By James Brightman October 06, 2011
Trion Worlds is gearing up to launch a new consumer platform and a full-scale development and publishing platform, currently under the codename Red Door (which is the “I” in Trion’s logo, not coincidentally). Trion from its early days, before they ever shipped a game, was all about changing the industry with server-side technology.
The goal of Red Door isn’t to simply showcase Trion’s own games like Rift and End of Nations, but it’s to encourage third parties to sign on to create “premium games for the connected era.” As Trion explains in its press release, “Red Door for the industry will allow developers and publishers to create experiences never before possible. The platform will enable third parties to build and run games as services with fast real-time updates and versatile monetization models. Red Door will provide a sophisticated server architecture and proprietary toolsets that will radically speed up the time-to-market for developers who want to create the next generation of premium games for connected devices.”
Although the server-side technology might lead you to think about cloud gaming, that’s not what this is about. That said, Dr. Lars Buttler, CEO of Trion Worlds, told IndustryGamers during an interview in New York City that his company does have that capability and could flip the switch if they felt confident in the broadband infrastructure in the U.S. and other parts of the world. Nevertheless, Trion isn’t looking to compete with OnLive or Steam or become a digital downloads portal of any sort.
“I think we are fundamentally something new and innovate way beyond this,” Buttler told us in response to the Steam or OnLive comparisons. “We talk about games as a service and not just by putting several packaged goods games next to each other, but by creating each game as a service, as a live, evolving experience. So it’s not a download business. We’re not talking about innovation just in distribution, but we talk about innovation in the content itself, the monetization of the content, and the distribution. So we are much more far reaching and disruptive than the traditional platforms and I think it’s much harder for traditional players to go that far and to be so disruptive because most of them are still rock solidly stuck in the old paradigm of packaged goods software.”
“This is about creating new content. Not aggregating old existing content,” he continued. “Our platform is basically saying, ‘Games need to be live worlds,’ not ‘Games need to be streamed,’ or ‘Games need to be downloaded.’ If you look at casual games, five years ago, you had downloadable games on Yahoo. You paid up front, you played, and the game did not change. That was not a revolution in casual games. The revolution in casual games came when the content and the monetization became live, ongoing over time. That’s what we talk about, right? All these traditional platforms that are out there now, every one you mentioned, is about taking old content and distributing it a new way, just like Yahoo downloadable games.”
“Ours is enabling new content, live worlds. And that’s why we’re so excited about it, because we think that just offering new distribution channels doesn’t help you with the fundamental problem that your games have matured. The business model has broken and your creativity is stifled. Then, instead of building packaged goods software, no matter how you distribute, you should build live services. Learn from the audience, evolve around the player, get better all the time, and monetize constantly. And potentially monetize differently for each different player.”
Buttler told us that the technology was always promising, but the company needed to “have its Halo” to prove how well it works. With Rift, Trion may have done just that. Rift, which has sold more than a million units in under four months as a subscription MMO in a fantasy realm (WoW‘s territory), works as a constantly evolving live, dynamic service. There have been five major updates in six months, and the game is just the “tip of the iceberg” in demonstrating the potential of Trion’s technology and what Red Door could offer, said Buttler.
Trion is also getting ready to launch free-to-play strategy title End of Nations, developed as a second party game with Petroglyph, which “showcases the ability to take any genre to massive online scale and to offer versatile monetization methods.” The third major project in development is Defiance, a “true transmedia” co-development project with Syfy.
Red Door could be disruptive as Trion says it will be, but that doesn’t matter if publishers don’t believe in Trion’s vision and create games to uniquely leverage the platform. Buttler doesn’t see this as a problem.
“They have to believe that a large percentage of gaming, even premium games, will be online and live. And I have not met anyone who doesn’t believe that today,” he responded. “People might argue about the speed of the transformation, they might argue whether there is still room for packaged goods software or not, but I have not met anyone who would doubt that the future of premium games has to be online and has to be live service, because it is so much superior. You get rid of piracy. You get rid of used markets. You unleash creativity. You make the product better all the time, and you shift your risk and reward profile from all up front to as you go. You build a lot of your capabilities with direct feedback from your audience. In our case, not just feedback. You measure everything, because the entire world is a database, so the only thing is this has to get into development schedules, people have to decide to be very proactive moving forward.”
Trion has not officially set a date to launch Red Door, but Buttler did tell us that internally they’re looking to launch next spring. Trion will be very selective for who they’re targeting to support the service. “We’re talking to a few of the most amazing companies out there when it comes to development and IP and we will disclose more over time,” he said. “We’re going to be very selective initially. It is not going to be completely open. It is going to be triple-A focused. We, over time, are slowly and certainly opening it up more. So first it’s going to be a few, highly selective projects that we think will, again, broaden this in all kinds of new dimensions.”
Trion so far has been focused on the PC, but because the technology is server-side, the company can begin to look at leveraging smartphones and tablets at some point as well.
“We think that any connected device is the perfect window into our live worlds,” Buttler noted. “Our games, we showed at E3 how seamlessly you can go from PC to console to laptop, because the game is a live world in our platform architecture, so you can already expose, easily, certain game mechanics, certain features of that live world to smaller devices, a different compact world. And when tablets become true mass market, we can expose many more game mechanics. Maybe it even becomes the lead platform that you optimize for. And we are incredibly excited about ever more broadband and ever more connected devices with good rendering capabilities.”
IndustryGamers definitely sees the potential in a service like Red Door, and Trion as a company certainly has backing – the firm’s already generated $100 million in funding. Analysts seem bullish too.
“When I first met with Lars five years ago, he talked about building a next generation platform technology that shifted more processing, distribution and control functions to the server. He wanted to out-perform existing MMOs, to upgrade the experience with AAA console quality, and Trion’s games reflect that quality. Rift’s looks and performance lead the category because the tech is more than just an engine, it’s a platform with advanced architecture that moves persistent world gaming forward. If publishers and developers can apply Trion’s platform to evolved design and create online games that can realize MMOs’ untapped potential, Red Door will be successful,” M2 Research analyst Billy Pidgeon told us. “Like any authoring tools, it shouldn’t be used to cut corners or to save a doomed project. There are no shortcuts to quality and no technology, however advanced, is going to transform a mediocre game into one worth playing.”