Over the past few weeks, there’s been one MMO company consistently popping up again and again, whether its because of acquisitions, announcements, or new products. The name “Perfect World” just keeps recurring.

I’ve decided to set aside today’s episode to cover some of those recent developments, and take a look at some of the moves this company has been making in the Western MMO markets as of late, as well as cover some of the information I gleaned from my time at PAX Prime.

Later in this episode, I’ll show you a little bit about a new F2P FPS that I got a hands-on demo of at PAX called Blacklight Retribution. But first, I’d like to cover a few of the newsy bits that’ve brought Perfect World into the public eye recently.

Direct Download Links:

HD Video | Large Video | Mobile Video | MP3 Audio | YouTube

MMOrgue iTunes Feeds:MMOrgue RSS Feeds:
HD Video
iPad & Apple TV Video
iPod Video
MP3 Audio
HD Video RSS
Large Video RSS
Mobile Video RSS
MP3 Audio RSS

Show Notes:

STO – F2P

MMORPG.com announcement

In a move that surprised … just about nobody, it was recently confirmed that Star Trek Online will soon be moving to a Free-to-Play subscription model. Details on the transition are scarce at the time of filming this episode, but according to a statement from Perfect World CEO Kevlin Lau, the transition is scheduled to take place before the end of 2011.

There are a few simple reasons that this came as no real surprise to anyone that’s been following Cryptic Studios and their recent acquisition by Perfect World:

  • Firstly is that this game, and their superhero game – Champions Online – both have possessed in-game cash shops since their launch.
  • While to some this came across as a “cake: have-eat” scenario, I always saw it more as testing the waters of a F2P model, without taking the full risk associated with such a move out-of-the-gate.
  • I also suspect that there was a lot of pressure from their former publisher, Atari, to recoup the cost of development of both of these MMOs, by charging both an up-front box cost and an ongoing subscription fee.
  • The move to a fully cash-shop-supported financial model is going to be just as seamless and simple for STO as it was for CO when they transitioned to F2P almost a year ago.
  • And secondly, if STO had remained a subscription-based game, it would have been the ONLY such subscription model on Perfect World’s books. That would be highly unlikely.
  • That being said, a subscription OPTION still exists in CO, and is likely to exist in STO as well, after this transition goes thru. In fact, in the same conference call where this F2P transition was first revealed, it was also mentioned that Perfect World is using Cryptic Studios to get more of a foothold in the subscription-based MMO market. Meaning that it’s also possible that more of Perfect World’s future products will offer a subscription option, in addition to their usual cash-shop offerings.

As for my opinions on the subject? I can pretty much summarize by saying that I consider this a very, very good thing for the future of Star Trek Online. I’ve been in touch with potential players of this game, and fans of Trek in general, and a primary sticking point to new players trying out the title has always been the subscription fee. By eliminating that barrier for entry, Cryptic and Perfect World will be opening the doors to a whole new type of audience, that can then “vote with their wallets” to determine whether or not Star Trek Online is worth investing in.

The presence of a strong set of UGC tools, and a strong community surrounding those tools, continues to be a unique selling point for Star Trek Online. I believe that if Cryptic really wishes to distinguish themselves in the F2P market, they need to leverage that set of tools as a primary selling point.

Early indications are that Free players will be unable to build their own missions, but will still have access to PLAY missions created by other players. Meaning that they can see the toolset in action, and if they are impressed by what they see, they may be enticed to subscribe or buy access through the in-game cash shop, in order to become a part of the UGC community of STO.

In order for that to happen, Freepers need to be shown the best of the best missions in-game. And so, additional support for mission creators needs to be brought to the fore of Cryptic’s community-based efforts. Reinforce those players that are making your game look the best, and you will reap the benefits tenfold.

As most of you are probably aware, Jupiter Broadcasting also produces a video podcast dedicated to Star Trek Online, so if you’re curious to hear a more in-depth editorial on the subject, I’d recommend following the next few episodes of STOked, as the story continues to develop. We hope to have someone from Cryptic join us on that show in the near future to discuss the Free-to-Play transition, and all of its implications.

