Bill Roper

Some days ago we have had the chance to get an interview with one of the most important men in the gaming-industry.Bill Roper is CEO at Flagship Studios, which was founded by him and eight friends last summer after leaving their former company Blizzard North.

In this interview Bill is talking about the importance of fansites to the developers, games that accidentially leaked to the internet, about atmosphere of computergames and, of course, also about their new game that will have "a dark edge", as he stated in this interview!

Community Work and Fansites are very important for the young company because this guaranteed and helped making the Diablo Series a worldwide success.

Also for the fist Flagship Project the online community will be a central base. How the game will be named is not known yet and we do also not know in which genre the game will be settled. But Bill and his friends are presently in negotiations with an interested publisher and that seems to be a good sign.

The german version of the interview can be found on page 91 to 96. To start off, we would like to know what you personally think about the importance of fansites. Do you think they can help to increase games sales and player-game-binding, resulting in dramatically boosted long-term motivation and longevity of the game?

Do you think games need those sites and its community to be able to remain successful after the initial release? If yes, please tell us why.

Bill Roper: Fansites are a huge part of not just building and maintaining a community of gamers, but also of staying in contact with the people who are out there playing your game every day. The quality and amount of feedback you get from a passionate community of gamers is invaluable, and we have been fortunate to have always had this with the games we have worked on in the past.

We look forward to maintaining those old relationships while also creating new ones. We've already had some great response and have some great, early sites listed in our Community section on our website.

I do think that fansites are a huge part of keeping the interest in the game alive long after it has released. These are the people who are still playing the game long after the mainstream press has stopped talking about it.

They are the ones tracking the changes in the play balance, discussing new strategies, delving into the intricacies of new areas and getting the word out about all the things that developers do to keep their games moving forward. Fansites also provide great places for fans of the game to share stories and strategies and really belong to a part of a global community. Regarding your new company, Flagship Studios, what are your plans for the upcoming first flagship-game in view of such a special interest and community site? Will you support one or more of those sites financially or even create one by your self?

Bill: We will, of course, have an entire section of our website dedicated to the game, including community forums.
We have already begun to work with people in setting up fansites, and in fact, we have released some exclusive concept art through some of those sites already. We want to foster great relationships with gamers where they live - which is pretty much where we are all the time, anyway. As stated above, only very few (nearly none, to be honest) publishers have recognized the signs of time and prefer to spend their money for expensive TV-Spots and stuff like that (always hitting everything but the target group) instead of paying a small fee to keep a good fansite alive. What do you personally think of these politics - and does your personal opinion differ from the one you have as a CEO of Flagship Studios?

Bill: You need to both, really, and things like TV spots were inevitable with the way that our industry has grown over the past 5-8 years. I think a lot of publishers and developers do try to maintain close ties with their community of gamers. We always did at Blizzard, EA has done an

exceptional job with supporting the Sims fan base, and there are others. I do think that it can be difficult to stay on top of it all, especially if you have an incredibly popular game that generates a diverse range of fans all around the world. I would like to see developers and publishers continue to find ways to help support fansites, such as exclusive content to help drive traffic to those pages. As you know, a lot of leaked versions of games are available through the internet presently, e.g. Half-Life2, STALKER, WorldofWarcraft Alpha etc. Do you think that this will handicap the process of development of those games heavily?.Do developers generally care about such situations?

Bill: Developers do care about leaks, and we take great pains to try and prevent them. This extra need for security, whether in the form of copy protection or added software and IT support to make it less likely that the game can/will be leaked during development. I would love to see greatly increased penalties and enforcement against piracy as thisdoesn't just hurt developers an publishers, but gamers as well. The added costs and loss in revenues that are the end result of piracy gets passed along to every gamer through increased prices for games - its just basic economics. And while it doesn't necessarily stop games from being made, It does hamper the process in numerous ways. Often one could imagine that leaked versions are infiltrated to the internet consciously to gain more PR for the game. Do you believe in something like that?

Bill: I don't. There are so many ways to get the news out about your game that "leaking" a version seems like an extremely poor and inefficient way to do it, especially when you consider that 99.9% of the time it is a broken or extremely buggy build. I do not believe that "all press is good press."I think that when a game leaks and it is disappointing, while it generates some buzz, it also brings doubt into the minds of those who see it. This is only made worse when someone inserts Trojan programs or viruses

into the leaked code to get it onto curious gamers' systems. What can you tell us about the organization of the Flagship Studios. How much employees do you have until now?

Bill: There are nine of us at Flagship, and we all worked together at Blizzard North for many years. We had a great relationship with a lot of the guys we worked with, and a lot of them contacted us, wondering what we were going to do.

Since we're focusing on a single game, and it's still early in the development process, we're starting with a very solid core group of designers, programmers and artists. We feel fortunate to have the nine people that we do as the foundation for the company, as developers and as people.One of the great things about the core team we have put together is the fact that we already know how to make a game together. Also, we're really more like a family than a company. It's a very tight-knit group of Of course, financing a project like Flagship will costs a lot of money. Do you have a publisher already or how can you finance all the entire development?

Bill: We are in negotiations with a publishing partner and hope to have an announcement in this regard in the very near future. According to the recently release artwork on [magic.url protocol="http" path="/" domain="" url=""][/magic.url] someone could say your first game will be somehow demonic (like Diablo was ;)). Is this correct or will you move to the "Sims"-like corner ;)? We all hope that this will not be the case..

Bill: We definitely won't be working on a Sims-style game, although we wouldn't mind the level of success and devoted community that game has built! We do intend to make a game that has a dark edge to it, but the concept for our game is different than what we've done in the past in many regards. There are certain philosophies of game design that we would incorporate into anything we

did, however, and I also think that fans of our past games will see that in our current project and appreciate it. Diablo II was a great game, no doubt. However, many of our users, and Bill - there a thousand of it - told us over the years that Diablo II had not this demonic atmosphere like a Diablo 1 had. Do you think such a great atmosphere like in Diablo 1 would even be possible in a multiplayer focused game? All the suspense, the feeling of a strange world is so often destroyed by too much players, e.g. in an MMORPG.

Bill: I think that the atmosphere of the world in a MMORPG setting depends heavily on how the players interact, and to some extent this can be shaped by the game and the developers. Providing a focus for the characters is one way to do this. If you encourage players to roam vast fields of monsters with the sole purpose of leveling a character, the game runs a higher risk of losing its unique flavor than if you are encouraging the player through setgoals, both in the short term and the long term. Also, maintaining a consistency of mood in regions of the world goes a long way to keeping players in any game immersed in the world you are trying to create. I would agree that in some ways this was done better in the original Diablo than in Diablo II, but I think both games created an excellent mood and purity of purpose for the player. Does Flagship has any plans to attend game industry events like E3 or ECTS or even Games Convention this year?

Bill: We do intend to be at the industry shows this year, even if it is just to see what everyone we know is working on and staying in touch with our friends. We also enjoy the opportunity of meeting with the various groups that attend the show - from the press to buyers to investors to publishers to developers.

And of course, we look forward to seeing the gamers who get in and enjoy talking about the one thing we all have in common - our love of games! Thanks for your time, Bill and we wish you great success with your Flagship Studios.