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Exclusive Interview: Unveiling Inkbound's Season Pass with Shiny Shoe CEO Mark Cooke

Steven Weber Updated: Posted:
Interviews 0

Inkbound is only a few short days away from their early access release. With the release will come, not only a fluid turn-based roguelike that brings the best aspects of Shiny Shoe’s award-winning title, Monster Train, to an online world where the whimsical and dangerous magic of the written word comes to life, but a Season Pass schedule that will turn Inkbound into an ongoing game as a service (GAAS).

If you haven’t heard about Inkbound yet, or read our exciting impressions of early access, the world of Inkbound is set in the magical Atheneum, a library that contains all stories ever written. Players can explore different books, each with its own unique challenges and rewards. Inkbound, unlike the Shiny Shoe’s previous smash hit Monster Train, is meant to be a living game, updated over a long time period with the input of the players. In this exclusive interview, we talk to Mark Cooke, the founder and CEO of Shiny Shoe, the studio behind Inkbound. Mark has experience working as a programmer, game designer, and producer. Read on to learn everything you’ll need to know about Inkbounds Season Pass.

Tis the Season…Pass

Mark began the conversation explaining Shiny Shoe’s vision of the Season Pass.

One thing that we learned from working on Monster Train is that, as a studio, we really like supporting our games over a long time. We had a thriving Discord community with… 10k plus people in it. It was awesome to be talking to YouTubers, Twitch Streamers, Content Creators and our players, and we have a very feedback oriented culture in general as a company. We found a lot of fun and pleasure form making free updates and releasing new content to players and in Monster Train we eventually also did a paid DLC.

But basically we felt that it was a model that wouldn’t allow us to stay focused on the game as long as we wanted to. So that is the reason, on the business side, why we are doing a season pass. So we just really wanted to have a way to keep updating the game over a long time period – BUT at the same time we are gamers! We care deeply about our players. We don’t want to do something  that feels like any kind of negativity over the implementation of this and we are acutely aware of players disappointment at some of the structure of these kinds of things in other titles for a variety of reasons. So we have some commitments that have been lynchpins for us.

One is going to be 100% cosmetic only. There’s not pay to win whatsoever.

Number two, no gameplay features are going to be locked behind it in any capacity. At all and that goes to the future. It’s not going to lock out access to a new player class. All of those types of content updates are going to be available to all players.

We have a typical dual track model there’s free rewards, that are associated with your season level, and then we’ve got a bunch of cool looking cosmetics, across a variety of types, like hats, weapons, dances, flaming effects for your head, trails and so on, where players optionally, can decide if they want to purchase the season pass to access those as they level up.” -Mark Cooke, CEO, Shiny Shoe

The Season Schedule

As with all season passes, they usually run on a schedule of several weeks, and our next question to Mark revolved around when players could expect the season passes to drop. In addition to that, Inkbound intends to release new stories and classes along the way, so we wanted to know if the update schedule for season passes would also correlate to content drops as well. Mark told us that the goal was to release content along with the season pass.

“We’re not ready to publicly commit to a schedule for this but we would like to be releasing new seasonal content, which the season pass is only one component of it, there’s all the free gameplay changes that come along with that, 4 times a year is our goal now. We’re not 100% sure we’ll be able to pull that off, but, that’s where we’re trying to get to. As an early access title, you know we’re going to need to iterate some on how we develop the game live, so there’s work to do for us.

Inkbound is a game designed where you can jump into stories, which are represented as books when you’re going through these roguelike runs and you go into the book, and you have to clear out the Unbound, this threat that’s trying to destroy all the books in the Atheneum library. So the expansion model for us is to add new books to the library. Which then become places to go during your run. So we definitely plan to theme our seasonal updates around things like new books, new character classes – that are called aspects- that players will be able to control. We’re not a competitive game but we have a ranked mode where players are able to prove their skill and go up this ladder, increasing the challenge. So they can utilize those new aspects for that.

And then the cosmetics that come along with the season pass would be themed after the overarching theme of the season which would includes like NPC’s and story elements that are all tied together.” -Mark Cooke, CEO, Shiny Shoe

How to Cosmetic in Inkbound

One thing that is always difficult in games that have purely cosmetic only season passes is that players can only wear a limited number of cosmetics on their favorite characters. That can often lead to having a surplus of earned cosmetics that your characters can never use. We wanted to know how Inkbound will incentivize players to buy these season passes. Mark explained that the cosmetics can have multiple uses, and in some cases, may be aspect specific.

“We definitely have some MMO elements but, one thing that’s different than an MMO is that, even though you have a character, and each person does have a screen name and you see them online when you’re running around and so on in various context, you can be any aspect or any class basically. So you can switch between them freely, and right now we have no plans to ever retire any of them. I can’t say if that’s going to be the case in the future but right now we’re only adding as our plan.

Some cosmetics are specific to each aspect and some are generic, like any aspect can wear almost any hat. (with some rare exceptions). For head effects and trails and things like that, any aspect can equip that. The way that we have things setup right now is that each aspect has their own cosmetic loadout so, you configure what it’s going to be if you’re playing the Magma Miner aspect, and then configure what it’s going to be for the Mosscloak aspect and when you swap between them it swaps all of the cosmetics associated with them as well. And things like emotes can be used by any aspect, so we’re trying to make them very flexible and not be in a position where you get a hundred of them, but only really want to use three, because there’s so many different kinds of aspects you might be playing. And you might want to configure them differently.

