Slow Down: Runic Can’t Commit To Torchlight MMO Yet

By Nathan Grayson on April 19th, 2012 at 8:24 am.

Remember, everyone, attack one at a time. I mean, we're trying to kill him, but we don't want to be jerks about it.

An MMO has always been the end goal for Runic’s proposed heir to the throne of click-click-click, but its path to production has been anything but straightforward. Originally, Torchlight was the warm-up, and the MMO would follow soon after as the main event. Then Runic decided it needed to spec its collective skill tree into multiplayer, and thus, Torchlight II was born. So, naturally, the runway’s now  finally clear for the MMO, right? Not exactly, Runic CEO Max Schaefer told us.

“We have great Torchlight MMO ideas,” Schaefer said during an interview with RPS. “We’re not saying we’re gonna do it next because we don’t want to be locked into something and disappoint people if it turns out we get to the end of this and really what we should be doing is an expansion or another platform. We want to have that flexibility. We’re a small company. We’re 30 people, and we can only really do one thing at a time. So we want to have the flexibility to pick what we want to make, that our fans are asking for, and make the decision based on that.”

“And the reason I’m making so many caveats about this is an MMO is a hell of a commitment. It means we’re gonna be doing that for a few years at least prior to release and then committing years of support for it afterward. So it’s a decision we take very, very seriously.”

Which is, of course, a very valid point. Moreover, the swords and sorcery MMO space is an incredibly crowded one, and games like SWTOR have shown that Runic’s goal of “an MMO that plays as close to single player as we can get it” requires tremendous post-launch effort and thousands of man hours to keep players in for the long haul.

On that note, I recently tried Drakensang Online, which is basically Diablo: The MMO – but with a microtransaction model so insidious it’d give even the devil himself second thoughts. In spite of that and an incredibly bland skill system, though, experiencing that type of world with legions of other players was nice – if not entirely necessary most of the time. I don’t know. I’m still not entirely sold. What about you, though? If/when Runic slays the demons of time and money to loot a Torchlight MMO, will you play it?

Torchlight’s coming out, er, sometime. Probably. I spoke with Schaefer about that and the ARPG genre’s slow evolution here.

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50 Comments »

  1. f1x says:

    I imagine a Diablo-like MMO and I think it would be closer to what Lineage1 was,
    if you take out the grind (which was massive) that could actually be a good idea

    because why not, an isometric MMO, with castle sieges, open-worldPVP, non-instanced dungeons (I mean, actually instanced but the same instance for all of the players)

    • frightlever says:

      Raiding while under threat from griefers doesn’t sound like fun.

      Path of Exile seems to be your MMO Diablo already, though it’s VERY instanced.

      • Quatlo says:

        Actually it is fun, it gives your more PvP oriented players something to do. While half of your team kills the boss, the other half is protecting you from other guilds that want to get easy kill.

        • Lone Gunman says:

          Just have areas where pvp is allowed and not allowed. So some dungeons with greater rewards could be in these dangerous badlands. That would certainly make it feel more adventurous.

        • f1x says:

          Well yes, I’m tired of the “Two opposed factions” scheme that WoW (or DaoC) started, with everything instanced

          istead of that I find amusing the concept of having to ally with other people in order to kill a boss and still feel the danger that in any moment they could betray you

          I dont know, sometimes I feel developers are too afraid of leaving mechanics and options in the hands of the players, of course there are shitty players that will only grief and exploit, but there is also a majority of players that will have fun and actually do memorable things

          • Lone Gunman says:

            I like being plonked in the middle of a complex already existing world.

  2. JackShandy says:

    Is Max Schaefer like a more extreme version of Tim Shafer?

  3. Lobotomist says:

    Runic are slow. I just hope Torchlight 2 will be good. At least that , now that they completely blown everything by releasing after D3.

    As for MMO. They better just give up.

    Path of Exile will be out. D3 that is basically a MMO. Lineage 3 will be Diablo like MMO.

    And by rate they are doing stuff it may take them 5-6 years anyway

    • mondomau says:

      Thing is, Path of Exile ain’t actually all that great. And a Torchlight MMO would have a different feel from both D3 and PoE.
      Not saying they should definitely go for it, I just think dismissing it out of hand based on your examples is a bit nonsensical.

