MapleStory - E3 Interview
At E3, MMORPG.com's Carolyn Koh dropped by the studios of Nexon America, the makers of MapleStory, to talk about that game's success and the most recent content update.
Founded in 2005, Nexon America’s first launched title was the very popular MapleStory, which is recognized as the most successful Korean MMORPG to be ported to the US market. MapleStory boasts 72+ million users worldwide and in the US alone, it gained over 2 million registered users in the first year. MapleStory is a free to play game that monetizes by micro-transactions. You can buy consumables as well as cosmetic items and one of the most popular items in their item mall is a 2x XP card. Yes, some people just love that leveling treadmill!
Nexon America is in Los Angeles, and they were kind enough to invite me to meet with them at their studio. I first met with Nexon America’s Director of Games Operations, Min Kim at the Ion Conference where he was on a panel moderated by Jason Wonacott titled: Creating a Global Marketplace for MMOGs: Can East and West Really Play Together? MapleStory is THE game that made Western game developers take a second look at a business model other than the monthly subscription. With some one on one time during E3, I was able to ask the question I’ve always wanted to ask. Why is the game called MapleStory? Both Min and Product Coordinator,
"Back in the mists of time…" started Min, "Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far… oops, wrong story…" said Sheloman. After we stopped laughing, the truth came out. Nobody really knows. The favorite reasons for the name lies between someone liking the Maple Leaf and the availability of the domain. Although Sheloman assured me that in the lore, there really is a Tree of Life that is the Center of the Universe, and that the American team has put in items such as maple syrup and maple leaves.
"We just like to confuse people," Min quipped, tongue in cheek. "We call Sheloman a Product Coordinator – that’s equivalent to Producer in other game companies."
MapleStory is targeted at the teen market, but in Taiwan it attracted the elementary market, and in the US, it resonates with the older teen crowd. Their main demographic is 17 – 18 year olds. I've asked Min before why MapleStory was so popular in the US when so many Korean MMOGs have failed. He often laughs and says he doesn’t know, but the more he elaborates, the more information we receive. When it was launched in 2005, there were few competing products. Then, also, they had Nexon America and a localization team. MapleStory is whimsical, fantastic and very much about Pop Culture. In America, that's American Pop Culture.
"MapleStory was created as the ultimate avatar customization game," said Min, "and the fact that it’s free to play really had something to do with it." True enough, most teens have little disposable income, but plenty of time. MapleStory's financial success can be firmly pinned on the launch of the pre-paid card in 2007. In keeping with their motto that they are a service company, MapleStory is heavy with live events, quests, content releases and special events are created around special days such as Valentine's day, Halloween, Saint Patrick's day, 4th of July and the like. For the launch of the pre-paid card, there were two in-game quests that showed players where the cards were available. Seven Elevens and Target department stores were created for those quests.
Sheloman was pleased to tell me more about the content release scheduled for early August. The latest Masteria expansion was specifically created by the American Team for the US market. In it, players will find icons of American Pop Culture such as Bigfoot and a Trading Card Game and they all have been "MapleStory-sized." That is to say, they all maintain the cute, pixel art look and feel of MapleStory characters. There are three new areas that will be available to play in:
Phantom Forest is a 45+ level area which is haunted. There, players will find a Haunted House, Headless Horsemen and Elder Wraiths among other monsters, and may encounter the boss, Big Foot. Sheloman described the forest as a "Forest of Illusion like Super Mario world."
Phantom Forest leads to Crimsonwood Mountains that is a 70+ level area. The first area you must navigate is the Valley of Heroes where huge living pillars of stone known as Menhirs roam. These critters cannot be killed and players must use their timing and jumping skills in true platformer style to get through them. Players will encounter six new enemy types here, and find a number of caves which are actually solo-able dungeons. Finally, they encounter level 120 Guardians which guard the way to the next area.
Crimsonwood Keep is the ruins of what was once a great thriving Keep where the finest Masterian heroes trained and learned their trade. Another level 70+ area and a massive map.
In total, there are 31 new maps, 11 new enemies and new weapons – many which will be player created, and 12 epic quests, each with many steps and mini goals.
"We developed this here, for the US Market," said Sheloman "and the global MapleStory locations may choose to pick it up or not, since every location crates content for their specific market."
One successful feature created in the US was the Wedding system. It proved so popular that globally, many countries have picked it up, then tweaked and localized it for their market. The upcoming patch is the first major content release that is entirely created by the US team and they are justifiably pleased and excited.
Finally, something that many players will probably appreciate, MapleStory’s "Naughty Word Filter" is being revised to be smarter so that entire words will not be "blipped" out just because they contain several letters which may be a "naughty word." Can almost 6 million users (in the US) be wrong? It's fun, it's a grind, it's a cutesy 2-D side scroller with a very distinctive art direction and it's free to play.