You definitely see the free-to-play games, people identify which games are going to be hits, and they just kill the ones that aren't, and emphasize the ones that are. But the studio scale that you're talking about, it wouldn't be feasible to do it, just because you're committing to these much larger projects.
CM: Yeah. I think it depends on your budget. You know, yes, on The Old Republic scale, if you're spending 300 million dollars on a game, I'm pretty sure your shareholders want a return that isn't maybe "In two years' time they'll get some return." They want an instant return, and that's completely understandable. And that's what I meant earlier about...
Maybe you can grow from smaller to bigger?
CM: Yeah, maybe depending on the company and the project and the team, that there should be a space for them, for smaller teams to start and be able to do it, and not over stretch at the beginning.
Do you think that's feasible, though, within the structure of a company like Funcom?
CM: For sure! I honestly do. I think for those of us who've done this and launched games before we have one huge advantage in that we have our technology. So we have the DreamWorld technology, for example, and Turbine have theirs -- okay, they're part of Warner Brothers now, and we're one of the last, I guess, independent MMO studios.
But everyone has their tech, and that means that if we come to take our next game to market, we probably have technology that's worth -- on a project level -- 10, 15, 20 million dollars, and five years of development that we don't have to do because it's done. We have the engine.
So say when we go to make the next game we can probably say, we could make a great systems-driven MMO for 10 or 15 million dollars. Which by the standards of Guild Wars 2, The Secret World, The Old Republic, is a very small budget, but we could bring it to market in three years with that kind of budget and hopefully have a chance of them growing organically from there.
And we haven't got the huge expectation of, "Oh my god, you spent 50, 100, 200 million dollars on this game, and it has to succeed." You know, it has to sell a million copies, and it has to retain half a million subscribers, or whatever the break even calculation is that the business has done, because they'll want their return in a year, or 18 months, or whatever it happens to be.
So I really do think that a company like ours could take that approach and be able to leverage that technology we've already developed. I think if someone was doing it from scratch, I would say they are very brave, because we know from experience -- and I think if you speak to any of the other developers -- the biggest pitfall is your technology. The servers, the infrastructure, the support, the billing, the account management, everything that goes into it; you can make a great game but if you don't also make all of these supporting systems it's very hard to succeed.
Do you think that live updating games is going to be more important than building big games and launching them? Obviously live updating games is very important, but I mean increasingly so.
CM: I hope so, actually, because I think that those kinds of live updates and doing smaller content pushes more often is a great way to connect to your audience, and to have the players be able to see immediacy of development based on their feedback, or based on what they do in the game.
Because I think a lot of the time traditionally up to now, we still kind of follow the old box model in some ways. Even though it's digital these days, and the distribution is easy, most of the MMO titles still follow that, "release the game, do an expansion," and we'll have some free content in between.
And EVE is really the only one that's constantly done updates, but even then they're like one or two a year. It's like a big push -- this is Inferno, and it comes out and then that's it for the year, or nine months. Personally I much prefer to kind of maybe do something every month. I think every game goes through it right at the beginning -- you're kind of pushing out updates all the time when you launch. But I think actually having -- you know, it's not a new thing.
It's important to remember Asheron's Call. Going back 10 years, it did that successfully. It had an update every month and it was expected. It wasn't just, "Well, maybe they'll have one this month," it was, "It's the end of the month -- where's the update?" And they missed a couple now and again, but that was very rare. They had a content update every month, where they progressed the story and had new stuff for the players to do, brought in new systems, and that was an addition to doing their occasional expansions and having big content pushes.
So it's not a new idea -- it's been done successfully before. It's just, to me, it's something that's very appealing, because it allows us to be much more reactive to the player base and be able to give them more content. It's something we're actually trying to push to move to -- Age of Conan is moving to that model. We do summer surveys of our players every year, and that was one of the big recurring themes through all the feedback from the players this year was, "We love the game, but we'd love to see updates more often." You know, "We appreciate that you put a lot of work into the ones we get, when we get them, but I'd love to see more. We'd love to see it more often." And it's not necessarily more content, but just more often.
And then I think if we can achieve that in this age of immediacy, it resonates much more strongly with people. They're getting used to it in a way, I guess -- the social media and the number of different ways people relate to their gaming now, it's kind of, nine months is an eternity. I've played that game, left it, and forgotten about it in a nine-month scale, which is very different to how things were five, 10 years ago. Now I think you probably have to remain important and in the mind of your users all the time, and not have too many big breaks between content updates.