GDC Visionaries: Part Two

Second part of a GDC Online interview with three industry veterans.

It was my distinct honor to interview three of the luminaries who will be speaking at GDC Online this year and this is the second part of that interview. The first part of the interview can be found here.

Gordon Walton has been involved in game development for 35 years. Currently the Vice President and Executive Producer for Playdom Austin, he has also been a lead contributor for companies including BioWare and Sony Online Entertainment. Included among the 230 games he has helped to launch are games such as Star Wars: The Old Republic, Star Wars: Galaxies, The Sims and Ultima Online.

Valarie Massey is an expert in community management direction and has worked on a variety of games for companies such as NCSoft and CCP. She helped build community management for EVE Online from the ground up and is currently the Director of Community Development at CLARA. Valerie is a passionate advocate for Get Well Gamers, a charity that provides video games to children’s hospitals. 

Dr. Ian Bogost is a founder of Persuasive Games LLC as well as an award-winning designer and media philosopher who holds the position of Professor of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He has written a number of books on the subject of games and is an influential voice in the industry.


A trend that is prevalent in the industry is the move away from subscription revenue models. Once the benchmark for quality MMOs, many games are ceasing the pursuit of a monthly subscriber base – SWTOR, DDO, Guild Wars 2 and PlanetSide 2 being just a few examples – I asked about the perception of free to play in the industry. Ian explained that the term isn’t completely self-explanatory, “What people will realize is that F2P isn’t really free, you pay in one way or another, we pay with attention or data or advertising.”

Bogost explained the growing pains that are occurring with the new approach to revenue being sought after by the industry: “We’re seeing in the trouble in the social gaming space like Facebook and its stock performance and other social media companies having difficulty, there’s certainly a sense that questions are starting to emerge, like is this really working? A lot of that industry is built on future rewards and it’s not clear whether or not those kinds will continue, but meanwhile the players are completely acclimated to the idea that they won’t have and they won’t pay for content and it’s not the same for music or media of any kind. The cost of access continues to increase.”

Having the wealth of experience that she has in the industry, Massey has had one of the best seat’s in the house to see the rapid shift, “I was at NCSoft when City of Heroes and Lineage II launched, I had been working on Tabula Rasa and when that was pushed back I started working on Auto Assault and sometime during that period Guild Wars launched.

And I remember thinking “This is absolutely crazy, how are we going to make money off this? The idea of making money off a game that wasn’t subscription based?” 

“Everything else at NCSoft, all our money depended on these subscriptions and these guys were just going to have to buy a box and that was it and we would have to support it and provide community support and all that, I thought they were absolutely out of their tree! And of course what happened to Tabula Rasa, what happened to Auto Assault? I’m glad EVE was successful or I’d feel like a Jonah!” 

Massey concluded that the length of time for the current trend was indeterminable, but there are plenty of people in the industry with their fingers on the pulse, “Trends shift and businesses have to shift with them, it’s not exclusive to the game industry, subscription is on the way out and F2P is on the way in, it could last another 10 years before someone comes up with a better idea. That’s one of the great things in our industry is how people adapt to it. They are really smart about this business stuff and they see it coming around the corner and jump on it faster than people like me know what’s coming.”

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