When the purchase of Trion Worlds’ assets by gamigo was announced, it took quite a few fans by surprise. Not many even knew that Trion Worlds was up for sale. Since then, there’s been some communication on the Trion Worlds’ game pages, but not enough to soothe fans’ anxiety. To get some answers, we chatted with gamigo’s COO, Jens Knauber, and Vice President of Development at gamigo and Trion’s former Chief Product Manager, Mervin Lee Kwai, to get the details on the purchase, the plan going forward, and where ArcheAge and Gazillion fit into gamigo’s plans.
Magicman (MM): First off, can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a bit about what a COO does day-to-day?
Jens Knauber: Sure, I am Jens Knauber and COO of the gamigo group. I’m responsible for the operational games business at gamigo and joined the company in 2012. I joined the video game industry almost 15 years ago and went through different departments and responsibilities. I love video games and have been playing them myself since I was a small kid – the Atari 2600 was my very first gaming console – but unfortunately my time to play is very limited.
Regarding the second part of your question; Most of my days look different, so it is hard to call it a day-to-day business. This is often challenging because I have to switch focus every day, many times, and sometimes only have very short time slots to evaluate a situation and find possible solutions. But it is something I really enjoy, definitely more than other parts of my “daily business,” such as reading long contracts over and over again or sitting uncountable hours at airports or on airplanes. I still love what I do, and at least being on long flights and reading long contracts work very well together.
MM: Obviously the big news from gamigo lately has been the acquisition of Trion Worlds. Can you tell us what first made Trion Worlds an attractive purchase for gamigo?
Jens Knauber: To be clear, gamigo did not buy the company Trion Worlds Inc., it acquired the major assets from Trion Worlds, including the brand names “Trion” and “Trion Worlds.” This difference matters, because the company Trion Worlds itself was to be formally dissolved and gamigo only purchased the assets it wanted to continue to do business with via the assignment for the benefit of creditors, commonly known as the insolvency proceeding “ABC.” There were several reasons why gamigo was interested in the Trion titles. The gamigo group is always looking into good opportunities to strengthen its position in the U.S. Trion Worlds was a strong, very recognizable brand with great IPs and games. This, from our perspective, made these games a perfect fit for our own portfolio.
MM: The purchase seemed quick and unexpected from a public viewpoint. Court documents also show that the company was pretty quickly being labeled as “disbanded” and assets were being sold off. Was this purchase in planning for a long time or did gamigo just see an opportunity here that couldn’t be passed up?
Jens Knauber: The gamigo group has a strong track record with mergers and acquisitions and is always very actively looking for new opportunities to welcome new members into the gamigo family. Our long history of acquiring companies or assets and quickly integrating them into our group is for sure something which helps to get through these kind of processes and negotiations smoothly and quickly. It is important to mention though, that all parties involved in such a process need to be equally interested in a fast and clean process. This was absolutely the case here.
“The gamigo group did involve XLGames in the process as soon as it was possible from a legal as well as business standpoint.”
MM:There were reports that made it seem like XLGames was just as surprised by the Trion Worlds purchase as the rest of us were. Was XLGames included in discussions with gamigo prior to the purchase, given that Trion Worlds was only the publisher of ArcheAge, not the developer or owner?
Jens Knauber: This is a question that has been asked quite a lot in the past weeks. My standpoint regarding this is that the gamigo group did involve XLGames in the process as soon as it was possible from a legal as well as business standpoint. ArcheAge is a very well-thought-out game and one of the best performing games in the former Trion Worlds portfolio. Therefore, having a strong relationship with XLGames was of course one of our major objectives. And I am really looking forward to a long and successful relationship with XL Games.
MM: One other aspect of Trion’s business that we haven’t seen commented on is their recent purchase of Gazillion’s assets. Were these assets also purchased by gamigo? If so, what does gamigo plan to use these assets for in the future?
Jens Knauber: Yes, specific parts of the former Gazillion assets were also part of the asset deal with Trion. We know about the value of these assets and are currently evaluating them. We will announce important updates to the public in the future, but at the current stage there is not much to say about it.
MM: One criticism of gamigo was its almost total silence for a while after the purchase. While that has changed a bit recently with a post to Trion Worlds’ forums about Community Teams, there still seems to be a lack of the “plan” going forward. Was communication like this to players an oversight or are there still decisions being made about these games going forward that you just aren’t ready to announce?
