Exclusive Runes of Magic Interview with Interim President Sean Kauppinen
At this year’s Leipzig Games Convention, the Ten Ton Hammer
staff took time out of their busy schedule to track down the developers
and take a look at their upcoming MMO. To say we were surprised would
be an understatement, what we saw was a polished product that easily
received our “Best Free to Play
Game” of the entire
Recently, Frogster Interactive Pictures (the publisher of Runes of Magic) created a subsidiary branch in the United States with the sole purpose of pushing their project into the US market. Heading up the Frogster USA team is Sean Kauppinen, President & CEO, Frogster America, Inc. Over the past few years, the Ten Ton Hammer team has gotten to know Sean, and so we tossed a few questions his way concerning the Frogster deal and his involvement with the new company. We hope you enjoy the chat!
Ten Ton Hammer: Why did Frogster feel the need to create a base of operations in the United States? Couldn’t the company run the game from their European studios?
Sean Kauppinen, President & CEO, Frogster America, Inc.
Ten Ton Hammer: With a new office in the states, does this mean that Runes of Magic will undergo more beta testing for the US audience? Localization? Or will the English version of the European game suffice?
Sean: Runes of Magic has undergone extensive beta testing already, with thousands of players joining from the US in the early beta stages. Having more native speakers in a game always creates a better experience since language or location specific issues can be addressed faster and more effectively with greater feedback. Ultimately, we see the game nearing a quality level that delivers a compelling experience at launch, and the opening of US servers and the US office to promote the game will definitely draw more North American users to ensure testing is complete in the coming weeks.
Ten Ton Hammer: What will you provide as interim president of this newly formed subsidiary of Frogster Interactive Pictures?
Sean: I’ve been through a lot of online game launches now, and experience and guidance are probably the top things I can provide in my new role. I’ve worked on EverQuest II, Star Wars Galaxies, PlanetSide, EverQuest Online Adventures, Vanguard, Lego Universe, Warhammer Online, Age of Conan, Lord of the Rings Online, and then with a number of free-to-play online game/community companies including Gameforge, Outspark, Gaia Online and others. I’ve seen just about everything, but as soon as you make a statement like that, you’re usually surprised. Frogster was looking for an industry veteran for this position with a background like mine and I was happy to join the company.
On the business side, my goals are to get Runes of Magic launched and the operation up and running with the really talented exec team that’s already on board. We’re building a platform for success. We want to give the company momentum so in a few months a new leader can come in and take the company to even greater heights.
Ten Ton Hammer: In your opinion, what’s the strongest feature of Runes of Magic? Why will the game succeed in the United States?
Sean: I think we really have a great game that offers up an experience that should appeal to a lot of the people currently playing online subscription-based games . The most compelling features of Runes of Magic are that it has succeeded in the stylized art that appeals to the mass-market online game player and its free-to-play model is incredibly compelling for a game of this quality and level of content. It’s free to download and I would invite anyone playing or interested in online games to try it out and see if it isn’t worth your time.
Ten Ton Hammer: Many people have called Runes of Magic a “WoW clone”. What would you say to them to dissuade that opinion of your game? How is Runes of Magic different from WoW?
Runes of Magic is building upon all the games that came before it, while also adding a list of its own innovative features.
To start, the business models are different, it’s free-to-play so players don’t have any fixed or recurring costs.
Rune System – this lets you take the power of one item and transfer it to another (with some risk involved), but it makes it so you can keep the armor and weapons you want by imbuing them with the power and characteristics you need.
Dual Class System and Character Advancement – choose a character class in the beginning and another at level 10. You can mix the classes up for a character that is perfect for your unique play style.
Dungeons – We have a mix of dynamic, instanced, and persistent dungeons, so there is a lot of variety in the adventures you can have.
Server Wars and Guild Wars – guilds will be able to fight each other and we’re going to have server battles – it’s a sight to see. It reminds me of the kind of battles we got in PlanetSide at its height, which were epic!
