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Wayfinder Interview: Talking Monetization, End Game and Player Counts with Airship Syndicate

Steven Weber Updated: Posted:
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Did you catch all of our Wayfinder content this week? Well if you have yet to dig into our gameplay preview, and the details from the press presentation, there is no time like the present. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with the development team at Airship Syndicate and chat about their upcoming MMO dungeon crawler, and had plenty of questions answered. Learn about monetization, end game, and much more in our Wayfinder Interview.

Last week we sat down with Airship Syndicate’s CEO Joe Madureira, Design Director Steve Madureira,  Director of Marketing AJ Lasaracina, and President of Airship Syndicate Ryan Stefanelli to talk about Wayfinder. We started the conversation with questions about the scope of the story. During the presentation the developers divulged that there will be a main story quest, but being a character-based game, I wanted to know if the main story is affected by the characters that you play.

A Main Story and More

“The main story does not change,” AJ said, “But what we're gonna do is do sort of like character specific story arcs that unlock at certain points of the game. So we're actually still working on how this is actually going to be triggered. But it may be from visiting a location that the character recognizes or encountering someone from their past that basically triggers their memories. Which they'll recall, like, pieces of their their previous lives, and then each character will have ongoing quests that grow over time, we're not sure exactly how long they'll be, but we're pretty committed to adding to them, like every couple seasons, or whatever. So even if it's, you know, an OG character who years out, like we're still adding to their story as we go. But it doesn't affect the central story. It's more like side stuff.”

Ryan clarified that the insistence to build around character specific stories was deliberate. “One of the cool things about being character based too is we can weave in some of the character to character interactions, like you would get even in simple ways, like you pick at the beginning of an Overwatch match when two characters with history together, might quip at each other - or not necessarily just between Wayfinders but have a Wayfinder, who has a particular relationship with one of the, you know, antagonists in the story of boss or something like that.” He explained. “That's one of the things we think makes being a character based game unique from like a build your own character is that we can do that. And it has meaning. And that was part of our motivation to sort of make this leap, dice and go character based versus build your own.”

Because the game has repeatable bosses and dungeons, Steve Madureira noted that even if you pass a boss or level at one point, you’ll be able to go back and experience it again once you’ve earned a new character. This is just one of many reasons gamers would want to reroll and experience the content again with a new Wayfinder.

How Many Players in a Zone?

Wayfinder is not only an online game, but during the presentation, the team stated that this is Airship Syndicate’s version of an MMO, but there are a lot of features that are geared towards smaller groups. Naturally I had to wonder how many players the team expected in zones and dungeons when the game finally launches.

“There are a number of balancing factors.” Ryan began. “One is, even if tech were no limitation, which it probably will be, you know, we're just seeing how much can a server handle, we're kind of learning those limits. through some of these tests, we've been doing the technical test, and now the closed betas. I think right now, if you were to go on what we have, the numbers have changed off and on. But I think in Skylight, we're looking at somewhere between 30 to 40 people, because Skylights lighter, it's a lighter load, because you can't attack you know, certain things you can't do so it's easier.” For those that may not be aware, Skylight is essentially the player hub, where Wayfinders will use crafting stations, check out the merchants, and group up for instanced dungeons.

“In our over lands, which are our shared spaces, I believe the number is somewhere between 20 and 30. And because it's kind of MMO lightish, the overlands aren't as big as say, like, a zone in Final Fantasy 14, which might want to support 100 players or more or unlimited even, whatever the server can handle.” Ryan continued. “And because it's an action based game too, and you clear mobs pretty quickly, we have the game design challenge of figuring out how many people we should have in an area without getting respawns to be super aggressive and obnoxious versus areas being cleared out because, you know, powerful characters came in and just mowed through.”

To equate their population plans more succinctly, Ryan stated that their overlands will be closer to the Destiny 2 model on how they handle their planets, where even small numbers of players can feel like a busy area. The team is shooting for the feel of an MMO, with busy zones where players always feel like there are others around, but that won’t necessarily mean their zone will have hundreds of players, even if it seems busy. Ryan clarified, “We want people to see each other as often as the game will allow, whether that's technical limitations or design limitations.”

Players Scale to Challenges

Wayfinder is also unique in the way they handle their gear and loot tables. Every enemy has their own echo, which has specific stats and in some cases, special abilities. That means there’s a possibility that some echoes might be more coveted and farmed, especially where world bosses may be concerned. The team thought about that, and has stated that scaling will be in place so high level players that are heading into lower level areas will still be strong, but content like Lost Zones won’t be just a cake walk.

