Gaming Business Review chats with Lars Butler, CEO of Trion Worlds, about the world of MMOs, their development, life cycle, and their future.

Billy Pidgeon: Lars, from the Trion Worlds, Inc. launch in 2006 until about a year ago, the company’s press releases were about licensing and co-development agreements, staff hires and investment rounds.  Other than the MMO (massively multiplayer online game) collaboration between Trion and Syfy Channel, you didn’t talk much about games in development.  We heard more about Trion’s technology, a platform/service hybrid for MMOs where game content would be pushed out from the server, allowing for synchronous gameplay events that can change the game in real time as opposed to the current technology model where the server maintains persistence of world state and gameplay is more strictly client-based.  Although this still describes Trion’s “special sauce,” have you shifted the company’s positioning from a MMO platform and service to that of a publisher with both internal and external studios?

Lars Butler: Great question! We did not change our positioning, but are revealing more about our works in progress as it’s appropriate to do so.  When we first began speaking to investors and journalists about Trion Worlds, we could only talk about our general mission, which was, and still is, to provide an unprecedented level of quality and engagement to player experiences in premium next generation MMOs (massively multi-player online games).  We could, at this earlier stage only discuss how Trion might accomplish this goal: by bringing together game industry veterans and  giving them the most innovative platform technologies and tools.

Though building the Trion platform was an essential step in becoming a publisher of next generation, dynamic MMOs, the tech itself is not our primary focus.  Yet, we needed a new approach to the delivery, service and maintenance of online games to provide the revolutionary player experiences that Trion wanted to publish.  We believe great online games should be dynamic and highly social services – living worlds, so to speak – not static products.  If that is the case, then why are most MMOs still delivered as if they were packaged goods refreshed only by sporadic major upgrades?

Our technology is a key differentiator, but Trion was formed primarily to make amazing next generation MMOs, because we believe those are the next inevitable step in the evolution of video games, and because we love to play MMOs, obviously.  In playing countless games over the years, we kept coming back to three questions concerning the limitations of modern MMOs:

Why can’t online games have production values as good as, or better than, AAA console games?

Why must MMOs require huge downloads or upgrades to change significantly? These are online games, after all. Why can’t MMOs evolve in real time?  Why can’t they be more dynamic? More social?

Why should premium MMOs only be RPGs (role playing games)?  In the tradition single-player world, there are many other exciting video game genres besides role-playing, including  strategy, action, and more.  So why not evolve other great game genre, why not make those experiences more social? More  massive? More dynamic?

Technology is only a means to an end.  Breakthrough tools can be very expensive and extremely hard to build, and are probably only exciting to technical professionals.  But the value of your tool only reaches its potential when used by talented people to create something empowering and inspiring. For instance, Pixar could not have made their amazing films without the best tools available, but those same tools couldn’t enable studios of lesser talent to create films capable of competing with Pixar’s.

Our people have the passion and vision to create the next generation of online games.  We brought together veterans, handpicked for their singular experience, excellence, creativity, and energy. Our team has shipped dozens of premium online multiplayer games for top publishers like Blizzard Entertainment, Electronic Arts, Sony Online Entertainment, NCsoft, and others.  This is the reason why we needed great tech, so that great people can create great games.

We see a huge advantage to pushing content out from the server.  This allows us to enable emergent gameplay, which is a fancy way of saying we can adapt our games quickly to meet and exceed our players’ expectations. All of our games use our technology platform, but each game uses it in a different way to deliver a unique experience.

We started developing our games in parallel with prototyping the platform, ensuring  that the technology was truly relevant.  But as we all know, the creative bar is high, and schedules and budgets necessary to build competitive high-definition games in general, and MMOs in particular are not getting any shorter or smaller.  So we decided not to talk about our games until they met our rigorous expectations, and we couldn’t discuss game collaborations until deals with partners were finalized.


Rift: Planes of Telara

Rift: Planes of Telara

Now that we are publicly demonstrating alpha versions of Rift: Planes of Telara and End of Nations, the technology story takes its proper place, as a “how it works” sidebar.