Housing – Runes of Magic offers player houses with individual and interactive furniture starting at level 1.
Ten Ton Hammer: What can you tell US gamers about Frogster that they might not know about? Why should we be interested in the fact that they opened a US subsidiary?
Sean: Frogster has been around for years and is a growing company in Europe, Asia, and now North America. With the increase in people playing online games, Frogster is setting up the foundation for a global enterprise that will bring games to players around the world.
You should be interested in the US subsidiary because it means we care about how good the game experience is going to be, and we want you to be a part of our community for a very long time.
Ten Ton Hammer: You’ve served in the games industry for 14 years, which is a long stretch by the video game standard. Why did you decide to devote your time to Frogster and Runes of Magic? What drew you to Runes of Magic in particular?
Sean: If you look at my track record, I like companies with certain characteristics: a compelling story, sound financials and a plan (or at least a strong chance) to be successful, and probably most importantly, people that I want to work with. That last point has become even more important over the last year as I evaluated my career and personal goals. I know by now that I’m a hard worker and I’m going to put my heart and soul into the companies and people I want to work with. So the background is I’ve known the Frogster team for years. Andreas Weidenhaupt, CEO of Frogster Online, is a good friend for a long time and we’ve always enjoyed working together. I think his passion, and that of the rest of the team easily convinced me that this was something I wanted to be a part of.
Sean will help Runes of Magic achieve success in North America.
Sean: Do you really think I’m going to answer that? *smiles*
When I was at Ubisoft, I used to send out games to new websites and I would tell the editors they had to be critical of the games, otherwise they wouldn’t have credibility with the audience they were serving. And without credibility, they really wouldn’t have value to me or any other company looking to promote their products. Hopefully that’s advice that all budding journalists get from someone these days.
How Not to Get Hoodwinked 101 - Everyone should always look for multiple sources when they’re getting information – that doesn’t mean going to a blog post and then going to the original story cited or linked to in the blog post and considering that verified and accurate. I personally would rather have accurate, verified information that I can act on, rather than speculation or unnamed single-source stories. But I know this is sometimes the reality and the speed of the news has become more important than the overall substance sometimes.
With regards to reviews, I like to find people that I agree with – if I tend to like the games that a certain editor likes, I follow their blog. Even though it might not be an official review for their publication or media outlet, you can get a sense for whether they like it and why you might as well. So, I would say I don’t just trust a review or story only because of the outlet, it’s also the writers that I enjoy and identify with that personalize the experience for me. I think that’s what we’re all looking for here.
Ten Ton Hammer: The MMO industry is a tough market to jump into, and the cancellation of Tabula Rasa is a big name example of this. How do you plan to keep Runes of Magic from ending up like so many other games?
Sean: You’ve cited the MMO industry, and I’m going to cite the MMO business. The plan is to keep the game relevant, fresh and fun, and ensure we are prudent in our business practices. Business is about putting out a product that meets the needs and wants of the market, but in a way that allows you to stay in business. Timing, quality, price, perception, experience, and a number of other factors all play into the potential for success. We’re going to carefully manage these aspects and hopefully the market will do their part by supporting this great game.
In the end, it’s all about the community. We brought players in to the beta process very early so their feedback could shape the game. After launch it will be important for us to deliver regular updates and add-ons that add new classes, races, regions and PvP features to the game. Regular in-game events like those we did for Halloween and the end of the closed beta are really important for us to keeping the game fresh and new for our players.
Ten Ton Hammer: Is there anything else you’d like to tell Ten Ton Hammer readers and Runes of Magic fans?
Sean: We’re treating the open beta like a rolling start, so any character you create today and any time you spend in the game counts and characters aren’t going to be wiped as they are in usual betas. I’ve already jumped in to secure some of the names I want for my characters going forward, and I would encourage others to do so as well. Otherwise you cold end up being called Lygeforthargggh. And that definitely would make it harder to group.