The Thrill of Success – An Interview with Perfect World Developers

The gaming world has been buzzing with rumors about what the big announcement concerning Star Wars Galaxies was going to be this year. If the mini-sized SWG poster we received in our swag bags was to be any indication, the dead may soon start fighting among the living. It turned out not to have anything to do with zombies but it is big! The news involves a new profession and the sweet sensation of player created content. Ten Ton Hammer: Perfect World International is currently up to 1.5 million registered users. Why do you think the game has seen such success in the North American market? Jon Beliss: I think there's a variety of reasons why Perfect World International is doing as well as it is in the North American market. The obvious answer is we pay a lot of attention to our users, customer service, quality of service, and that kind of thing. But you know, that's something should be expected from every publisher, really. In terms of the game itself, we spend a lot of time localizing the game, not only in terms of text in quests and what people say to one another, but also in terms of the game content itself, localizing the gameplay and game content for North American users. To read the rest of The Thrill of Success – An Interview with Perfect World Developers, click here!

Over the past year, Perfect World International has dedicated itself to introducing North American gamers to its deep character creation system, numerous (and funky) flying mounts, and fresh player races. In doing that, theyÂ’ve attracted over 1.5 million players, and Ten Ton Hammer wouldnÂ’t be surprised if they still retained a nice chunk of those players. So what has the team done to make the game so successful? Ten Ton Hammer sat down with Jon Belliss to find out.


Ten Ton Hammer: Perfect World International is currently up to 1.5 million registered users. Why do you think the game has seen such success in the North American market?


Jon Belliss:
I think there's a variety of reasons why Perfect World International is doing as well as it is in the North American market. The obvious answer is we pay a lot of attention to our users, customer service, quality of service, and that kind of thing. But you know, that's something should be expected from every publisher, really.

In terms of the game itself, we spend a lot of time localizing the game, not only in terms of text in quests and what people say to one another, but also in terms of the game content itself, localizing the gameplay and game content for North American users. One subtle example of that, in Perfect World International, players have the ability to move there characters by click-to-move and WASD. 

In Asia, a lot of MMORPGs (free to play and pay to play) use the click to move system. Where as in the United States, a lot of players are more familiar with the WASD method of movement because FPS's are so prevalent here. That's one small, subtle example that's basically replicated across the board in PWI's development. We're very fortunate to have developers that pay attention and do cater to a North American audience. Even though a definite majority of our company's revenue is coming from China, it's nice to see such a strong level of support from our development team for the North American audience.

Ten Ton Hammer: WASD is definitely something important, but are you working with them to really give the North American user something that's unique compared to everybody else?


Jon:
Oh yeah, definitely. While the development team is located in China, we have a very sophisticated system in terms of collecting user information, feedback, and relaying it back to the team in China. It's a multilayered process involving many different types of people and many different types of communication with our users. And from that process we derive certain inputs or feelings that North American users have and we convey those to the development team in China. 

So while granted not every suggestions someone has gets implemented into the game, anything that we see a strong trend in with our players, or anything we ourselves feel would be a vast improvement to the game, we definitely push the development team to implement those kinds of features.

Ten Ton Hammer: Sure. Is there something you can think of off the top of your head where that's happened?


Jon:
Another example is a lot of Asian games are very grindy. They don't really focus so much on story. They focus on just killing monsters over and over until you level up. When Perfect World was brought over to the United States, strong focus was put on the fact that North American users prefer more of a quest driven experience. In some cases, a story driven experience, but primarily less grind, more quests. 

People in North America want more direction. They need more direction. They want to feel like they have an objective to go accomplish, not, "Oh, I'm all out of quests. I need to just go kill monsters until I level." That's really tedious, honestly. So a lot has been done to minimize the level of grind in Perfect World International. 

Most recently, we added a daily quest to the game. There's a variety of quests that players can do every day that net them a good amount of experience and reduce the amount of grinding they have to do. One new daily quest that we added recently is called The Bounty Hunter. Essentially what this NPC does, is every day he gives you a quest to go kill a boss within the game. Now initially, that sounds pretty simple, straight forward but what's really cool about this system is that everyone in that level range will be assigned the same boss. 

So let's say it's Tuesday, I'm level 45 and you're level 48. Since we're both in the level 40 range, we're going to be assigned the same boss. On the next day, it might be a different boss, but we'll both be assigned that same boss on the same day. The end result is that people socialize more. Everybody within a certain level range is looking for someone else to do that quest, but everyone on the server in your level range is also looking to do that quest. It makes it a lot easier to get together, find a party, and just interact more. 

We've definitely found, and it's pretty obvious across all MMO's, that people who socialize and become socially invested in an MMO are much more likely to stay and continue to play your game. That's something that we've definitely tried to encourage with the addition of this quest.



