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Bill Murphy: Neverwinter is Cryptic’s Last Chance

By William Murphy on July 07, 2011 | Columns | Comments

Neverwinter is Cryptic’s Last Chance

I love Cryptic Studios.  Sure they’ve had their share of misses lately, but I still believe that at their core, the folks behind Champions Online and Star Trek Online are really trying to make fun games.  Both titles, while not exactly what I’d call successes are interesting in their own right, and one can see now how each can benefit from a freemium payment model.  Champions has done much better by all released accounts after switching to a lower barrier of entry.  It’s probably not long now before Star Trek Online makes the switch too.  Aside from that, they’re still mostly comprised of the guys who made City of Heroes such a widow-making experience in the early years.  But let’s be frank: if Neverwinter doesn’t make a splash, it’s probably going to mean “lights out” for Jack Emmert’s company. 

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Now I have no real financial grounds to base this wild assumption on.  I’m not trying to spread doom and gloom either.  I’m just saying that when Atari (who is not exactly known for their own success of late) drops you as part of their portfolio, chances are you can’t be doing too well.  Maybe CO’s conversion an STO’s inevitable switch will prove very profitable for Perfect World.  I think there’s reason to believe it will.  PWI knows how to handle their F2Ps, and at the very least I think the two games are safely going to be open for a long time.  But it’s Neverwinter that needs to really show gamers and industry folks alike that Cryptic can still make a polished and fun online experience.

This is all just wild speculation, and I’m certainly no business expert with numbers and facts to back up my claims.  I’m only going by the “three strikes” rule.  Heck in this business it’s odd when a company gets that many chances.  Flagship only had one.  But by all accounts so far, it’s looking like Neverwinter just may be the perfect match for Cryptic’s unique approach to online gaming.  They’re being very careful not to say it’s an outright “MMORPG”, and instead focusing on the fact that there will be a shared world, but that most of the content will be instanced dungeon encounters for a handful of players at a time.

This is brilliant, really. 

D&D is based around the idea of a few friends sitting at a table and romping through a story-driven dungeon experience.  Dungeons and Dragons Online: Stormreach only became successful when they admitted this and re-wrapped the package into a F2P experience.  Neverwinter is being built from the ground up with this already in mind.  As per our recent E3 coverage, the game will be built with a lot of Cryptic-made content, and plenty of stuff for players to do right out of the box.  Additionally, the studio will be releasing new content and dungeons to drive the story further on a regular basis.  I think it’s safe to assume that these will be some form of DLC more often than not, as a way to increase revenue. 

But here’s the best part, as a D&D fan: Cryptic’s foundry is going to be truly tried and tested and implemented in Neverwinter.  This is the core of all things D&D.  Creating and experiencing adventures is why we play D&D.  Now you can be the DM in a much more graphical and appropriate way, without all that silly “imagination” bogging you down while looking at a table-top (I’m kidding).  No seriously, I think the Foundry is a fantastic toolset and perfect for anything D&D.  It just makes sense.  Plus it could wind up being a never-ending stream of content for Neverwinter, with Cryptic devising a way to make sure the best-rated stuff stays at the top. 

The only real caveat is this: can they make the game play as fun as it sounds on paper?  Time will tell.  And we’ll know not long after it launches, whether Cryptic can bring back some true clout to their name.

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, and lover of all things gaming. He''s been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all of his pointless rambling.