Atlantica Online State of the Game Interview

Consistent game updates are an integral part of any MMO experience. As players, we are constantly looking to the future and aching for expanded content. We always wants more: classes, dungeons, events, instances, and more. For NDOORS, they're certainly pushing the upper limit of updates for free-to-play games. In fact, at this year's GDC, Atlantica Online announced that they would be pursuing some new major upgrades in the near future. During the conference, Ten Ton Hammer's Danny "Ralsu" Gourley asked a few questions of Peter Kang, CEO of NDOORS Interactive, and found out what he's planning with Atlantica! Ten Ton Hammer: What do you find is the biggest hurdle to retaining players at this stage in Atlantica’s life cycle? Is there a specific point in the game you can identify as problematic? If so, what are you doing to remedy that? Peter: Player retention is always difficult, and it’s no secret that the average player sticks around for only a few months in most F2P games. In game, the biggest hurdle is always offering enough exciting content updates in a timely manner to prevent players from hitting a wall. But as I mentioned earlier, the team is working hard to churn out quality, content-filled updates. To read the rest of our exclusive interview with Atlantica Online's Peter Kang, click here!
Consistent game updates are an integral part of any MMO experience. As players, we are constantly looking to the future and aching for expanded content. We always wants more: classes, dungeons, events, instances, and more. For NDOORS, they're certainly pushing the upper limit of updates for free-to-play games. In fact, at this year's GDC, Atlantica Online announced that they would be pursuing some new major upgrades in the near future. During the conference, Ten Ton Hammer's Danny "Ralsu" Gourley asked a few questions of Peter Kang, CEO of NDOORS Interactive, and found out what he's planning with Atlantica!


Ten Ton Hammer: Players just got access to some new playable leader classes and a new mercenary with the Feb. 18 update. Can you tell us anything about the new mercenaries we’ll see coming out of Africa and South America in future updates?

Peter: Well we do have some new mercenaries that will be accompanying your hero in the very near future, but they’re not from Africa or South America (although we do have plans for them in the future).

One new mercenary I can share with you today is the Hwarang, a Grade C, bow-wielding warrior from the history of Korea. The Hwarang can be recruited from a brand new dungeon called Bulguksa. But that’s not all—we also have plans to release a melee mercenary called the Punisher and a long-ranged mercenary called the Enchantress, all by the beginning of Q3 2009.

Ten Ton Hammer: How often can players expect to see major content updates like the one delivered on February 18?

Peter: The plan right now is to offer players major content updates as frequently as possible, and we already have a schedule full of great updates ahead.

Within the next couple of months, we’ll be introducing the Titan Server, where players will be able to participate in cross-server battles and compete for control of unique locations. Another update we’re really excited about is the tactical battle system where players can take their heroes and participate in 100 vs. 100 battles, collect resources and raise (or raze) buildings.

So we’re always looking to take Atlantica to the next level. Eventually, we’ll even have housing for players so that they can collect resources, educate mercenaries or simply show off everything they have collected in their travels in the world of Atlantica. But while these updates will be months apart, we will actually have something new for players to look forward to monthly—mercenaries! The Hwarang will be the first mercenary to be released in a series of monthly releases.

Ten Ton Hammer: What do you find is the biggest hurdle to retaining players at this stage in Atlantica’s life cycle? Is there a specific point in the game you can identify as problematic? If so, what are you doing to remedy that?

Peter: Player retention is always difficult, and it’s no secret that the average player sticks around for only a few months in most F2P games. In game, the biggest hurdle is always offering enough exciting content updates in a timely manner to prevent players from hitting a wall. But as I mentioned earlier, the team is working hard to churn out quality, content-filled updates.

Another hurdle is ensuring a smooth ride to the top. Currently, leveling slows down at 95 and it doesn’t really pick up until you hit 100. So we’re working out the kinks and eliminating some of the grind to provide a more enjoyable experience.

However, one of the real keys to retaining players is creating a strong community, hence a lot of the features that encourage players to engage with other players.

Ten Ton Hammer: I have said before (http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/49528) that the Atlantica item mall does a good job of selling convenience items instead of items necessary to succeed in the game. You confirmed that is the direction Atlantica will continue to take in your recent interview with ZAM (http://www.zam.com/story.html?story=17198). You really mean it? I will never have to purchase an item to play Atlantica?

Peter: Never—we feel that implementing necessities would only reduce our player-base and alienate others. The problem with adding items other than convenience items is that it can ruin the balance that is already hard to maintain. And to provide a fair environment for players, we feel keeping the Item Mall limited to convenience items is the way to go.

