MMORPG: The deal. You’ve announced that you’ve struck a partnership with My.com. What does it give you as Intrepid?
Sharif: Our focus as developers is on creating a product that recognises the desires of the community we’re creating something for. We’re answering the call of MMORPG players to bring back ideals and principles in the creation of this game. It’s what made this such a life-defining thing for people early on. It tends to be a little bit of an older demographic that plays MMORPGs, and with that age comes nostalgia.
We can focus on that when we have a capable partner like My.com/Mail.ru, who’s going to facilitate the infrastructure, the servers, the customer service, localisation to these territories; everything that relates to that wheelhouse, they’re experts at. It was very important for us when we were vetting the potential publishers in these regions [to find] which one shares our creative vision moving forward and our passion for the project.
We found in our discussions with all of those that there was no comparison with My.com/Mail.ru in sharing that vision moving forward.
Bard: There are guys that backed the Kickstarter on [Volker’s] team.
Boenigk: Yes, absolutely. The games that you guys worked on, we played growing up. So we know the games that inspired Ashes of Creation, and we’re on-board with what [Intrepid] wants to achieve.
And that’s what’s exciting for us as well. We’ve published a number of games in the past that come from various different publishers and various different styles of games, but this is what strikes close to our heart. The game that Ashes of Creation aspires to be is the game that we want to play. It’s a game that we want to publish and that we want to pour our heart into.
And like [Steven] says, we’ve got the experience from a multitude of games working on localisation, server backend, customer support, community management, building and grooming communities, and that’s what we want to do for Intrepid Studios and Ashes of Creation. We want to build up that European and Russian branch of the community to add to the family that [Intrepid] have already built with the backers. To give more feedback, to give more input, and be part of that process.
Sharif: It was this sentiment that really led us to making the decision that My.com/Mail.ru was the right partner to have for these regions, espousing what we hold as very core principles to our game, and maintaining that creative control is something that was very important for us.
Bard: We want to see this IP treated very well. It’s near and dear to our hearts, and we’re not going to let it go lightly. We needed to have a partner that we really trusted, and that was going to treat it the way we would treat it.
Boenigk: And it’s also something that my.com/Mail.ru is not traditionally connected with games in the style of Ashes of Creation, which is a very Western-focused game - we’ve been involved more with Asian and Russian Developers - so for us this is a chance to do something new, do something different, take the experience we have but put it into a new project. So we’re very much looking forward to that.
MMORPG: You’ve gone into early Alpha. How did you select your early testers, and what are you doing to actively manage the feedback you’re getting?
Sharif: It was very important for us to make sure that among that test group specifically - the very first people into the world of Vera - that these individuals had an eclectic and diverse source of gaming. We didn’t want the cream of the crop and the highest spenders, and we didn’t necessarily want the absolute most hardest hardcore. We wanted a blend between different demographics of purchase points and different demographics of play style.
So what we did was we implemented a weekly raffle. If you were registered on our website, you had the opportunity weekly to be raffled out for participation in our alpha zero test phase. That’s where the bulk of our 2500 testers came from, However, at PAX East, we wanted to add a thousand players, and we had a panel with a thousand attendees, so we gave everyone alpha zero access [laughs]. And we had this huuuuge line of people who were registering on iPads. It was a lot of fun, but it was unexpected, and it was something that was important for us to get this diverse range of player feedback.
Bard: You might also notice the Kickstarter packages and summer sales give access to the alphas and stuff. Alpha zero was such a raw experience because we just wanted to hammer the servers, really wanted to vent a lot of the systems that we were doing, so we didn’t want to charge for it. There were people just literally looking at loading screens.
Sharif: That was such a testament to the commitment of our community, that they were willing to sit on that launcher. Sometimes there were literally hours that you could not connect to the game. In fact, one of the funny side jokes -
There was a loading screen we had - a beautiful landscape, a volcano in the background, and there was a nice windmill and whatever. People would get stuck on that screen, so it became a meme in the community that they were facing the ‘windmill boss’, and there were countless alpha testers dead in front of it. So we had one of our concept artists take a screen grab and add teeth to the windmill and kill people in front of it. We didn’t tell them that we were going to do this, but the next time they logged in, even though we had gotten past that point, they logged in and saw this monster windmill and were just cracking up.
As a gift to their efforts we gave them a house decor item of a windmill so that when the game launches they can place a windmill in their home, just as a reminder of their dedication and assistance.
Boenigk: We were quite surprised when we saw that loading screen during our first play test, but it’s a great example of how much love goes into it. Just that organic fun to have with the players - it’s what game design should be.
MMORPG: You mentioned that you wanted to get back to some of the tenants of MMORPGs that you felt were under-served. There’s a balance between chasing the veteran community and being a lure for newcomers.
Sharif: There’s two components to the design of the game. One is obviously how can we move the genre forward, what systems can we implement that either haven’t been done before, breathe new life into systems that were forgotten, or are completely unique to Ashes of Creation. Our node system is the crux of that philosophy, allowing players the opportunity to form the world around them in an MMORPG, that is all about interconnectivity. Massive player communities, important conflict and cooperation, all revolve around that node system and the development of the world. That’s a fairly new philosophy.
The old philosophy is creating systems that incentivise players to connect with others. To bring this massive identity back to MMORPGs. To reward risk. To have a strong risk versus reward relationship, so that when you accomplish something, it feels like you’ve accomplished something. To have opportunities where players don’t have to solely advance in their adventuring class, but there are many diverse paths of advancement you can take from crafting to societal influences to the development of your node as a citizen to the development of your adventuring class, to the exploration of the world. All of these things are paying homage to the nostalgia that many older MMORPG players feel.
So the blend between offering new players to the genre that may not have had the experiences older players have, in defining the creation of that world, against what older players desire to get back to, which is the sense of community, the risk versus reward, the paths of advancement that other people may not take, the massively multiplayer, those things combined present an opportunity for user acquisition and player retention.
We feel that the node system and our dedication to what players want will achieve both of those goals well.