AGDC 2008: Q&A: Age of Conan battles on

Funcom product director Jorgen Tharaldsen sits down with GameSpot to provide a postlaunch update on the publisher's M-rated MMOG.

In May, Oslo, Norway-based Funcom launched Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game that drew its inspiration from famed fantasy author Robert E. Howard's grim Conan the Barbarian universe. Thanks to largely positive reviews and prelaunch buzz, the game shot up the PC sales charts, with Funcom laying claim to the lofty title of "biggest MMO launch since World of Warcraft" less than a month after the game launched.

Jørgen Tharaldsen.

However, despite the strong start, player discontent soon bubbled over, with players increasingly vocalizing their concerns about a range of bugs as well as the absence of promised features. By August, Funcom found itself with 415,000 subscribers, despite having shipped more than 1.2 million boxes to retailers.

This week, Funcom product director Jørgen Tharaldsen was in the States to attend the Austin Game Developers Conference, and GameSpot had a chance to speak with him to get an update on the current state of the game. Although quick to acknowledge players' qualms with Age of Conan's stability, Tharaldsen also noted that the team has been working full-tilt to iron out the wrinkles. He also spells out just why it is close to impossible to flawlessly launch an MMOG, what AOC's new game director brings to the table, and how Funcom is approaching the launch of its two main rivals: Mythic's Warhammer Online and Blizzard's Wrath of the Lich King.

GameSpot: What do you guys think you killed?

Jørgen Tharaldsen: You can look at it in two ways. There's the game itself, and everything that surrounded it. When it came to the game itself, there are a few things we did really, really well. There's the storytelling, the presentation of quests, and the immersion in the world, and that included the graphics and the audio--I think we blew everyone away with that. How you feel inside the universe, I think, is unique compared to anything that's come before us, just putting all the actors in there.

I'm also very happy with going the active route with the combat system. It feels a lot more responsive, a lot more fun actually. It's a bit stale going back to the old mechanics. I think taking that step forward and having the guts to do that is something that paid off in the end. It was a very hard choice because it took us a lot of time to get it right and polish it, but I think it's given us something really good out the door, and a great foundation to build further on. And that's on the mechanic side.

There's also many small things. How we took the Conan license, how we stayed true to it, and how we expanded on Howard's work instead of just taking it and trying to cash in on the license, but really respecting it and evolving it. And that's something we did great as well. There were many areas that we achieved what we set out to do.

GS: On the flip side, what's killing you?

JT: We took a conscious choice in terms of going for an extremely high-end engine. And that in many ways that was the right choice to make, but the system requirements and just fixing everything to make it look that good meant that the engine wasn't as stable as we would have liked it to be. So we are spending a lot of resources now on stabilizing the engine and fixing all of the memory leaks. I'm not quite sure if it was a mistake. It was a gift and a curse in ways. I also think that our item system could have been better. The reward systems for the items and how it worked, and also the trade skills--I wish we could have given some more polish, and the siege-ing as well.

And even though all of these systems are now coming into place and being polished and being in a state that we are becoming happy about as they are rolling out, I wish we could have spent more time on those specifically. To mention that as well, we had a defined list of, I think, 634 features, and when you're dealing with that kind of feature list, there's always going to be stuff that you're not happy about and that you want to improve on. That's part of the game as well. But those are the things that I think we should have spent more time polishing.

GS: What do you think resonated the most with the player community?

JT: I think the first thing was the Conan license, because it gives you instant mental images of what you were supposed to do and what Conan was, and that you can become something along the same lines. And I think next was the active combat system, because obviously everyone at Funcom plays online games. When we started discussing this back in 2003, we said OK, where can we invent or evolve in online games. And I think the active combat system is moving the genre in the right direction. And, of course, the graphics.

GS: What did you guys spend a lot of time on that the community said, "Umm, we don't know what to do with this."

JT: What we spent the most time on was actually the combat system. In the beginning, a lot of the testers didn't quite get it, because it was too hard. So we had to go back and redesign it and change it and make it more accessible, which was all for the better. It was a bit too simulation at first, so that's something we spent a lot of time on. I think we had eight iterations.

GS: What have you learned from the launch of Age of Conan that you plan on keeping in mind when it comes time to launch The Secret World?

