Interview with Mike Wallis, CEO of Colony Studios
May 28, 2007 21:24:30

The recently formed MMORPG studio Colony Studios has been kind enough to answer a few of the questions that are bound to be asked when a new high profile studio is born with the mission to build a triple-A title. Many thanks to Mike Wallis, CEO of Colony Studios, for taking the time to give us insight into the exciting venture he has undertaken.

VIRGINWORLDS: Let's get the basic questions out of the way first. What's the background of Colony Studios? Why did you choose to launch now? Who's involved and who is funding the company?

WALLIS: Colony Studios was formed in its currently state in late 2006 by a core group of experienced MMO developers. Our team has contributed to the successes of MMOs such as World of Warcraft, EVE Online, Dark Age of Camelot, Ultima Online, Everquest, and Lord of the Rings Online. We've all worked in some capacity with each other before, which has the benefit of eliminating uncertainty and minimizing risk. We're tired of having to work on games mandated by execs to be another "WoW clone", so we decided to set out on our own.

We chose to launch now because it's the right time. We have a solid, playable build, have an established production pipeline, and a great core team. Our group has come as far as it can with its current resources; therefore we are looking for a key investor or two to help us expand, as well as for a publisher to help market, promote, and distribute the game.

Currently our funding comes from a private angel funding group here in Reno who has been very supportive and guiding, but since we now expanding, we need to tap into larger funding resources than they are capable of providing.

VIRGINWORLDS: What type of game are you creating?

WALLIS: We are creating a space, sci-fi themed Massively Multiplayer Online game (MMO).

VIRGINWORLDS: Your press release said team has "more per capita experience working on hit MMO titles than any team of its size ever assembled." How do you figure?

WALLIS: In your podcast 67 on May 6th, you mentioned Colony Studios (thank you!). You specifically mentioned comparisons to other MMO developers whose teams have lots of experience, too. I wanted to address your comment that we're claiming "more experience than any other team ever assembled." Our exact press release wording was "...any team of its size ever assembled," and since our "size" is 10 people who have worked on 7 major MMOs, we believe the claim was valid. I didn't want anyone to think we're sitting in our Reno office boasting that our team is the most experienced ever formed group in all of MMO-dom . J

VIRGINWORLDS: With all the experienced guys on your team, doesn't that pose a danger of having too many "cooks"?

WALLIS: Yes, I recall that from your podcast, too. You also brought up an interesting concern about having "too many cooks" (referring to having a lot of really experienced people working on one title) and that might not being such a good thing, mentioning Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa team with a lot of experienced cooks, and the problems that may have caused them. Let's talk about this.

As occasionally happens when you bring in key people who have a lot of experience, along with those people come their egos. Sometimes, as is with human nature, egos can clash which can result in bickering, boasting, and someone's pride ultimately gets hurt. Our team has the benefit of all having worked with one another previously. Sure, for a few it might have been 5 or more years ago, but nevertheless we know one another. That intangible is huge in development! We know exactly what to expect, which lessens the overall risk and uncertainty. Whenever we can take an element of risk out of the equation, it increases our probability of success.

The core team, therefore, has all worked together before. We can now build off this moving forward, hiring both people who we've worked with as well as those we haven't, but perhaps who come recommended from friends or other industry contacts. We're looking for people with game industry experience, as well as those who have undying passion for MMO games.

Finally, our core team all shares the same vision of what the game will be. This makes for a nice foundation which we can build the product upon.

VIRGINWORLDS: You mention you're not going to create a "safe" MMO. Please explain.

WALLIS: In our opinion, a "safe" MMO is one where the solely relies on existing paradigms. This results in a controlled experience that players rely on when they log in thereby feeling "safe" that the game will be the same when they logged off. Also, we characterize a "safe" MMO as one that doesn't really challenge the player mentally (not many choices, little customization, strict "play nice" rule sets, etc.) and we think that challenges and choices are good things. Finally, we truly believe that there are more than enough MMOs out there that excel on the "safe" side and we don't want to compete with them apples to apples.

