A group of former WoW and Elden Ring developers are making an AI MMO called Avalon, and it sounds like a buzz-inducing nightmare. “Former Elden Ring Devils” is also a little tricky, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
The MMO Avalon is from a new studio also called Avalon, led by EverQuest creator Jeff Butler. At the heart of the project is the goal for players to create their own stories, levels, and almost everything else. It feels like a push in the direction of emergent storytelling that Rod Humble and Paradox are pursuing in the life sim Life By You, but with a catch.
Avalon is using Popul8 to create all the NPCs in the game. Popul8 is the same tool that Colossal Order used in Cities Skylines 2, responsible for thousands of individual teeth, tanking performance, and giving us NPC masterpieces like this amazing baby.
It also suggests a very archaic approach to MMOs, where characters exist only to fill a void and complete quests. Non-story experiences can be a big part of what motivates hardcore fans to keep playing MMOs after the main story is over, but the characters, their place in the world, and even how they look and dress. There are important reasons. People come to see games like World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV, and even PaliaThe FFXIV community lost its collective mind over Graha Tia eating tacos in the Dontrell trailer, and that’s not the kind of reaction you’d get from a mix of some AI-generated tropes and nightmares.
Amazon took a similar character-and-narrative-lite approach for New World, which started with about 1,000,000 concurrent players and, six months later, dropped to less than 50,000. It has not recovered since then.
Still, it doesn’t seem like much attention is paid to writing in Avalon. A look at the team roster shows only Butler – the studio’s self-described “lore master” – and one or two others whose role exists outside of management and technical expertise. Since Avalon wants to be a metaverse game with NFT objects that you can use in shared universes, a lean toward technical knowledge is to be expected – and perhaps a little worrisome. NFT games don’t have the best track record for success and feel more like work than entertainment, and Metaverse ambitions have led to companies losing millions of dollars without seeing any meaningful results.
The tagline about the team’s collective experience is also a bit strange. Assassin’s Creed experience comes from former Ubisoft AI engineer Jean-Philippe Barrett-Lapierre, while much of Blizzard’s experience comes from former test manager Ed Hawking. The only person listed in the LinkedIn history is Elden Ring publisher Bandai Namco, Jack Carlson, but that was in 2010, long before Elden Ring existed.
About a quarter or a third of the team is from Orlando-based VR studio CyberDreams.
It’s a strange claim to make, but this is the games industry, which is notorious for not giving proper credit to people’s work.
whether avalon can fulfill their higher ambitions or take the path of New World remains to be seen. Development is ongoing, and there is no anticipated release date yet.
Written by Josh Broadwell on behalf of GLHF