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AoC’s Craig Morrison Interview

30 Jun 2009  by   Paul Younger

IncGamers recently got to speak to the game director of Age of Conan, Craig Morrison, to find out how the game was coming along, what he would have done differently with hindsight, and what’s to come for AoC.Read the full interview below:AoC was a highly anticipated MMO title which promised to introduce new styles of gameplay we’d not seen before in an MMO (talking about mounted combat and a new combat style, as well as little adult touches like getting drunk and visiting hookers).  Why do you think the game didn’t retain its subscribers after launch?

I don’t think there was one single reason; it was a combination of many factors. Of course there were issues with the games content and performance at launch. I think performance we have resolved virtually all the significant issues so there I think we suffer slightly from the fact that due to those issues there are a significant number of ex-players out here who didn’t have a good experience and understandably haven’t been here to see it resolved.

This means that it’s only natural we still get those kinds of negative opinions thrown around, in such cases it does take time to turn around the ‘word of mouth’ on the games performance. All we can do is keep focusing on improving it and we are already starting to see the players acknowledge, and hopefully tell their friends, that the game experience is much smoother now. I think that is starting to turn now, but we have to keep improving things to have a chance at getting people to try it again.

It’s pretty similar on the game-play side, many of the issues players flagged up immediately after launch have already been resolved, and are continuing to get focus in our game updates. The team is doing a fantastic job at the moment of maintaining the momentum, and by focusing on the right areas and making sure that the updates are launched as smoothly as possible.

At the end of the day I think the system and the game itself didn’t grab peoples attention and allow for enough of a feeling of progression. If the game had been more fun overall and offered better incentives for progression maybe people would have given it a little more time. That is why the item and RPG system was important to revamp and update.

Some AoC players expressed disappointment with the lack of content in the past, and hence lost interest in the game.  Do you think you underestimated how much content should have been released when the game launched?

I can’t really answer that one as I wasn’t part of the launch team. I think this is an area that is a real challenge for MMO games in this day and age. The bar has been set very high by a few titles that are now a good few years old, and have numerous expansions and content additions already out and part of their package. That means it is easy for players to compare and find a newly released game wanting. That said, I think it is definitely true that there were also a couple of genuine gaps in the launch content, and those are the areas that we have worked to fill in over the last year.

There is a concern that, with the newest region which is primarily focused at the higher level player, there still isn’t enough game-play for those in the mid-range.  What will players between level 30 and 70 have to do, and will there be new content specifically for them?

That is something we have already addressed through the course of the last year, while the latest major update did indeed focus on high level content, the previous major updates since launch have added a lot of content to those level ranges. Soon after launch we added dozens of new quests and have revamped and improved the launch dungeons. Then last year we added the largest game-play area to the game yet, Ymir’s Pass, which added a huge new playable zone for levels 55+ and included some great dynamic story content which ends in a brand new level 60 group dungeon. So we got to the higher level content after already addressing the mid level content.
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It’s taken a year to get the patch out which resolves major issues in the game.  How often do you think there’ll be a major patch update, and have you already started working on another one?
We are always working on the next one, and usually elements of the next two, we have already done three or four major updates since launch and we do not intend to stop now. The live game will continue to be expanded and improved with major updates. We are already hard at work on the next update as I have described for our community in our monthly community letter.

Have you found that sticking to the IP and the stories of Robert E. Howard has limited you in any way?  Are there points where you’ve had to address changes in the IP in order to do something with the game which isn’t referenced or mentioned in the original stories?  If so, what?  And can we see them in this latest patch?
It hasn’t limited us at all! Rather it is a constant source of inspiration. Howard described a very visceral and real world (it was after all a re-imagining of our own world in the first place) and it provides us with everything from specific stories to inspiration for an area. For example in Ymir’s Pass we were able to take the iconic Conan story of the ‘Frost Giants Daughter’ and weave it into the game-play in a really fun and interesting way. Then on the other hand you have content like the gangs in Tarantia that simply takes it’s inspiration from the city that Howard described. Howard described a very real and harsh world that has real and bloody realities to it. It is then easy to have that inspire game-play that feels genuine and suitable for the IP. I don’t really think that has been any situation where we haven’t been able to look to the lore to be able to find inspiration for something we want to achieve.

Now that you’re resolving the problems of the PC version, when can we expect to hear something about the Xbox 360 version?
There a small team working on getting the technology working on the Xbox platform. I think it’s safe to say that the technical challenges in this area have turned out to be greater than we originally envisioned, so there isn’t any update there at the moment, but it is still being worked on.

Item stats in update 5 have been changed massively to make them easier to understand, have more of an impact on characters and to resemble how they work in other MMOs. Why have you decided to make this change now, and why wasn’t it like this originally?

As before, strictly speaking, that’s not really for me to say as I wasn’t involved. I do think that hindsight is an amazing thing though and it is easy to say now that this was the better course!

I am sure that the original team had very valid reasons for the choices they made prior to launch, it just didn’t work out as expected, and wasn’t popular enough to grab players attentions. Sometimes it is only when the masses get a hold of your game that these things become apparent. I think that is mainly why we have now made the changes we have, the feedback clearly told us that people didn’t think the RPG system provided enough incentives!

Prior to launch I am sure there were people who genuinely believed people would like it and react well to the way that it was, and sometimes in that scenario it takes the feedback of actual real gamers before you know whether you succeeded or not. In this case unfortunately we didn’t get it quite right the first time around.

What can you tell us, if anything, about the expansion?

I am afraid I’m not able to talk about the expansions just yet, under strict orders from the marketing folks as we will be doing a major reveal of the expansion at the Gamescom convention in Cologne in August. So mark your calendars for that!

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