      • e82 says:

        I’ve been playing PoE quite a bit for the past few weeks and really enjoying it. I’m finding it surprisingly fun despite the fact that only two acts are released right now.

        I’m finding the core game-play mechanics to be very fun – just some of the ‘other stuff’ around it needs to be fleshed out.

  4. Belsameth says:

    an ARPG as MMO? Not really…
    They’re fun MP, but an MMO seems a bit too big a scope for a game like that…

  5. Jon Tetrino says:

    Personally I’m just happy to have multiplayer at all.

    An MMO sounds nice, but I have trouble visualising what gameplay benefit you’d get from the whole thing. For me an MMO has to have some kind of benefit from being an MMO that makes it worth any fees they may charge.

    It’s why I’ve not sunk any money into Star Trek Online – about 90% of the game can be played single player, and the other ten percent could quite frankly be hosted on anyone’s home computer. Contrast that to EVE or WoW where you can end up with a couple hundred slapping it out and the feel of an MMO is more apparent.

    I don’t see how it’d feel like an MMO, really. The gameplay just doesn’t fit that kind of environment in my mind.

  6. Hoaxfish says:

    Until we’ve passed the release of GW2, Firefall, and some other things in the MMO space, and seen if they can actually “revive” the genre from its horrible dull grindiness, I’m not sure I can get excited about any “thinking about MMO” talk.

    They’re basically innovating in an area which is trying to live in the shadow of tighter singleplayer and multiplayer experiences. Especially when a lot of them completely ignore the “Massive” part of MMO.

    • cassus says:

      I think you’re right in regards to the coming games (gw2, firefall and I’d like to add Planetside 2 to that list, even though I’m becoming less and less interested in that game as time goes by.. Seems way too fast paced..) having to revive the genre. As it is right now, MMO’s are dead in the water without a breeze in sight.

      I don’t think MMO’s compete with singleplayer and other multiplayer games, though. MMO’s are, for lack of a better and less pathetic term, “living the life you want to live.” MMO’s do one thing better than any other game, and that’s immersion. That’s like the whole pull of mmo’s, and people who don’t really yearn for that part of gaming will never get why mmo’s are popular, the same way I don’t get why people would ever play the Mass Effect games, cause I just don’t care that deeply about story. Gameplay, sound, graphics, immersion, realism, all these things come before story as far as I’m concerned. That’s why I end up playing stuff like ArmA, Planetside and other mmo’s, flight simulators, racing sims and so forth. There is definitely a place for MMO’s, and they are not trying to live in the shadow of tighter games, they are a genre unto themselves. Sure, mechanically they are crappier than singleplayer games, but you get to live out your fantasy over hundreds of hours, unlike a singleplayer game where you’re done after 150 hours (that’s what I put into skyrim, sure I’ll put more in, but 150 hours is a LOT for a single player game, and I have nothing persistent to show for it.) and Multiplayer games where you’re basically playing the same game over and over and over and over (CoD, BF3 etc, every damn round is the same..)

      Sorry about the WOT, could have just summed it up with “They’re not competing..”

      • f1x says:

        To be honest, no,
        I doubt MMO catch is to live your history in the sense you are presenting,
        its more the catch of actually enhancing your characther, the persistent thing is been farmed in terms of your characther having the chance of evolve endlessly , but not in an immersive way, simply getting him more cosmetic customization and “better items”, and I think thats precisely why MMO are failing lately, they dont go any deeper than where they went already 5 years ago

        on the other hand, the other catch, which keeps WOW alive and the others, is that the premise of MMOs is having the possiblity of playing with other people in a persistent world, finding people around and making friends, but for this sense aswell, MMO aswell have been stuck in time for the last 5 years, and most of the times actually going backwards with less open worlds and more small instanced experiences

      • Hoaxfish says:

        Well, that’s sort of what I mean.

        If I want to blow it up completely, MMOs are glorified chat-clients that are competing with facebook and basically every other “money entertainment” (cinema, books, nightclubs, etc). Obviously that’s a bit silly.

        When you look at what they do advertise, and develop, a lot of the time they refer back to stuff defined by other genres. Hence the whole “putting singleplayer in MMOs” (but where the “plot” only has a beginning and a middle, with no real end), “Endgame” (essentially, a point at which character development can “cap out” losing the real “persistent developing character” aspect of the game), even stuff like Raids become a form of repetitive gamestyle similar to singleplayer dungeons and multiplayer maps.

