Judy L. Tyrer recently took some time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about the MMO she’s currently seeking funds for on Kickstarter, Ever, Jane. This unique online RPG tosses much of what we’ve come to expect from MMO’s; namely killing, looting, and level grinding out the window. Instead, you’ll find yourself transported into the world of Jane Austen, with all of the ballroom dancing, curtsying, and gossip you’d expect. Read on to find out more about Ever, Jane, and its industry vet creator. Maybe you’ll understand why we named this a project to back in our most recent edition of Budget Backer.
Judy Tyrer : I am a “worker bee” which is why I may not be well known to many in the industry, though I was chair of the IGDA Quality of Life SIG for 2 years and am active in both the IGDA Women in Games group and WIGI (Women In Games International). My focus has been less on building brand than building product, though now I am starting to work on building my brand.
Cliqist : Sounds like you did some fairly brainy stuff in your previous roles. How did your previous jobs prepare you for Ever, Jane?
Judy Tyrer : My previous roles have given me a solid foundation in what it takes to build and run servers effectively. For example, the prototype showed me exactly where our database bottlenecks were and now I am working with a database engineer to pick a more scalable database and to make sure the complex search hits are optimized. I’ve completely restructured the way the data is gathered to keep only the necessary parts in memory. So primarily my background has given me the confidence to know I can run a live service (online games need to be run as services, it’s not build it launch it, move on to the next game).
Cliqist : The Kickstarter campaign has garnered a lot of attention, and has been successful from a funding standpoint thus far. Are you surprised?
Judy Tyrer : We were actually prepared for a huge amount of kickback when we launched. Many industry vets with whom I am friends warned me. I laundered my flame retardant underwear in preparation. So, yes, I was absolutely shocked and amazed by the warm reception we got. It was the most amazing thing to see people actually understand what I was trying to do. Even the people who said “not for me” understood the need for a different kind of game and the critical need for our industry to get out of the established franchise next release cycle that we are currently mired in. Except, of course, for those who think COD: 23 is just exactly what they want from the industry.
Cliqist : As unassuming as it may seem, Ever, Jane really seems like a hardcore RPG, something we don’t see in MMOs. Why do you think that is?
Judy Tyrer : Ever, Jane is for role players which in my definition of “hard core MMORPG” is the exact opposite. The hard core games have gone in the direction of non-role-players. If there is any roleplay to be had in WOW, it seems to be of the cyber-sex variety – people getting naked and dancing. The 3 years I played WOW no stories were created, no drama outside the core game play, nothing like what we saw in EQ. Why? Because all the downtime necessary to create wonderful stories was removed from the game in favor of faster game play and more killing/looting opportunities. Ever,Jane has no killing and no looting.
It is for those who enjoy the role play more than the kill play.
Judy Tyrer : We want to appeal to as many people as we can, obviously, but the reality of designing anything is that you cannot appeal to everyone. I once owned a restaurant in Hollywood and we were reviewed as not only best burgers in town, but also that we played our music at “aurally belligerent levels”. Many customers would come in and ask us to turn down the music and we could have, but then we would lose the people who went there for the music. At some point you have to decide “This is my audience”. Janeites are my audience. Role players are my audience. I may lose those who want to play a Regency Period game but with 21st century social norms instead of 18th century social norms. I can alter the game to become that, but that is not the game I am building so I have chosen to accept this loss in order to create something I think will be unique and wonderful in ways that watering down the game play to match 21st century ideals would not.
These are the difficult decisions. I just hope people will trust my vision enough to see where it’s gotten us and to see where it can take us. I really believe in my heart that playing within the social norms of Jane Austen’s period will be infinitely more fun than watering it down to be more politically correct. In fact, I think it will be a wonderful platform for education on things like how free blacks lived, what the immigration pattern from the colonies was, how it affect society and culture. For example, the fashion during the Regency period changed as the colonies in India became popular and hats turned into turbans. It’s actually quite fascinating and as my target market is well educated women, I think they will also find it fascinating to play with and explore.
