A session presented at GDC Online Austin: From Shadowbane to Wizard101: A Tale of Two Cities chronicled the rise and fall of one game and the continual rise of the other. J. Todd Coleman and Josef Hall are the founders of both companies and creators of both MMOs; one a hardcore PvP game, the other a kid-friendly family game. It is hard to imagine that these two vastly different games were created by the same people, but as they like to say, real life is stranger than fiction. Shadowbane as we know crashed and burned while Wizard101 is enjoying unprecedented success, as they showed with graphs taken from compete.com and comscore.com, and it was Wizard101 that we caught up with at GDC.
Wizard101 released in September of 2008 and immediately found itself in what seemed to observers, as a morass of payment schemes as they tried to find their footing, eventually ending up with a hybrid subscription / pay as you go model, with a free newbie area for players to try out the game and find their footing. They also had a feature that was innovative at the time, starting with character creation on the website and getting right into the game while the rest of the game downloaded as you played. Shortly after launch, the Dragonspyre expansion launched and PvP was introduced, then a major project to add voice-overs, castles and lands, another expansion named Grizzelheim, Mounts, a Bazaar, Crafting and Housing.
The last major update was the addition of an advanced pet system in May of 2010. No longer just a vanity object that flapped, hopped or trotted along behind you, the new pet now came in an egg and you hatch it, growing it from a Baby status to Teen, Adult, Ancient and finally, Epic. Pets are a game unto themselves. They can be equipped, there are mini-games to level them in the Pet Pavilion and you can race them in the pet Derby. But best of all, pets have genetics and can be bred.
“For example,” said VP of Marketing at Kings Isle, Fred Howard, “Our most popular pets are the Dragon and the Piggle. If you hatch them, most commonly, the baby will look like the Dragon or the Piggle. Occasionally, the colors will cross-over, and rarely, it will take on features of both parents.”
Breeding pets is not cheap and you can only breed pets that are adults and older in the Pet Hatchery. Still, the possibility of hatching that special rare pet is a great lure despite the cost.
Then there’s what’s coming up in the near future, and that’s their biggest expansion to date, Celestia. As can be imagined by the name, it has to do with the heavens as three new schools of magic are added to the game, Star, Moon and Sun magic. Interestingly enough though, Celestia is an underwater kingdom with ancient cities, riddles, lost artifacts and the Astral library containing the secrets of the Sun, the Moon and the Stars. More of the lore of the Dragonspyre will be discovered by players and the level cap will be raised to 60 and a new rank of spells (rank 8) will be taught at all the schools.
“This is a brand new story arc,” said PR Director Benjamin Conrad, explaining that the new schools will be secondary schools of magic. “This is magic beyond Malistaire and the Ravenwood School of Magical Arts.”
To kick the entire thing off is a celebrity guest appearance by Selena Gomez, which really shows how far games have come along to be accepted into our lives. A quest based on her single Round and Round is given by Halston Balestrom in the Spiral. Solving the quest and rescuing Selena will involve finding the recipe and crafting a water-breathing potion and visiting the watery crab kingdom.
“This quest will actually show kids how to swim and move underwater in preparation for Celestia,” said Fred of the quest that is open to kids with characters level 6 and above. “Kids can also get new underwater mounts, the shark, lobster and turtle.” He continued.
There are preview quests that lead up to Celestia, but these do not have to be completed for access. Currently on their test server, Celestia is mainly a high level expansion, but lower level kids will not be locked out and will be able to explore it safely. There are safe sidewalks on dry land. I wonder what the equivalent will be under water.