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Trion's Lars Buttler

The CEO of Trion Worlds on why it's time for an evolution in the MMO market

Over four years since the company first started, Trion Worlds has put $100 million investment to work on three titles, MMORPG Rift: Planes of Telara, MMORTS End of Nations and an action game designed in collaboration with TV channel SyFy for home consoles.

In this interview with, CEO Lars Buttler outlines why it he thinks it's time for a new cycle of massively multiplayer online games, the challenge of making MMOs mass-market, adaptable business models and the opportunity in piracy. It's been a while since we last spoke, and over four years since the company first started - what stage are your three games at, and how has the company changed over that development time?
Lars Buttler

We have three games in the making right now, and two of those we have shown as hands-on gameplay at events like Gamescom and we've been getting incredibly positive feedback on them.

We started Trion four and a half years ago with a vision of what videogames should look like when everybody is connected, everybody is online. Videogames have all these great categories - role-playing, strategy, shooters - and these have really high production values. But they are static, the don't evolve, they don't have persistence.

So our idea essentially was in a world where everybody is connected, why shouldn't we have console videogame quality online? Why shouldn't we have every big genre and worlds that are alive, online? Games that evolve and get better every single day. No longer like pre-packaged software but a service and a live world. Obviously that's a huge undertaking. Videogames are very expensive, the traditional technology didn't allow us to build those high-quality live worlds online.

So what we've done since we started four and a half years ago was to build an entire new technology architecture that would allow us to build games that are mostly computed on powerful servers. And the server is no longer dedicated to just a certain zone in the game, but a certain function. We have clusters of servers all with different tasks - world data, player data, AI, physics - all in different server clusters while we leave the rendering local. We've succeeded with this, we've filed over a dozen patents and then we started to build beautiful, high-quality games. So the first title - due in 2011 - is Rift: Planes of Telara, which you're positioning as a step-up in fantasy MMOs, something that can take on World of Warcraft. That's a big target...
Lars Buttler

Rift: Planes of Telara is developed by our studio in Redmond City, where we are next door to Electronic Arts and we hand picked super development talent from EA, from NCsoft, from Sony, taking the best of the online gaming world and the best of the traditional videogaming world. We think that Rift is the first fully dynamic, massively multi-player role-playing game with incredible quality graphics.

Since World of Warcraft launched nobody has produced a game with high-quality production values and ground-breaking innovation, not just a clone. So many people have made the claim over time that games should be dynamic and come alive, but we do it. You say you want to make this kind of game truly mass-market - do you mean mass-market in terms of reaching a wider entertainment customer, or appealing to every games consumer?
Lars Buttler

Before World of Warcraft, online games were incredibly niche and new players were killed instantly and lost any appetite to play. Then when these games became more collaborative they grew the market by at least a factor of ten. Then they became richer in terms of gameplay and quality, which again grew the market by at least a factor of ten. Now we're taking it to a new level of quality. You don't have to be hardcore to play Rift. But looking at footage of Rift it looks intimidating to me as a new player - there's screen furniture, so many icons, text, I don't know what I should be looking at or where to start. That's not mass-market...
Lars Buttler

It's incredibly simple to get in to. Is that going to be a significant marketing issue for Trion - to prove these games are easy to pick up and play and enjoy?
Lars Buttler

Absolutely. You win or lose this in the first five or ten minutes. If you come into an online world and you don't know immediately what to do, if you had to study this through a tutorial, you're already lost. I have a very short attention span, I never read a manual for anything, I'm a great test case. But at the same time it has to get progressively more and more exciting and complicated so it never gets boring. You should always know what to do, but you should never know how to do it best. And will you be measuring user data to tweak and improve the game once it's live?
Lars Buttler

The great thing is with the way we build these games we can measure everything. I can watch individuals or larger groups of people and see how long they play, where they get stuck, how fast they move from one thing to the other and then we can relentlessly improve it. We can measure it directly because its all from our servers. What Zynga and these guys have done is basically take casual games and make them truly next-generation, where you can measure it, where you can improve it. We do that to videogames, not just casual games. Your other title - End of Nations - is an online real-time strategy title. Are you looking at making that more accessible, or is that for the hardcore audience?
Lars Buttler

Most online games are role-playing games, that's why we use the term 'MMORPG'. End of Nations is developed by Petroglyph, former Westwood Studios guys. These are the creators of real-time strategy genre, from Dune II to Command & Conquer. They have one mission in life left: to do to real-time strategy what Blizzard has done to the RPG and create an RTS that you can actually play with all of your friends.

The problem with RTS games at the moment is that you have fun playing the single player game and then you go online and get killed by a 12 year-old. I hate it, I'm not hardcore enough for it. And that's what happened with RPGs before they grew, you get your ass handed to you by a child.

Matt Martin avatar
Matt Martin: Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.
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