“The goal is to have you still feel strong but not realize it which is especially important when we have the the helper queue, which is basically like open matchmaking, which will help fill in gaps where, if a lot of people aren't doing low level content, you can be a high level player and be like, I just want to help people and you get rewards for doing so and it'll put you in a low level dungeon.” Steve explained. “You'll feel strong in there but not trivialize it and one shot everything for them. And in over lands we there's like an upper cap for the zone. Certain events will trigger, if you're a participant in an event, you'll get skilled dynamically for that event. And then when it's complete, you'll go back up to the limit of the overland itself.”

Killing low level mobs as a higher level Wayfinder might seem a little counterintuitive, but the gear that enemies drop at any level are still useful. While killing a low level enemy will drop low level echoes, because you never know when you’ll have a small budget left over after slotting your high level echoes. Steve explained, “If you're looking for an echo, like low, low budget echoes, lower level ones are still useful even at high level, because you might be like, ‘Oh, I have 30 budget leftover, what can I fill in with this’, you know, as you're leveling up your budget, your Echo capacity is going up. So, those will still be useful if you're leveling up a new weapon. So even if you're high level, you might still want to go back and get a lower level echo in that case. And then there's also like, you know, things like, rare housing trophies and stuff that might drop.”

Echoes Are Important at Any Level

Echoes are a big part of Wayfinder, They not only make up a big portion of your stats, but they will also provide Wayfinders will augments to their attacks or new abilities altogether. I wondered whether there were character specific echoes – like echoes that will augment a specific character’s ability, which would make certain mobs for certain characters extremely coveted.

“Right now, there is not (an echo like that). We've talked about having some abilities, specific ones. That’s on the roadmap, and not in the current design.” Design director Steve Madureira stated. “Right now we're trying to make sure everything is broadly good for everyone. And then we can lean into, ‘Hey, this is really good because it modifies, this specific ability on this specific character, and no one else will want this. As far as the abilities,” he continued, “ our biggest factor for that right now are the ability upgrades. So as you're leveling up, you'll get upgrade points. And you can use that to modify all of your abilities in your vault. And they can change quite a bit how they play, and you can't get them all by the time you max out.”

Using a Tested Monetization Model

We then moved on to the idea of monetization. We know that Wayfinder is going to be a free to play game, and it takes its monetization philosophy from their publisher Digital Extremes which has seen great success with Warframe. The team is set that players will be able to purchase characters, as long as they do not already own them, and they would also purchase cosmetics as well. There will be an awakening system for end game where crafting multiples of the same character will incrementally make that character stronger. The cash shop will sell characters, but they are only available if you don’t already own them, so you won’t be able to purchase a character to instantly awaken them, but you can purchase a character before you craft it for the first time to awaken the character that way.

“Let’s say you collected 60% of the ingredients to craft a character to unlock them, and then you just make the impulse buy to unlock the character, you can finish that craft and then awaken with that those ingredients, and soft increase the attribute caps. That’s what the main philosophy is, all buying something ever does for you is saves you a little bit of time, or gives you something unique cosmetically, but there was never really like a power taht because you bought this you will exclusively be forever more powerful. That's a thing we're generally avoiding, very similar to Warframe.” Ryan said.

Playing a Diverse Set of Characters is Important

We briefly touched on the release schedule of new content. Currently the team expects a new character and weapon to release every 3 months as part of their season content. The team may not always add an entirely new weapon class, but that the new weapons that will be released will fill in the archetypes weapon options. Although Wayfinders will release with their signature weapon, other Wayfinders will be released in the future with their own signature weapon that may be of the same type, such as a sword and shield. If you’ve already settled on a main or an archetype that you like, you might not be interested in playing other characters, but Airship Syndicate told me that there are reasons why you’ll definitely want to play other characters, aside from just the personal story options. Steve went into specifics:

“One of the big features we're adding that's not in the beta right now is archetype levels, and archetype talents. So, the way that works is anytime you level up a character of a certain archetype, you'll get XP towards their archetypes, warmaster, arcanist, or survivalist. You'll unlock talents that you can have access to on any of the characters of that archetype. For example, let's say you start with Wingrave, and you max him out, you’ll have two talent points now, for all of your war masters. When you unlock Senja you have two talent points. If you want more talent points, you can't get them playing Wingrave anymore, you need to level up a new war master. So playing more of the same archetype will get you more and more talents.” Steve explained. He then delved into the idea of cross archetype talents.

“Then there's also the concept of cross archetype talents. When you fully master a tree with an archetype, you actually unlock a special talent in your other archetypes. So, if Wingrave’s your main, and you really want to pump him up, you'll play a bunch of other war masters to get more master talents. And when you max out your talents on Wingrave, you play a survivalists or arcanist, they'll have access to a special Warmaster themed talent for that tree. And then if you max out, you know, the arcanist or survivalists tree, your Warmaster willl have that archetype special talent unlocked there. So, there's incentive to play everything, and get all that unlocked”

What is Planned for End Game?

