A Chat About Dungeon Runners
While in Austin, the MMORPG.com team had the opportunity to sit down with Senior Marketing Manager Greg Bauman and Stephen Nichols, the Producer and Lead Programmer for NCsoft’s Dungeon Runners. Later, in a follow-up interview, we were also joined by Mark Tucker, the game’s Lead Designer. During the interviews, we talked about the direction that the quirky title will be taking in the near future and its place in the NCsoft portfolio of games.
The first thing that readers and potential players of the game should be aware of is that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. Throughout the game, players are treated to amusing dialogue and features that almost poke fun at MMOs. One example that we were given is a skill in the game called “Awesome Cleaveage”. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I see those words together, I’m really not thinking about the fact that it’s an attack skill, but rather something else comes to mind… Or is that just me?
The dev team for Dungeon Runners is currently standing at about ten, a small dev team for a project. Talking to them, you get the sense that NCsoft wasn’t quite sure at first what they could expect from this title. When they first “inherited the title”, it was supposed to be quite a serious game, but once the team really got hold of it, it became the tongue-in-cheek game that we have come to know.
“It’s a love / hate relationship,” Nichols said, “It's either you really enjoy the humor and you think it's a fun game and you're diging it, or you say ‘What's with this silly game’ and you can't stand it, though I think most people fall on the side of enjoying the game."
With this in mind, I asked the guys just how much time players were spending in the game. The average play time, I was told, is about four hours a month. That isn’t to say that the game doesn’t hold players’ attention, as we were told that it has its share of “hardcore” players, but it’s not surprising given that the game seems to be designed to appeal to a more casual (in terms of time) players.
The game, we were told, is specifically designed to strip away time sinks like long distance travel so that players can, if they want to, enjoy a short gaming experience. That being said, we are still told that there are people who "practically live in the game". The dungeons, for example, were designed so that players could get in, play, have fun, get out. “If you want to play it at lunch, that’s fine,” Nichols said. “If you want to play it for 15 hours straight, that’s fine too.”
They're looking at different ways to market this game. They realize that with a free game of any quality, the potential for viral marketing is quite high. One person likes it, they tell a friend who tells a friend, etc etc etc. Because of the kind of game that Dungeon Runners is, they have been looking at ways to get the game out to people in college. After all, you're talking about a group of people in the right age demographic, who all have computers and internet connections, who probably don't want to pay $15 a month for an MMO on their credit cards and who don't really have hours and hours a night to dedicate to an MMO.
Dungeon Runner is in what the guys described as “perpetual development”, meaning that they’re always working on it. As a result, it slows them to “throw a feature out there knowing it’s not AAA quality yet and just keep polishing it and getting user feedback “until it’s great”. One example of this is in PvP. PvP was in the game, but didn’t have any rewards associated with it. This was done because the PvP system wasn’t as balanced as the team would have liked and while it was certainly ready to be used and for players to have fun with it, it wasn’t quite at the stage where it could be used for advancement. This will all be changing and evolving.
"We're adding in-game advertising to give the free players more of the game. They still won't get as much as the members, but still quite a bit more than they're getting now".
For anyone out there who may not be aware, Dungeon Runners is NCsoft’s first foray into the world of free to play MMORPGs. While playing the game is free if you want it to be, since launch, there has been a subscription available ($5 a month), giving those who do subscribe access to more of the features of the game than the bare-bones free to play version. In order to supplement this, they (in conjunction with a company called “double fusion” will be adding in-game advertising to the game. This will allow them to offer more features to the free-to-play folks. One thing that we should get out of the way right away is the fact that subscribers will still be able to access the game ad-free, while those who aren’t paying will be dealing with ads.
The ads will consist of an ever-present banner ad at the top of the screen. Also, when players die, there is a chance that they will be watching a 10-15 second movie advertisement. This won’t happen every time. The occasional ad will also appear on static load screens. "We don't want the players to be harassed by [ads]."
So, what kind of effect will this have on the free players?
Currently, members have access to all of the aspects of the game:
- One Bank Page
- Stackable Potions
- Voice Chat
- Members are bumped to the front of queues
- There is a members-only server
- Members have access to all high-quality items: Normal, Superior, Magic,Rare, Unique and Mythic (non-members currently don’t have any access to Rare, Unique or Mythic items).
When the in-game ads hit shortly (with the amusingly titled “Chunk Two” update), things will change slightly for members and free-to-play players as well. Here’s an example:
- Members will gain access to three bank pages instead of just one.
- For non-members, when a unique item drops, there will now be a 20% chance that they can use it. This allows the free-to-play users more access, but it will obviously take a bit longer to collect the higher powered stuff than it would otherwise.
To date, the game has garnered nearly 300,000 accounts created and they are pleased with their retention rate (the number of players who keep on playing), as it is “on-par” with other NCsoft titles like City of Heroes / City of Villains.
All in all, we are told that NCsoft is happy with the performance of this title. We were also told quite candidly that when the project began, there were no expectations at all, so, taking that into consideration, it’s easy to say that the game has far out-stripped original expectations as it prepares for Chunk Two.
While Dungeon Runners might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it can be an amusing companion to the other MMOs in your repertoire. If you’ve got the time, I would recommend giving the game a download and trying it out.