NEVERWINTER

In other Perfect World-slash-Cryptic news, I thought I’d mention that back in August we received notification that the launch of Neverwinter has been officially delayed from a launch window of “Late 2011” to “Late 2012.” The initial quote from Perfect World indicates that this launch delay was being undertaken in order to “invest in a more immersive experience.”

Well, pardon me, but HELL YES. It’s about damn time that more game publishers start to realize that launching a product prematurely – especially an MMO – does way more harm to the long-term goals of that label and the associated development studio, than any monetary influx that the sale of boxes could bring. We’ve already seen this happen with the aforementioned Star Trek Online, which has been universally acknowledged by both its staunchest fans, and developers of that title, to have launched WAY too early to be considered a fleshed-out product. And the result of that premature launch has been a lack of consumer confidence in Cryptic Studios by the general gaming public, and, likely a lack of long-term success that COULD have been found if the studio had been allowed to spend another year or two in development.

So, lesson learned. Neither Cryptic or Perfect World want that to happen again. So Neverwinter will be out “when it’s ready.” And I, for one, am thankful to be kept waiting.

TORCHLIGHT MMO and TORCHLIGHT II

Torchlight MMO gets a launch window

Another bit of news that “leaked” out of that same conference call, was a confirmation that Runic Games is indeed moving forward at a steady clip on their plans to roll out a Torchlight MMO. According to the statements made by Perfect World, the title could be ready to launch as early as late 2012.

I actually had the pleasure of sitting down to speak with Runic’s CEO, Max Schaefer, during PAX 2011. When asked about eventual plans for their rumored MMO, he said it had always been Runic’s intent to create an MMO game, and that cutting their teeth on Torchlight and Torchlight II has been a necessary part of that process, as the lessons they’ve learned while developing those two titles has left them wiser and more well-prepared to tackle their big dream project.

But nowhere in that conversation did he indicate that they were already moving forward on the project to the point that a release could be more or less one year away from now. In fact, in my frank conversation with him, he actually indicated that Runic may even take a break from the Torchlight franchise after the launch of their impending sequel, and that no solid plans for their upcoming pipeline have been nailed down.

It’s possible that there’s been some crossed wires here between Perfect World and Runic. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that this initial estimate of the launch of the Torchlight MMO ends up being off by as much as a few years. Though there’s no doubt in my mind that it is, indeed, going to happen. It just seems to me that the success or failure of Torchlight II will determine the timing of that MMO’s development process, which doesn’t seem to have begun yet.

As for Torchlight II, I had the brief opportunity to get my hands in some co-op gameplay on the PAX floor, and was very happy with the experience. As many of you probably already know, Blizzard has recently announced that Diablo III will include some rather restrictive mechanics when it launches, including the lack of offline play, no modding, and an auction house for trading items for real world currency. All of these announcements have turned off many potential players of the upcoming title, but Runic has embraced those announcements as an opportunity to stand apart from the title it was once rumored to have been cloned from.

Torchlight II will include both an offline solo mode, and LAN play that will not be filtered through a central verification server. During my conversation with Max Schaefer, I asked if they were afraid of piracy that may result from this lack of restrictions, and his simple answer was no. That piracy will happen regardless of what restrictions you put in place, and that it can also potentially drive additional sales of your product. For example, if you visit a friend and end up playing a LAN session of Torchlight II using a hacked copy of the game, Runic feels you are very likely to enjoy that experience to such a degree that you end up purchasing the game at a later point in time. And with a box price of only $20, I can see that being a reality.

Torchlight II will also support modding. To such a degree that the actual development tools that were used to create the game will ship as a part of the retail program. And while there’s a steep learning curve associated with their use, the inclusion of these tools will allow the modding community to literally create anything they can imagine in Torchlight. From new campaigns and maps, to fundamentally altering the mechanics of the gameworld itself. One of the most common examples of this that’s been mentioned repeatedly, is the removal of the player cap on multiplayer sessions, which at the time of release will be set at between 4 and 8 players. But via modding, this restriction could potentially be completely removed.