JT: Ahh, it's a big secret!

GS: Broad strokes then, anything that you can share?

JT: What I think that we learned from the Conan launch was server stability, network code, billing systems, all the things that surround that. We learned a lot about how to deal with communication and customer service around the launch, and what to do better for next time, how to scale it up more correctly around the launch time frame. Whenever you do online games, there's never such a thing as you having complete wisdom, because it always evolves. It's a moving target. So we'll take all these key lessons that we learned now, adapt it, and implement it a bit differently for Secret World as needed.

But we also learned as a company that we're self-sufficient in many ways in dealing with players and working with them. So there are some positive takeouts and some critical takeouts as well. In all, we did awfully well at launch. It did tremendously well. It was like a dream come true around the launch, but the mindset isn't really there anymore. But our mindset isn't how great the launch was four months ago. We're focused on moving forward and seeing how we can evolve the game further, how we can remain a top game, and how can we make it good for many, many years to come.

GS: How are you feeling about how the player base is expanding since launch? Is it at the levels that you expected? Better? Worse?

JT: My personal goals for Conan many years ago were far exceeded. But also, we had a drop-off of many casual players who tried it but didn't go for it. Maybe they went back to World of Warcraft or will go for the next game. I think we should be very happy with the position we went out in, and that's what we're working on now, stabilizing, and making sure that we have a really good income for many years to come that we can spend on Conan and making new games.

GS: You guys have said you're making an Xbox 360 edition. How do you think a console MMOG will affect your subscriber levels?

JT: Well, it's the great unknown. In a way, it's about guinea-pigging our way into a world where MMOGs haven't been really strong. You have Final Fantasy [XI], but that's more of a conversion. Hopefully, it will turn out positively. It will make us think of things differently in some ways. But right now, our entire focus is on the PC version. That's where all our minds go, that's where all of our resources go. The live version of Conan is our bread and butter, and that's what we're going to push on. It's not like we're going to take huge resources out of the PC version now, because obviously we know what we have now, and building on that is our key priority. And there's so many unknowns for the consoles, everything from patching to textures to everything is different when it comes to this approach.

GS: So you were mentioning some of the technical things that didn't go quite right at launch. Looking at Funcom's second-quarter financial report released in August, you guys have $37 million in the bank. Why not push the game back a month or two, bank on the millions you have, and smash out some of those bugs?

JT: Well, we did push it back, several times actually. But the last calculation we did, all the feedback was "We will make it." And we did make it, I think it was one of the most stable launches. But there were also bugs. In hindsight, personally, I said, "Yeah, we should have ironed out some of these bugs." But I think there would have been bugs anyway. I think it's impossible, or close to impossible, to launch a completely flawless online game. It is like launching an operating system. And I think you can ask this question to pretty much any MMOG company after launch. You could have asked the same to World of Warcraft a few months after they launched as well. And some things also just come as a surprise, so it's like "What?!" And there's unpredictability as well. But obviously, what we're spending time on right now is polishing, and polishing, and polishing. It's going to keep on going for many more years to come.

GS: So do you think players will ever have a reasonable expectation to have an MMOG that launches nearly flawlessly or at least at the quality of a console game?

JT: They should have. As a player, I would expect that in this day and age. But Funcom, and Mythic, which is launching Warhammer, we're the children of the post-WOW era. The expectations for what your game is supposed to contain at launch has changed dramatically. When we launched Anarchy Online back in 2001, or any game that came out in that era, the feature set and what you were required to do change dramatically. I think we had 400 people on the creative list on the end [for Conan]. The growth, and what you have to do to progress and evolve the game further, is just staggering, what you have to learn and how much complexity is involved. As we launch new games, as Mythic launches new games, yes, the experienced MMOG companies, you should expect a certain level of perfection coming out the gates. The players are spending $50, so you should expect a great service.

GS: So yeah, you just brought up Warhammer is coming out this week, and Blizzard just announced for November. What are your guys' thoughts as these games are coming out?

