Longtime MMO developer Gordon Walton has joined Playable Worlds, the company building a new cloud-native sandbox MMORPG led by Raph Koster. Walton joins Playable Worlds as executive producer and head of product for the company. The hiring was announced alongside the addition of Omar Abdelwahed as the new vice president of engineering.
If Gordon Walton’s name sounds familiar to MMO fans, it should be. Walton has worked on several MMOs since their inception, having worked on games like Ultimate online, The Sims Online, Star Wars Galaxies, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Abdelwahed, the new VP of Engineering, brings 20 years of experience to the Playable Worlds team, having led technical teams at Ubisoft, 2K, Playstudios and many others throughout his career.
“I’m an old gaming guy,” Walton told MMORPG.com in an interview this week with a laugh. “I hope it’s not old and tired, but old.”
Walton’s career spanned decades, beginning to release his first title in the late 70s. However, his passion for multiplayer titles really took off after a stint at Kesmai and then joining Origin, helping him run Ultimate online. From there Walton continued to work on Maxis The Sims Online before Walton joined Ultimate-alum Raph Koster at Sony Online Entertainment to work on a little game called Star Wars Galaxies.
“So I ran that for a couple of years,” Walton said, referring to his tenure at SOE. “And then when I left [Sony Online Entertainment], my partner Rich Vogal – Rich left Sony a bit later than me. – but we were working on what we were going to do next. And we knew there were only a few companies in the world worth working for an MMO. And we finally launched BioWare Austin for BioWare.”
At BioWare Austin, the duo will lead the team that built the next Star Wars MMOG, Star Wars: The Old Republic. Gordon describes SWTOR as possibly the greatest game he’s ever worked on, which is still going strong over a decade later.
After a stint at Disney, Walton and Todd Coleman launched ArtCraft, which launched the MMO Throne War, Crowfall, which was released in the summer of 2021 to mixed reviews. However, as Walton said when he announced his departure from Monumental (the company that bought Crowfall late last year) in April, he wasn’t necessarily looking for a new gig – but CEO Raph Koster’s persistence won out.
“I went to Monumental, where I absolutely loved being there. But Raph Koster and Eric Goldberg, who run [Playable Worlds], had been asking me to come for a while, and finally persuaded me that, yes, they really, really needed me. And they really understood what it meant to have me and, frankly, they’re doing something pretty exciting. Great challenge.”
As a result, Walton will lead the team helping to build the vision that Playable Worlds has been drip-feeding fans over the past year: a cloud-native sandbox MMORPG that aims to create what Koster in a statement release says will be “meaningful online interactions and unforgettable experiences.” However, Walton understands that everything follows you, both successes and failures, with his most recent venture, Crowfall, leaving much to be desired.
“In our business, everything follows you, right? The good and the bad. It’s always good to keep in mind that basically 95% of all games fail. So whenever they work, it’s a miracle. If they work in the market, if you get them shipped, it’s a miracle squared.”
Walton went on to say that while he felt very open with the Crowfall community on how he felt Crowfall’s problems were, he also understands that there might be people who don’t want to interact with Playable Worlds due to how his previous business turned out.
“It’s their choice, isn’t it?” said Walton. “I’m here to make Playable Worlds and the game we’re working on work, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Walton continued, mentioning that he felt he had learned a lot in his playing career from those chess compared to the successes.
“I think I’ve learned a lot more from mistakes than from successes. When you’re successful, you start congratulating yourself and saying, ‘Yes, I must be brilliant! I was here and this cool thing happened.’ is produced.’ But actually, everything I’ve learned actually comes more from failures or setbacks. [to Playable Worlds], I have a lot of experience, both good and bad models to draw on. And hopefully we’re mostly focusing on good patterns where we are in Playable Worlds.”
Walton will be exactly part of the Playable Worlds team helping to build and manage the team that will bring the Playable Worlds vision to life. Walton describes studio co-founder Raph Kosters as the visionary, while he’s more the one helping to execute that vision. As such, his role will be to help build the team and put them in the best position to successfully build the vision that Playable Worlds is trying to bring to life.
“That’s another reason I’m here is kind of to help Raph understand what’s going on because I’m not here to put my stamp on the game. My job here is to finish the game. I’m a public figure because I’ve worked on a lot of games, but I’m rarely the spokesperson. I’m the person who tries to push the game forward behind the scenes. And that’s what I I’m here to do at Playable Worlds And yes, I’ll have to talk about that a bit later when we’re ready to talk about it, but that’s not my real role My real role is to build a team that can actually be successful to build the game.”
For old school MMO fans who enjoyed titles like Ultimate online and especially Star Wars: Galaxies, the reunion of Raph and Gordon, who worked together on these two titles, could give the impression of reforming the group. This relationship lends itself well to the two working together, with Walton stating that he recognized how talented Koster was early in their career together. Stating that he recognized Raph’s talent early on, he went on to talk about some of Koster’s brilliant ideas and how he was often “ahead of his time”.
“I’m not the visionary, am I? I’m more of an executor.”
As for who Playable Worlds is trying to reach with its next MMO, that’s a bit wide. While there will be a certain nostalgia for many MMO fans thanks to the key members of the Worlds team who helped create some of the greatest MMOs of all time, Playable Worlds also seeks to reach gamers. who may not have experienced, say, Ultimate at its peak.
“Yeah, we’re making Raph’s vision, but we’re making it for the people. I think the thing you talked about the nostalgia, you know ‘we’re bringing together some of the people who made some of these games. But when playing them, they were fresh and new, right? It was this idea [of] look at all the “space of possibilities” that these games contain. So yes, we want to reclaim more space of possibilities in games. “
Walton went on to explain how modern games of any genre seem to boast “MMO” features. We’ve seen the rise of MMO-like genres: MMOARPGs, survival MMOs, and more recently MMONFT games, over the years. Many players who may not have experienced Ultimate Where GTS during their heyday, they might still have been playing an MMO-esque game that Playable Worlds seeks to attract.
Exactly what Koster, Walton and the team are building remains mostly shrouded in mystery. We know they are building an MMO that will be cloud native. We also know that they are looking to create a sandbox MMO where players can basically be what they want and interact with each other in meaningful ways, in a world they belong to instead of a theme park where the player is part of it.
Walton equates philosophy with what we have experienced in Ultimate online: this feeling of the unknown. You never knew what you would experience next on the horizon.
“What was the underlying feeling of OU? Especially the pre-Felucca/Trammel OU? There were sort of two underlying feelings. The first is that you were pretty much terrified the entire time you played because you knew you were going to get killed sooner or later. But the other was that you really didn’t know what was going to happen as you drove around the world and rounded the next corner. I call it the “Over the Horizon” effect. You want to go beyond that horizon, because you might be faced with something you’ve never seen before, or experienced before. That sense of wonder, that sense of discovery is what a lot of games have lost at this point.”
Walton states that one of the “key pillars” of MMO Playable Worlds developing is a “living world”. While he didn’t elaborate on what exactly it would look like in their MMO, Walton said it’s core to the experience players should have when getting into the MMO on the road.
At the end of the day, however, Walton says he can’t wait to help this crazy vision come to fruition. He tells me that the team is definitely “outdated” what they’re trying to build here. They’re not just trying to build the same thing that other teams are working on. They seek to “change the landscape”.
“And that’s a big part of why I’m here: we’re trying to do something a little crazy.”