Along with Part 2 of my feature series on MMO Economies I've posted the full transcript of my interview with Cardell Kerr, Creative Director at Turbine. The two of us both had our MMO starts with Asheron's Call and we had a lot to reminisce about, along with lots of interesting discussions about the evolution of MMORPGs and the shift from traditional subscription models to the Freemium model Turbine made particularly popular with DDO and LOTRO.
Here's a snip from the full interview for your enjoyment.
In early Asheron's Call there was no auction house or centralized marketplace so players would congregate together in Arwic to do their trading. Then Turbine blew up the village! What was the approach to the centralized market? Was Turbine so opposed to people getting together and trading in the same place that they'd blow up the location for it?
*laughs* No! It's funny that you should mention the destruction of Arwic.
That was one of my favourite moments in the game.
It was one of those moments when we sat down, we were trying to figure out a content update that everyone would feel. And, basically, we were trying for a while to find other viable trade areas because we want our players to be able to socialize.
We want there to be a hop-in area where you could always find other people and get together with other folks and exchange information, talk, hang out, you know, decompress. The problem we ran into was that Arwic, based solely off of its location, was just superior to every other place.
Especially because of the Subway, eh?
Yes. Because of the Subway. And it's another one of those examples of how the Subway was there as more of an interaction, more of a secret, we expected people to recognize this was a secret and keep it that way. And once you've exposed our secrets there's a world where, well, it's like those money-lending manuals you find advertised: if everyone knew that buying corn in China was going to make them a millionaire, then clearly everyone would do it.
And Arwic was that as an example. What we found when we were doing our updates, we kinda decided to kill two birds with one stone because we wanted to demonize one of the villains – I can't remember which villain it was at the time – as a person who effectively was inconveniencing the players. Plus, we actually wanted there to be viable different player hubs where people could actually go in order to split up our population.
I think it was… Bael'Zharon?
Yeah I think at that time it was actually Bael'Zharon.
Cuz he was also putting out Portals to Teth, that would drop players way up in the sky above Teth.
Yup! *laughs* The good ‘ole "Portal to Teth" trick!
And dropped cows on people. That's always fun.
Yup! *laughs* But that was actually the reason why, we actually really liked that we had a bunch of players who were fairly dynamic about the types of places they wanted to get together because of the fact that we didn't have that auction house model. We didn't have a lot of those systems so it was good to have players at least congregating.
But at the same time we didn't want there to be… it was always bad when you were walking to Arwic during prime-time and you were getting portal-stormed like mad. That used to happen, so eventually it was the situation of us trying to make the hard decision there.
I had completely forgotten about portal storming! That happened when you had too many players together.
Yes. Exactly. And that was another of those systems of: "Ok, how do we handle load?" We didn't want players to be able to congregate and crash our server so that was the other side of it.
When you have unforeseen player bunching in the magnitude that we had in Arwic at the time it was very much the smart decision for us in order to actually remove Arwic and let players kind of vary. After Arwic was gone, because Fort Teth was always a popular spot, there was that place Crowley built in the south side of the Direlands… Ayan Baq'r!
And the little hut on the east side of the Obsidian Plains.
Oh yes, I know what you're talking about.
A couple merchants there, a good meeting space before going hunting.
Yup. Yup. And this is why we kept trying to add other sweet spots but Arwic always had the gravity, because Arwic was always in the best location. It had the most mobility. Because of that fact we at least wanted to let people… we wanted to basically tap into what you were talking about before: we can run from point A to point B and maybe on one server you have a very significant representation in Ayan Baq'r that you have on another server, but we really wanted to let players define their identity that way.
We always wanted players to be able to define their own values in terms of their economy. I think, in many ways, as a designer, that's a testament to the kind of content you built. Because if players are really excited about it and they've effectively commoditized it then that's a good thing. You've effectively built one of those milestone systems for your game.
The Atlan Weapons were a great example of that. They were a milestone system because they were a system that had a very fixed output, had a little gambling at the high end because you want to get the best possible Atlan weapon you could get, but it took a certain amount of time and mote-hunting and coin too. It was great.