JT: World of Warcraft has nothing to do with it. Why even bother, you know? They're in a league of their own, and we always knew they would be. If you make a dent in their wheel, you are still doing fantastic. As for Warhammer, they're going to be a neck-and-neck competitor for us for a long, long time to come. But I hope they do great, because honestly there's really not that many large MMOGs that have done that great. And there's huge investments here, so I hope the major and most anticipated games will do good. And I respect the Mythic guys a great deal. They're good game developers and they're good people. I think we're going to have many interesting challenges with them for year's to come.

But I also think that we have on purpose, that was a clear choice we made many years ago, we chose to differentiate ourselves. I think Warhammer is more similar to World of Warcraft, and we chose to go a different route with active combat and going for a more mature audience. So I think we have a lot of differentiating things, as well as upcoming features. So I think we're in a pretty awesome position.

GS: So that mature audience. To my knowledge at least, you guys are the first major MMOG to launch with an M rating. Are you happy with that decision? What do you think it has done for you?

JT: It's allowed us to be clear in our positioning, and be clear in our development, and being clear with the quests, and being true to the Conan license. We really had long discussions on this. Will retailers cut us out? Will we get certain issues? What about the Christian organizations that we've had some complaining from when we've launched other M games. We spent a lot of time discussing this. And in the end, we said OK, we grew up with Conan, we know what Conan is about, let's make the true Conan experience. And yes, there's going to be some downsides, but let's embrace the maturity and embrace the upsides as well. So it means we can use the language and use the tone, which suits the license a lot better. I'm really happy about it, actually.

GS: Do you think we'll see more M-rated MMOGs in the future?

JT: I'm certain of it. Not the least because the guys and the girls with the credit cards are normally 17-, 18-plus. And I also think that for MMO-like games like Grand Theft Auto, for instance, these universes are bound to merge at one point or another. And I think people actually like playing these types of universes, too.

GS: What are you guys thinking about for the future?

JT: Yeah, right now we're in a bit different of a mindset because we're in the postlaunch era. So that means we're tying to find the line of where we want to take the game and where the players want to take the game. And we want to make sure to keep them in on advice as we progress the game further. Our goal is, obviously, this autumn to work on expanding the PVP options in the game, and giving the players more reasons to play PVP. We're adding a lot more content for level 55-plus. Keep on honing the game, making sure more people can play it. We're coming out in Russia and Poland, and of course looking at the rest of the world as well. We're working on the trading system, the items system, like I discussed earlier, and improving that and taking it to the next level. And eventually some sunny day there's going to be an expansion. We've run Anarchy Online for seven years now, and I think a good MMOG today can run for 10 years, so it's about what we can do to entertain people and make sure they're having fun in our world for many more years to come.

We're also getting a new game director on Age of Conan. So Craig Morrison, he's coming from Anarchy Online and has been the game director there for a few years. So I think that will mean a small change, because he used to be the community manager as well, so he has a really player-driven approach to how he does things. I think that will mean we'll have a stronger player-needs focus, so that's going to be a good change moving forward.

Written By

Want the latest news about Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures?

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures

Discussion

77 comments
e1337prodigy
e1337prodigy

I cancelled my subscription in July, and just signed back up. I have seen alot of changes. Like the resources on maps, so they are easier to find and the value of inventory so you know what item to get rid of incase you run out of space. I think they need some kind of quick travelling system, I have spent so long running around large maps. Also maybe use something similar to Hellgate London where instead of deleting items in inventory you can break it down into small resources? I still never played WoW and never will. Such a baby's game. AoC is my type of MMO, blood and great atmosphere. With fantastic soundtrack really immerses me in the Conan world.

azn_windsoul
azn_windsoul

wat are the number of subscribers now??>

HeavyMetalBard
HeavyMetalBard

What killed it for me: -Instanced Zones -Man-Skirts -Leveling too easy -Lack of itemization

elwood
elwood

For the most part, the only reason this game was so successful at launch was the promise of a FFA world. All the big PvP guilds flocked to this game because of FFA. However, the "PvP patch" that was promised for months and months never came, and there was no incentive to PvP, unless you were running a PL group in Khesh and other groups tried to take over your zone. Instanced world, no FFA rewards, and huge game-stopping bugs (like the gem duping bug which was not fixed for months), and a broken siege engine are what killed this game. There are some major game-breaking flaws. It isn't dead because of a lack of end-game content. It is dead because funcom did not know how to properly execute on its ideas. They also tried to take on too much. This game could have been great if it had another year. Unfortunately, they rushed to get it out before WAR and the WoW expansion. Funcom also duped people into buying it with the open beta, and a very well-polished starting island. FAILcom indeed.

