Ex-Blizzard, NCsoft veteran aims to transform MMOz

Ex-Blizzard, NCsoft veteran aims to transform MMOz

By Rob Crossley

November 23rd 2009 at 4:59PM

Jeff Strain opens new studio to create a zombie MMO for consoles only

Jeff Strain – the decorated MMO veteran who helped build franchises such as Guild Wars, StarCraft, Diablo and World of Warcraft – has opened a new studio with the intent to make a huge difference to the MMO genre.

Having left NCsoft last year, Strain has been busy assembling a new development studio out in Seattle.

Undead Labs, as the outfit is called, is aiming to introduce a spin-off genre in the world of MMOs – by adding in zombies.

“The reason that zombies are popular is because they fulfill a need in society,” Strain tells Develop.

“I almost feel like, as a society and in particular as a game culture, we need that unapologetic meat-puppet. We need the guilt-free meat puppets. And I think that’s the role zombies are filling right now.”

But Strain’s ambition to transform the MMO genre goes beyond throwing a few zombies into the mix.

The studio’s debut project – known as a massively multiplayer online zombie game, or MMOz – will be exclusive to consoles.

“Probably every single MMO developer out there, particularly over the past four years or so during this platform cycle, have been thinking about how to bring MMOs to the console,” says Strain in an interview with Develop.

But the industry veteran believes that MMO studios are reluctant to turn to consoles in fear of losing their PC user-base. So the ideal solution, they believe, is to build games for both PCs and consoles. So far they haven’t.

“One of the things that comes up all the time is how do we build one game for everyone; both PC players and console players combined,” he says.

“All console developers are thinking about this. I’ve been poking at the idea for many, many years as have many other MMO developers.

“The problem, of course, is that making a single game design that is equally appealing to both kinds of player – I mean it’s not impossible but it is inordinately difficult. And I am sceptical about how successful that’s going to be.”

Undead Labs is of course without that safety net of a PC user following. And though this will add to the risk, it also gives Strain freedom to try something completely new.

“Really, for me the exciting new frontier is asking, what would an MMO just for console gamers play like? In the same way that Bungie and Rare went out and made FPSes for consoles.

“It’s again this notion that, if you already have MMOs on the market, and you’ve already got millions of players, it’s going to be difficult to convince people to shift to consoles, and so developers feel that they only can make console MMOs if they hybridize the two.”

More details of Undead Labs’ first experiment with the MMO genre will be revealed soon.

Part one of Develop’s interview with Strain can be found here.