Cliqist : Ever, Jane seems to be a very niche MMO, something we haven’t seen enough of. Why do you think that is?
Judy Tyrer : MMO budgets are outlandish. We are trying to prove they don’t have to be. But I do think it is the cost of the initial investment plus a limited willingness to go outside the sci-fi/fantasy worlds that has limited the genre. I use EVE as my business model. They came out with a very small niche market product that grew because their market loved it. One might say “there is not enough of a market for people who just want to play CEO in space” and at the time it came out it was very niche. But the niche was bigger than people expected. I believe that will happen with Ever, Jane as well. The Austenite niche is rapidly growing. There are more Cosplay opportunities for Regency Period than there were 7 years ago when I first came up with the idea. They are putting Miss Austen on the British Currency. It’s the 200th anniversary of the publishing of her first books. I think the market is actually quite large, just untapped.
Cliqist : Where do you see Ever, Jane 5 years from now?
Judy Tyrer : It will take us 2 years to launch the commercial product which means we’ll be 3 years past launch. At that point I hope to have built out not only Bath and Brighton but also have added London with our first expansion pack “The Dickens You Say” and we will transition into the Victorian with that release. I hope to be in negotiations with contemporary authors to do their worlds. Amy Tan is a perfect author for a virtual world where we could explore the culture clash of China/San Francisco which is a major theme in all her work. I would also like to see us have enough income to branch out as well with our next product, The Existentialist’s Playground. I have no shortage of ambition, just time and funds.
Cliqist : Any possibility of a Pride and Prejudice and Zombies type scenario in the future?
Judy Tyrer : We have often joked of doing P&P&Z for Halloween, but our content expert generally shrieks when we joke about it because, you see, they did not have Halloween back then. Nor does England celebrate it the way the US does. But we may still do it just for fun.
Judy Tyrer : [You] referred to the gossip system as high brow bullying and to be honest, that was the first time the thought occurred to me. But since we have no OOC channel, no private chat, and we enforce roleplay in general chat, I think that translating it from the game into the real world will be difficult as we have no connection between the real world and players unless players want to create it. I actually envisioned something much more along the lines of the novels where the liars are found out and summarily dismissed.
If we reach a point where people are getting hurt by the ability to be lied about and gossip is ruining rather than enhancing the game, we’ll need to sit down and really look at the design and see how to tweak it to keep it light and fun. I’m hoping the sleuthing side of the gossip system, where you try and find out who is spreading lies about you, will mitigate the ability to use gossip to bully. After all, the bully will end up doubly bullied once found out.
Cliqist : Any final words or thoughts?
Judy Tyrer : What I really want to do with Ever, Jane is open up the market and get more people who think of games as just for boys 13 – 33 to rethink those assumption. I want to get away from the kill/loot mentality of games and help people see a greater potential. And with our budget, we admit we will be a low production quality game closer to lastGen than nextGen. But we believe that if we can make a profit with a small niche market game it will open the door for more games that aren’t all about war, zombies, or the post-apocalyptic world.
Game developers need to be thinking 5 – 10 years into the future, not stuck in the past. We do seem rather stuck in the past these days with rare break-outs like Journey but those are too rare. We are catering well to our market, but our market is losing its discretionary spending ability. We are seeing the effects of the market shrink now. Our only hope as an industry is to break into new markets rather than continuously catering to an ever shrinking one.
Cliqist : Can you close us out with an Ever, Jane inspired Haiku?
Judy Tyrer :
The Authoress could
never dream such a future
as we provide her.
Cliqist : Thanks Judy, I really appreciate you taking the time.
If you’d like to learn more about Ever, Jane, be sure to head over to it’s Kickstarter campaign page, where Judy and her team are hoping to finish raising $100,000 by December 1st.
If you’re on the fence about backing Ever, Jane you can give the prototype a shot, it’s available via the Ever, Jane Kickstarter page.
If you’d like to read some of Jane Austen’s works you can do so for free over at the Gutenberg Project.