Launch day is at hand for Funcom’s “Age of Conan” massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, and early sales figures indicate it packs all the sales muscle of an Arnold Schwarzenegger hit – even if the Hollywood icon isn’t part of the online franchise.

While Schwarzenegger concentrates on his California governor role rather than participating in the Conan franchise he helped make more famous with two movies, the folks at Funcom developed a game that already has sold out its “collector’s edition” package and pre-sold more than 700,000 standard versions of the PC game.

That’s major news for Funcom, an international game developer that maintains its U.S. headquarters and support operations in Durham.

The game’s designer, Jason Stone, talked with WRAL Local Tech Wire and WRAL.com recently about this latest fantasy role-playing game in this exclusive interview:

Can you talk about your goals with this new Conan MMO?

Our primary goals have always been two-fold: To make the world of Robert E. Howard’s Conan come to life and to make an action-oriented, mature-rated game.

After so many years, why do you think Conan is suddenly hot with gaming now?

I honestly feel it’s just been a case of a combined push of bringing the "real" Conan back out into the light. Between our partners at Conan properties and the Dark Horse [comics] guys, rumors of a movie in the works, etc., it’s really starting to get attention again, and we are right at the forefront.

What’s the story line and time period of this game?

The story line follows the time period where Conan is King of Aquilonia, roughly after the Hour of the Dragon stories written by Howard. Thoth-Amon, Conan’s arch-nemesis, is plotting something big, and Conan needs the aid of many to save the kingdom.

How will players interact with Conan in this MMO?

Conan is an actual NPC in the game and will be interacted with during the players’ destiny quests as they advance.

Can you talk about the Conan universe and what you drew upon from comics, novels and movies for this MMO?

The Conan universe really gives us a lot to draw on, if you count all the pastiche novels and comics. We drew as much as possible from Howard’s own writings and then cherry-picked bits from our other favorites. The only thing inspired by the movie is the ability to punch a camel in one of the cities.

With THQ recently shipping a Conan game, how do you see your game and Conan lore differentiating itself?

While I am not completely familiar with which parts of the lore were used in the recent THQ game, I think that it was vastly different and more focused on playing as Conan, while we are more focused on playing in the world of Conan.

What are the challenges of developing an MMO game today?

If I were truly able to give this question justice, we would be here all day. They key thing that makes developing any MMO is that it is so varied and so complex. Everything touches so many other things that there is rarely a simple solution.

What impact has the overwhelming success of "World of Warcraft" had on other developers of MMOs?

With WoW recently achieving the 10 million subscriber mark, Blizzard introduced many new people to the genre and helped legitimize online gaming as a socially acceptable hobby, which for longtime nerds like me is a huge bonus.

What are the challenges in creating a game that essentially never ends?

You just have to keep going, keep adding more, keep fixing things and support dynamic content that the players can create themselves. PvP (player-versus-player) and player cities are some of the features we find most valuable for this.

Can you talk about the Research Triangle and what role your office here plays in your business?

It plays many roles, all of them very important to us. We have centered a large portion of our infrastructure teams there, like Q&A, consumer support and our primary database engineers also.

Are there plans to increase your presence in the U.S., either in Raleigh or other cities?

Pending the success of "Age of Conan," we definitely hope to be able to expand our U.S. presence.