I fired off questions to the makers of upcoming MMO "Fallen Earth." They told me why we should care about their massively multiplayer, post-apocalyptic shooting game and what will set it apart from the rest.
Fantasy MMOs are a dime a dozen, but it seems that shooting-based ones are on the rise. I interviewed Jessica Orr, the product manager of "Fallen Earth," via e-mail to see what makes their game unique.
MTV Multiplayer: Can you give me some background on the company? Are you experienced MMO and/or shooter developers?
Jessica Orr, product manager: "Fallen Earth" is the only title in Fallen Earth, LLC's roster, although many of the team members have worked on other games. Our team is very well-rounded in that some enjoy the FPS games while others enjoy the RPG games. Some like PvP more, some PvE. Having a variety of voices that contribute help ensure a healthy balance.
MTV Multiplayer: How long has "Fallen Earth" been in development? How did it all get started?
"We wanted to make sure that players retained the feeling of being in an MMO by keeping people in the same server until we're ready to expand."
Orr: "Fallen Earth" has been in development for about six and-a-half years. Initially, not many people worked on the project, and those who did were balancing game development with other projects. Just a few years ago, "Fallen Earth" went into heavy development and a few of the team members spun off to make Fallen Earth, LLC. We've met the milestones of Feature and Content Complete in the past year and are in closed beta currently.
MTV Multiplayer: How many servers do you plan on having at launch?
Orr: We will use a waterfall approach at launch and fill up one server at a time. With more than 1,000 square kilometers of territory to explore, the world is vast. We wanted to make sure that players retained the feeling of being in an MMO by keeping people in the same server until we're ready to expand.
MTV Multiplayer: Why did you decide to have it switch between first- and third-person perspectives? Was it difficult to adapt the game to both?
Orr: Different players like using different perspectives, but in order to make the most of the shooter-style action, we needed a first-person perspective. It was more immersive. But traditional MMO players enjoy a third-person perspective, so we wanted to be able to switch seamlessly between the two. We did have to work through some issues, such as making sure that the aim and damage tally balanced out between the two perspectives.
MTV Multiplayer: What's the business model? How often do you see expansions?
Orr: We're already working on post-launch content, but we also understand we have to make a strong launch through careful work to debug and polish the product. We hope to release regular updates and we'll work to release new content in a timely manner, too. Concerning our business plan, we'll have a box/download fee up front and we'll have a monthly subscription fee.
MTV Multiplayer: Do you think MMO gamers are willing to spend their money on multiple MMOs (either subscription or micro-transactions) during this difficult economic period?
"Why wouldn't MMO games want to capitalize on some of the console's best features to add to their purchase power?"
Orr: I can't speak for all MMO players, but spending money on an MMO would make sense to me. I'll make a simple comparison. We've estimated that if a player works hard to burn through our game—overlooking the majority of the content—that they will finish in about 160 hours. If you count replayability into the equation, that's more than 600 hours of content. For an expected [manufacturer's suggested retail price] of $49.99, that comes out to about $0.08 per hour of entertainment (not including the monthly subscription, which for most MMOs is around $15). I don't think there are many, if any, alternatives in the entertainment industry that are that cheap. Even going to see a movie is usually at least $8 for 2 hours of entertainment.
MTV Multiplayer: Shooting MMOs are now all the rage. What makes your game stand apart from these and all the others?
Orr: The post-apocalyptic setting is a definite departure, lending itself to a unique setting and a very sandbox-style feel to the game. The classless advancement and real-time crafting system provide more freedom and are more immersive for players. With these, you aren’t limited by what you can make or who you can be. You can do anything.
MTV Multiplayer: No, really!?
Orr: Yeah. Really. ; )
MTV Multiplayer: Why do you think shooting MMOs are so popular to make now?
Orr: There's nothing new under the sun, but there are a lot of iterations of the same thing. We know that the gaming market is growing by leaps and bounds and that console games have a majority rule on the market. Why wouldn't MMO games want to capitalize on some of the console's best features to add to their purchase power?
MTV Multiplayer: How will you appeal specifically to hardcore shooter players? Do you think there's an inherent difference between shooter gamers and MMO players? If so, how are you going to address this?
"We do hope to provide a different type of MMO and have found that our fans find an elf-free world to be quite refreshing."
Orr: While you can't be all things to all people, having some well-rounded features definitely makes the game play experience more unique. We've tried to look at the combat from a fresh point of view. Instead of PvP just for the sake of killing, we've created player conquerable towns. If your faction gains control of the town, you can unlock new content—missions, trainers and questors that can help you advance your character. We also try to make our environments interesting. Areas like the Dump provide thousands of objects for a sniper's dream. But we also acknowledge these as PvP areas, so you get a notification before you actually enter a PvP zone. Unlike other games, we try to protect the balance by giving PvE players a chance to level their characters without engaging in PvP. They can craft or do other things to advance.
MTV Multiplayer: Do you think shooting MMOs will be more popular than fantasy MMOs?
Orr: I think there is always room for the fantasy genre MMOs. But we do hope to provide a different type of MMO and have found that our fans find an elf-free world to be quite refreshing.
MTV Multiplayer: Do you think that the shooting MMO genre will be too saturated too soon?
Orr: There will always be a lot of options on the market. We can't be everything to everyone, but we think we've found a good niche—post-apocalyptic, classless, FPS/RPG hybrid—and we’re going to try to make the most of it.
MTV Multiplayer: Also, why go with post-apocalyptic? Do you think there are too many post-apocalyptic games? How is yours different?
Orr: We felt that post-apocalyptic was compelling. People seem to have a greater emotional attachment to something when it's something they know, something familiar. It's much easier to be immersed in a setting that you recognize than a setting you have to completely create with your imagination. While there are some post-apocalyptic games on the market already, we think ours is unique in that it's set in the future and in the American Southwest. The key features set it apart, too.
MTV Multiplayer: Did you ever consider console development for this title? Is it possible in the future? What needs to happen for this game to come to consoles?
Orr: Console development would be great but as a startup developer, we wanted to focus our attention on one platform and make sure we nailed it. I can't say we won't ever go to a console but it's not currently in development.
MTV Multiplayer: A lot of MMOs have tried... and failed. Only a few really succeed. What do you think is a good measure of success for an MMO? And what have you learned from past MMOs' mistakes and successes?
"Some of the recent games that have been considered 'failures' actually have surprisingly high server populations."
Orr: I think you should measure an MMO on its long term viability. Some of the recent games that have been considered "failures" actually have surprisingly high server populations. Unfortunately they were over-hyped and over extended at launch so the contraction from a million beta testers to merely hundreds of thousands of players seems like a failure. This leads to server population issues and everything feels like it's collapsing. If you set reasonable goals and establish a strong community around the game, you will do fine.
MTV Multiplayer: I read that a producer has expressed interest in making "Fallen Earth" into a movie. Is that in the works? What's the status of this?
Orr: While I'm sure "Fallen Earth" could make a great movie, there are no scripts in the works right now.
MTV Multiplayer: It's not Uwe Boll, is it?
Orr: Ooo, that's a great idea! We could put him in a boxing ring with angry fans for PR before it comes out…. No, Uwe Boll is not working with us. ; )
"Fallen Earth" is currently in closed beta and is set for a summer 2009 release.