Ten Ton Hammer: Based on feedback from multiple players, bonus Gcoins (the item mall currency) are now spent before any Gcoins we paid for. The bonus Gcoins were given away with the purchase of the original Gcoins. Why did you decide this policy needed to be changed even though it might cost you money?

Peter: Simply put, it wasn’t a popular policy. So we changed it. If we support the players, the players will support us in return.

Ten Ton Hammer: Talk a little bit about how nation wars function. How do I participate in a nation war, and what will my experience be like?

Peter: Nation War is an aspect of group PvP involving players who belong to dissenting nations. So first, you need to be a member of a guild that is in alliance with other guilds—a nation. Now the King, or the leader of the nation can rule as he or she fits, whether it’s gaming peacefully with other players or bullying other players to expand your nation.

War needs to be declared. It’s then up to the nation on defense to pay tribute, which is largely gold, or stand up to their aggressors and go to war, which flags enemy players as a threat. In this stage of declaration, players can be attacked almost anywhere at any time, with their hometown being the only safe haven. Once the actual war begins, the objective will be to take down the generals of the enemy nation, with victory resulting in great resources.

So what will your experience be like? Tense and action-packed, but you’ll always be looking over your shoulder.

Ten Ton Hammer: Atlantica Online has given away some pretty valuable prizes (gaming systems and cash) for community events. One competition offers $200 to the owners of the best Atlantica fansites. How often can we expect to see such events that build and reward the community?

Peter: A strong community is the lifeblood of an MMORPG. So of course, we’re going to do everything we can to build and reward the community. While not all of our events will reward players with cash giveaways , you can bet on exciting events and promotions to build player involvement and community, including valuable prizes.

Ten Ton Hammer: You recently told the Italian website Gamesource (http://mmorpg.gamesource.it/Articolo/63/Atlantica-Online-intervista-a-Kim-Tae-Gon-2.html) that your goal is “to do away with [negative] stereotypes [about F2P gaming], and the only way we’re going to do that is by producing a solid and fun game that just happens to be microtransaction-based.” How do you measure your progress toward that goal, and how would you describe Atlantica’s reception in the West, where microtransaction is synonymous with poor quality and greedy developers?

Peter: One of the measuring sticks is the amount of coverage that microtransaction-based games receive from mainstream gaming sites. The stigma of F2P gaming is going to be difficult to shake, and the industry can only point the finger at themselves. For F2P gaming to really boom, developers will really have to focus on quality and be able to provide an engaging social experience.

We’re very grateful for the amount of coverage and praise Atlantica Online has been able to garner, so the reception in the West has been great. But I think the F2P industry as a whole is starting to turn it around as there are a lot of quality titles out there. More outlets have been expanding to include F2P coverage, and it’s a great sign for the future of F2P gaming.

Ten Ton Hammer: Recent Free League changes make it so that melee damage is much lower in PvP encounters. Some complain this change favors AoE builds in FL. Can you talk about the intricacies of balancing PvP for Atlantica and how players can build a squad for both PvE and PvP?

Peter: It was a change that we felt was necessary to bring more balance in Free Leagues, but it’s a process that never ends. As we continue to add new spells and mercenaries, we’ll continue to tinker with the numbers to provide optimal balance.

Changes in damage are made to maintain balance in not just PvP, but PvE as well. One change in PvE that players will see is an even greater increase in strength when they level up. We really want players to feel powerful as they gradually advance.

We feel we’ve balanced the game well enough for players to pick and choose their mercenaries and build an effective squad for both PvE and Pvp. But of course, there are the necessary classes required for an all-around squad, like having a tank and a healer. Other than that, it’s the strategies that players utilize that will determine their success in game.

Ten Ton Hammer: Finally, I have suggested (http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/50655) that low cost box sales could increase exposure for F2P games while generating a little revenue or at least breaking even on overhead. Has NDOORS given any thought to releasing a retail version of Atlantica (a box to sit on store shelves or perhaps the installer on one of those fancy Atlantica flash drives you often give away as prizes)? Why is my proposal a good idea or bad idea?

Peter: We have, and we do acknowledge the limits of digital distribution because our client is so large. Although we’re seeing more broadband penetration, it still takes awhile to download 2.3GB, and download failures can scare away possible new players. One option we’re planning is DVD distribution through our website.

Our focus right now is making the games more accessible, and we realize our barrier to entry is a little higher than other F2P titles because of large client size. So we’re trying to remedy this by producing a smaller, 700MB client that players can start with, and have them download the rest of the game in the background while they’re actually playing.

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