DC Universe Online, which launched in January for the PC and PS3, presented some unique development challenges. MMOs are notoriously difficult to create, but Sony Online Entertainment and Everquest veteran Chris Cao rose to the challenge. The game director of DC Universe Online talked to us about the game’s launch and what’s next.
G.M.: You launched DC Universe Online on multiple platforms simultaneously. It couldn’t have been easy to develop for PC and consoles at the same time. Are you happy with the way the debut went down?
Chris Cao: There were a few initial issues that resulted from being the first MMO on the PS3, but our service is solid, we’re adding new and diverse content to the game, and a whole new group of players was introduced to the next generation of MMOs. That’s good stuff.
G.M.: The launch was a long time coming. Your game has been known to exist since as far back as 2008. Was the long gestation a matter of not wanting to release until the game was perfect?
C.C.: Worlds take a long time to build. Add to that the fact that DC Universe Online is multiplatform, and you have an immense, complex game that deserves and requires a lot of attention. We have multiplayer physics. We have action gameplay. We have an enormous shared world. We have thousands of players playing together. That’s a lot of things -- a lot of game to make.
G.M.: How did you settle on the subscription model?
C.C.: Sony Online Entertainment has a lot of experience building and maintaining subscription-based games. Based on that experience, we went with our internal standard (which is also the industry standard). It’s still hard to beat the ratio of dollars to entertainment hours that an MMO gives you. DC Universe Online adds even more to that with its unique gameplay and setting.
G.M.: Working with a beloved license can be a tricky undertaking -- both the rights holders and fans have many expectations. What were the greatest challenges in this regard?
C.C.: We set out to make a super-powered game you could play with your friends for months. It was as simple as that. We believe that if you make a great game, you can find good ways to monetize it. Our focus, first and foremost, was on that DC, super-powered experience. We delivered on that and, along the way, brought a whole new kind of MMO and game to the industry.
G.M.: Based on your research, did you know whether your subscribers would be comic fans, MMO veterans or both? How did this change your approach to creating the game?
C.C.: We identified three basic audiences for the game: comic fans, action gamers, and MMO players. All three, however, want the same thing: to feel like a superhero. That, in turn, led us to our action combat system and the physics that supports it. We didn’t so much design for an audience as we did for an experience -- and the results are definitely super.
G.M.: Sony Online Entertainment has a long history as an innovator in the MMO space. What lessons were passed down from prior games that helped make DC Universe Online the game it is today?
C.C.: Listing out all of the lessons learned would be an imposing task in and of itself. From art to engineering to design, DC Universe Online is the result of a decade of online expertise. Add to that the console expertise that we brought to the Austin studio, and you have a formidable, flexible team that was able to bring the DC Universe Online to life.
G.M.: What kind of game do you expect DC Universe Online to be tomorrow? What are your plans for adding content and expanding to keep the game fresh for your most active players?
C.C.: We’re driven by playing our own game. That’s what informs our decisions, guides our direction, and inspires our ideas. The community isn’t a separate entity to us. We’re a part of it, whether that’s in the game, on the boards or in the press. The players, both devs and fans, are driving the evolution of DC Universe Online forward. And that’s resulting in better content, better combat, and tons more stuff to do.
Gus Mastrapa is a freelance writer from Apple Valley, Calif., with nearly 10 years of experience in the games industry. His work has appeared in Wired, Edge, Variety and countless online publications.