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Dungeons & Dragons Online Interviews: Craig Alexander AGDC Interview

By Garrett Fuller on September 25, 2009

At AGDC last week we got the chance to sit down with Turbine's Craig Alexander. Craig oversees all the projects at Turbine and talked to us about the new Free-To-Play Dungeons & Dragons Online, a bit about Lord of the Rings Online, and moving MMOs to the console space. Turbine has some big plans for DDO and LOTRO, we'll go through Craig's thoughts and outline the company's approach to the future.

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Dungeons & Dragons Online Unlimited was the news of September. Despite the launch of Champions Online and Aion, DDO going Free-To-Play was a big initiative in the MMO space. The game has depth and a very strong interactive combat system. Craig explained that the new model is going very well. It is still early and only two weeks into the process, but the game has seen a rise in subscriptions and the return of old subscribers as players again. Craig said that the game store is working well and players are using the micro-transaction model.

In regards to the future plans of DDO, Turbine is looking to provide players with the full offering of D&D classes and races. Some of the classic classes are still not in the game, Craig pointed out the Druid as an example. The plans are to eventually provide these classes to players so that the online experience matches the pen and paper experience with all of the options. I asked if he could put half-orcs in the game as a playable race. Craig smiled and said they are working to bring the races into the game as well. Hopefully we will see DDO expand its content in the free-to-play space and grow as a game. DDO had a fantastic combat system that is much more interactive than just a hot bar. The game has always been worth checking out. Now that it is free-to-play it may be a good time to give it a try, if you are not a fan of subscription models.

On the Lord of the Rings Online front, Craig talked about the Siege of Mirkwood. It is their latest expansion, coming this fall. Siege of Mirkwood is exciting for the LOTRO team because they are working on content that begins the "War of the Ring." The other element to the expansion that is exciting is the introduction of some of the zones seen in The Hobbit. Craig explained that with the new movie in production , there are some exciting ideas going around for the game which Turbine hopes to explore. The main area players will visit is Southern Mirkwood where they will take part in some of the skirmishes and battles fought there in the early stages of the war. Players have a lot to look forward to in LOTRO as their story driven content continues to drive players into deeper parts of the Tolkien world.

The last topic we talked about with Craig was his five categories for free-to-play content. Craig agrees that more free-to-play games need to offer depth to players. Their hope with DDO is to bring depth to the system. When it comes to a system that benefits the player and the company, Craig talks about his five Cs of free-to-play. The first being Cosmetic, by allowing players to customize their characters the way they want. Second is with Consumables, this is a tough balance because Craig explained you don't want to force players to buy consumables, but if it makes the game move faster for them or gives them some boost which does not impact game play, then Consumables is a good tool to use. The next is Convenience, which every player could use in MMOs. Making the game easier to get around in or being able to give players the choice to have an easier time with something like resurrection can help both the company and players alike. The fourth tool is Concierge which means player service. Allowing them to transfer characters or change realms, etc. Many MMO companies already charge for this type of service. The last is Content. Maybe there is a special Dungeon Pack that a player would like to purchase to try out. The Content is not required for the game itself, but it gives the player a choice. Craig explained that free to play really should be about Freedom of Choice for the player. The game is free, but if you want certain things in the game space you can spend a few bucks to get them, the choice is yours.

Turbine continues to push the console model and Craig said they are expected to have a few announcements in the near future about moving MMOs onto consoles. This has been a trial for MMOs for a while now. While everyone thought they could do it, not one has really made the successful leap. Turbine hopes to show that it can be done.

We want to thank Craig for taking the time to sit with us at AGDC. He has been a veteran in the industry for a while now and has a great perspective to offer both players and younger game designers as well. I wish I had time to stay for Craig's talk Friday afternoon. Hopefully we'll hear more from Turbine in the near future.

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