MechWarrior Online Interviews: Russ Bullock

It's the second of our MechWarrior Online interview miniseries! Today we spoke with Piranha Games' President Russ Bullock!

In this five-part miniseries, we sat down with the developers behind the highly anticipated MechWarrior Online to talk about everything you want to know about this upcoming action title. Be sure to check out our previous interviews in the series:

If there's one thing that's consistently impressed me about MechWarrior Online so far, it's just how much information Piranha Games has been throwing out in their developer blogs and community Q&As. That said, there's just nothing quite like getting one key member of the Piranha Games team to sit down for an interview, and we've done just that, but with five different members of the Piranha Games crew! This marks the second interview of our MechWarrior Online Interview miniseries, and up today is... the President of Piranha Games himself, Russ Bullock!

ZAM: Up next in our MechWarrior Online developer interviews is none other than the President of Piranha Games himself, Russ Bullock! Thanks for answering a few of our questions on MechWarrior Online!

Russ Bullock: No problem at all, thanks for your interest in our product.

ZAM: The first MWO Community Q&A mentioned that MechWarrior Online had a "fairly lengthy pre-production cycle" going into it. Has the idea of a MechWarrior MMO been brewing in the conception stages for some time?

Russ: I think that is one of those Yes and No answers. On the MWO website there is a great blog called Dev Blog 0. It is a must read for anyone who is looking for answers as to how things evolved over the past several years. In short, when I first contacted Jordan Weisman over 3.5 years ago, he discussed a concept called MechWarrior Massive which in some ways can be considered similar to MWO. At that time, Piranha wasn't in the same mind set yet and was focused for a couple of years on getting a PC/Xbox 360 product developed.

Over those years lots of resources, both financial and creative, went into MechWarrior and considering what features a modern game should contain. Eventually we were led down a path where MWO was born and the vast majority of all those past efforts applied themselves perfectly to this new product. In a way, the pre-production process for MWO was several years long and because of that we're going to be able to release MWO in 2012 at the quality level we think this game deserves.

ZAM: It seems the decision was made very early on to create MechWarrior Online as a free-to-play game. Were there any factors involved that influenced this decision, or was this your intention from the very beginning?

Russ: Once the idea of a Free to Play game was born, it only took a couple of weeks or a month at most until we were completely convinced that this was not only the very best direction to take MechWarrior in but that we should have been focusing on this direction all along. I think it is fair to say our decision was influenced by seeing high quality titles like League of Legends succeed in North America. The prior stigma in the minds of many, including our own, was that anything free to play had to be a simple, basic, and casual game. Once it became clear that we could create the title we wanted to create as a premium free to play product, we aggressively targeted that as our business model.

ZAM: One ongoing debate that has raged across MMO development circles is the argument of free-to-play microtransaction models versus subscription models, and how they affect quality expectations. For example, Namco-Bandai Partners' Senior VP Olivier Comte argued just recently that "free-to-play games can't be high quality." How does Piranha Games see the F2P microtransaction model as more beneficial to developing MWO?

Russ: I'm familiar with that particular quote and I could not disagree more.  A statement like that says to me that unless you can make a Call of Duty, Gears of War, or a Halo product, it should not be made. I think the free-to-play market is a direct result of the ever-shrinking amount of games that can achieve the budgets required by today's console market, and as a gamer I'm certainly happy the free-to-play market is emerging to combat this. Lately I have been busy playing games like World of Tanks and League of Legends while games like Skyrim, Call of Duty and Battlefield 3 have slipped on by. I make no claim that these free-to-play offerings are every bit as "Triple A" as those console offerings but they are great games and if it wasn't for the free-to-play model they simply would not exist today.

Don't MechWarrior fans deserve another product? Furthermore, MWO is being developed with some of the very best technology in the world by some of the most passionate and talented developers I've had the pleasure of knowing.  I think our players are going to experience something that makes them smile and keep playing for many years to come and that's my definition of "high quality".

ZAM: What are Piranha's big focuses with MechWarrior Online? Are you hoping to make a push onto the e-Sports scene? Will most of your concentration be on bolstering MWO's persistent world while creating new content? Or is it something else entirely? I'll accept an "all of the above" answer only if you give a good hint!

Russ: I think focuses and plans can and will change. For now I think our focus is on continuing to improve and bolster the product. The amount of content available in the MechWarrior Universe is quite staggering. For example, it's not many months after release that the Clans are due to show up and there is a little planet called Solaris VII that is pretty cool. In short, we have plenty of work to do and there will be plenty of content to keep our players busy for years and years to come. So in a way it's the ultimate dream come true for MechWarrior fans everywhere, they won't just consume a single player campaign and basic multiplayer product and be begging for the next game to come out sooner than 10 years this time.

ZAM: Creating an MMO when a solid MechWarrior title hasn't been released in some time can be difficult. Nostalgic players will always complain when things aren't like they used to be, even if those particular game mechanics are considered outdated or old-fashioned. Do you see this as your chance to reinvent MechWarrior in a modern day light, or are you hoping for MWO to be a bridge that connects the old and new?

Russ: Well, I myself can sometimes be that traditionalist that can be a little slow coming to realize that some things need to change and advance. Sometimes we talk with nostalgia about the past games but when we go back to play them, if we're honest with ourselves, we realize they don't hold us like they used to. As gamers we are now used to and require more to hold our attention. Overall, I think our team has a great balance that should bridge the old to the new. But not to worry, it will feel like a MechWarrior game through and through.

ZAM: We got into some deep questions with this interview, so we'll end on a lighter note: how does it feel to be working on such a well-respected franchise with roots that go back more than 25 years?

Russ: Hearing that question is one of those weekly and even daily reminders to me that I need to allow myself to enjoy this!  Honestly, day-to-day it's work, hard work, but I think every once in a while we realize how lucky we are to be working on this product. In the end, I think our attitude is that we will celebrate once we ship a great product and achieve our goals. So let's chat about that one later in the year when it's mission accomplished.

ZAM: And that's all for now! Thanks again for answering our questions!

Russ: Anytime. Hang in there MechWarrior fans!

Christopher "Pwyff" Tom, Editor-in-Chief.


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