Civilization Online: Turning a strategy classic into an MMO

The Civilization series is being reimagined as a large scale online multiplayer game. Does it have a chance of retaining what made the original games great?

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Multiplayer is nothing new to the heralded Sid Meier's Civilization series, but what would happen if you took its turn-based, small group focused style and blew it up into a massively multiplayer online game where thousands of people were playing at once? And what if each of those players wasn't actually in charge of a civilization, but were members of a larger community that had to work together to plan and execute their chosen civilization's strategy? Would it still even feel like a Civilization game?

That's the challenge in front of Korea's XLGames, the developer in charge of creating Civilization Online, an MMO variant of the famed strategy series. Unlike the free-to-play Sid Meier's Civilization World (which shut down at the start of this year), this latest attempt at a massively online Civilization won't be a stripped down variant of the deeply complex PC game, but a whole different beast that takes elements of Civilization and places them inside an MMO frame. Instead of being the ruler of a civilization, you'll play as one of its subjects in session-based matches. Your individual "quests" within the MMO will contribute towards your chosen civilization's overall goals, with the aim being to defeat three other factions vying for supremacy.

The game is the latest Western franchise to try its hand at becoming a large-scale online experience. Ubisoft launched its Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Online service last year, while Activision's Call of Duty Online recently went into its alpha stage in China. But while both Ghost Recon and Call of Duty simply replicate their respective gameplay in an always-online world, Civilization Online's move to be a completely different game to what most fans of the series have come to expect makes it a more challenging--and risky--conversion. It's still very early days for the game, but turning Civilization into a "traditional" MMO that somehow retains the qualities that made the original games special will be a Herculean task.

In charge of development is XLGames' Jake Song, one of the best-known game developers in South Korea, particularly for his work on the MMO Lineage: The Blood Pledge. We recently conducted an interview (via email) with Song to try and dig up some more details on Civilization Online, and while there was plenty he couldn't disclose, he did outline how players will interact with the game world, as well as his thoughts on whether the title will be free-to-play.

Why make Civilization into an MMO? What aspects of an MMO are you bringing into this game?

Song: I myself am a big fan of Civilization. My favorite was Civilization 2, and I played over many sleepless nights. Then one day 2K Games suggested making an online version of Civilization. I thought it was a difficult yet intriguing challenge, but it was worth a try.

We are working to bring Civilization’s aspects into an MMO rather than bringing MMO aspects to Civilization. For example, if a certain civilization achieves victory the session ends, which is very much a Civilization aspect. Change of eras as technology is developed, exploring new maps, or building wonders to new cities are also taken from Civilization, too.

Can you explain in more detail the MMO aspect of this?

Song: It's not exactly an MMORPG, but it has MMO features in it. Civilization Online is a session-based game where thousands of players can play simultaneously in a seamless world during each session.

Much of the ideological gameplay in the Civilization franchise is being developed into actual actions and activities players perform or engage in, such as gathering, exploring, constructing, and crafting. Basically there will be four player factions at launch, where each civilization competes against one another to achieve victory over the others. At the start, players get to choose a civilization they want to join. While cooperative gameplay will be essential in building and advancing the civilization they are a part of, competitive gameplay will be dominant when playing against other civilizations.

When a civilization meets one of the victory conditions the session ends, and the data accumulated during the session gets reset. However, there will be some persistent elements that are accumulated and carried over to next sessions.

Being an MMO, how will the gameplay experience differ from previous titles in the franchise? What has had to be changed? What stays the same?

Song: The most apparent change is the player perspective. In the Sid Meier’s Civilization series, players take on the role of a ruler and control all units and manage the entire civilization alone. In Civilization Online, players start out as citizens of a civilization and have opportunities to build their way up to leader figures in the game but will need to be joined by other fellow players in cooperative gameplay to triumph over other civilizations. Whereas in Sid Meier’s Civilization one player decides the strategy for the entire civilization, in Civilization Online players of the same civilization will need to work together to discuss, build, and execute a winning strategy for their civilization to raise the chances of winning. Civilization Online itself is a lot like the original Civilization but with a MMO shell. It has aspects of traditional MMORPGs but also has familiar game elements of the franchise, such as developing technology across time or having different victory conditions to achieve.

