â??If you want to topple Blizzard, avoid shortcutsâ??

â??If you want to topple Blizzard, avoid shortcutsâ??

By Rob Crossley

September 27th 2010 at 11:56AM

Ambitious MMO firm Trion admits its heavily VC-funded business will not give investors quick returns

Trion CEO Lars Buttler says building a World Of Warcraft rival in five years is actually “pretty quick” – because invading Blizzard’s territory is a suicide mission unless your assault is painstakingly prepared.

That’s why Trion, an MMO publisher armed with $100 million in external funding, has yet to release its debut title, Rift.

Buttler said the game is “on the home stretch” and due for release in 2011, but insists Trion will not compromise quality in favour of a quick release.

“We always resisted any attempt to come out with something that wasn’t triple-A,” he said in a new interview with Develop.

“We had this discussion from the very first day. With the first investment we ever got we were asked, can’t you do it faster? Sooner? We basically said, look, we have to build a completely new technology base, we have to build at least one studio, a publishing organisation along with great product.”

Buttler claimed the server technology behind Rift is particularly advanced, likening its sophistication to Sony’s Cell processor. That technology alone took two years to build.

“World Of Warcraft took seven years to make, and here we are after five years – in a time when we had to build a technology platform and business – we actually think what we’re doing is pretty quick,” he said.

But not too quick. Buttler insists that other companies’ rush to capture the Blizzard crown is key to the reason why so many have failed.

“If you have a small clone of World Of Warcraft, that’s not very polished, that has no differentiation, and is a smaller game, why would people switch? It’s hard for me to understand even the thinking behind that. You cannot just simply make a World Of Warcraft clone,” he said.

“In my mind you need to have a clearly differentiated product. It has to be complete, it has to be polished. People have to love it. If you don’t have those ingredients – whether it’s in game or even consumer electronics, you cannot expect success.

“Unless you have the right technology platform for a dynamic world, and you have the best quality talent, and a tight relationship where everyone likes each other from day one, you can’t really pull this off.”

Trion is in a unique position. It has managed to raise, we’re told at the very least, $100 million in external funding. For building an MMO, such a level of investment will demand a lot of subscription payments in return. Yet Trion, which is overseeing three separate projects, has yet to release anything to market.

“I agree with you that what we have so far is extremely unconventional,” Buttler said. “We have been able to raise so much money from VCs, from three of the world’s top five media companies, [and] from big hedge funds.”

He admitted that what Trion’s investors “are clearly not getting is a quick pay back. From the first investment to the first launch, the period is roughly five years. [But] if we get the traction we expect, then the potential pay-back is huge.”

“It’s not about selling a lot of boxes and maybe not having too much of a long-term traction, it’s about having a world that is completely alive. A world that is completely different every time you log on, where invasions in game actually have a lasting change on the world. Where the world evolves,” he said.

“Many other companies may have revenue sooner, but they still kept consuming additional capital, and there’s many Silicon Valley companies that spent at least ten years or more until they reached the scale and the return level that the VCs were expecting.”

Buttler does have options if Rift fails to satisfy investor demands, though he said the most obvious opportunity is not being considered.

“We never had the approach with this to sell the technology, or sell the workforce, for a quick buck. It was all about making super high-quality product with the best game teams and technology.”

Trion’s full interview with Develop is available now.