Interview: Neverwinter Lead Designer Talks Micro-Transactions & Lessons Learned
Launching a MMORPG in the modern market is a tough challenge. It’s a genre that is constantly expanding, be it new games or expansions. The free to play MMORPG market is particularity growing in size and quality. Neverwinter is the latest addition to the genre. It may look like a traditional MMO, but it’s anything but.
Zeke Sparkes, lead designer of Neverwinter, recently answered some questions on the subjects of Neverwinter, micro-transactions and the growth of free to play MMOs.
Q: The free to play market is arguably the most competitive it’s ever been. How does Neverwinter stand out from the vast number of free to play MMORPGs?
A: Neverwinter has been built from ground up as a free to download free to play game. We have had great experience with STO and Champs converting them from subscription models into free to play games and now we get to apply everything we learned to Neverwinter and build it as a free game from the beginning. We are the first triple A Western MMORPG to launch free to play.
Q: The Foundry has got a lot of people talking within the MMORPG community, how was the concept of the Foundry thought up to begin with?
A: Well, we’ve always loved giving players ways to tailor their experience in our games. We’ve been known for robust character customization and have worked on expanding that into player created missions in STO. When we started working on Neverwinter we knew we had a great opportunity to make the Foundry more powerful and accessible and deliver unparalleled ability for players to create their own stories integrated right into the Neverwinter world!
Q: How accessible will Neverwinter be for players who are new to both MMORPGs and the world of Dungeons & Dragons?
A: Anyone should be able to get into the game and hit the ground running. We’ve worked hard to make sure that even if you aren’t familiar with the lore or the style of gameplay it is easy to get started and the game teaches you how it works at the right pace. It was one of our big focuses out of the Alpha and Beta process and we reworked the early sections of the game multiple times based on what we saw and the feedback from players.
Q: What kind of social aspects can we expect from Neverwinter?
A: On top of the expected features (forums, guilds, guild channels, player created chat channels, mail, etc.) we have some new things to offer. Our web based Gateway lets players access in game data and some systems from a web browser (including mobile friendly versions). We also have some Foundry specific features that will make building and keeping up with author communities easier including the ability to ‘follow’ stories or writers you particularly like.
Each zone has group specific content as well, it isn’t required but there are a lot of opportunities to get in really fun team based gameplay. Many of our events are geared towards focusing players on specific areas of this content at the same time as well. Overall it makes it easier to find groups and meet new players.
Q:Micro transactions have been in the spotlight recently, will Neverwinter be pay to win? Or has a balance been struck between free to play players and those willing to invest in micro transactions?
A: We want everyone who plays the game to have a great experience regardless of whether or not they have spent money. Our philosophy is the more people who play the game and enjoy it the more people want to be a part of the world. So we avoid barriers and pain points and focus on making the kinds of things that enthusiasts want to see. If the playing field isn’t level no one is happy so we’re careful to avoid that. You don’t have to spend a dime to enjoy the game or become powerful. In addition to that we have a system where you can trade in game currency to other players for micro-transaction currency so you can actually earn everything in the micro-transaction store without spending money!
Q: Given the sheer amount of lore within the Dungeons & Dragons universe, is it a difficult process to ensure Neverwinter remains true to its source material?
A: It is difficult but it’s a great challenge to have! Most of us at the office are D&D nerds so we’re all super excited to make our game ooze D&D lore. We also have amazing support from Wizards of the Coast. We work with them on nearly a daily basis bouncing ideas off of them, getting art samples, showing them our concept art, making sure we are being true to D&D and true to the Realms.
Q: How key is the plot to Neverwinter? The MMORPG genre is known for having a tendency for telling weak stories. Does Neverwinter aim to change that stigma?
A: We have a good strong story that serves as the backbone for the entire game. It picks up right where the most recent source books and novels have left off and continues telling the tale of Neverwinter and the surrounding area. You can expect to see familiar faces and locations from the lore that expand on what’s happened.
Q: Cryptic Studios have a history within the MMO market, is Neverwinter the result of years of work within the genre? Or is the team trying new ideas and learning things along the way?
A: It’s both! We learn so much from every game we’ve done. Starting new projects is a great way to take the lessons we’ve learned and apply them to a new game. At the same time we knew that getting the tone and feel of Neverwinter right was a huge undertaking and we would need the freedom to scrutinize and re-design our ideas when necessary. We’ve explored all sorts of directions for the game. If you look back in 2010 we were mostly a co-op RPG with small scale teams, but as we progressed with the game we realized it needed to expand to a full sized MMO. The style of combat was another place where we tried many approaches before settling on our current design. We’ve tried to harness our experience at building MMOs but be innovative and iterative with the game experience itself and I think it’s paid off big.