And because we’re a multiplayer co-op game, other players can see what you’ve earned. In addition to the season pass there’ also cosmetics that are only earned via gameplay as well, so certain quests will earn cosmetic rewards. And then there’s achievement oriented things, related to climbing the ranked mode ladder. Like nameplate banners that show off that you’ve reached platinum rank, for example. And maybe another player hasn’t so we’re trying to create ways to show off your accomplishments to other players in a way that feels rewarding.” -Mark Cooke, CEO, Shiny Shoe

Seasons are Gone But Not Really Gone

Season Passes are often a fun way to keep players invested and subscribed, but due to their seasonal nature, new players can often miss our on rewards from previous seasons. Mark and the team at Shiny Shoe have thought about this, and have designed a cash shop where cosmetics that you may have missed in previous seasons can be found there.

“100% of the rewards are going to go into the cosmetic shop. We’re trying to avoid FOMO (the fear of missing out) we don’t want players to be like ‘Oh I missed season 1 because I bought the game 3 months later and it’s just impossible to get some of these things’. So the current plan is to move basically everything into a cosmetic shop that is available.” -Mark Cooke, CEO, Shiny Shoe

Season Passes Only or Expansions Too?

Season Passes can be an often-welcome addition to a content schedule but we also asked whether Shiny Shoe would eventually release paid DLC along with the season passes at some point.

“Never say never.” Mark told us, “But right now we have no plans to do any kind of paid expansion. All gameplay, content updates are going to be free to any owner of the game.”

Earn Your Season Passes

In addition to players simply paying for a season pass with money, Mark told us that they plan to have a generous paid currency plan, where players can earn currency to buy cosmetic shop items, or even the seasons pass itself. Shiny Shoe has taken a lot of inspiration for their season pass structure from Fortnite. Mark explains this in more detail.

“At launch our first season is going to be discounted, it’s approximately 6 dollars US. (or whatever that may be in regional currency). In the future we’re thinking (though not committed to) of increasing it to about 10 dollars US. But either way, in the premium reward track, if you complete the seasons pass you’ll earn more currency than you need to buy the next one. If you complete all 100 levels (of the premium season pass) and you don’t spend any of the currency you earn in the cosmetic shop, you can buy the next season pass without making any additional transaction… It’s really important for us to feel like we’e a player-first Game as a Service” -Mark Cooke, CEO, Shiny Shoe

Use Currency How You Want

Mark also explained that the currency you earn will not only be in the paid season pass track, but also in the free track. It would roughly take two seasons of completing the free track of Inkbound to purchase a paid season track. Players could also spend their currency on buying their tracks, for example, if someone was close to the end of the season, and they were missing a few levels, they could purchase them with the currency (known as Shiny’s) to finish out their track. Any currency you earn in the reward track can be used on any of the three cash-currency avenues. Cash shop items, buying the seasons pass, or buying season levels within the seasons pass. To earn the currency, there are also three ways to do it. Through the free track of the season pass, through the premium track, and of course the final way to get the currency is to buy it outright with real money.

Of course, getting to level 100 may be easier said than done. Mark told us that they are still tuning how long it takes to get to the max season pass level, but that earning season pass progress will be heavily quest focused.

Our goal is to not require insane grinding to get there. So we are a rogulike, and we are aiming for a run length of 45 minutes to an hour (per run). If you played about 1 run per day, by the end of the season, a couple months later, you could have gotten to the end of the season. So if you’re playing hardcore, you’ll get there faster, but if you’re playing a run a day, you could still get to the end by the end of the season. That’s our goal. We don’t want to make it insanely challenging to get there.

And we’re doing something that’s fairly common in MMOs, we’re doing rested SP, (Season Points as opposed to Experience Points (XP)) So we have some boosts to it if you haven’t played the game recently to help you get caught up and progress faster. That’s quite poorly represented in the user interface right now, but that’s something we intend to improve. But there’s an invisible boost to your season points.

The Season Point game is weighted towards quests, more so than grinding out runs. Completing quests is the fastest way to earn SP in inkbound. There is a core set of quests that are associated with telling the story of the season, so we hope that any engaged player would be playing through those. On top of that there are some daily quests, that are intended to be completed solo as well as ones that are harder to complete, where if you’re in a party or in a group anybody in the party will count towards the quest. So there are some party, multiplayer oriented quests as well. That’s kind of the idea, if you’re only going to play one run, you might as well try to finish one of the daily quests there too, especially if you’ve already completed the core quests, as your primary mechanism for proceeding through the seasonal progress.” -Mark Cooke, CEO, Shiny Shoe

Inkbound will release on May 22nd, into early access. We appreciate Mark taking the time to talk to us about their content release goals with their season pass. Mark also wanted all players to know that they take player feedback very seriously and want more players to be part of their community. To do that, join their Discord community, or at any point in the game, players can tap the F8 key to provide feedback at any time. So if you’re looking for your next roguelike adventure, check out Inkbound next week.


Steven Weber

Steven has been a writer at MMORPG.COM since 2017. A lover of many different genres, he finds he spends most of his game time in action RPGs, and talking about himself in 3rd person on his biography page.