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Trion's Lars Buttler discusses what went wrong with 38 Studios,  Star Wars
Trion's Lars Buttler discusses what went wrong with 38 Studios, Star Wars Exclusive
June 5, 2012 | By Christian Nutt

The outspoken CEO of the Rift developer and publisher explains his theory about what other MMO companies aren't getting right.

At E3, Trion has four games on display, including both a huge expansion for its premium subscription MMO Rift and the free-to-play MMORTS End of Nations. In the light of the failure of 38 Studios and the significant layoffs at BioWare Austin, Gamasutra posed the question: What does he think of the health of the triple-A online game?

According to Buttler, the difficulties the two companies faced stem from "different problems".

"38 Studios had a concept they couldn't deliver on... It was too big of a scope. It was too much. It it just went broader and never narrowed," he says. "They never even came close to the finish line."

"I think their fundamental issue was process management," he suggests. The team never devised a plan for a game that could be developed in a "reasonable amount of time," says Buttler.

"In the case of Star Wars, I don't think the business model was necessarily the issue, but I think it was content updates, and what to do in the game, and how you can play it without it becoming repetitive."

He points to the fact that Trion's Rift gets frequent significant content updates, whereas The Old Republic's consumers are left wanting.

"You have to be able to keep people interested. The key about an online game is that it's a live service. If you make it more like a packaged goods game, people will stay about as long as they stay with a packaged goods game."

"That is what the online medium, the connected game world requires," says Buttler. "Super-dynamic, really social live services online."

"If you're not set up for that in terms of your game technology, backend, the size of your game teams, it becomes incredibly difficult to do," he says.

Gamasutra will have more from its E3 interview with Lars Buttler in the near future.

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Ramin Shokrizade
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I think in the case of 38 Studios there was just too many factors to just single one out.

In the case of SW:TOR, I look at the primary metric in an MMO for success being the ability for players to generate prestige. Since getting to L50 is fairly straight forward, and all L50s are essentially the same, what makes a difference in most games is wealth. Here in SW:TOR you had an attempt to build a player economy and craft system, but no means to maintain equity. Without equity in your virtual economy you cannot generate prestige through wealth. I held a "death watch" for the SW:TOR economy when the game launched, tracking the real world value of game currency on a daily basis on a dedicated LinkedIn thread. After 30 days the value of game currency had dropped by 97%. This lack of equity prevents players from investing in the game. This is why knowing how to make a virtual economy is relevant to large scale MMO design.

Nooh Ha
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What is your definition of equity in this context, Ramin?

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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Phil Maurer
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Nice bit of Marketing Fluff as TOR is still making alot of money, and Rift not so much...

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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Simon Ludgate
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Yes, I too am curious about the financial details upon which this statement is based. I thought Rift was doing well, and this article seems to suggest that it is.

Ken Nakai
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SWTOR's got somewhere north of 1 million active subscribers (they're apparently dropping significantly but that's to be expected post launch):

Rift's numbers are harder to find though. If you trust this site, they'll tell you Rift's somewhere around 250-300k:

The fact that Trion really doesn't publish their numbers tells you that they're likely that low (if they had a million, they'd advertise it).

Paul Peak
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Trion also doesn't have a $300+ million dollar hole to dig themselves out of either.

I may not play Rift anymore, it didn't hold my interest like most fantasy games these days, but they gained my respect with the way they handled their launch and the issues they had early on.

K Gadd
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There's nothing out there to support the idea that Trion is a more successful studio than BioWare Austin, layoffs or no. Rift isn't bringing in huge amounts of subscription money (especially if you believe the mmodata numbers - which are HIGHLY PLAUSIBLE), and may not even be any better off in terms of profit/player than TOR.

If anything, what Trion is good at is convincing investors to give them money. If 38 studios had Trion's fundraising chops they'd still be running right now. Trion's also very good at spending investors' money on ill-conceived enterprises, but that's not exactly a skill set *anyone* in the game industry is missing right now.

Maybe once Trion's transmedia initiative with Syfy launches and is actually not an utter failure they can talk about what they're doing right that other developers aren't. As far as their track record goes with Rift, it's a solid, relatively well-constructed game, but history has shown that shipping a solid game is not remotely enough to succeed in the MMO genre.

If someone from a legitimately successful MMO developer were speaking out to try and share useful advice for people at fledgling studios, I'd consider it a nice thing. This just feels like a shameless, meanspirited attempt to capitalize on the layoffs at 38/BioWare Austin for some cheap PR. Shame on Buttler and shame on Gamasutra for publishing this.

Mike Griffin
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Who knows how those numbers hold up, but I suppose the overarching point is that Rift released close to a year before SWTOR, and here we are several months after that game's release, 14 months after Rift's release, and his claim is that Rift remains healthy and/or profitable for Trion -- while EA has struggled to keep TOR in a "happy place." Of course the break-even and margins are vastly different for each title, thus making this executive's criticism fairly skewed.