"Premium games are not dying, but they are changing, and fast," said David Reid, SVP at Trion Worlds -- and if developers cannot adapt to the necessary changes, "you might as well not even be in the business."
Talking as part of a session at the Game Developers Conference in Cologne, Germany today, Reid discussed at length the changes needed in both the premium and online premium gaming space, citing Trion's own titles, both released and upcoming, as examples.
He first turned to Rift, the company's first release from March, which he explained now has over one million customers and is the "second largest MMO in the West."
In preparation for Rift, the Trion team looked at huge past MMOs such as Ultima Online, EverQuest and World of Warcraft and noted that simply making another like these "wouldn't be enough."
The team looked at what worked and what didn't, said Reid, and decided that a more exciting, constantly evolving and dynamic world was needed, along with HD graphics. At numerous points in the talk, he stressed that AAA-quality visuals were a core essential ingredient in Trion games.
The Trion SVP then turned his attention to the last few years of premium games, noting that, amongst many of the big AAA developers, Activision had seen its share prices rapidly increase compared to others, thanks to its increasing focus on online games.
He also noted the number of online casual game studio acquisitions, such as EA's acquisition of both PopCap and Playfish. However, he was quick to stress that he does not believe premium games are dying, "but they are changing, and fast."
"It's a lot harder to make your money back in the premium games space than it used to be," he explained, citing "dramatically" increasing development costs, low recurring revenues and limited social gameplay.
Reid talked of an inevitable "new era" of premium games, that involves "AAA ambition and polish; massive scale; persistence, and customization" as keystones. "If you're not doing these things, you might as well not even be in the business," he suggested.
He cited both good and bad moments of development of Rift. The game's dynamic content, allowing worlds to be completely changed depending on if the enemy are winning, has been a huge hit with players, he said.
However, when the team introduced the River of Souls update with new content, players didn't take to this so well and voiced their concerns. Trion was able to listen to fans, said Reid, and learn from the community.
He said that, using this feedback the studio was able to put this information to use for the upcoming update Ashes of History. The best content comes after launch, he argued, as this is based on what the community wants.
It also helps if "you don't layoff half your team after launch," Reid quipped, referring to a string a layoffs in the industry in recent times.
Reid then fired a video of End of Nations up, the studio's upcoming free-to-play strategy MMO. "We think End of Nations will be the highest quality free-to-play game ever," he said.
He explained that it was necessary to make End of Nations free-to-play, as the game is at its best when there are 50+ people playing a single co-op game together, and this was the best way to entice so many players into giving it a try.
Finally, Reid mentioned Defiance, Trion's other upcoming project in collaboration with the Syfy channel. He discussed how the game will launch at the same time as a TV series with the same name, and players will be able to affect the TV series via their actions in the game.
The TV series and game will "literally evolve together," he explained, changing depending on how the other changes. "You can have an impact on the war [in the TV show]."