the recent announcement that micro-transactions would play a role
in the upcoming release of href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/co" target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">Champions Online,
many MMO gamers have expressed concern over just how large a role that
might ultimately be. Knowing that this can be a touchy subject for
fans, Ten Ton Hammer sat down with Bill Roper for an exclusive
interview to help put some of the speculation to rest. Read on to learn
more about Cryptic’s take on the business model, what type of
items you can expect to find through MTs and how the system will be
integrated into CO come launch day.
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Ton Hammer: There’s been a lot of speculation about what the
Cryptic Store will offer which seems to be sparking quite a bit of
controversy recently. Do you think the concept of micro-transactions is
something that the western market simply hasn’t completely
warmed up to yet?
Roper: Actually I think it
really has. I think a great example of that is style="font-style: italic;">Rock Band.
That game is based wholly on micro-transactions and has a really high
cost of entry, you know? With style="font-style: italic;">Rock Band
you’re not just buying the game, you’re buying all
of the peripherals and equipment, so you’re plopping down 150
to 200 bucks on the game, and then people really get into the fact that
they can go and download constant content for the game. It’s
become so popular that they’re moving into user-generated
So I don’t think it’s something that is beyond the
western market. Arguably iTunes does that, besides the fact that people
will go online and buy stuff from Amazon. It’s all the fact
that they’re OK with saying, “I want to get stuff
when I want to get it.” Certainly the idea of
micro-transactions has been around a lot longer than that too, where
people have paid, for example, even memberships into clubs that would
let them get things at a reduced rate. People just have an idea that
they’re going to pay for what they want to get.
For us micro-transactions definitely are not the thrust of the
business. I’ve seen a lot of people where…
everybody in their head when they hear a term they don’t like
automatically overlays the absolute worst case scenario on top of it,
right? So I think that was something that we really tried to get across
to people - and will continue to do so - that the game is not
“based” on micro-transactions.
The idea is wanting to be able to have things there that players can
get if they want to, but they don’t negatively impact the
balance of the game. It’s not like we’re expecting
players to go and purchase things through micro-transactions that then
give them some huge leg up. All those things I think people get worried
about, but really the focus is on having things that are fun, cosmetic
or are things that are more account-wide and maintenance based.
of Warcraft has
micro-transactions and people don’t even think about it.
Their micro-transactions are fairly steep at times - like $25 to move
your character to another realm – and that’s
account-wide micro-transactions. WoW also, if you think about it, does
micro-transactions through their card games as well, right?
It’s an interesting cross-over where it’s a
physical product and you’re buying this other game, but that
game has cards that can give you effects in-game. And people have gone
out and spent a ton of money on that. Granted, they do get a secondary
game out of it, but they’re also paying a pretty steep price
for that. So they are paying for another game but they kind of have the
perks of having in-game items.
Ton Hammer: And SOE has something very similar with the style="font-style: italic;">Legends of Norrath
game, only in that case even the card game is based on virtual items.
Roper: Right. So for us, the
things we’re looking at with micro-transactions are more
along the lines of being fun for players to have that aren’t
going to be doing anything to disrupt or upset the balance of the game,
or give someone who decides to use micro-transactions any kind of leg
up on anybody else.
Ton Hammer: It seems like a main concern centers on the
notion that MTs can potentially negate the efforts of tackling high-end
content, or that you might be removing certain
‘carrots’ in the game.
Roper: Absolutely not. The
thing is there will be a lot of things we’ll style="font-style: italic;">never
micro-transact. And one of the things we put out there – less
because it’s planned, and more because it’s making
sure people understood it – was the fact that style="font-style: italic;">if
we were to ever put anything out that did have a game effect, there
would be a way to earn it. I think that’s really important.
If there was some item that had an effect in-game that would give you -
I’m going to make something up, so this is not an item
in-game or anything – so something that gave you maybe an
increased energy regeneration rate or something along those lines,
there would be a way for you to get that in the game. I think that the
biggest thing though, with the items that people are going to get
though micro-transactions there style="font-style: italic;">will
be some things where maybe that will be the only way you can get them
yet none of them are things where you might say, “man, I
can’t believe I didn’t get that” whereas
there’s tons and tons and tons and tons more things that you
can only get by playing the game.
So again, micro-transactions aren’t the focus, a lot of
things are simply going to be, I guess you’d say,
‘vanity’ items. But we want to have things like
that in the game that players do push for and want to get.