Ten Ton Hammer: You have 1.5 million registered users. Are people actually paying to get some of the items, or is it mostly a bunch of players playing for free and enjoying themselves, but not necessarily paying for anything?

Jon: It's actually both, interestingly enough. In most Free to Play games, the majority of users do not pay, especially in North America. In Asia, the ratio between paying and non-paying is a bit higher than it is in North America, but we definitely see a lot of people paying within Perfect World International. I can say with 100% certainty that the average revenue per user is well far and above the industry average. A lot of people say $20 average revenue per user per month is a lot, while to us, that's nothing.

Ten Ton Hammer: Hah! Let's talk about content a bit. What have you guys been working on recently?

Jon: Since we rolled out the game in 2008, we've actually had two expansions since then. I know a lot of other Free to Play publishers, they'll release one new dungeon, or one new armor set, and they'll say, "Oh, it's an expansion." To us, that's not an expansion, that's a content update. That's something that happens on a regular basis for us, either weekly or bi-weekly. So when we say we release an expansion, we really do mean a large set of content. Whether that be a new gameplay feature, or a gameplay system that fundamentally changes the way people play the game, that's what an expansion is to us.



So we've rolled out two so far. One was just a major content update which allowed players to travel through time and access different parts of Perfect World in different times and kind of see the history of the world as well as engage in some very high level and very challenging content. 

The second expansion that we released actually added an entirely new system called the genie system which is essentially like a small spirit or pet that flies around you and follows you around. It doesn't directly participate in combat. It grants you access to a wide variety of new skills and abilities. You're familiar with World of Warcraft, right?

Ten Ton Hammer: Of course.


Jon:
When you're playing your mage, let's say you engage another player in PvP, like a rogue, right? When you see a rogue, you know he's going to go stealth, try to get up close to you, try to back stab or kidney shot you, what not. You, you're going to frost nova, blink, etc. Both of you have a good idea of what type of abilities you have. You have a good idea of what his arsenal involves and vice versa for him. As a result, the combat between you becomes a little bit predictable and in some cases, like a routine, right? 

Ten Ton Hammer: Right. 

Jon: In Perfect World International it's the same thing. If you see an archer, you know he's primarily long range combat. If you see a cleric, you know they're centered around healing, buffing, and de-buffing. The genie system is actually another layer of skills and abilities we've added to each individual player. So let's say for example I'm a DPS class and I need something that gives me a little bit more survivability. Then maybe I will level my genie up and develop my genie so that way it provides me access to some healing skills or buff skills or however I want to build him. Maybe I think that I'm too weak in close quarters combat and as a result, I build up some AoE abilities or some Knockback abilities. 

Now what's really unique about that is so now when I see another player in PvP, yeah, I have a rough idea of his archetype is or what his basic skillet is, but I have no idea of how he's leveled up his genie. I have no idea what type of skills he has from his genie. And even more relevantly, genies are items can be swapped in and out on the fly, so it's basically a toolset or skillet that you can switch at any given time even in the course of combat. 

Ten Ton Hammer: Wow. 

Jon:  In Perfect World International, customization has always been the primary focus, or one of the major points we try to stress whenever we're trying to "sell the game", but the addition of this new genie system, now you can really customize they way you play, rather than just how you look, in both PvE and PvP. 

Ten Ton Hammer: How many different genies are there? 

Jon:  Initially, there are four different types. Each type has a different initial skillet, but there's honestly hundreds of ways you can build your genie in terms of actual skills themselves. Each time your genie levels up, you get an affinity point which is basically a point that you assign to a single element and there's five elements. If you want more healing abilities, maybe you invest your affinity points into wood and water. If you want more attack-related abilities, maybe you invest your affinity points into fire and metal. So on and so forth.

Ten Ton Hammer: So do the four different types of genies maybe start off with a particular affinity, or do they each have different skills that they can use? 

Jon: They all have different starting skills or starting stats, but it's honestly just a base upon which players can develop them however they want. There's really no hard restrictions with each specific type of genie.


Ten Ton Hammer: How do you keep it so genies aren't being exploited? 

Jon: That's a very good question and it's actually something we were very concerned with too when we first heard about this system. The catch with the genie is when you have a genie, it has an energy bar. Basically like a rogue in World of Warcraft. So when you actually equip a genie or swap genies, it starts with zero energy and takes a minute or so to build up that energy. So that prevents people from swapping them, burning abilities, then swapping them back. 

Ten Ton Hammer: Otherwise you could just have a whole inventory full of genies custom made to fight everybody. 

Jon: Exactly. 

Ten Ton Hammer: What kind of endgame experience do players have with Perfect World International at this point? 

Jon: There's actually multiple avenues and paths for players to achieve high level in Perfect World International. The primary draw in high level is territory wars. The game map is broken up into 44 different territories, each of which, factions [Editor Note: Guilds in PWI are called factions.] can compete for ownership of these territories every week. 

