Bill Money of Iron Will Games: Part Two
Going forward, Iron Will Games is planning for a bright future with current and upcoming projects
In a multi-billion dollar industry, it’s hard to believe that independent companies are becoming as popular, or more popular, than the “big-budget” companies. Not only are the independent companies and games growing in popularity, but the quality of some titles from these companies are matching and surpassing their larger brethren. Though in most cases, the larger companies have more resources and employees to build a visually stunning, rich game play, and just an overall quality title; however, the independent companies, with smaller amounts of resources and employees, are on their heels, steep for step.
The opinions of gamers are the ones that will determine the success, or popularity, of any title. There are some looking for a visually stunning game, a good in-depth story, an easy to learn interface, smooth game play, or a combination of all. The point is, in today’s world, the individual gamer can now find these type of games, from any genre, developed and/or produced by “big-budget” companies, and independent companies. It is also apparent that the larger companies are seeing this trend, and have enlisted some assistance from independent developers on their titles.
On Friday, Bill Money, co-founder of independent company Iron Will Games, shared with us his longtime background in the gaming industry, as well as, insight into his company’s title, Ashen Empires. Today, Money shares his opinions on the title, the gaming industry, and upcoming plans for Iron Will Games. Will this be the final year for any development on Ashen Empires? Find out what Money has to say about that, and more.
OMGN: One of the major changes to Ashen Empires since Iron Will Games took over is the free to play world. What was the thought process in making the decision to create this access? Do you believe this has helped or hurt the business of the game in anyway?
Bill Money: Users can play for free on an island called Valinor. Overall level is capped at level 10 and skill levels are capped at level 15. All skills, combat or trade, are available to the free-play player. To us it was the smart move to make. We want to take the risk out of trying the game away from the user. We are confident that once a user gives the game a bit of time they will come back for more.
OMGN: What makes Ashen Empires standout from other’s in its genre?
Bill Money: The PvP feature and alignment system to me really makes the game stand out. Players can engage in player killing but there are consequences. Having a poor alignment or becoming a criminal has a cost. For example, if a criminal player is killed he has more of a chance to drop an item he is wearing for another player to loot.
OMGN: What, if any, new additions to Ashen Empires can current, or future players look forward to?
Bill Money: We are almost ready to roll out our Chaos Server. The Chaos Server will feature full on PVP with permanent death in an accelerated experience gain environment. That means if you die so many times you will be out of the server competition. At the end of the period of Chaos (30-45 days), the players with the best 'score' will be eligible to win prizes.
OMGN: How much potential does Ashen Empires have for the future? Could this be the last year to see any major updates or expansion to the game?
Bill Money: We think Ashen Empires has quite a long life ahead of it. As long as there is a user base we plan to support and update the game.
OMGN: December 2005 was the one year mark since Iron Will Games announced its acquisition of Ashen Empire from TKO Software. What was the first year like for you?
Bill Money: Hectic. We all worked very hard to make this happen. The game itself has change dramatically. Just looking at our game editor, you can see the amount of content we've added since we took over the game. The number of items, creatures, spells, quests has just exploded.
"Anything that you could think could go wrong has gone wrong."
OMGN: What were some of the obstacles experienced during the past year in terms of development on Ashen Empires?
Bill Money: Anything that you could think could go wrong has gone wrong. From having three hard drives fail in one week, to having or primary internet connection cut by roofers, and having our air conditioner knocked out in a massive hail storm in the middle of the summer, we've seen almost everything in this first year. Part of the 'fun' of running this company has been dealing with all these obstacles and still keeping things going.
OMGN: What has been one of the most memorable experiences in working on Ashen Empires?
Bill Money: The most memorable for me was when we first turned on our payment system. We really didn't know what to expect (if anyone was going to pay). Doug had a “cah-ching” sound set up to play each time a payment was taken and it was a huge relief when we first heard that sound.
OMGN: There are always features developers wish could be added to their respective game, but due to lack of resources, or conflict with existing features, those desires are left out. Is there anything you would have liked to see within the game that’s not already, or couldn’t be because of circumstances?
Bill Money: Part of the great thing about owning your own company, and MMO, is we have the ability to change it ourselves. So if there is something we really want in the game there is nothing stopping us from adding it. Usually if a great idea is in front of us we will just tackle the problem head on. For example, in our last update we added the ability for our GM’s to take over and control creatures and even to speak through the voice of the creature. The player’s have loved it so far.
OMGN: What we’re some of the goals set by the IWG staff once acquiring Ashen Empires as it relates to the game?
Bill Money: We wanted to have a game that we were happy with as both players and developers and to build a client-server technology that would work through out several more game cycles. We spend lots of time and energy re-engineering our backend systems to make them robust enough to carry us through this decade with multiple products.
OMGN: Why couldn’t TKO Software go forwarded in continuing with Ashen Empires?
Bill Money: TKO was never committed to doing PC gaming. They wanted to take the Ashen Empires IP into the wireless market. When confronted with the costs and effort of doing an MMO on a new and unproven platform (mobile phones) they realized they were in over their heads.