Jens Knauber: First of all, you need to understand that this acquisition was very time critical, and as mentioned above, very fast. We decided to spend all our time and efforts on stabilizing the infrastructure, the teams and the stability of the games. This is, and was, in the interests of the companies, teams, and our communities, to make sure we can continue the games without huge — and in some cases, without any — downtimes. From now on we will communicate to the outside gaming world and within our communities much more than the past few weeks. We have increased the amount of Community Managers significantly and are still increasing our support staff. We also now offer all communication in French and German in addition to English. Still, it will take some time to be fully back to normal, but I hope everyone will give us just a little more of their patience for now.
MM: Looking forward, players obviously have concerns about their favorite games and while Trove looks to be a good performer and likely to stay active, do you have any word on the future of some other Trion Worlds properties that may not be performing as well? For example, where do you see Rift in a year? Defiance? Atlas Reactor?
“Specific parts of the former Gazillion assets were also part of the asset deal with Trion. We know about the value of these assets and are currently evaluating them.”
Mervin Lee Kwai: Our studio’s immediate focus was to ensure the stability and continuation of all previous Trion Worlds properties. We’re currently working to restore extended services (customer support, community management) while our game teams are eagerly rebuilding and planning their 2019 product roadmaps. We’re very capable and will produce great content under Gamigo US for years to come.
MM: Speaking of games themselves, XLGames has said that they are in talks with gamigo about ArcheAge’s future in the Western market. What is the status of that title’s future as of right now?
Mervin Lee Kwai: XLGames and the gamigo group reached an agreement last month and will continue the ArcheAge service in North America and Europe. It’s true that the majority of the old ArcheAge team under Trion Worlds remains and has actually grown in size due to the transition to gamigo. 2019 promises to be an exciting year for ArcheAge and we plan to deliver all the great new content created by Jake Song and the renowned design team at XLGames on a similar cadence as we had previously. We see bright new opportunities and will shed some previous limitations to deliver a new type of ArcheAge experience.
MM: For the games that remain active, the development teams have been drastically reduced in all cases. First, can you comment on the unfortunate layoffs? Reports have varied but indicate these may have impacted up to 75% of Trion’s workforce.
Mervin Lee Kwai: It was extremely difficult to say goodbye to the dedicated and passionate people who helped bring our worlds to life. Over the last month, we’ve re-hired a dozen previous employees who were displaced during the transition and have plans to rebuild each team over 2019. We exist in a landscape where studio closures happen frequently, and it’s only based on the strength of our products that we continue on today.
MM: Does this mean that many of these titles will have no or very little NEW development going forward?
Mervin Lee Kwai: There’s no denying that our development capabilities have been impacted and that means providing large scale expansions will be difficult in the near term. Our lighter team sizes do make us more agile and there is definitely less resistance to making positive decisions for the games and our communities. We plan to focus on creating sustainable content (and less treadmill content) while addressing much needed quality of life issues. Our teams will produce smaller, more frequent updates throughout the first half of 2019.
MM: In each of those games, Trion Worlds has come under fire a bit for monetization practices. I’ve been critical of Rift myself at times due to changes made well after a pretty well received free-to-play conversion. Are there plans to revisit how these titles are monetized?
“We’ll do that by evaluating our business models and phasing out some of the older, aggressive micro-transactions along with reducing the reliance on lockboxes.”
Mervin Lee Kwai: Yes, absolutely. The monetization landscape for online games is constantly evolving and we need to remain relevant. We’ll do that by evaluating our business models and phasing out some of the older, aggressive micro-transactions along with reducing the reliance on lockboxes. Instead, we’ll focus on selling the service and optional objective rewards through modern, hybridized models.
MM: Would you like to add any last comments to Trion Worlds’ players about this purchase?
Jens Knauber: We understand that the transition period has raised questions among the dedicated players of Trion World’s titles. We’re eager to continue developing engaging, sustainable content for these players. Now that we’re into 2019, the entire gamigo US team is back to work to ensure a steady stream of updates and modifications that keep gameplay fun and interesting.
We’d like to thank Jens Knauber and Mervin Lee Kwai very much for their time in answering our questions.