It was in 2008 that Gamasutra last spoke to Trion Worlds CEO Lars Buttler about the company's plans to launch the Trion Platform. Since then, conversation has revolved around games like the company's MMORPG Rift, which launched earlier this year.
But the work the company has been doing has continued, and today, Trion has announced codename Red Door -- both a destination for consumers to connect with online content, and a platform for developers to develop that content on.
"The world is changing dramatically, and we see this huge shift in entertainment in media, and I think the shortest way to summarize it from our perspective, everything is transforming into a connected service," Buttler told Gamasutra.
"It has always been the bigger picture that we have never dropped, and now with Rift being very profitable, being a perfect proof of tech, and the other products already being the perfect proof of scalability, and all these different dimensions, we feel now is the time to make that big bold move."
Red Door will be a service which players can directly access, and which will feature discoverability and account options across the products on that service. It will also, for developers, be a publishing and development platform which offers the Trion Platform technology which powers Rift and Trion's other games.
Rift, as well as Trion's next two games, End of Nations and Defiance, are all built on this technology, though the latter two are still in development. The three games span three genres -- MMORPG, RTS, and shooter -- and also span three studios, including a second-party partner, Petroglyph, which is developing End of Nations. That game is free-to-play, while Rift is a premium subscription game.
"Red Door will be the gateway to not just Rift and End of Nations and Defiance, but to more and more exciting living worlds," said Buttler.
"We already have a platform that scales tremendously across different genres, different models, and it's just logical to reach out now and basically say, 'If you're one of the world's best developers or publishers, or great IP owner, and you just don't believe anymore that the future is packaged goods software,'" said Buttler, you should work with Trion.
CCO Scott Hartsman told Gamasutra that it will be able to support developers which sign up for the Red Door project thanks to the company's relationship with Petroglyph.
Spearheading The Transformation Of the Industry
Buttler believes that triple-A games will undergo the same transition that casual games -- which were also once primarily offline products -- saw as they leapt to Facebook, and that Trion will be power it with Red Door. "We are single-mindedly focused on making that happen," he told Gamasutra.
"A few companies get it, and the vast majority of companies do not, and will therefore be marginalized. And we think that this same trend is in gaming, and it is irreversible," said Buttler.
"We think that premium games need to change, that they're changing as we speak, and we think that we can be the catalyst for that great change."
In the coming years, he said, "connectivity drives more or less all growth," citing a PWC study that pegs growth in online games at over 100 percent through 2014, while console games grow a mere 23 percent -- mostly driven by digital, not packaged goods, he noted.
What the Platform Can Do
"Early next year we are going to begin to make the platform, the technology, and those capabilities much, much more visible, right? We focus on Rift, make a very, very strong case, and basically show the power of the platform through the product first. But now we think the time has come to see what other people could do with it," said Buttler.
The platform comprises several layers -- all or some of which Trion is willing to provide to partners. This includes AI and analytics, distributed server computing for all aspects of the game, such as physics and characters, the network platform, and a publishing platform -- up to and including customer service and billing options.
This end-to-end solution is attractive to partners, said Buttler. "Well, you start with talking about the games' technology first; that's what everybody is interested in the most. But people very, very quickly realize how powerful all the rest is, and the discussions basically all very quickly lead to, 'Can we just use everything?'" said Buttler.
The platform will also deliver content to "any connected device," said Buttler.
"We see this entire world of connected devices, almost like a sphere, and you have the platform in the middle, and the game lives on the platform, and you can reach out into all these windows, and you can address it from all the windows."
"For the server architecture, what the device is doesn't matter. The questions are then, if you have hundreds of game mechanics, which of those are suitable for what device?"
So what's the vision for Red Door? "We're talking about, over time, dozens of super-quality worlds of all different genres, and, honestly speaking, we think that unless core games make the same jump forward that casual games have made, they will become less and less relevant. And we are convinced that we have the technology, and the teams, and the spirit, and the openness, and the willingness to basically make sure that codename Red Door will literally host the future of premium games," said Buttler.
The Developer Angle
Hartsman -- the company's CCO and an experienced MMO developer -- recognizes that developers do not want technology shoved down their throats. That's why the company's strategy is to let them take only what they need from Trion. "What this is not is the attempt to make the one-size-fits-all solution, because that just doesn't work," he said. "We're not interested in pushing technology on developers; we're more about having developers pull what makes sense for them."
Developers can select their own engine technology and integrate the platform -- "This is exactly how it works with Petroglyph and End of Nations," said Hartsmann.
However, he said that when it comes to developers looking for Trion-supplied engine technology, "we would absolutely be happy to discuss this possibility with triple-A developers looking to bring triple-A properties online."
"Not every game is going to be architected the same way," said Hartsman. "We, as veterans from lots of different companies, have come up with what we think maximizes sharing, but doesn't force it -- but it also really understands that a customer is going to care about us because of the quality of our games. They don't care if there's any common technology or not."
"We architected it ourselves around that notion but what makes a game successful is more than just what any development team does," said Hartsman. "Figuring out what the really hard problems are to solve, being able to start from scratch building this sucker up from nothing, solving these core problems."
What makes the platform exciting, from Hartsman's perspective? "The core word for us is speed. If there's one simple word I could wrap everything around, it would be speed of iteration. Everything about this technological foundation -- that we build, publish, and ship games on -- is really with one key thought in mind. And there's a deep understanding that any given product, the perception of its quality is going to be proportional to the number of times you can iterate on it."
His experiences on Rift -- which has bulked up by 25 percent new content since it was released six months ago -- play this out, he says. "I'm very happy we created the game that we did, because I think it's a great game, but we definitely could not have done it without this core foundation of a system to build, and to test, and do these things with."
"The reason why we can do it is, essentially, that we build it differently. We have a platform architecture that has all these different layers of breakthrough technology, but at the heart it's a fully distributed computing architecture," said Buttler.
"The entire game now is a database; you can also measure everything that's going on. Just like Zynga can measure what people do in their games, we can measure absolutely everything that people do in our games," he said.
To keep players interested, said Buttler, "you also have to create a service that completely evolves around the player, and evolves with time, constantly gets better, mines the data, understands what people want, and gives them more of what they need."
The Trion Platform is "constantly evolving, and with every new game, it also gets new features -- and those new features then become more broadly available, and so on. So it is really, just like our games are alive, the platform is alive too."
The Triple-A Partners Trion Wants
"We want people to notice that this is a big deal, and we want to get them inspired and to start thinking about, 'What the hell could we do if we had a live platform?' And I tell you that from Hollywood, to traditional developers, to publishers, people get inspired," said Buttler.
Sure, people may get inspired by the news, but what kind of partners is Trion actually looking for? "It's not that it's one-size-fits-all, so there will be tiers, and we'll also be selective. It won't be at the beginning that just everybody jumps on this, right?"
The company is already in talks with publishers and developers, Buttler told Gamasutra, but "we're not prepared to announce anything yet. We are, in some cases, in striking distance -- but we also want to see what else is there." He hopes to "smoke out" interested developers by announcing the platform now.
"It will actually include some of the world's biggest IP on the platform, but just in a completely new realization," he mentioned.
What it will also include is exclusively huge, triple-A products carefully chosen by Trion. Other networks feature "thousands, if not tens of thousands," Korean and Chinese "mini MMORPGs", he said, but Red Door will feature only a handful of highly targeted and carefully developed triple-A titles at first.
Unfortunately, the company is not ready to publicly discuss business terms of the platform, which will also slide along with the sliding scale use of the platform mentioned by Hartsman. "We're not publically talking about it, but it is a platform, and platforms have certain business models," said Buttler.