Jeff Strain and Undead Labs

In a flurry of press activity, a new MMO studio was unveiled today by ex-Blizzard, ex-ArenaNet MMO-guru Jeff Strain.  Undead Labs is set to be a very focused developer.  Focused on what, you say?  Zombies.  Consoles.  MMO.  Jeff believes he can help lead an MMO studio with a very tight game-making culture.  This won’t be a “behemoth” company churning out franchise MMOs.  This is going to be a company that carves an MMO from those three simple words for those three simple words.  (Well not for zombies; though, after a 6-hour raid… nevermind.)  There are a bunch of good interviews linked from the Undead Labs’ news page, but the best is found on the site covering rude questions that interviewers might ask.  For instance, Jeff Strain departs from his old view on MMO subscriptions:

Q: Will the game carry a subscription model like WoW, or will it be more like Guild Wars?

A: The game will almost certainly be subscription based. I’ve always said that a game should be designed around its business model, and Guild Wars is certainly designed to be a free-to-play online game. In fact, there are hundreds of free-to-play online games on the market today, but some publishers are increasingly relying on micro-transactions, in-game advertising, “premium” accounts, or, at worst, lead-gen scams to generate more profit. I don’t like this nickel-and-dime approach, because it leads to design decisions that are based on something other than what’s most fun for the players. We want to focus on making an MMOZ that is, first and foremost, fun to play. Not a Skinner Box. Not a teaser for more stuff you can buy from us. Not an advertisement for stuff you can buy from someone else. Our singular design focus will be to create a game that is fun to play, and every month we’ll either earn you respect and your money, or we won’t.

–Ravious
i don’t hate vests

22 thoughts on “Jeff Strain and Undead Labs”

  1. As far as I’m concerned, subscriptions are designed to suck people into elaborate, addictive Skinner Boxes so as to make money because someone signed up for recurring fees and can’t be bothered to fight inertia. I guess we’ll see how his talk matches his walk. *shrug*

  2. F2P history has shown that he is right though, how many of those games are fun up to a point, and then either stop or slow down unless you start shelling out cash? Even the good ones like Atlantica are like that, and it’s sad to think just how much better a game like that would be if only it was $15 a month rather than designed around $2 XP pots.

  3. Sounds quite odd given his speech about MMOs 2-3 years ago at the Games Convention. So he now thinks niche MMOs are way to go?

  4. There’s a lot of problems to be solved in the road ahead for Undead Labs and it will be the consequences of these that will determine their game’s success. Not least of which is how the hell they intend to provide elegant and easy to use control of an MMO on a console. Watching this space, but not holding my breath.

  5. Not least of which is how the hell they intend to provide elegant and easy to use control of an MMO on a console.

    Nowhere did he say his game was an RPG but more importantly, didn’t say it’s a traditional DikuMMO with all the PC UI requirements of hotbars and tons of “clickies.” That crap won’t fly on a console from neither a technical perspective nor a player perspective.

    I’m unsure of the long-term viability of a zombie MMOG but he is smart in designing a console-only MMOG rather than attempting to downscale a PC MMORPG onto a console framework like Age of Conan and Champions Online claim to be doing.

    1. No where did I say it would be an RPG. Just basic functions of an MMO require an elegant solution. From the Undead Labs website:

      “We’re going to make a game designed for console gamers, by console gamers, with the action, streamlined interface, polish, and same-screen cooperative play that console gamers expect. Then add to this the vast virtual world, global in-game community, and fun social dynamics of the best MMOs, and it’s pretty much a no-brainer!”

      Those social dynamics will require a lot of work. Players need easy to use (or at least familiar) tools to allow them to build communities. I hope I’m proved wrong and they make something that breaks all records and expectations but for now I think they’ve bitten off a lot.

  6. Yes, please, let’s build a game centered on social dynamics and then make sure to put it in a platform where players can’t add anything of their own to it.

    I can already tell you the “social dynamics” of this: Different avatar pictures or models, gamer tags, achievements and voice chat. Long live the social.

    Good grief.

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