With today's announcement about Warhammer 40K: Eternal Crusade going "free to WAAAGH", we took the opportunity to reach out to Nathan Richardsson to learn more. Find out about what, if any, restrictions FtW players will face, what the immediate plans for the future are and much more.
MMORPG: Why free to play? Why now? How did you arrive at the $20 price point?
Nathan Richardsson: Years ago this was referred to as Free to Waaagh, where you could play a limited version of the Ork faction for free. When we came closer to launch we wanted to focus on paying customers first, so we put it on hold.
Now we’re incredibly excited to finally open up the floodgates for massive carnage again, except we redesigned the original concept. It didn’t fit into the world anymore, as it had to take into account the faction, class and combat balance.
We also felt it was a too restrictive experience, so we made a nicer approach. It’s a limited progression and class version, were you progress a third of the pace of the full paying user. The difference in progress gained if you had been a paying player, is banked, so when you eventually have spent $20, it all gets unlocked.
The price point is also interesting, and we have tried it out three times now with a larger success than the $50. One does not simply say no to a Steam sale at our size. We used to have multiple packs, and we’re going back to that. There is still a $50 pack, and we’ll add more bundles.
In the end, why? Simple. Blood for the blood god and Eternal Crusade with four factions and large battles can capitalize fully on having a free to play option. Even the paying players benefit from having the free players and vice versa.
MMORPG: Bandai-Namco recently became the WH40K:EC publisher. Were the F2P plans in motion prior to that and / or how much input did they have in the switch?
NR: The plan was on hold, and they were fully aware that this was the intent, to have a way to play for free eventually. We all saw the benefits offering multiple ways to pay and play as you want.
MMORPG: How long until the new F2P iteration is released?
NR: We will be soft-launching it during February, where we will start sending out keys to select groups and partners. Our newsletter subscribers and current customers that signed up for emails will get a key. They can give it to a friend or simply try it out for themselves.
The goal here is to start slowly, evaluate, adjust, deploy updates and then re-evaluate. Then in March, we’ll see it open up on Steam for everyone.
MMORPG: Will you be making any changes to the client in preparation for the switch?
NR: In addition to implementing the functionality of playing for free, the biggest combat balancing effort to date is coming, client and server performance work that’s always complicated and time-consuming, and we’ll have more content as we have in every update.
These changes weren’t specifically for the switch, though, but it was a great opportunity to match these two up as part of the larger effort of switching.
MMORPG: What will change with the Rogue Trader Store change now that the game is going F2P?
NR: Nothing. It’s business as usual, visual customization is in the store, and certain unique weapons but the best items are always in the game itself. We’re always adding more so expect to see simple visual customization make its way into the game for effort and not paid.
MMORPG: How are you going to address the uneasy feeling of buy to play with regard to the cash shop? What sorts of items can player expect?
NR: There has never been anything in the store which you should have to buy for cash. It is a misconception we’ve had for a long time. You can do everything in the game without ever buying a single thing there. We’ve had weapons in there which ended up better, but we’re nerfing the last one as we speak!
What we are starting to work more on is heroes and – as everything else – you have the “normal” version and a cooler looking version in the store. With flames and stuff. We’re adamant that you have a full play experience without the shop, and our motto is that you just really want to buy it, not have to buy it.
MMORPG: What about people who purchased the game? How will you compensate them for the switch?
NR: Playing for free has limited progression and class access to name a few. If the player's progression is the base, a paying customers to progression is 3 times faster. Also to note that even though we will have a $20 version, it will not be the same as the discounted $50 at all.
Essentially, what you are buying for $20 is 20,000 Rogue Trader Credits to become a paying customer. That’s it.
But we want to go further as a thank you and the continued support. All current players will receive a giftable package on Steam that includes the full game itself.
MMORPG: What will F2P players have access to once the transition is complete?
NR: Some would say that we’re opening it up too much compared to the paying player but with only a 1/3 of the progression speed and class limitations – we think we’ll be able to have the free player be valuable and meaningful part of the game.
That’s where were re-designing and setting the line. There are always things which are off limits for the free player but remain a valuable part of the team. Only allowing one class of say Orks, would not be fun for the free player nor would provide any meaningful battles with paying players.
MMORPG: Is there any content or are there any features that can’t be unlocked over time with in-game currency or through participation in the game?
NR: Yes, we have classes, elites, heroes, which by definition will always be closed due to that restriction. When we add more of veterans, elites, and heroes, it more likely than not that some will have limitations.
MMORPG: Your fact sheet mentions expansions. Where do you see the game going next?
NR: We go by themes, what we think the game needs right now and by player feedback. That’s why the ratio in individual updates change. Some are patches that focus on balancing and adding more items but focus on performance, others, like Expansions are big and have a long lead time.
The amount of animation is easily three months of work, on top of balancing and their core mechanics in our next Expansion. That’s why we have people working on content updates and patch filling the gaps so to speak.
Our focus is still filling up the gaps that we wanted to have at launch and see are becoming more and more important than before. Adding Heroes and Elites as well as the systems of how they differ, adding more successor chapters as heroes and elites.
This can also be game modes on current maps and expand on the game mode system – as well as we have three maps we want to do and the first we’re finalizing which is the 40 vs. 40 Ronan Fortress.
MMORPG: What can players expect in the short term after the change to F2P?
NR: This shift, offering a free way to play the game will open entirely new market for us, which will have a lot of indirect benefits for all players. We believe this is the right thing to do, as it means more free updates for everyone, paying or free player.
Matchmaking, more regional servers, and geo-matchmaking to name a few. It will also dramatically decrease wait time for larger war parties and single players as well. The chances of a particular type of match you’re looking for in your region is far higher with new … targets.
MMORPG: Is the game going to be released for both PS4 and XB1?
NR: Yes, we still intend to go on consoles. We seem to be taking the path most online games in our genre, focus more on the core game before moving to console. We use Unreal Engine 4 and actually had candidates to ship for certification but felt that we needed to consolidate our efforts on one platform.
Secondly, which is crucial to us, is cross-play. Our current game and architecture directly benefit from more players – as they are entertainment for each other – as well as our roadmap moving forward will capitalize even more on the mass of players.
MMORPG: What are the difficulties in implementing true cross platform game play between PC and consoles?
NR: The technical problems have mostly gone. I worked on Defiance, and we were playing cross-platform there internally all the time. However, that wasn’t on the table at launch but would have benefits extremely if it was.
So the stories that cross-play isn’t possible from a gameplay and technical standpoint have just minimized over time. And we have full controller support in the PC version since – forever – so it’s not a massive effort spinning up consoles again, as the gameplay part of our game has always had controller players in mind.
That’s perhaps the key today; you can’t develop a game just on PC and then expect it to work magically on consoles from a game perspective, you need to have parts of the team always on controllers and the supporting systems for that.
MMORPG: Please feel free to add anything else you would like our readers to know.
NR: We’re always grateful for the continued support and thank our players for being here with us still today. Our numbers are growing again, and we believe this switch will be beneficial for everyone involved. Even finding the old retail box which is probably on discount will still give you that old $50 package nobody can get anymore.
Oh and of course, if you want to participate in our free version soft-launch, signing up to our newsletter on eternalcrusade.com might be a good idea :)