Bringing MMOs to Consoles - A Discussion with Turbine

Updated Mon, Aug 03, 2009 by Cody Bye

While the news that Turbine is in the process of creating a console massively multiplayer online game may not be entirely novel, up to this point the gaming community has heard very little about the actual development of said title and how Turbine is handling the relatively new frontier in massive gaming. At this year's San Diego Comic-Con, Ten Ton Hammer's Cody “Micajah” Bye sat down with Henrik Strandberg, Executive Director of Product Development for Turbine, to first discuss his company's achievements with revitalizing the Dungeons and Dragons Online franchise and then exploring the hurdles and advantages when creating an MMO for the console market. The discussion is frank and genuine, so if you're interested in learning more about the future of DDO and Turbine's console MMO, keep reading.

Ten Ton Hammer: How has the free-to-play part of DDO been received so far by the community and the fans?

Henrik Strandberg: I think the volume of people interested has exceeded our wildest expectations. We knew there were a lot of people out there that were interested in the game, but the sheer amount of people that signed up for the open beta… I think we’re happy with how everything held up really well even though we haven’t seen volumes like this since the game launched.

Ten Ton Hammer: So, how’s that transition going to work with characters already [in DDO]?

Strandberg: For an existing subscriber, it’s really not a huge difference. I think the only thing they will notice that there are a lot more people in the game and they can access the in-game store whenever they want. For an existing subscriber, it’s really not a huge difference. Obviously, a lot of the gameplay mechanics, a lot of the stuff we put into place to make this kind of change to the game, havebeen rolled out over the last year. We talk a little about the Hireling system, for example, to make the game a little more solo-friendly. We felt at launch it was maybe a little too true to the D&D experience.

Ten Ton Hammer: So the Hireling system was a little too close to the way D&D was at the beginning?

Strandberg: Rather the fact that at launch so much of the content was group-based and required you to have a pretty well-balanced group, which is very true to the original pen and paper game.

While it was very faithful - we had a game that was really close to the experience of pen and paper D&D - we also realized that in a modern MMO it just has to be more solo friendly. So weinitially added a solo setting to the dungeons in the game and then went to work on the hireling system which we rolled out late last year.  Hirelings is only one example of the types of systems and content we started looking at to put in place before we launched. I mean “launch” is maybe not the right word, but it is kinda what we’re doing.

Ten Ton Hammer: Right. There is a lot of relaunch marketing that is going on. You’ve got a different name and a big marketing effort.

Strandberg: Yeah. When we started looking into everything we needed or that we felt should be done to just give it a better chance to appeal to more people, the Hireling system was very high on the list. Making sure that we had the level cap all the way up to 20 just like in the pen and paper game. We took some flak for that at the original launch of the game. It just didn’t include everything that was supposed to be there. Obviously, also a lot of tuning and tweaking. We had a second look at the combat system and how we could make that a little more intuitive.

But I would say that other than those overall quality improvements, we were making [DDO] more accessible while also delivering all the content and all the features that people would expect from the pen and paper game. By far the biggest change is you basically get to choose your own payment plan.

Ten Ton Hammer: An a la carte system...

Strandberg: Exactly. I think that’s the best way to explain it. If you’re the type of player where you only get together once every two weeks to go raiding with your friends, that’s perfectly fine. Or maybe the players in that group will go in and purchase the dungeon pack, share it using their guest passes, and that is the way you want to experience the game, we shouldn’t have to charge everyone $15 per month.

And then of course if you run into problems while you are in the dungeons associated with your equipment, you can just go in and buy items that help you  get through those rather than having to go out and do some crafting or do some additional grinding just to be better prepared next time you tackle it. So it definitely caters a lot better to a wider player profile.

Ten Ton Hammer: It probably wasn’t obvious when it was built, but do you think DDO as a whole is more geared toward that sort of small group get together with your buddies rather than, say, The Lord of the Rings Online or World of Warcraft?

Strandberg: At launch? Definitely. One of taglines that was passed around was “Friends don’t let friends play solo.” And that was one of the creative concepts for the game. It was very true to the D&D lore and as a result was designed to be group-based to get the most out of it, you needed a pretty balanced party.

As you know from playing a lot of MMOs, getting a good group together to do a raid or a high level instance, once you have beaten the last boss, it’s like, “Holy crap! That was awesome!” It’s pretty intense. While that is still a key concept of any MMO today, we also appreciate that it’s sometimes hard to find exactly the right group. Maybe your friends don’t have as much time as you have or the other way around. So we made it more solo-friendly.

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