The way I look at it, from a player’s standpoint, there are
certain things I’ve wanted in MMOs where I’m like,
“man, I really should get that item.” I know that
if I was part of a big giant guild and we did raids over and over
again, and I got on the list that style="font-style: italic;">maybe
I’m going to get that item. And it’s not even
because that item has a gameplay effect; it’s that cool
mount, or that cool pet that is a style="font-style: italic;">super
rare drop or that kind of thing. I don’t have that kind of
gaming time, and I’m not part of a big giant guild so it
would be tougher to get some of those kinds of things too. But if I had
the opportunity to get something that was similar or something that I
felt was equally cool, so not even necessarily the exact same thing, I
might say, “Oh cool, I’m going to buy this cool pet
for myself.” I don’t think that negates from the
enjoyment of my game, or the enjoyment other people have with their
game because they’re going to be getting stuff
that’s equally as cool if not cooler by playing, but they
didn’t have to spend any money on it.
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Ton Hammer: So more along the lines of gameplay
‘enhancers’ rather than
Roper: I even hesitate to use
the term ‘gameplay’ because I think when you use
that word people immediately equate that to damage dealt or armor and
experience point gain or that kind of stuff, and there’s
nothing on my list that’s like that. I think those style="font-style: italic;">are
valid things to be part of a micro-transaction game, but one that is style="font-style: italic;">solely
a micro-transaction game. If you’re looking at a game
that’s free to download and free to play and its business
model is supported by micro-transactions, that’s really where
their bread-n-butter is made because it’s more like, yes, you
can play the game and be successful but if you really want to kick up
the experience gain and do things better or faster you can pick up
those kinds of items.
But that’s style="font-style: italic;">not
Champions Online. That’s not the way the game is structured,
that’s not the emphasis for the game and that’s not
the desire for us with micro-transactions.
Ton Hammer: With the items that you’d be able to earn in-game
that would also be offered through micro-transactions, will you be
giving players any kind of information or description within the store
for how they could earn that item if they don’t necessarily
want to pay for it?
Roper: So the idea with that
would be for something that had an in- game effect. Off the top of my
head I don’t know that there’s anything like that
on the docket, but I think that might be a good idea to do that, or at
least have a place for players to find that information pretty easily.
But since that hasn’t really been an issue yet
that’s not something we’ve looked at.
Ton Hammer: You mentioned in the latest “ href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/71317" target="_blank">State
of the Game” that by
offering Cryptic Points as part of pre-order programs it will allow
players to essentially choose their own rewards for doing the
pre-order, which is a pretty cool concept I think. Do you plan on
revealing what will be available in the Cryptic Store to coincide with
launch, or is there a chance we’ll get a sneak peak at what
will be offered during the open beta?
Roper: I don’t have
a specific date for when we’re going to be opening that
– I still need to coordinate some things with marketing on
that as well as the web team working on the store – but I
would guess that we’ll have the list of items that will be
available at launch out there before the game comes out. So the players
who are going to go out and get an in-store campaign that has Cryptic
Points associated with it would be able to say, “Oh cool!
This is what I’m going to plan to get” –
they’ll be able to look at that stuff. So again, I
can’t say specifically when they’re going to put
that info out, but my guess would be that it will be sometime before
Ton Hammer: Will players be able to access the store from within the
game, or will that be something that’s separate or web-based?
Roper: It is web-based, and I
also believe you can access it from inside the game, though
I’m not positive. I think that depends on how our in-engine
web browser support goes since it all gets run through the web browser.
I don’t believe we have an in-game interface planned for
that, at least not at launch, but at the very least we would have a
place that you could go that would launch the web browser externally. I
know they’re working on that now, but I don’t know
that they’re going to get the in-engine component done on
that for launch.
Ton Hammer: You mentioned a bit earlier how the concept of DLC has been
embraced a bit more on consoles, and while I know that there
hasn’t been an official announcement regarding a console
release for Champions yet, do you expect micro-transactions or DLC will
play a more vital role for a console release more so than the PC? Or do
you expect you’ll be offering the same items for both
Roper: We haven’t
even planned that far ahead really. Certainly I think people are more
used to it and there’s more of a standardized interface, like
on the 360 for example. So anything we do is going to coincide with
player’s expectations and what they’re used to. But
again, we haven’t planned anything out though I
don’t imagine it would be vastly different than what
we’re currently doing. And again, micro-transactions is not
the core focus of the game.
Ton Hammer: That about wraps things up for now, but thanks for your
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