Ailith
Ailith

Funcom needs to make their game more future proof. They're spending too much time on small bugs when they should be worried about end game content.

calibanvov
calibanvov

AOC was great at first......then it becomes apparent, it has no longevity. It becomes uninteresting.

Old_Gooseberry
Old_Gooseberry

AOC is dying. The interview says it all, with WOW expansion and Warhammer Online, nobody will want to play a buggy game like AoC that isn't going anywhere.

buzzguy
buzzguy

Not enough info on the 360 version. I have a real feeling it's gonna be vaporware. Too bad, since Xboxers would probably embrace a full-out MMORPG. FF online is too involved, even though it's a decent game.

rad2071
rad2071

I might possibly play this game later down the road when it starts running like it was meant to.

SEEDman_X
SEEDman_X

I hope the next part of the Longest Journey can come out soon. Personally, that my most anticipated sequel

efrench9
efrench9

Love AoC hate the Forum community.

bobbo
bobbo

Many of you that tried Aoc early on and left will find a much better product now. Quests have been added fixed and polished. Dungeons have been revamped. Classes balanced. Pvp update part one added and memoryleaks have been fixed. It's been 4 months since launch and the game is coming together. Those of you that gave up early or because of memoryleaks (crashes) will find a game that has improved alot compared to what you experienced. So this "failcom" crap needs to stop. Many have thought of AOC as a rough diamond. Now it's beginning to shine, showing it's potential as a truly next gen MMO.

runstalker
runstalker

One thing AoC has over all the rest: the best newbie phase. With all the cinematics, dialogue, optional single-player stuff... the first 20 hours or so are great. But I wasn't feeling it after a week or two. I'm playing Warhammer now and it's pretty good, if a little cookie-cutter in execution.

ElderonWise
ElderonWise

being fair here,i liked AOC.but i didn't like it enough to continue playing.As for Warhammer,looks too tacky and too close to WoW imo.Therefore,I'll wait for LOTRO:Mines Of Moria to release instead.

moocow21
moocow21

Interesting article. I don't play MMOs, but I'm sure people in these comments are going a bit overboard with comments like "failcom." The game still has several hundred thousand subscribers, so I hardly can see how the game is failing. AoC might not be as polished as WAR (or definitely not WoW), but it seems to be considerably different than those two MMO's - not just because of the mature world, but because of the graphically intensive engine. It probably still has loads of bugs, but as long as there is still a decent subcriber base I'm sure Funcom will keep working to improve the game.

Helbrec
Helbrec

AoC failed when? Bugs, Hardware? The more the 500000 users quiting? Lol, failcom!

FabioPizzini
FabioPizzini

Pls, pls, pls ... AoC it was a good project ... ruined by hardware needs and bug and ... gameplay. So let him die, and enjoy WARHAMMER!!!!

yanni1
yanni1

"As for Warhammer, they're going to be a neck-and-neck competitor for us for a long, long time to come" ahahahahah doubt it, warhammer is already killing AoC.. keep dreaming failcom.

jerectoff
jerectoff

I quit AOC after my level 42 Necro was nerfed, ok maybe the class isn't bad, but its not the way I'd been using it and I didn't like it. Then tried a TOS, and realised that I couldn't skip the awful beginning levels so I cancelled my sub. I might try it again. One day.

WeWerePirates
WeWerePirates

I think the focus on graphics was the worst call on this game. You stop caring about the quality after a short while but you will always care about performance. For me the biggest killer was the lack of content, levelling from mid fifties was a massive chore and there wasn't much to do at 80. There were only a couple of 6 man zones at 80 and after that several tiers of 24 man raid content, problem was only a few big guilds on the server could pitch 24 but when they could pick up raids dried up. Even then the raid content was horribly bugged. Lack of content and prospects meant that 80's in my guild quit before there were ever enough of us to do even 6 man raids. Where was the 12 man/18 man content to bridge the gap? Too few of the dungeons were instanced and respawns on named were too long, it was actually worse than the bad old days of EQ sometimes. The mellee combat was fun at times but ended up a white elephant. It became a chore after a while killing large numbers of things and it just didn't work PvP, another player isn't going to just stand there while you do a five hit combo where as spells worked just fine. PvP just stank because of it. I may reactivate after the expansion but I probably won't.

