Funcom's Craig Morrison • Page 3

Age of Conan - one year later.  

That's all coming in the next patch - but first, there are a few problems with this patch to be ironed out. For a start, there's a clamour being raised on the game's forums at the moment over class balance - with casters, it seems, having being favoured a bit too much by the recent changes, and melee classes in uproar. It's a concern, given the game's heavy focus on its innovative melee system.

"We haven't got it quite right, on that specific issue," Morrison admits. "Some of it is inherent, because the spell using classes in our game don't use the combo system. It is inherently easier - well, maybe easier isn't the right word, but it's more forgiving to play a spell-using class in Conan than it is a melee class. Once an experienced player is at the controls of those classes, the way we would like it is that there wouldn't be that much difference between the two. Right now it's not quite right."

"We don't expect to get something so complex completely right straight out of the gate," he says, somewhat apologetically. "We knew that we would have to do some updates, and we certainly will have to make some adjustments to the relative power between the spell users and the melee users. The players' comments are fair. We know that that's an area that we need to work on over the next couple of weeks - the guys are already working on it."

On the scale of the problems Morrison has had to deal with since taking over Age of Conan, however, this is a minnow. It's very telling that itemisation is only being fixed now, having been noted as a problem right from day one - but although that fix took a long time (largely because it's such a fundamental part of the game), Morrison reckons that the team is near the end of the to-do list from launch.

New zones like Ymir's Pass and Xibaluku have given players lots more content to try out. There's more on the way, Morrison says.

"We're getting very close," he says. "We're now in the region of adding features that weren't necessarily missed from launch. I think the other stuff we've addressed - the PVP systems that didn't make it for launch, we added those. The content gap that people identified, where there wasn't enough content at certain level ranges, that's exactly where we targeted the content over the last year, to fill those gaps.

"The performance and the stability of the client was an issue early on, and that was one of the first priorities that we had. We improved that to make sure that people could play the game smoothly and that there were no memory leaks - we resolved that. The itemisation and the statistics were the last of those major feedback results that we had from the launch. That was the last of the major ones that we had to address, because that was obviously a little bit more complex and took a little bit more time."

Still, the game faces an uphill struggle to win back the faith of MMOG players - and Morrison knows it. "You've got to be pragmatic and honest," he says. "When a game goes through a period like ours did, when there were issues with retention of players... Well, obviously the sales figures for the game are widely available and there aren't that number of subscribers still playing the game.

Some of Conan's content is still exclusively for groups - even high-level players can't solo it. That's deliberate, and won't be changing.

"There are players whose only impression of Conan is the time they spent in May, June and July last year, when there were more significant problems for them to play through. I don't blame anybody for feeling burnt. They invested money in a game, they buy it retail, they pay a subscription fee - and if they don't like it, or there are technical issues that stop them from playing... I think we shouldn't kid ourselves and say oh, well, they're just internet trolls. Those people had very valid points, and that's why we spent the last year working hard, addressing those issues.

"All we can do is keep working hard, and keep focusing on hopefully the right things. Hopefully we'll start to see that our players appreciate it. In the MMO genre, that word of mouth is everything. It's the experience that a player has in a game, so that when his friend says, 'Age of Conan? I'm not touching that again!', someone who's playing it responds and says, 'Actually, they've improved it quite a bit and I'm having fun with it now'. Any amount of me talking to you or doing other press interviews, or advertising the game, can't beat that kind of feedback from players."

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Rob Fahey

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