        At least a couple of games recently have really tried to push into the development space not already covered by Singleplayer or non-massive multiplayer… stuff like politics, and other forms of player-tweaked systems (where the “persistence” is for the development of the world, rather than individual characters). But it’s questionable as to how much of an incentive this is. I would argue, that without the “game over”/End scenario, which is counter to the whole persistent ongoing MMO experience, that MMOs simply feel like a bunch of “loose ends”.

      • noodlecake says:

        I’ve tried quite a few MMO games and not really found any of them to be particularly immersive. I aways felt like the gameplay was shallow and exploitative and that everything was geared towards tryng to keep you on as long as possible so they can squeeze another month’s subscription out of you.

        The only game that has really ever managed to hook me in the way that you are talking about is playing the Minecraft Tekkit mod on the tech-world server which has horrendous lag once you have more than 35 people on. There’s enough to aim for to keep you playing for a long time anyway (unlike the vanilla game) and you’re gradually seeing new structures and towns popping up all around the huge map (I think it’s about 18km square) with oil pipelines and quarries and bits of machinery everywhere.

        You can see a live overhead map of the world too with options to switch to an isometric view to see the building heights and shapes and an underground map too. It’s pretty neat. That lives here if anyone is interested. http://minecraft-techworld.com/map/

        Generally I don’t play multiplayer games. I don’t want 200+ hours of gameplay from something because I am prone to avoiding going out and having a life anyway. I’d rather not exacerbate that by playing something as artless and cynical as WoW or Rift for 6 months. I’d prefer to play something that gives me one or two powerful runs through with a strong narrative, characters and a game world that I can invest in and fun unique gameplay like The Witcher 2 offers. A gorgeous art style and scrummy graphics help too! Although the couple of hours I got from Cave Story were equally as enjoyable.

        • noodlecake says:

          not that I’m saying Cave Story doesn’t have any of those things… It just isn’t incredibly demanding.

        • Hoaxfish says:

          Minecraft brings up a nice point.

          Both it, and Neverwinter Nights’ unplanned persistent worlds, have that “micro-culture” pesudo-MMO thing going on. Essentially, you have the base-trappings of an MMO… a lot of people running around “forever” but it’s the size of a village, rather than a continent.

          You can play the game for ages, but simply change the whole experience by changing which server you’re on. Minecraft does it with the basic building/mining system by the players, while NWN does that same sort of customisation via the NWN toolkit. And then both allow for mods, etc.

          It’s something proper MMOs only glimpse at during their Beta testing, when they often rapidly change chunks of how the game actually works, with features added, altered, and removed… even whole classes undergoing massive changes.

          • noodlecake says:

            Yeah! That’s true. I had a bit of a NWN spurt years ago too and there were all kinds of neat mods incorporated into the servers that put various twists on the core gameplay and neat new scenarios. It wasn’t subscription based either but you got tons of new content provided by modders. I think that is far more exciting than anything that any MMO has to offer.

            I’m a little bored of the server I’m on at the moment n Minecraft but I know that when i do log back in I’ll be able to jetpack off and explore the local area again and see lots of new stuff. Me and my friend snagged an area that was pretty far away from all the major towns but I looked on the map recently and a new town has appeared just to the south east that looks to have a huge population. We’ve been working on building a road system to connect everything together. After about 3 hours of working on it we’ve only connected about 0.02% of the map with some very basic crude roads and a couple of bridges.

          • Blackcompany says:

            It is my opinion that we need more of this, and less of the theme park grind. More persistent yet dynamic worlds, with players building and changing them as time goes on. That’s how you get immersed in an MMO – which I agree, to date, are not immersive in the least. Not in the sense that a game like Skyrim, with tens of mods, can become at any rate.

            I fervently wish the MMO genre would dispense with the grinding and theme park attractions that quests, and give us a sandbox. It does not necessarily have to be a big, dangerous, PVP sandbox. Look at Minecraft for examples of how to do a more friendly, co-op, us-against-the-world sandbox. Variety, people.