bobbo
bobbo

uberjannie: Memory leaks are almost gone now for all players after the latest patch. Performance has gone up for almost all players, especially for those with older computers. You should log in again if your account is still active. With the latest patch AOC has turned the tide. Players are coming back since they now can play without crashing every 30 min. Much of the content has been polished and upgraded since lauch aswell. Aoc in slowly turning into the game it should be. True to Howards lore and filled with barbaric action.

uberjannie
uberjannie

Its a good game, but I cant play it because i get memory loss every hour or so xD

endocrine
endocrine

This game was 1 step forward in combat and storytelling, 10 steps backwards in everything else in MMOs. Its like someone took EQ1 (with no expansions), improved the graphics and combat but left everything else the same.

greev
greev

I have played the game for about 4 month now and I loved most of it, BUT, they really have to get the bugs out and content in. I stoped playing now, at least until that new "expansion" comes out, most of the things I started playing the game for, were not in the game at launch, wich p..... me of. So the road so far was mixed with love it and hate it at the same time. I will give it a couple of months and come back to se the progress, if it looks good, i'll continue playing, I think that is the way to go...do not give up hope for this game yet people!

Deadcow92
Deadcow92

No, this is fail...this is all fail. This game, Funcom, everything. Epic Fail. Tiger_Raid, it'll never come out on the 360 because it's full of fail.

Tiger_Raid
Tiger_Raid

this game needs to hurry up and come out for Xbox 360!

TheVinster
TheVinster

I played AoC for about 2 weeks before I got bored of it. Reasons: (1) My computer can't handle it, the specs are too demanding. (2) The UI and everything was just sloppy. And overall, meh, just not my type of MMO. Liked the combat at first, but nothing really lasted over time. I have since not touched an MMO and don't plan to for a long time. P.S. Lawl at all the stupid arguments going on in the comments section. Get over it.

ne0man
ne0man

So mr. Golbez 77, I'm the one flaming? for starters you're the one talking about directx10, I said FEATURES and did not mention that one cause it's lacking, bit if you are going to nitpick...you gotta pick something to rant on isn't it? Second if you are so into Warhammer this is not the shoutbox for it, if you can read well this article is a QUESTIONS & ANSWERS on AGE OF CONAN. And BUDDY, i read the comments because I have always a glimmer of hope that they are more insightful that they always end up being. Why did I read the comments if I didn't like them? well, you know, i have to read them first to know if i like them or not, and i'm interested in the conan world, as well as warhammer but I dont go through each's articles ranting about how much it sucks and how much the game sucks and the people who play it suck. Everyone wants to succeed on their job, game developers as well, unlike you, they certainly don't want to be paid for bullsh|tting. Cause if they do it they'll lose people's confidence, and that's how they lose money. And to finish, I didn't mean to go hard on you little buddy, but it seems the hat fits on you isn't it??

lord_cack
lord_cack

Gooeykat I don't follow the herd but I try all the new MMOs just because I like to see whats new. So I can see where your mislead about people just being herd followers. I'm sure there is a fair bit of that in these comments but sometimes people just want to try something new. Now, as for this game and Funcom in general, I have always liked funcome products. Longest Journey games, they had a couple of console games a few years back I enjoyed, and Anarchy Online I liked. Does anyone here remember that launch, disaster doesn't even come close to explaining how bad AO's launch was. This game, I can't play, wish I could just to check out the world of Conan. None of the features particularly grabbed me as interesting but not bad. Maybe someday.

Gooeykat
Gooeykat

These comments are so pathetic, do you guys even like games or MMOs, or do you just follow the herd to whatever game is "hot" at the moment. A few months ago it was AoC, this month its WOAR and next month it will be back to WoW. Don't try to think for yourself, by all means, just follow the herd from one game to the next.