For example, my guild owns a territory, Katrina's guild owns a territory, and you own a territory and I want to fight you. So come midweek on Wednesday, that's when the bidding opens up for territories. I can bid upon your territory for a certain amount of in-game coin. Then if Katrina chooses, maybe her guild wants to fight you too, in which case she'll outbid my guild. So a bidding war will occur between my guild and Katrina's guild.

Whichever guild ends up bidding the most money by Thursday night when the bids are finalized will win. Let's say I bid the most money so I win. A tie is then scheduled on the weekend for your guild and my guild to fight one another. It's an automatic scheduling system that assigns a time and then on that scheduled time during the weekend a specific instance will open up for your guild and my guild and essentially, it is 80 vs. 80 PvP combat. 

There's two bases, each guild has a base. There's three lanes in between the bases. There's also towers and fortifications and whatnot. Essentially, the players are pushing back and forth between these two bases and there's also siege weapons that players need to drag or bring to the opponent's base in order to take out their buildings. The players themselves, they can damage these buildings, but it's no where near the amount of damage these siege weapons will do. 

In these PvP instances flying is actually enabled within them so it adds a whole new dimension to the combat that's occurring within these instances. You have a bunch of people who are on the ground dragging siege to the enemy base while at the same time you have people that are defending, maybe flying up over the wall, archers staying up high, clerics flying and healing people down below. It's really, really dynamic PvP. So for anybody that's interested in hardcore PvP, this is almost as hardcore as it gets, at least in my opinion. 

Ten Ton Hammer: Do you have guilds that have 80 players vs. 80 players fairly often? 

Jon: Definitely, definitely. I mean, I myself am in a guild where I'm a relatively high level and we actually have more than 80 players in our guild wanting to go, so at that point, we've got to do duels and scrimmages to decide who's going to go this week, and so on and so forth. It gets very interesting. 

Ten Ton Hammer: That's cool. So what do you guys have planned for the future? Age of Spirits came out relatively recently, but you guys seems to have a pretty good pace on content releases. What's the next big thing on the horizon? 

Jon: Basically, the reason why we're so lucky to have so much content at such a rapid pace is because the players in China just *drive* through content like butter. They're crazy. They play almost 24 hours a day in some instances, they never sleep. As a result, the development team has to keep the pace up. 

On the horizon we do have another expansion that's going to be coming out this fall. I've been told I cannot go into the exact specifics regarding it, like what all is included but what I can say is that is much more ambitious than any other expansion we've had before. It's going to add some new mechanics and some new... I'm trying to use the word because it will give everything away. 

Basically, it's going to change everything. It's going to change the way people play the game. It's going to make a lot of people think about re-rolling something new, but that's all I can say. 

Ten Ton Hammer: Is there anything else I haven't hit on that you'd like to let our readers know about before we go? 

Jon: In terms of endgame content, we recently added a new instance called Warsong City. Currently, it's *the* most challenging instance in Perfect World International. It's essentially a three-phase dungeon where there's a boss hunt, there's a monster hunt, but there's also a siege element. It's very challenging. The primary focus on it is actually teamwork, so people that don't work together are definitely not going to experience any kind of success within this dungeon. 

The interesting thing about this dungeon and the story behind it is that it's located between the genie world and Perfect World. This evil menace is trying to get control of it but it's up the players to try and defend this genie realm and more importantly, all the items or rewards for this dungeon are strongly associated with the new genie system. 

For example, the genies actually have their own equipment sets and you can actually get equipment for your genie and in addition to that, there are also genie experience cubes so when you use them they can level up your genie at an incredible rate. 

Releasing Age of Spirits was only half of this system. This dungeon, this instance, was the completion of that new system. It really accents and compliments the existing genie system. ThatÂ’s probably the highest content we have right now. 

I do have one last end game thing we do have that I think players will find is very unique. In Perfect World International, there's is a puzzle instance. It's called the Cube of Fate. It's a dungeon that players go through solo in a private instance and they're provided with a series of challenges. 

There are 60 rooms within this dungeon. So for example, you go into the first room with all these floating orbs that are different colors and have to count all of the orbs that are a certain color and give the correct answer. If you give the correct answer, you'll roll a die and depending on what you roll is how far you go. Say I roll a six, then I'd move ahead 6 rooms. Each individual room has its own separate challenge, whether it be kill a boss, or solve a puzzle, or answer a question. If the player gets to the end of the Cube of Fate they are rewarded quite heavily with experience, money, etc. 

It's one of the most unique solo PvE experiences I've ever had in an MMO. 

Ten Ton Hammer: It sounds like you guys are doing some incredible things with Perfect World International. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us!

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