            But yes, the MMO genre is dead as it is now. Sitting there waiting on the sails to fill, as someone else so aptly said it, without a hint of wind to stir them.

  7. wodin says:

    MMO this MMO that…god I hate em…

    • Mattressi says:

      My thoughts exactly. Either you have to pay a subscription or you get a few crappy items and a whole bunch of in game ads telling you to buy better items with real-people money. Plus they generally just aren’t fun; if they were singleplayer games they’d all be given 40/100 by PCGamer (and we all know that PCG doesn’t score below 80 unless there’s a REALLY good reason). Combat is boring, crafting is basic and story is non-existent. Plus few MMOs have servers in Australia, so I don’t get a ping below 200ms…I know I’m making a sweeping generalisation, but I honestly can’t think of any MMO that hasn’t fit this description exactly.

      I was actually very happy to read that Runic might not go ahead with an MMO yet – I look forward to T2 and hope that they continue making great SP/MP games.

  8. andytizer says:

    I think that they are much better suited to making smaller indie games – it takes a hell of a lot to deliver on an MMO. If they took the Torchlight II framework and added MMO elements – it would take away everything that makes it unique – offline mode, LAN play and modability.

  9. AmateurScience says:

    Edit: I wrote this before breakfast/coffee. Apologies for the testy tone

    Edit Edit: I appreciate they’re actually poo pooing the idea of an MMO for now.

    Why why why must there always be talk of an MMO whenever any ARPGish series becomes a bit successful? What benefit does being an MMO have over ‘traditional’ 4-5 played co-operative multiplayer other than being an excuse to water down your game mechanics and gouge cash from your player base with subscriptions and micro-transactions? The big subscription games (with the shining exception of Eve) now go out of there way to limit massive co-op play and funnel you into isolated experiences with (at best) 20-odd folk. Hardly massive. Mostly pointless*.

    For me, the mention of an MMO attached to a franchise previously successful by not being an MMO (eg 40k, Elder Scrolls) is beginning to generate the same reaction as when a publisher announces a ‘Major Hollywood director is on board to bring our game franchise to the silver screen’ ie: facepalm

    *Your opinion may vary

    • cassus says:

      Microtrannies/subscriptions allow the developer to continue development of the game. More content = good, that is, if the base game is good. In Torchlight became an MMO you’d get a steady trickle of new loot, classes, areas and so forth, that’s good, right? If it wasn’t for the fact that Tribes Ascend was a microtranny type game I’d be done with it after about 15-20 hours. I’d done pretty much everything at that point (was in at the start of beta) but more and more stuff started coming out, and I’m still playing it quite a bit, and having a good time. One could agruably call TA a MMO based on the fact that it’s microtranny based and free to play, at least it follows the mmo model without being an actual mmo, which I guess would be what Torchlight MMO would do as well, maybe a central world-hub-style-thing akin to DDO, and then you group up with people and quest together. I’d quite like that kind of gameplay. The social aspect and relationship to your character(s) adds to the enjoyment for me. As long as the coop gameplay is relatively lag free and stuff, I’m all for it.

      • JackShandy says:

        I wish you’d stop saying microtrannies.

      • AmateurScience says:

        Good points well made, I knew I should have taken 5 before I posted that. Although, for me, the whole microtransaction model leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth. I suspect I’m a bit of a dinosaur in that regard but I’d still rather pay for a game upfront and get free updates and the occasional paid expansion than have a husk of a game for free and be charged for everything. I do see the advantages in that it lets you pick and choose which bits of the game you buy and so that you only get the content you want etc. And I know that a lot of games apply that model well (you mentioned Tribes for example)…

        …but I worry that the whole system is open to serious abuse.

  10. Yawny says:

    In all honesty, I’d prefer if they made a RTS set in Torchlight universe. Something similar to Warcraft 3 with modding support and custom games.

  11. Ravelle says:

    Since T2 has co-op I have no need for an Torchlight MMO, I’ll gladly pay 12 bucks for every DLC once in a while.

  12. Valanthyr says:

    Seems to me this has already been tried with Mythos.

    I’ve played this one for some time and found it pretty enjoyable, if a bit too grindy around the edges. It lasted 6 months then was put to rest.