VIRGINWORLDS: Comparisons with WoW are inevitable. How will your game be similar to and different from WoW?

WALLIS: Our game doesn't share much similarity to WoW. Not that we think WoW isn't doing anything right, on the contrary, it nearly does everything right for the type of MMO it is. But since you asked, I would have to say that our game will share WoW's ease of use and intuitiveness with regards to game controls. When you play WoW everything just works, and more importantly, it works well. We plan to share that similarity.

As for what is different, we are a sci-fi game that emphasizes ship to ship combat so that right there makes us very different from WoW in all respects. Our progression scheme is different as well. We are not as concerned with "levels" and "loot" as we are ownership and community. Our players will feel as if they are part of an evolving story that they have an active part in, rather than reading the same text every other player in the game reads as they all share the same exact story give or take class differences.

VIRGINWORLDS: Based on your MMO experience, what will you do and not do with your project?

WALLIS: What we will do is define our game vision and create it. What we will not do is second guess ourselves. There are a lot of developers and players alike out there who say things like: "An MMO needs to be this way" or "You can't do that in an MMO because it just won't work." We tend to think in terms of whatever is best for this game will go into this game, with the added fact there will be a robust community of players who will be guiding us in our decisions.

VIRGINWORLDS: What is your view about releasing by a specific, firm date versus releasing when the game is ready?

WALLIS: We have no problem giving and adhering to a firm date. We have great technology and a staff of very talented people with tons of MMO development experience at all disciplines, so we like our chances that we get the game out the door when we say it will.

That said, however, there are plenty of factors outside our control that could invariably impact our release date. Such as, what if it takes longer to close funding than we anticipated? Or what if the publisher we sign with wants us to release during another quarter to boost its portfolio of products offered at that time? Those are just a few examples.

MMOs now-a-days cannot release without polished gameplay and stability. Just look at WoW and LOTRO vs. Vanguard. Vanguard wasn't a poorly designed game, it was just poorly released (buggy, insane computer spec requirements, lack of higher level content), while WoW and LOTRO were polished and comparatively bug-free.

VIRGINWORLDS: What made you choose the Hero engine? What other engines did you consider? Why not develop your own proprietary engine?

WALLIS: To develop our own engine would have easily added a year to the development cycle, not to mention dramatically increased our development risk and uncertainty. We did not have the luxury of massive funding at the beginning of the studio's establishment to be able to take that route. We wanted to see results quickly and our team wanted a tech that was powerful yet easy to understand. And that flows nicely into why we chose the Hero Engine.

Some other technologies we considered included BigWorld, Unreal, Multiverse, but each was trumped by the Hero Engine's overall package of features.

VIRGINWORLDS: What's you estimated release date?

WALLIS: As of right now we are looking at 2009. We will give a firm release date though by the end of this year. Thanks for giving Colony Studios the opportunity to talk with Virginworlds readers.


Stay up to date on Colony Studios by visiting:

Submitted by Brent on May 28, 2007 21:24:30 CST (comments: 2)


'Exciting stuff' by twistah
Submitted on 2007-05-29 03:11:43 CST
Finally a new sci-fi coming ! :)

Im wondering though, if a complete development environment like the Hero engine gives the developers the flexibility they need. To some extent the engine must dictate the way the game turn out - or am I wrong ?

'Flexibility' by Nezrak
Submitted on 2007-06-01 07:59:42 CST
Usually, the engine gives some flexibility. Since I don't know really the Hero engine, I can't speak for that one. But usually, the engine is just how you will show the skin and polygons, sometimes with physics. The physics can always be played with. So all the scripting to the actual game doesn't come from the engine.

Personally, I think using an already established engine is a really good thing. Less bug, less worries, and a lot of work already done. Why bother with all that except to say afterwards that you created the game all by yourself... and then, who cares? the consumer only want to play and have fun while enjoying nice graphics in an interactive world.

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