On the killing of Lord British – were you all together in Origin's offices at the time?
GP: Yes we were. We were trying to protect him. We had, like, 15 GMs surrounding him just like the secret service.
Was it ever discussed whether Lord British should have stayed dead?
RV: I mean we laughed, we thought it was the funniest thing in the world, right? I mean, you're not supposed to die! Luckily it happened during the beta so when we launched the product, it started clean. We made sure after that that he was invulnerable and we had protection for him if anything happened. It never happened again.
You must have learned quite a lot from the troubles UO had. Did that make it easier when doing Star Wars Galaxies, to prepare for that kind of outcome?
RV: Yes. We had restrictions on Star Wars Galaxies when we launched. Star Wars Galaxies was kind of a good simulator, but it had lots of bugs at launch. Lots of systems but not very polished and that hurt it a lot.
It wasn't finished to the point where it needed to be and that was really bad because again if you don't finish the game to your core set before launch, changing it drastically during live is very hard on the player base.
Since UO there's obviously been the huge success of World of Warcraft. What do you make of the way that MMORPGs have developed since UO?
RV: World of Warcraft set the standard to follow. They put out a very polished experience, which had never really happened before. They didn't really evolutionize or revolutionize, so to speak, the online world. What they did was make a very polished experience, taking what they learned from UO and EverQuest and made a great game. It doesn't have as much freedom as UO did, or EQ.
They also had systems in the game that motivated people to the right behavior instead of the wrong behavior. Their design was pretty well thought out and, again, their advancement level is far faster than anyone's ever before seen. Their progression was awesome. And because of all that it went to a broader audience and it was an inviting world – a very pretty world. And it could be played on base machines – you didn't have to have this huge honking PC to play it and to me that was the reason that it just went everywhere. It's a lot of fun and still is today.
The open-ended freedom of UO is something of the past in a way. EverQuest and World of Warcraft were more controlled experiences. Do you think developers looked at what happened in UO and thought "We've got to avoid that"?
RV: Yes, absolutely. It is a little bit of scariness about that because frankly when you give people a simulator and the ability to do anything in the world you have to have limits, you have to have constraints that they understand.
Where do you see massively multiplayer games going next? What would you say are the big trends?
RV: What I see is more free-to-play with micro-transaction based games. I definitely see it heading toward the web, like it is in Germany. Subscription-based games are very premium. There will be premium games – I think they're great entertainment value – but I think you're starting to see the MapleStorys of the world and the Free Realms and others pop up.
Kids are now getting trained on these games and they go to their local Target or 7-Eleven to get their game cards and their micro-transaction cards for cash and go play the games. That's training a whole new audience. Audiences today are a lot more connected than they were before, just in the past five years with Twitter and Facebook and other social networking applications.
It's going to be interesting in the next generation what they're going to ask for and expect in an online world. And I see connectivity to your phone and other apps as huge. Basically I see it where you're communicating with your people who are in the game outside of the game more in the future such as through Twitter or Facebook. Your content will start to become portable.
We've talked a lot about the problems of player behavior. Are there examples of something very nice or surprisingly good that you've come across from players?
RV: Oh yes. One of my best stories is when I was in UO I used to go around just to see how people are doing. I met this woman onsite and she invited me into her house for dinner. She was making dinner, she had her virtual kid, which was her kid, with her and her husband was there.
Her husband was in the army and she was in Alabama and they met every night to talk in the game. And she would make dinner and they would sit down and just talk and sort of virtually eat. It inspired me. As I say this is a lot more than a game that we've built here. That was the first time it kind of really hit me what we had made.
That must feel good…
RV: Yes it does. One of the other stories I have is a paraplegic player who was very shy about his situation and played a lot of UO. When we met him at a show – we did these big consumer shows for UO -- he came up to us and thanked us because he says 'you know, in UO I can run, whereas I can't in real life'.
And that just blew me away and he had a lot of friends that he actually talked to for the first time in his life instead of being a shut-in. It had made him more outgoing. There are lots of stories of this -- people who are shut-ins that became more outgoing and actually met people that they married eventually online.