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Standing Stone Games | Official Site
MMORPG | Setting:Fantasy | Status:Final  (rel 02/28/06)  | Pub:Daybreak Games
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Interviews: Unlimited Q&A

By Garrett Fuller on September 01, 2009

Unlimited Q&A

Tell us about the choice to make DDO Free-to-Play? How did Turbine come to this decision?

Fernando Paiz:

Turbine has been exploring Free-to-Play and micro-transactions based business models for several years now. We have seen the growing popularity of these models, particularly in the Asian markets, and we've been on the lookout for the right opportunity to bring a compelling offering to the West. We didn't know if that would mean importing and operating a game from another developer, applying the model to a new game, or something else.

About 2 years ago we started to seriously look at the possibility of converting one of our existing franchises to Free-to-Play. As we prepared some analysis on what this would entail for each of our major franchises, we quickly came to see that DDO was a great fit. Although some big design changes were needed to make this work, we found that we were able to make a new model which fit cleanly with the existing core game play mechanics and the game world. Many people have remarked that this also feels like a great fit for the D&D IP. After all, when D&D got started this was the model: you bought the base rule book and then you would buy incremental content and miniatures and other ways to enhance your game play when you were ready.


What have been the biggest challenges in converting the game to a new format?

Fernando Paiz:

This is a large project, so there have been quite a few challenges along the way! The single largest change was implementing the e-commerce capabilities to our technology platform and game systems.

We also spent a lot of time designing and testing our hybrid business model which has support both for subscriptions and for pay-as-you-go purchases through our new in-game store. Our current hardcore fans can continue to access everything in the game for a low monthly fee as members of our new VIP program. They will also receive 500 Turbine Points every month so they can enjoy items from the DDO store as part of their monthly plan.

New players can start playing the game completely for free. About a third of the current content in the game is available at no charge. As players level up, they will be offered several premium Adventure Packs for purchase in the DDO Store using Turbine Points that can be purchased with a credit card or PayPal. One cool thing is that Turbine Points can also be earned for playing the game.

What game design aspects will change for players when the game converts?

Fernando Paiz:

The most important design change which affects the whole game is the introduction of the DDO Store. With the DDO Store, there are a huge number of items that can be purchased from anywhere in the game. So if you are playing solo and you die part way through a quest, you now have a choice: you can release to town and heal like you always have in DDO, or if you prefer you can purchase a Resurrection Cake from our store to bring you back without leaving the quest. Our goal here is simply to offer players the choice of which they prefer. Are you willing to accept the time and quest XP penalty when you die? Or would you rather spend a few bucks to save yourself some time and get right back into the action?

Note that we didn't make the game any harder here. That's not what we're doing. We didn't remove items like heal potions from the in-game vendors. We are just offering another channel to purchase things that was not there before which some players will use often and others will choose not to.

What new features will be added to the game in the new Free-to-Play model?

Fernando Paiz:

Eberron Unlimited is the largest update we've ever made to DDO! It comes with a number of major features including an increase of our level cap to the natural D&D limit of 20 or 96 ranks of advancement in DDO. We also have 2 new Adventure Packs - one for high level and one for mid levels - and a couple of free quests added to the early game as well.

Another big new feature is the introduction of an all new class: the Favored Soul. This is a new healer class for DDO, which combines the most powerful healing abilities in the game with weapons proficiency not available to Clerics. We expect to see lots of interesting builds of this class as our deep character customization will let players create diverse builds ranging from deeply specialized healers to balanced solo-friendly warriors.


DDO has retained a very loyal following over the year, what can your veteran players expect?

Fernando Paiz:

In addition to the features we've already discussed here, our veterans can expect to see a huge number of improvements both large and small which we've made to the game. We took a look at all of the feedback we've gotten over the years, and we made an effort to address all of the top requests from our players. This includes changes like a tally of your progress in all Wilderness quests added to the compendium and a 'Loot All' button added to treasure chests.

As members of our new VIP program, subscribers are also getting some great new benefits. One feature we built for our VIPs is a shared account bank which will let players share items among all of the characters on their account on each game world. This includes some items which were previously bound to your character, so our veteran players who regularly level up multiple characters are very excited for this change.

What plans are there for the future of DDO, will we see more content added as the new format continues?

Fernando Paiz:

Absolutely! This model was designed to let us keep creating the best hand-crafted small party quest instances in any MMO. This has always been the creative center of DDO. New content is always the top request from our players and the DDO Unlimited launch will enable us to keep delivering regular new content updates for many years to come.

We are already done with a very cool series of new quests for high-level players for Update 1 that we are calling 'The Dreaming Dark'. This is an all new storyline for level 18-20 characters which has new monsters and some really fun game play. Players can look forward to seeing Update 1 go live within a couple months of DDO Unlimited going live.

Players will also be able to stay involved with DDO out of game with the release of our premium web services: The new web site will have features such as player blogs, online character sheets and guild home pages. More great features will be released in the coming months.

What can new players look forward to with the redesign of the game?

Fernando Paiz:

A major focus of the redesign is accessibility. New players can look forward to an all new DDO that is easier to get into, supports solo and small party play and adds more feedback and responsiveness to our unique, action-combat system.

DDO Unlimited includes the debut of our new downloading technology which will let players get in and playing within 15 minutes of starting their download. We have spent a lot of effort polishing our new player experience which immediately gets players into a classic D&D storyline where they will help vanquish an evil cult and a white dragon from a small island community while they are learning the basics of the game.

This release also includes some great new features for those that like to play solo or in small parties. We are introducing a new feature called Difficulty Scaling, which will adjust the challenge of a quest to the size and composition of your party. We have also made several improvements to our Hirelings system which lets players fill out their party with NPC combatants for those cases where they still require extra muscle. In DDO Unlimited, players will be able to hire up to 5 Hirelings at a time if they purchase some of the contracts through the DDO Store.


For Turbine, what does this conversion mean, will we see this model applied to other games in the future?

Fernando Paiz:

The launch of DDO Unlimited represents a major milestone for Turbine. We are entering the Free-to-Play space with a bang and we will be proving the expanded monetization capabilities of our technology.

While there are no plans to move any of our other games to this business model, I think it is fair to say that there will be learning from DDO Unlimited that will apply to future products. Ultimately each title will get the right business model for that game design and target platform, but we certainly expect to apply some of the best elements of this model to future titles where appropriate.

How do you think free-to-play style games impact the North American MMO market overall?

Fernando Paiz:

The movement towards Free-to-Play is an important part of the way the MMO market is growing. When MMOs were new, just a few hard-core early adopters were playing and they would pick a game from a handful of choices and pay for it with a subscription. These days, players have dozens of choices for their MMO gaming entertainment. While most premium games still command a subscription to play, other smaller or more casual Free-to-Play games have been successful in attracting a more casual audience.

What we've observed is that the subscription is a huge barrier for players to sign up for a new game. Even if they like the game or would not mind paying $50 for a box product, the recurring nature of the monthly fee makes many people think twice about signing up.

With DDO Eberron Unlimited, Turbine is pleased to be the first to offer a AAA premium MMO that gives players the choice of how they pay for the game. Hardcore players can still get a great value for a low monthly fee and more casual players are can start for free and play and pay at their own pace without the pressure of trying to get their money's worth for a subscription. We expect a lot of people will be watching our launch and you'll see other games adopting similar models throughout the industry.