OMGN: Ashen Empires aside, what is IWG working on, or planning for, in the foreseeable future?
Bill Money: We have two new games in the works for 2006-2007. I can't say too much about them yet.
OMGN: With the mention of the future titles IWG will be working on, can you give us a date when there could be an announcement on these?
Bill Money: We will be announcing our next title around the time of, or at, the E3 trade show (May).
OMGN: Any insight you’re willing to share with the future IWG and projects?
Bill Money: We are here to stay in the MMO market. We are planning our business around being the leader in 'niche' MMOs. We want to provide a variety of game types that are hopefully a different experience from the 'big guys'. We want out community involved in the development as well. Keeping a tight focus will allow that to happen. We are currently working with another group of fantastic developers who are creating a very slick 3D package that our third game will be based on.
OMGN: Iron Will Games is an independent gaming company funding its on development and publishing. Do you feel limited in anyway when it comes to making games as an independent company?
Bill Money: Sure. When I drink a coke out of our supply it is coming out of my pocket, not some mysterious budget controlled by someone else. We simply can't throw 50 artists to a problem and have it get solved. We have to do things in a much smaller scope. That doesn't mean we can't do great things, we just have to be very smart about how we use our limited resources.
OMGN: Do you think independent companies are more in touch with the individual gamer than the “big-budget” companies?
Bill Money: Most definitely. I talk with our users seven days a week. From personal experience, I know the "execs" working at bigger game companies don’t have the time or reason to do that.
"Can you imagine if someone today proposed a game like Joust? You would have a bunch of 'execs' laughing you out of the board room."
OMGN: Though the gaming business as a whole is larger than it’s ever been before, what do you think is one of the major things that the business as a whole has failed to deliver, in today‘s world, to the gamers?
Bill Money: Overall the game industry is not providing enough variation of content. The industry has mostly stagnated as far as originality is concerned. We've become more followers of trends than originators of new ideas. A reason for this is as the industry has grown, more and more people have become involved in its management that are not gamers and only understand the bottom line. Following the bottom line usually ends up with a copy-cat mentality. For example, if company “A” comes out with a first person shooter based on WWII, then the management of company “B” thinks they need to follow suit.
Back when video games first were being produced the emphasis was on a fun game mechanic not the bottom line. When I think of the time I spent in arcades playing games like Robotron, Defender, PacMac and Joust it's depressing to see that every arcade game these days is either a gun game or a racing game. Can you imagine if someone today proposed a game like Joust? You would have a bunch of “execs” laughing you out of the board room.
Computer games have suffered the same fate. I doubt if we will see games like Ultima, Wing Commander, MULE, Stellar 7 or Star Control ever hit the production pipe again - at least from major publishers.
OMGN: The Asian developers and gaming companies have had a strangle-hold for the most part on the gaming business, particular independent online gaming. Do you think the American, or even European, companies can generate the same popularity and enthusiasm as the Asians?
Bill Money: Sure. The internet breaks down most boundaries. A great game will be able to get market-share in whatever country. There are 1.5 billion people in China and over a billion in India. Those countries are both emerging technologically.
I was talking with a player from Brazil this morning about how the cost of AE each month translates into the number of beers he can buy with his currency. Independents just need to create products that can get large numbers of people excited and deliver it to them for a cost they can afford. A customer in Latvia is just as important to us as a customer in the heartland of the US.
OMGN: What is your opinion on the current state of MMORPGs? Are MMORPGs keeping up with the new technology out there?
Bill Money: I think technology isn't the key factor of MMO's. After all, the renderer behind World of Warcraft can hardly be called state of the art. WoW, however, is the most successful MMO out there right now because of its great franchise, polish, cohesive look and ease of entry. MMO's overall are still trying to copy the success of Ultima Online and EverQuest. We have made some small advances, but not the progress I was hoping for.
OMGN: What do you believe is the last major game to transcend the MMORPG genre, and why?
Bill Money: Of course WoW would be the answer. You hear people talking about it on airplanes and in bars. Even the non-geeks are into it. Leroy Jenkins was even a question on Jeopardy. It's kind of scary. The Warcraft brand of course is fantastic and the product itself is extremely polished, but at its heart it is basically EverQuest v1.1.
OMGN: One of the biggest complaints about all MMORPGs is that they’re the same game once you strip the graphics and title. How close do you think that perception is too accurate, and is there anything you think can revolutionize the genre?
Bill Money: Get kill X bats, then kill y snakes go back to town, sell stuff then get new quest to kill Z spiders. Repeat 50 times until you level up. Repeat 1,000’s of times until you have maxed your level. When you level up you are 2% more powerful than before. Every MMO these days pretty much comes down to that, even Ashen Empires. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but there is a lot of room for innovation and growth. I think it will be the small guys, like us, who lead the way.
OMGN: Anything extra you’d like to say to, or share with, the OMGN.com readers?
Bill Money: Try out Ashen Empires. If you see something you like, or don't like, let us know. We do listen and we do adjust. See you online!