Imagine the lovechild that would emerge from the coupling of, say, Epic's Gears of War and Zynga's Adventure World. You'd get all the gritty action and polished mechanics of a AAA game buoyed by a constant stream of updates and content. Daddy's eyes and mummy's brains, so to speak. And sequels? With a back-end where developers could create and respond to a game's community much faster than is currently possible, they'd become a thing of the past.
Now, those imaginings may sound like just so much wishful thinking, but Trion -- creators of the hit HD massively multiplayer online game Rift -- think that they've got the formula to usher in such a reality. Today, Trion's announcing Red Door, which they're calling both a new publishing/development initiative and a future online destination for gamers. On the development side, the company's looking to offer their technology and services in a bundle that they hope will be a standard like Unity or id Tech but with network support built right into the Red Door package. As for what the average gamer would get, Trion wants you to start thinking of Red Door as a Zynga for hardcore game experiences.
I spoke with Trion CEO Dr Lars Buttler this week about what makes up Red Door and how it could change not just online games, but the entire industry. "Creativity in the business jumps when new consoles or better hardware hits," says Buttler. "What we're going to have with Red Door is a platform that's going to be continually refreshing and we think that's going to enable a lot of innovation." The colourful codename refers to the sum total of what makes Trion games like Rift work, components that they think are going to be essential to bring AAA quality experiences online in a successful way. What are those pieces, then? Buttler explains that the combo of HD graphics in an MMO environment, the ability to execute and massively scale up a variety of genres and an distributed server infrastructure that supports necessities like billing, customer support and content management.
Buttler uses the Trion games that are either out or in development as an example of how Red Door would work. He says that, in the six months since Rift launched, the fantasy gameworld's seen five major updates which have resulted in the current game having 25% more new features. That results in a stickier experience, with 1 billion quests completed by players over 1 trillion minutes of playtime, all as a result of a powerful ability to figure out what players want by watching how they play. Another Trion game, the Petroglyph-developed End of Nations, aims to prove that a game needn't be a WoW-style RPG experience to thrive as a massive multiplayer offering. When it comes out in early 2012, the massively multiplayer online strategy game will be attempting to assemble players from all over the world across broad, tactical battles. And with Defiance, the platform-agnostic shooter-MMO that Stephen Totilo saw at E3, Trion thinks they'll be delivering a real-time, action-heavy open world that also syncs up to an in-development SyFy TV series, where changes in one medium affect the other. Potential partners wouldn't be tied to the tech powering Trion's games, either. "You could re-write the Unreal engine, for example, to work in Red Door," Buttler says. And the PS3-vs-Xbox 360 magic possible with Defiance would work with other Red Door partner games, too. "We don't care about the end device or distribution network."
However, Buttler says it'd be wrong to focus on the technology. Rather, he observes, it's about what the technology makes possible. "Look at cable TV," Buttler offers. "Cable created 25 years of growth in entertainment, because all of a sudden you had these pipes that could deliver new kinds of content. Sure, they started with making sure you could get broadcast network shows in areas where antennas weren't working, but then you got HBO and Showtime and AMC pushing the boundaries of what's possible on TV. You start with the basic and then you get to premium."
So, if social networks like Facebook are the broadband cable, then games like Cityville are the basic channels, at least in terms of content. Buttler sniffs at the kinds of experiences that lots of casual and social games offer nowadays but admits that "Facebook catalysed a ton of new experiences and we want to do that for premium AAA games." "We want make them more live and more dynamic than the current model of social games where months go by and nothing changes," he continues. "Korean games don't change, for example. Everything takes too long to change, because the platforms aren't built to change. That same jump that cable catalysed has to come to these social, connected game experiences."
With that jump, Buttler hopes, comes an end to too-safe sequels and watered-down interactivity. Red Door is "exactly what the industry frickin' needs to move forward." And, if you're a developer who's aware that the freemium model is the future but hates the experiences to be found there, "come talk to us," Buttler says. "We want to enable risk-taking again." If you look at the Trion logo, there's always been a door in the "I". "But now," the company founder says, "we're starting to open it and see what's on the other side."