Recently, MMORPG.com spoke with the husband and wife team of Fernando and Kate Piaz from Turbine's Dungeons and Dragons Online to talk about the game's transition from a subscription based title to the free to play model. Formerly known as Dungeons and Dragons Online: Stormreach, the new incarnation of the game will be called Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited.
The DDO Dynamic Duo explained that they felt it was necessary to rename DDO due to the new business model. "It's also to reflect," he elaborated, "just how far the game has come since launch." He went on to list a number of major elements that are present in today's game that weren't around at launch: soloable, PvP elements, outdoor adventures, a higher level cap, and more.
Dungeons and Dragons will be among the first major subscription based MMORPG to make the move to an item shop model. While this may seem like a good idea on the surface, industry insiders have warned that the key to the success of an item shop game is that the store not be "tacked on" at the end, but rather be fully incorporated into the game's original design.
"I think we're really fortunate with DDO,' answered Kate Piaz, "in the sense that D&D has always followed the notion that you would buy a module and play it and when you were ready to move beyond it you would go down to the hobby shop and you would expand your experience... It's not that it's a big change for us. We've always been the different MMO. We've always had mechanics that were more diverse than the other more classic MMOs so for us, this felt like a relatively easy migration because we're not trying to sell the endgame, we're not selling raid loot, we're enhancing the overall experience by providing conveniences, luxury items, cosmetic items and stuff like that that's really going to enhance the kind of gameplay that you have but don't in any way change that moment to moment gameplay."
According to Fernando, Turbine as a company has set out to try to lead the charge in the way in which this business model will operate in the western world and that they are fortunate that DDO fits in so well with this idea.
From there, the conversation turned toward the way that the item shop would be structured and what exactly would be offered.
The products are broken down into two categories: First, there are services or account options, this covers things like character slots, premium classes and races, and the like. The second area of sales are consumables. From within a dungeon you can purchase items that you might need in terms of arrows, potions or similar items. This will allow players who want to the opportunity to forego leaving the dungeon and taking an XP hit to still obtain something that they need on the fly. The future will also see more cosmetic items made available through the store.
Giving players the ability to purchase items on the fly, when and where needed brings up an obvious point about the RMT sales actually having an impact on gameplay and perhaps giving paying players a distinct advantage.
"Sure," Kate answered when questioned on the subject, "but I think that you can do that right now in the game if you plan accordingly. You can walk in there with a backpack full of arrows and know that you're not going to run out. This is just providing an opportunity for people who don't have enough time to amass that inner level of knowledge about the game, or level of in-game goals to keep you flush in those ways. It's meant to close the gap between the people who have the time and are more hardcore and people who want to come in and casually play the game."
Essentially, this says that players can save their cash by planning accordingly and failure to plan might end up costing you real money.
"You can also spend a lot of time playing the game playing for free and amassing points in the store and you will have that option available to you even if you didn't spend money to buy the points," Fernando told us.
Amassing Turbine points to be used in the store through free gameplay can take a while. "You earn points as you amass total favor for a character," he said. "We're still fine-tuning how many points you get. What's in the beta right now isn't the final amount; it's probably a little low. So, we're going to give you more points for every hundred favour you achieve with every character."
Through this system, players are allowed to create a character, earn favour, delete it, start another, etc. until you had earned enough to pay for the game, they are encouraged to do so.
Changing a game's primary business model is no small feat, and to fans of Turbine's DDO and followers of the MMO genre as a whole, the decision seemed to come out of left field. Not so for the game's developers though as the last few updates had been created with the possibility of this change in mind.
Since the announcement, players have been concerned that their Drow and Monk characters will suddenly become unavailable to them. The distinction seems to be the difference between whether you unlock the race or class in question within the game or not. The monk can not be unlocked in the game and is something that Turbine gives to its subscribers. It makes sense then that the monk would remain something that is going to cost players money. Drow characters, on the other hand, if you have unlocked them in the game they are yours on that shard.
Also coming on the heels of the announcement have been player accusations that the Turbine team had been purposely holding on to the content due in Module 9 so that there would be more new content when Unlimited launched. We were told that this simply wasn't the case and that there have been a number of obstacles in the way of Mod 9's launch. Fernando likened the whole process to watching sausage being made. Sure it's good to eat, but you don't want to watching someone making it. The same, it seems, can be said of MMOs.
Ever since DDO launched, players have been asking for a set of tools that would bring the game more into line with it pen and paper counterpart. Simply put, players have been looking for DM tools so that small groups (or even large) would be able to make their own DDO adventures.
"The idea and vision of that is something that is absolutely in our minds all the time," Fernando answered. "It's something that we absolutely want to shoot for in the long term of the franchise... We've even done some beginning prototypes and designs on the idea but no specific plans or timelines and I don't want to suggest that it's right around the corner. Is it something that we see in the future of the franchise? Absolutely."