    Given the strong bounds between Mythos and Runic, obviously Max has been paying close attention to Mythos, and its demise has tempered whatever confidence he may have had on the Torchlight MMO plans.

  13. hellboy says:

    As long as Torchlight has Coop and PvP then I really don’t see the need for an MMO version. Not everything needs to be an MMO…

  14. Lemming says:

    You know, alot of people are concerned that alot of ARPGs are being developed all of a sudden, but when it comes to ARPGs that don’t have a load of online shit I don’t want or need that number dwindles to…..2. Torchlight 2 and Grim Dawn.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Yeah, I don’t consider online-only games to be the same kind of game as offline equivalents, even if they’re supposed to be.

      For example, even SWTOR is just not in the same genre as KOTOR, even if it was heavily inspired by it.

  15. MadTinkerer says:

    “If/when Runic slays the demons of time and money to loot a Torchlight MMO, will you play it?”

    Probably not. I’ve been spoiled by Minecraft and Terraria, and having yet another personal server based procedurally generated game, this time of a Torchlight flavor, is WAY more than enough to occupy me.

    An MMO is a game where I am not an admin and any jackass can run around the place spamming whatever they want into global chat. Torchlight II is a game, like Minecraft and Terraria, where I AM GOD AND ONLY MY FRIENDS MAY ENTER MY HOLY REALM and I can modify the contents of my Holy Realm effortlessly, or just will an entirely new Realm into existence instantly because of ProcGen.

  16. jrodman says:

    Oh no, however will we live with good solo/multiplayer games that are not MMOs?

    This sounds like a win/win. Fewer MMOs, and a game studio making more of a focus on games I’d actually want!

  17. Vinraith says:

    May it be postponed indefinitely, as a series of ever more expansive and impressive single player and co-op games come from the studio instead. MMO’s suck, and whenever they do get around to putting out an MMO it’ll be the first game of theirs in quite a while that I won’t be picking up.

  18. sneetch says:

    I love MMOs, I really do I played WoW for far too long, I’ve played DaoC, LOTRO, DDO, Warhammer, Tabula Rasa. I’m eagerly awaiting GW2 and I’m still hmming and hawing over The Secret World but I don’t want this.

    Torchlight 2 is giving me what I want from this genre. The ability to venture out in a randomised world with my friends and methodically clear the bad guys out. Surely any MMO would have to remove that randomness and that sense that you’re the ones clearing the bad guys out?

  19. smacky says:

    Every time I read MMO, my brain processes it as NNO. And NNO means NNO.

  20. malkav11 says:

    Personally, I was of the opinion that the sole good thing to come out of the whole sad tale of Flagship was that these guys made Torchlight instead of an MMO.

  21. Wisq says:

    If they did the MMO thing, it would almost certainly need to be free-to-play. That’s the Perfect World model, and it’s IMO the only way they could expect to get a decently sized playerbase since they don’t have the kind of reputation and clout that the bigger companies have.

    Of course, that means “freemium” or “pay to win” or whatever else you want to call it. So, bleh.

    Personally, if I were in their position, I’d be like … hmm, big Chinese MMO company wants to publish & sponsor us? Money and marketing, yay! And we can still convince them that it’s in their best interests if we slowly move towards the MMO thing and not just leap right into it for our first sequel. So let’s see how long we can milk this whole single/multiplayer real game thing. Heck, unless we signed a contract that said we must do an MMO eventually, we could just sit here giving lip service to the whole MMO thing, and meanwhile milking this and making what we really want to make until they give up and ditch us, leaving us in a much better position than when we started …

    • sneetch says:

      Surely you mean “until they give up and sue us for breach of contract, taking everything we have and leaving us in a much worse position than when we started …”? Because, ya know, publishers get kinda annoyed about that kind of thing.

      • Wisq says:

        That’s why I specifically mentioned the contract. If the contract doesn’t say “you must do an MMO at some point”, or even if it doesn’t say they need to devote their entire team to the MMO side of the project, well, you can keep doing what you want to do and just stall the MMO thing as long as you want.

  22. Jenks says:

    “an MMO that plays as close to single player as we can get it”

    Sorry Runic, Bioware beat you to it.

  23. RandomGameR says:

    A Torchlight MMO would be cool… As long as it doesn’t require a constant internet connection. Also it needs mod support and LAN play.

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