Since Civilization Online is a real-time MMO and not turn-based, players don’t have to be online all at the same time like they would normally do in a turn-based game. At the same time, due to the MMO nature of the game, the number of players that can play simultaneously will be in the thousands, so the player scale is much different.

Are players able to group up in clans to form a unified civilization under one banner? Or will players form temporary alliances like in previous Civ titles?

Song: The base of grouping in Civilization Online is the 'civilization' as each player becomes a citizen of one. However, we are planning to support community systems such as guilds and friends list.

What else can you tell us about how players will cooperate to move their civilization forward? Can you give us a specific example of how technologies will be researched?

Song: Cooperative gameplay will be most useful when it comes to building wonders or founding new cities since it will require lots of resources, time, and effort. Without going into too much details, we are designing the game so that players can naturally engage in the gameplay they want to, whether it being hunting, gathering, constructing, combat, or crafting, and have the game system accumulate the data and gradually increase tech research points in the background.

You mentioned you could eventually become a leader. Can you expand on that?

Song: We are working on player leader positions in the game but it’s a bit too early to get into details at this time.

What are some examples of win conditions? What sort of scenarios will win a game for a faction?

Song: Science Victory and Domination Victory are the two victory conditions we can mention today.

Will all four factions be represented within each session of the game?

Song: All four factions will be represented within a session.

The game will be session based. How long will each game last approximately?

Song: We have an idea of what length would be fun but to be candid, this is a topic that needs extended testing so we feel it’s too early to share at this time.

Will this game be free-to-play? What will be available for players to purchase?

Song: We recognize that different markets may have different needs, so we are open to a number of possibilities including free-to-play. Beyond that, we feel it’s too early for us to discuss details at this time.

The first target market is Korea, but we’re looking to expand beyond that in the future. With each title in the Civilization franchise some changes were made to the tech tree and system; likewise, we are also making some changes to the tech tree and system for this title, but we’re not considering having different tech trees for different markets. Having said that, we want to accommodate as many needs and wants as we possibly can, as long as it makes sense both design and production-wise.

Do you have a release date set?

Song: We don’t have any specific dates we can share as of today, but will certainly do so as soon as we have a set date.

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Discussion

125 comments
Citrusll
Citrusll

It was hard enough getting your team to tech the same in Civ 4, can you imagine dozens of people controlling the same civ? sounds like a complete nightmare 

Scarab83
Scarab83

Stop making MMOs, assholes.

Aeronomer
Aeronomer

Given what an unadulterated FAIL they made of Civ V, I have no hope for this. Hell, you still can't play Civ V multiplayer with mods. And mods are the only thing that could make that game interesting to someone with more than two brain cells to rub together. What a shame. One of my all-time favorite series has been dumbed down and made totally worthless. They screwed me out of my $60 and I haven't fired the game up since a couple of months after release. And Sid's foray into Facebook was ridiculous and shameful. No way they're going to sucker me again. The king of strategy games is dead. Let's have a wake, get drunk and move on.

Dannystaples14
Dannystaples14

I keep getting images or memories of Tribal Wars in my head. 

Where you will end up being placed into a map surrounded by newbies and then over time a great black shadowy science and nuclear weapon filled fury will slowly make itself known and you will try your hardest to reach the highest highs and fight back but you will be ultimately destroyed and removed from the face of the game. 

Or worse it will simply leave the shell of your civilisation there with its technology and potential but stripped of its resources so you can do nothing but start anew and each time you do the shadowy blackness gets bigger and blacker.

vishisluv7
vishisluv7

No Sid, no Fireaxis... Red Flag!

bennehftw
bennehftw

Wow, am I the only one who think this is an amazing idea. I mean I completely hate the idea of a Elder Scrolls Online. This game though...I mean I'm not really seeing how anyone could think of this as a bad idea. It won't be civilization obviously, and I love civilization people. 

If anything see this as a separate game all together, just just the series attached to it name wise. Eg. Every Sims spin off. 

On point, I'm seeing the freedom to choose.

 You can be a farmer, aka a person who likes to play harvest moon. Your whole character for that session will be to farm all sorts of crops hopefully with huge customization options, get money for that, build up your trade, open businesses, or just be the biggest supplier of food and crop for your civilization. 

