DDO Unlimited Interview with Turbine Developers - Unlocking the New F2P Model

Posted Wed, Jun 10, 2009 by Cody Bye

Few massively multiplayer online games have been as scrutinized as Dungeons and Dragons Online. Based off a legendary intellectual property, many gamers were surprised when features of the game were different than normal MMOs and included highly instanced areas, small servers, and a number of additional quirks that simply weren’t the norm. Fast forward three years, and DDO has come light years from its beginnings. In a recent announcement, the developers at Turbine revealed that DDO would be going free to play, and Ten Ton Hammer quickly got on the phone with the developers – Adam Mersky, Fernando Paiz and Kate Paiz - to get the details.

Ten Ton Hammer: Why go free to play? What drove you to make this decision? Why do it now? Why not three months earlier or later?

Adam Mersky: We were just as E3, and there were all these free to play games on the show floor this year. We’ve been in Asia for awhile now with our product, and we’ve seen the power of this model. As leaders in this space, we needed to do something with the free to play model.

After examining things, we realized that DDO was actually a pretty good fit for it. If you look, you can go back and examine how the original D&D IP was marketed: As you went through your adventures and wanted more options with your group, you just hopped down to the hobby store and picked up another book, better dice, or better miniatures.

The joke is that Wizards of the Coast and TSR actually pioneered micro-transactions. They always made you want to go back and buy more.

That right there fit in with the game, but the way DDO is set up also was a…

Kate Paiz: A natural fit.

Adam: I think it’s important to note that this isn’t a bolted on solution. We didn’t just want to toss an item mall into the game and see what happens. We’ve put well over a years worth of work into this to sort of “re-engineer” the game and fit this model.

We didn’t want people’s worse nightmares to happen, i.e. “I have a bigger wallet, therefore I’m going to be the best player in the game.” We’re going to have distinct types of players – VIPs, casual purchasers, and free players – all be able to interact together in the same world in a balanced and entertaining way.

That was really the fit. We would have done a free to play game no matter what the circumstance, but the best part was that DDO was a perfect fit.

Ten Ton Hammer: Rather than simply opting for an item mall, you’re using a sort of hybrid subscription model / freemium / micro-transaction system. What drew you to this monetization method rather than just having an item mall or just unlocking features with a subscription?

Fernando Paiz: One of the things we started to see as we took a look at how we might monetize a free to play scheme with DDO was a natural inclination to want to charge for the content somehow. We wanted to give enough of the content away that you could play for free and enjoy the game, but ultimately we wanted to find a way to charge for content.

There’s a large number of players that are still subscribed to the game and enjoying it every day, and we didn’t want to lock them into a new model. We didn’t want them feeling like they were going to need to spend a hundred or two hundred bucks to get everything that they were enjoying previously with Turbine.  So we gravitated towards, what in some ways is a risky move, this hybrid model. We think that once you look at it and how it works, you’ll see that’s it’s kind of the ala carte menu rather than the all you can eat menu.

And I think it works very well. If you’re someone that was hardcore and played DDO all the time  - ten plus hours a week and running characters to level cap all the time – you’re definitely going to want the subscription VIP model. On top of that, it also comes with a few additional benefits for our VIP customers.

On the other hand, if you’re somebody that wants to take some time to make your way through the game and you play more casually, yet you don’t want to be pressured to get $15 worth of value out of the game every month, you have the option to go at your own pace and pay as you go.

It’s all about giving players that sort of flexibility and choice.

Ten Ton Hammer: There’s definitely going to be some chatter about this on the official forums, good and bad, but in particular what can you tell the players that are going to be upset about this decision? What can you tell them to assuage their fears?

Adam: I think the only gamers that are really disappointed over this whole announcement are those folks that aren’t getting their free content today, which is what they were hoping to find waiting for them. Most of them are also disappointed that they’ll have to wait until beta is over to access the new content we’ve got in the game.

While we don’t want any of our players to be upset, that’s about as good a response to this sort of announcement that you can have.

Kate: One of the things that’s nice about the way we’re making this change is that our current players are basically getting the same sort of content and payment style that they had before. The experience for them doesn’t materially change with the exception of an item store that allows them some conveniences for easier moment to moment gameplay if they choose to accept it. Part of our VIP program is giving our players 500 points that they can spend a month in our store, so they get a lot of value.    

Now obviously this is a change and that makes people nervous and that causes anxiety – and we’ll see that in the forums – but we’re keeping an eye on it so that we can better our services and ensure that people that had been enjoying our game continue to see that value.

What we hope people will see out of this is a better DDO. The current subscribers shouldn’t see a change in their status, and now the other folks can choose to pay and play at their own pace.

Fernando: Just to restate and emphasize some of what Kate just said there, I think the tact that we take with some of those skeptics out there is that we haven’t changed the core of what’s great about DDO today. On the contrary, we’ve worked to make the game better, and everything that we did to the game is optional.

We urge people to give it a try. We were very conscious of the idea to not “sell the endgame.” We’re not selling the loot that you’re questing for. We’re not selling a quick route to level 20. That’s not what’s there.

These are small conveniences, small XP boosts. Those players that are the hardcore players can continue being experts in the game and kicking ass in the dungeons like they always have.

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