It is the dream of many players to work on, in some aspect, their favorite MMO. Whether it was world building, item creation, or class balance, we have thought that if we were in charge, the game could become “perfect.” What if that dream can come true? In recent years, many games have hired former players to become developers. Craig “Silirrion” Morrison is a player turned Game Director for Funcom’s Science-Fiction MMORPG, Anarchy Online. As a long time player of Anarchy Online I was very interested in finding out more about Craig, as well as his thoughts on being Game Director. Craig was very happy to answer a few questions for MMOCrunch:
Can you state your name and current job title?
My name is Craig Morrison and I am currently the Game Director and Producer for Anarchy Online.
Can you state any other positions you have held at Funcom?
Prior to becoming the Game Director I was the company’s Community Manager.
What brought you into gaming? What brought you to Anarchy Online?
That’s a tough one, I’ve been gaming since I was about six years old and my father bought us a BBC Micro home computer and I first discovered Asteroids! I don’t think I ever stopped being a gamer. In the 90s I got into MMO games, starting with Meridian 59 before moving onto Ultima Online and Everquest. It was while playing Everquest that a guild mate showed me Anarchy Online during the beta period and since then I have been hooked on Rubi-Ka!
In terms of getting into the industry it was really a series of very fortunate accidents to be honest. I first threw up some help pages for Anarchy Online onto my personal website to help some other EQ guildies get into the game. From there it somehow turned into a fully-fledged fan-site I updated every week, almost without me realizing I was doing so! It was really the support and encouragement from the community at the original fan sites like AO-Basher and the AO-Vault forums that helped me expand into actually running a fan-site too. Then I was hired on a freelance basis (as I had what most would call a ‘proper job’ at the time working in the newspaper industry in the UK) by IGN to run their AO Vault fan site and so it became a daily thing for me. Then being part of IGN I got to meet, interview and get to know some of the folk at Funcom and go to things like E3 and eventually through those connections I was offered the Community Manager’s position when it became available. There definitely wasn’t a magical career path I had plotted for myself and I still look back and am very thankful that things turned out the way they did!
Do you still play Anarchy Online? Do you play any other games?
I still play AO as often as I can, it is very important to keep in touch with the player base and experience the game we spent our time creating from their point of view as well. I don’t get to play as much as I did as a fan, but I still make sure I find the time to spend time on Rubi-Ka!
I think I have played most western MMO games and a good deal of the eastern ones as well! Now through professional curiosity but I have always loved the genre and it’s always interesting to see what other people are doing. So I still pick up all the new releases as they appear.
What was it like to go from player, to community contributor, to Funcom employee and then to Game Director?
Easier then you might think! The first transition was actually not all that hard, as Community Manager you are representing players in many ways, so that felt quite natural going from playing to providing the feedback on that. As I got more involved in the production side of the game, and then to Game Director I think the biggest (and scariest) change is when it first dawns on you that people aren’t just asking for your opinion anymore but are asking you to make the decision! I’m very lucky though that we have a fantastic team working on the game and they really make my job in that regard pretty easy. It definitely takes a little getting used to though!
How do you react to some players who may feel that certain classes are still unbalanced, particularly in regards to PVP?
There will always be opinions about balance. That’s inherent in any situation with such a diverse selection of gamers, game-styles and preferences. So we expect there to be disagreements (all the designers don’t always agree, let alone tens of thousands of players!). With PVP in particular the systems in AO are deep and complex, which is the beauty of the game, it is also however a fact that means that there will always be some inherent ‘imbalances’ in the system. Therefore it’s a constant task to nudge, adjust and otherwise meddle with things to try and bring improvements.
How do you react to some players who may feel that certain classes receive unwarranted buffs while others do not receive any?
I don’t think we would ever put anything in that we considered ‘unwarranted’. Of course the players might always have a different opinion! We do realize that when other professions (who did need it) get some attention, that others (who don’t so much) feel left out. It’s one of those pesky tricky balancing acts we have to get right when we do professional changes. At the end of the day sometimes you do have to consider some updates or changes for a given profession on the basis that they haven’t had one in some time. As with the PVP question in a game as complex as Anarchy Online this is an area that’s never easy, and we won’t get it right 100% every time, but an area that we would never make changes too that we didn’t think would have some overall benefit.
Being a former player, how do you separate your want to please players, yet still retain the responsibility of Game Director?
I think deep down we always want to please people! After all we are making these games to provide entertainment for people. Yes, it’s a business too, but if people aren’t having fun with your game, they won’t keep playing it. We do have to do so responsibly though, in particular with virtual worlds like Rubi-Ka and we always have to consider the implications of the changes we make. It’s not always an easy balance but it’s an important one and something that is at the core of all the decisions we have to make, so whether we want to or not, that responsibility is forced on us. I wouldn’t have it any other way either!
What do you feel has been your most successful addition to Anarchy Online?
Personally I love the recent Dust Brigade team instance. I was very happy with the balance we managed to get there between challenge, reward and fun. I think it’s re-playable in a good way with a decent return for the player’s time.
What do you feel has been your least successful and how have you learned from it?
I try to avoid thinking in negative terms too much, but there are definitely things we learn from all the content we put in. I’d certainly like to think nothing has been totally ‘unsuccessful’ so far! What is true is that we have definitely learned how to do things better as we go along. I think the experience in the Alappaa team instance was better then that in Albtraum (which was the first team instance we ever made) for example, and the Dust Brigade instance better again as we moved along with learning how to integrate the team instancing technology better and get the game-play and the rewards balanced better. It’s always a learning curve.
Any advice for other players looking to get into MMO game development?
Get involved in the communities around the game, and never presume that things are as easy as they sometimes might seem from the outside! It’s not a guarantee that you might one day land a job, but it’s certainly not a bad start! Also always try to be objective in your views on the game and look beyond your own personal preferences. The key to being able to understand and work on MMO games, is understanding all the different play-styles and how they interact. Always remember that the designers of your favorite game made any given change for a reason, even if you don’t understand it (or worse really hate it!) try and think about it and why that change might have been done. Looking at these games in that way will generally give you a much better idea of the concepts involved. I think that’s what any company making an MMO are looking for most when they interview for design positions – someone who understands the dynamics within the gameplay of a virtual world.
If you are artist then just keep producing and practicing! Your portfolio is really what you will succeed or fail by.
What do you feel you bring to Anarchy Online that the previous Game Directors did not?
I think that’s a hard one and probably something you should ask the players rather then me. I think everyone who heads a creative process brings something to the table and it’s very different for each person. The main thing I have tried to focus on is providing the players with new content and asking the design to team always keep one question in their minds – ‘will this be fun?’ I think that’s the most important thing I try and maintain.
Is Omni-Tek your friend?
Now that would be telling! In all seriousness it’s a not so well hidden secret that the majority of my characters were Clan and as a player I was in Clan organizations, so purely in that context I guess Omni-Tek would not consider me a friend!
I would like to thank Craig for his time in answering these questions. As a player, I feel his passion for the game has given Anarchy Online a fresh breath of air. From implementing player suggestions to bringing in new and challenging content, the game has changed quite a bit since he has become Game Director, with many more improvements on the way.