Whenever an MMO is localized to the West from a different country, there are a whole host of challenges involved. Not only does all of the dialog have to be translated, but content has to be localized as well. Material may have to be changed or censored or updated for a new audience, and payment models are almost never the same. Not to mention the huge marketing commitment that goes into promoting a game in a new market - all of that stuff is equally important. With Blade and Soul, there is an opportunity to deliver a Korean fantasy, martial-arts MMO that, ideally, ushers in a new standard for free-to-play MMOs. Here’s how they can succeed.
5) Don’t Abuse the Cash Shop
This should go without saying at this point, but cash shops are very delicate matters. If you make things too in-your-face and unavoidable, then it puts players off. No one wants to pay money for something in a free-to-play game they feel like they’re being punished for not buying or if it’s being shoved down their throats. And just because a player has more money than sense doesn’t mean they should be able to be automatically better than everyone - pay-to-win is never a good model.
Luckily, the team seems to know this and claims the cash shop will be handled appropriately. Obviously that notion should be taken with a grain of salt for now, but I have hopes. NCSoft has done a good job with the cash shops in Guild Wars 1 and 2, but those are buy-to-play games, so the same conventions don’t apply. Hopefully, they can stick to their guns and keep it under control.
4) Balance PvE and PvP Offerings
Specialization in certain areas of gameplay can work. MMOs like EVE and Darkfall, of course, have a heavy focus on PvP - it’s part of their identity - and games like Lord of the Rings Online and Neverwinter have strong existing-IPs to draw off of to focus on PvE content. But if Blade & Soul, an unknown franchise with unfamiliar source material by a foreign developer will have to try and appeal to a wider audience.
What works for one type of gamer may not necessarily work for another type of gamer. If you love questing and exploring with groups in the big open-world, then new PvP features aren’t going to appeal to you. The fast-paced combat and traversal mechanics work well to enhance both sides of the equation, so the team needs to make sure they balance out their content delivery.
3) Pace the Content
And one of the best ways to balance out your content is to pace it in terms of what it includes but also when and how it’s delivered. They’ve already stated that their not going just to launch the entire current library of content in the West all at once - players would get burned out too quickly if they did that. Instead, they’re only going to release about half the Acts of the game to see how quickly players complete the content.
Of course, if you know anything about how people play MMOs, if it can be exploited and finished more quickly than intended, then everyone will do it that way and you’ll be ridiculed if you take too long. It will be difficult to balance out the needs and desires of so many various different types of gamers, but in order for the game to be as successful as possible, that’s an important facet of its reception.
2) Localize Effectively
Blade and Soul is a Korean-developed MMO with a Chinese martial arts theme being that’s being brought over to Western audiences. That’s a lot of different cultures and ideologies at work here, so balancing out the influences is a very delicate process. Localization goes far beyond just translating the words though, as stated, and it appears that NCSoft understand that.
During their live stream, a representative from NCSoft stated that, “one of the reasons it has taken a little while for [the western version] to get done is that it’s not just a literal translation of the text. We want to adapt the game; we want it to feel like an epic story that people here can get into.” So based on that, it seems like they know what they’re doing. And that leads into my final hope...
1) Live Up to Promises
Above all else, my top wish is that NCSoft and Team Bloodlust live up to their promises. That’s a broad statement and encompasses everything else on this list, but it’s worth saying. Time after time, developers make promises they can’t keep. This happens for new games coming out, localizations like Blade & Soul, and everything in between. Some of the best games on the market right now failed to live up to their lofty promises too - but when you deliver on most of your promises, people quickly forget about the ones that fell to the wayside.
If Blade & Soul releases in the West and just changes the way we view free-to-play games, that’d be great. Is it likely? No. We’ve reached a state in our industry that is defined by iteration and imitation and to expect Blade & Soul to be the second-coming of the MMO genre would be foolish. However, we can hope for them to live at least up to the promises they’ve made.
What can be said that hasn’t been said a million times about hundreds of games? What are five things I want from the Western version of Blade & Soul? I can boil that down into one single statement: don’t suck. We deserve better, and hopefully Blade & Soul can at least be a step in the right direction.