You can be a warrior, training in ranged, melee, advanced vehicular combat, possibly managing an entire crew of sailors in a battleship, like a good match of battlefield 3. Squad based combat, hunting, the mass stature of how far combat can go into an online game such as this can be mind blowing. Hey you found an enemy mining settlement by scouting the area yourself with a character based all around stealth and espionage, with the other enemy players dedicated to their craft as miners, and depending on their own technological prowess and skill, you can decide if they are worth fighting. You relay the information to the heavy soldiers/artillery/calvary you name it depending on your technological advancement, and help them take over the mining settlement. 

A builder skilled in the building crafts, helping build monuments as the head architect, even showing off your home because your house is the most leet in the entire land.

An artist with complex art tools that you can show off your artistic talent in real time and in the virtual world, for people to buy to add to their own house, Hell it would be pretty damn cool to walk into some random persons house just to see something that you drew. 

 A wife who just wants to take care of her husband and maybe NPC kids, mastering the cooking talents, holding quarterly/yearly fairs to show to put up your best dishes based on the complexity of the cooking system, possibly even giving buffs to random things such as fertility. 

A scientist (hoping to every cycle having a different set of technological advancements, or at least new feats every time with different formula's every time, trying to be the first person in the server to crack combustion to give us the upper hand to finally threaten our enemies to our will, or let them face the wrath of a full production line of tanks rolling into their technologically impaired swordsdorks, and speartards.

An explorer the last eyes on the ground to choose the best place to start a new town examining all resources, an aspiring pilot with realistic aeronautical controls, starting from a measly cavalryman 

I can spit these ideas all day long guys

I'm seeing a goal oriented, an integral necessity of a cooperative social element, MMO with heavy combat elements, life simulators, the ability to have chosen government, with actual ruling powers that we democratically vote in as an entire civilization (during voting times) or is chosen by divine right or blood, a religion that can cause extreme internal conflict creating huge civil wars within our own nation, brother against brother to topple over our oppressive tyrannic leader who sold us out to the enemy when we needed him most.

one piece of a puzzle, of the group, of your civilization. And if they're all nabs, wreck chaos on their puny world and burn the cities to the ground with your own uprising!

After each session check out another job class if the one you choose isn't what you wanted.

Why I could honestly say that is a game everyone would enjoy. Don't shoot the game down before you could think of the possibilities, because we all know as fans of the great game civilization, that all that I said could be put into this game.

sune_Gem
sune_Gem

So many pessimistic people here. Why's everyone so scared of something a little different? Do you really want everything to be exactly the same for every release here onward?

killeridis
killeridis

What the hell Civ Online seriously? well fuck that, let me give you a better idea why not make let's say a sp/mp awesome strategy game like Civ always was? i mean why ruin that so all those year of this wonderful game evolving this is the final stage MMO? great work guys just great..........At the end i just hope this is a separate thing and we will still get the Civ that everyone loves.

startman_1999
startman_1999

Just noticed it's not even developed by Firaxis. That explains the absence of Sid Meier's name in the title. Yup, I think it's safe to say this has absolutely nothing to do with the actual Civ series.

startman_1999
startman_1999

The art style and color palette reminds me of the new SimCity... which...is...not a good thing. I think the whole appeal of the series is being a single player experience. To me this is just.. no.

stev69
stev69

I think Civ players want evolution, not devolution. 

omar_q
omar_q

It sounds like this isn't a Civ MMO but more like Civ Online which isn't all that bad. 

aetius_
aetius_

everything goes online theese days. look at how AOE failed

stev69
stev69

Turning a strategy classic into a turd.

GeneralMufinMan
GeneralMufinMan

this seems destined for failure. Personally I hate MMO's, doubt this one will chance my mind even though I do love Civ

skunkpants
skunkpants

It sounds interesting, but it is marketed as a civ game. This is what will lose the interest of current civ fans, like myself.

grognard
grognard

I'm a huge Civ fan (over 100 hours put in on Civ 5 alone, played every game and expansion at launch) but I have absolutely no interest in this.

unitea
unitea

uhm... so an example of a "quest" would be, working on a wonder with hundreds of other people. or gathering wood in the forest so that builders will have the resources for said wonder. that doesn't sound like fun to me.

Slagar
Slagar

It's as if... It's as if every game maker suddenly realised they can scrooge more money out of their customers by making MMOs... 

