News of MMO-malarkies breaks. A subsidiary of Bluehole Studio, En Masse Entertainment has been formed. Their aim is basically to select MMOs and make them most suitable for bringing to the western audiences. Hyper-localization! Its staff are alumnis of Blizzard Entertainment, Microsoft Corp., Electronic Arts Inc., ArenaNet and NCsoft, so they've certainly worked for some companies. RPS' similar list would be "Its staff are alumni of that bar on campus, Walker's Dad's dentistry, some hop-farming and a big financial mag (which sacked him)", so they certainly have us beat. Their first game will be - perhaps unsurprisingly - Bluehole's TERA. We took the chance to talk to En Masse' producer Brian Knox about what they'll be up to, TERA and all things MMO...
[Oh - these are the core staff. The CEO Dr. Jae-Heon Yang (Ex-NCSoft), COO Patrick Wyatt (Ex-Blizzard, Arenanet Founder), Publishing VP Chris Lee (Marketting at Microsoft, NCSoft and EA) and Senior Producer Brian Knox (NC Soft Producer, Aoin). Who's the one on the right. Who we'll be talking to. Right now. Googling reveals that Patrick's on the left, Chris is on the second left which - through deductive skills - make Dr Yang the other chap. I'm Sherlock Holmes, me.]
RPS: Blizzard Entertainment, Microsoft Corp., Electronic Arts Inc., ArenaNet and NCsoft. That's quite the spread of talent. How did everyone get together? Was it a case of a single individual recruiting, some gathering or... well, how did the band get together?
Brian Knox: In 2009, Bluehole Studio in Korea was looking to establish a Western publishing entity for its inaugural product, TERA. Bluehole sees the West as a crucial market for worldwide success, and they felt it more advantageous to invest in building a Western publishing entity than even self-publishing in their home territory.
The challenge in putting together a publishing entity that could handle that task is finding and securing a leadership team with the chops to realize the goals. After an extended search, the En Masse leadership team came together towards the end of 2009, with the purpose of bringing TERA to Western audiences. These are seasoned industry veterans with a track record of successful products, and the skills that can enable them to hit some exciting and ambitious targets.
RPS: Essentially, this seems to be about localising games in a way which means more than just translating them. What sort of things will you be focusing on? It strikes me as a tricky thing to actually pull off - the surface detail (Speed of XP gain, etc) is relatively easy, but the fundamentals are difficult to shift. Or am I totally wrong?
Brian Knox: The great thing about TERA is that it provides some excellent elements to build from--the game has all the elements of a great MMO. The fundamentals won't need to shift in a significant way; much of the localization or "culturalisation" will have to do with the game's story and the depth of experiences that players will have. The community's input is very important to us, so we'll be running focus tests and betas to gain feedback from Western audiences. We want to to be sure we're on the right track to giving Western MMO gamers what they want from a next-generation MMO.
RPS: Why decide to start with TERA?
Brian Knox: We chose TERA because its groundbreaking combat system will appeal to a wider audience, and the level of influence the players will have over the game world is unprecedented. The building blocks of a great MMO are all there, and the refinements we'll add will only enhance an already-great game.
RPS: And which attributes do you think will most have to be tweaked for the western audience?
Brian Knox: Much of our tweaking and refinement will focus on the story, on providing the highest quality writing and a culturally relevant narrative within the broader game. MMOs offer a new and interactive way to tell stories, and so far, most MMOs haven't scratched the surface of the kinds of effects that players' actions can have on the game itself. TERA won't simply offer monsters to hack to death and complex dungeons to navigate--players' actions will affect the world in much more significant ways.
RPS: What is your analysis of the current state of the MMO? I think many people feel as if we've been at an impasse for a couple of years. What's the core direction?
Brian Knox: The impasse isn't necessarily on the part of the games themselves--players have gotten used to certain experiences from MMOs, and are starting to ask "what next?"
MMO storytelling shouldn't be limited to purchasing the next expansion that takes you where the designers want you to go; the designers and the players are part of a larger "conversation," if you will, and we envision TERA offering a different kind of narrative experience that fills this need.
Additionally, MMOs need to be more accessible in order to remain viable. TERA's groundbreaking combat system is designed to appeal to a broader audience--the kind of intense, engaging action-based combat players usually only see in action RPG games. This has the potential to introduce MMOs to those who may have stayed away in the past, and offer players used to console games an accessible MMO experience.
RPS: What are the qualities of the games you're looking to translate? Do you have a checklist of qualities, or is it some other X-factor?
Brian Knox: Fundamentally, we believe that great game experiences and stories can be universal. This is what En Masse does: we start with a quality game, and allow our writers and producers to use their vast experiences to adapt and refine the game, making it culturally relevant, and attractive to Western audiences. The universal appeal lies in the original product; the refinements help ensure success. There's no checklist per se; rather, we saw in TERA the opportunity to tell the story we want to tell and fill what we see as a major need within the MMO community.
While we're very focused on TERA, we are building a multi-dimensional organization. En Masse's strengths could easily be applied to games developed in either the East or West, as indicated by the franchises this group has worked on in the past. We haven't signed our next project yet, but we have our eyes open for the next big opportunity.
RPS: Thanks for your time.