Blank2k2
Blank2k2

blackace - No it wont be free, and no there isnt any "better" free MMORPG, and also i dont believe theres any truely free MMORPG's. The last "Free" MMO i played a friend just spent £80 in 5 days on ... thats 8months of WoW / AoC / WAR, or 8 minutes on a free mmorpg, your choice.

Blank2k2
Blank2k2

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Agent_G
Agent_G

I agree that they need more content after 55. Very uneven at higher levels. I also agree with ne0man. If you don't like it go spend your money on the next new release, and the next and the next; it is good for the industry.

LorDaftwager
LorDaftwager

Man, Tharaldsens honesty alone would make you want to play this game. I mean admitting that the players who left went to WoW or are waiting for Warr, that takes guts. I myself played AoC for about a fortnight b4 gettin bored and going back to WoW, why? I don't know, AoC just never got me addicted like WoW did.

Golbez_77
Golbez_77

Well ne0man if you're gonna flame at least do it right. First off as an example aoc has direct x10 right on the box yet its not even the game, so there goes part of your argument. Second War is in a very polished state and delivered exactly what they said they would. Now I hate to bring it up but your ranting about people who are ranting about aoc/wow. Why did you come and post or even read the comments of this article if you don't like it, I think its time you get a life buddy. And 1 last thing developers don't "waste" years of their lives its a job just like every other job which pays a paycheck and the cool thing is they actually enjoy it so I fail to see how its a waste of life. When it comes down to it they are paid to do a good @#$%ing job on whatever their making and when they completely lie about things and push out half of a piece of @#$% game then they deserve to get trashed and possibly fired, because I sure wish i could just bull@#$% my way through my job and get payed for it while not getting fired for it.

macmurphy
macmurphy

neOman, you talk sense mate.

ne0man
ne0man

You people should stop b itching around and whining. All of you now drooling over Warhammer just like you were about Conan a few months ago, in a couple of months you will be dissing WOAR too and you do this about every new MMO. It hasn't been half a year from release and you already expect the game to be flawless without bugs? they promised those features but I never read it was going to be on release, so you either are patient or are a inconsequential kid. developers waste years of their lifes to bring you entertainment and you treat them like they really want to feed you crap after years of programming and polishing and dedication. I don't even play AOC, nor WOW, but i'm sick of this senseless ranting. get a life, you either play it or don't, if you don't care what the hell are you doing here?

BigDaddy973
BigDaddy973

So coming to the 360? Now I want Knights of the old republic online!!!! That will be amazing!

1rish
1rish

I loved AoC, and they have an epic support staff... But after I hit lvl 55 the game got stale... By 80 it was downright boring without a substantial PvP system. I'll miss what it could have been.

TiamatDraconis
TiamatDraconis

Poor AoC...I really liked it and stayed with it far longer than the average subscriber...but they didn't advance and didn't even add features that people originally bought the game for. They said pvp leveling would be in late June, and now they are saying Autumn...Poor, poor AoC...

Gen-Gawl
Gen-Gawl

Well, I hope AoC starts doing well again. I played for about 3 months and had a blast.

bertburch
bertburch

I have been waiting for this game to come out, but after these reviews, it sounds like I should not waste my money. I was hoping for a good story/graphical MMO. I have been on SWG since its launch but am ready to move on to a new MMO.

ThugNMe
ThugNMe

WaR will surpass AoC easly, I have no idea why he said they will be "neck and neck" with WaR. lol, I played AoC for 3 months and WaR for about 2 weeks total (open beta) and all I can say is good luck AoC if you guys think you have a chance.

Hekynn
Hekynn

Their working on the PC version first guys then maybe they will bring the PC features onto the 360 version. Oh and their are less bugs and less memory leaks and out of memory crashes now yay :D

Jiggy_Wilson
Jiggy_Wilson

I dunno Blackace, Phantasy Star Universe (or somesuch thing) requires a monthly fee. So why would Age of Conan be different? Although I do hope you are right. Otherwise I'll just have to play Guild Wars...wither way I win. Mwaha.

blackace
blackace

Is it going to be FREE to play online for the XBox 360 version. If not, I'm not even going to waste my money. I definitely won't pay a monthly fee to play this game when there are better MMORPG games online that are FREE. Looks liek Funcom blew it again.