...

OH WAIT :O?!?!!

snova9308
snova9308

how will it even work? thousands of independent countries going at it against each other? how?

HonorOfGod
HonorOfGod

ouch! To all the long time players who made it possible for this series to grow.. I am so so sorry.

Cryptic_Shadow
Cryptic_Shadow

This is such a bad idea.  Just make a multiplayer-friendly Civ VI game and you can have my money now.  Instead you are going to make a mistake and have to make up for it by making a ...multiplayer-friendly Civ VI game.  P.S - I do realize this is not Firaxis Games.      *headdesk*

Sorciere_basic
Sorciere_basic

Dear stupid publishers of the world, let's hurry up and make an online / F2P version of every major game so we can get it over with quickly and go back to making real games (singleplayer, no-F2P)

the_viruss_boss
the_viruss_boss

great!, another classic bites the dust...the industry is going to hell

Bakaro
Bakaro

Single player focus game into always-online ?

The development studio is not Firaxis Games?

I see Sim-City 2013 vibe all over again, and I hate that game with burning passion.

John_Read
John_Read

i don't want gaming to go in MMO  and F2P crap  

draco934
draco934

YES BECAUSE AGE OF EMPIRES ONLINE WAS SUCH A GREAT FINANCIAL SUCCESS AND EVERYONE LOVED IT AND THE PEOPLE REJOICED.  HARUMPH.

UmaSama
UmaSama

"Does it have a chance of retaining what made the original games great?" 

NO.


Takeno456
Takeno456

I'll just wait till Civ VI...

SlaviksG
SlaviksG

First TES now this?!?! MY God!! Stop with these MMOs :'(

jedicommand7
jedicommand7

Maybe if we all just ignore it, it will go away.

GrahamZ
GrahamZ

@bennehftw As far as ESO is concerned, keep in mind that the devs are saying that they intend it to be less of an MMO (which I agree would be a horrible idea) and more of a single-player game that can be experienced with friends.  They clearly intend to make it have the feel of the single-player games. Whether they will succeed or not is another story.

But this is not anything like the ESO situation.  The devs have no intention of making it anything like Civilization, other than adding the trappings of the game.  You aren't controlling a nation, you are playing an MMO.  Is it POSSIBLE that this may turn out to be a game to appeal to civ fans?  I'm doubtful, but I guess it's possible.  What I see as more likely is that it will be a typical MMO with some Civ trappings.  You'll get quests to go out and collect 20 iron instead of quests to collect bear claws or rat ears.  Instead of rescuing the miller's daughter from evil orcs, you'll have to rescue the worker from barbarians.  I haven't played any Korean MMOs, and it's my impression that most of them do not appeal to a western audience anyway, because they tend to be grindy.  And remember that they are making this primarily for a Korean audience.


I could be wrong.  I hope I'm wrong.  And I don't doubt that in the right hands, there is a modicum  of hope for this title.  But I'm not holding my breath.  As I've said elsewhere, it should be fun to watch what happens.  I'm a skeptic, so until I see evidence otherwise, I'm going to extreme doubts.  Skeptics always demand evidence.  Show me something better than what I'm imagining and maybe I'll  have a more positive feeling about it.

Obidion
Obidion

@startman_1999 Maybe after 2 last Civ's made purposely for children it won't be the worst, but from what I've seen in a trailer- it's another console-kid-generetion make... Give me another balanced game like Civ4 BtS and I'm bought - not Asterix and Obelix crapp!

skunkpants
skunkpants

The cartoon graphics is a turn off as well. Didn't work in revolutions, won't work here.

u1tradt
u1tradt

@snova9308 No, only 4 civilizations at any given time will be competing. Those thousands of players will have to choose one of those civilizations to join and work their way up in. It's got elements of a MOBA in the sense that you build up your character during each session in a race to the goal of the game, and then start all over in the next session.

snova9308
snova9308

@Takeno456 

you literally can't wait, because there will be no Civ VI after this! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

UmaSama
UmaSama

@jedicommand7 That's the way it works in the gaming industry, which could for once be a good thing.

4le_breVVer
4le_breVVer

@NTenseify @grognard At how many hours of game play does one achieve huge fan status? Is it impossible to be a fan of a game having only played 15 hours?