now do the missions that that bronze level unlocked me, but I might want to go back and redo it through the silver rating or even the gold rating to get more goodies, more rewards, more advancement.”
That’s a really valid type of gameplay. I look at some other shooters out there, that people are replaying the same maps for years at a time.
My husband plays Halo all the time, and replays the same maps over, and over again, because they’re still engaging, because they’re designed for a particular type of audience that enjoys the replayability of it, because there’s such a dynamic that comes from smart AI, smart players, doing smart things, cleverly planning out their attacks and things like that.
We’re trying to offer a lot of that in The Agency. You can see in our demos that there’s a lot of planning and strategizing, working together with different skill sets.
Your experience even in the same mission as the same role might be completely different depending on who you took through that mission with you.
If you were taking a support character with you and were playing a stealth character, you might have a totally different experience than if you brought a combat character.
There’s a lot of replayability there, and there’s a lot of reasons to replay. You might find new secrets and clues, you might have a collection you’re going for in terms of intel or operatives.
So there’s a lot of engagement from the rewards you can get through replayability, and there’s also the engagement that you can actually get through the fact that we offer different types of gameplay, via the combinations of skills and outfits, roles, gadgets, all of that good stuff.
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