The idea that playing all of the characters would benefit your main character definitely felt like a way to prolong the race to end game. Naturally, that was the next question I asked, does the end game revolve around simply rerolling once you’ve maxed out a character? Steve stated that end game is a little more than just rerolling, because new content is going to bring plenty of new content and challenges.

“When we introduce new lost zone, that's going to keep pushing the content, the story forward. (It’s a) new lost zone, so new area, higher level cap, we are going to have certain updates, there'll be a heroic tier, which you'll be able to play all of the current content at that level, and there'll be new drops and new things to get there. So, the ruins you played at level one, you can do a max level version of it, and it will actually be above max level. It'll be the hardest content. And then in certain updates, we'll introduce another hero tier, as the level cap is increasing.”

Ryan also pointed out that there are other integral systems that players will want to have a hand in at end game. “There will be new characters, and there will be new weapons. And there's a discovery and underlying discovery system, which is somewhere between an achievement based system and one that's just about finding everything in the world that drives some other elements of progression forward. And then there's the house” He said. The house refers to player housing that will be in the game, but has not been available for testing in the beta build I had access to. He continued. “Because the house plays an important role in your paper doll. Because it's not just cosmetic, it has slots that are power based. And so, there's going to be a lot of work that the player has to do if they really want to min max, there's going to be a lot of work they put into not just their character, but their house, too.”

Will There Be PvP or Leaderboards?

Wayfinder is primarily a cooperative game, and in the current tests, there have been no PvP and nothing that pits players against one another, even where cooperative competitions are concerned. The team addressed the possibility of competitive content, but at the moment there is nothing specifically planned.

“I'll just say this about that whole leaderboards and PvP thing.” Ryan said. “There are no plans really at all to have actual PvP. Whatever form it may take. I think we like the idea of something competitive, which is why Joe kind of teases PvPvE, I think this game would benefit from it. I think it's a great platform for it, exactly what form it's going to take, again, this is after we've really figured out the core of the game, the priority for the game, which is the PvE. But we definitely believe the game either would benefit from it, if not just flat out needs it. So yeah, believe me, it's something that we're discussing internally right now. And some of our players have already kind of thrown out some interesting ideas that echoed our own.”

How Much Will a Persona Change Your Character?

Finally we ended the conversation on a note about the cosmetic system. We already know that the system will allow players to customize pieces of each character, such as the face, clothing, colors and trinkets. We also know that there will be a persona system, where there will be massive changes to the characters visuals. I asked how in depth the persona system would be. Could we see changes to a characters voice, or possibly gender swaps for our heroes? Joe Madureira answered.

“Those are interesting ideas, actually. I mean, they are as what separates them from styles is, you know, they Yeah, it they don't work within like the established item slots. It is a full reskin so you know, for instance, there might be like a you know, Frankenstein Senja that's just totally right it out with like, tubes and all kinds of stuff, and you can't, it doesn't really affect anything else about it, except just her looks, but, you might do like a, like a, like, a time shift or a gender bent one or changing voices and stuff like that is pretty cool. I mean, it's gonna take us a while before we changing (something like that), we do want to have as much, you know, variation as possible” he said.

AJ jumped in with more explanation on the monetization of cosmetics and personas. The team doesn’t want players to feel like they’re not getting what they pay for, so they won’t be dealing with loot boxes or gacha systems.

“Yeah, I mean, a lot of the monetization stuff, what we're thinking about will go into more depth in the coming weeks and month as we go towards early access to me. One of the reasons we haven't focused on as much as like, getting into the game in the players hands, they can kind of see what we're doing and how we're approaching it. And we've quickly squashed some of those fears that you mentioned. Like all of a sudden, as soon as you play something, your mind can race. It's like, ‘oh, man, are there gotcha systems?’ No, you're not buying loot boxes for characters, right? Like, you mentioned for buying additional characters? No, you're not doing that you're buying one or crafting (them).”

AJ then spoke about how Digital Extremes has assisted in their thoughts on monetization. “We wanted to get those systems and we want to refine them. But I mean, working with Digital Extremes has been exactly as you'd expect. It's about ‘hey, what makes sense for the player in terms of respecting them and their wallets.’ And then obviously, their time follows. So, we'll go into depth with that coming soon. And we think the founder's packs are, going to be awesome, and hopefully support us as well. And (the players) will see some of that value there. But the philosophy will be to keep those cosmetics in the cosmetic shop. And then obviously, they have the gameplay specific stuff in the game that you're playing.”

Wayfinder has a lot of interesting systems headed into the game, many of which I have yet to test. From what Airship Syndicate has told us, they have come up with many ways to keep players invested in the long term. While the game may not have the massive scale as many MMORPGs on the market, the design has been made to feel busy even if the scale is set a lot smaller. I look forward to playing the game more, when it hits Early Access in May.


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.