As for the auction house concept, Max simply told me it’s beyond the scope of Torchlight II. There isn’t even a direct trading interface between players. The only way to trade items, is drop them on the ground where the other player can pick them up. If players wish to work out Paypal arrangements for such transactions, they’re welcome to, but Runic has no intent to cash in on the gameplay enjoyment of their customers.

In essence, Torchlight II is shaping up to be more Diablo-ey, than even the sequel that will bear the name. And Runic claims they are on target to release their title on the PC by the end of the year.

BLACKLIGHT RETRIBUTION

Let’s switch gears entirely now, and talk about an upcoming title from Zombie Studios and being published by Perfect World. This game caught my eye at PAX because I thought I was watching a game of what was essentially a Counterstrike clone, when suddenly one of the staff running the 4vs4 PvP demo told the players participating, to activate their “wall hacks!”

Welcome to Blacklight Retribution – an Unreal Engine dx11 competitive FPS set in a near-future of cyber-warfare. I’m not sure what the backstory of this world is, or if there even is one, but I’m also not sure that it matters for this type of gameplay.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about this title, as it’s most definitely NOT an MMO. Even though it contains a huge online presence, the lack of any form of persistence really rules out the MMO moniker from coming into play. Despite that, this F2P game is still being published by an MMO company, and I think that’s enough to warrant a little bit of attention.

The primary selling point of Blacklight, is Instant Action. Beyond just being able to load into a match using traditional matchmaking services, once in the match the use of your “Hyper-Reality View” (or HRV), will allow you to see your friends and foes thru the walls around you, allowing you to almost instantly track down the nearest target or defense point, and get into the action with minimal delay. The presence of this built-in “wall hack” mechanic actually adds a new layer of strategy to the game, as every player comes equipped with it. So even though you can see him thru those walls, he can potentially see you, too. And so knowing when your opponent is looking your direction is almost as important as knowing where he is, and whether there’s a wall between the two of you. Because of the addition of this one simple mechanic, I found the entire FPS deathmatch experience to have taken on a slightly more cerebral layer of consideration, and became more strategic than your average shoot-em-up match.

As a somewhat unique feature in this world of PvP deathmatch shooters, Blacklight also features a very robust customization interface. Players will have the option to change the look and feel of most of the weapons in the game, including adding laser sights to pistols, changing ammo types, or just adding decals to your weapons and armor. It’s really a very small matter, but it’s very fun, and really no stranger than adding a unique hat to your TF2 avatar.

In fact, fans of games like TF2 and Counterstrike will definitely want to check out Blacklight Retribution when it lands. At the price of FREE, you really have nothing to lose. I would caution you however, that the minimum specs are on the high-end, as the makers at Zombie Studios specifically want to ensure that their game is a cut above the level of most console shooter titles. However, that also means that this game is very much rooted in the PC market, and the UI and keybinds will not suffer from being “dumbed down” for players used to using controllers to frag their enemies.

Blacklight Retribution is undergoing extensive private beta testing right now, with the goal of being released before the end of 2011. However, the statement I received from one of the Zombie Studio reps at PAX, was that the title would only be released once they were sure they could deliver a bug-free and balanced experience out of the gate. When I asked the same question of an on-site Perfect World rep, they confirmed this by stating that the launch date would be at the discretion of Zombie, and hadn’t been finalized.

CLOSER

That’s it for this episode of The MMOrgue. As we look back on the stories of today’s episode, we notice that 3 separate development studios, all working under Perfect World, all producing vastly different products still all have a few simple design philosophies shining through:

1) Deliver PC-focused game experiences, regardless of whether the title is an MMO, shooter, or action RPG.
2) Eliminate or reduce the financial barrier for entry to enjoy these titles, and allow the consumer to ‘vote with their wallets’ to support the product or not.
3) Don’t launch the title until it’s ready for public consumption.

I have to say, as a gamer and industry enthusiast, I absolutely agree with those 3 principles, and can foresee myself becoming a long-term supporter of Perfect World if they can stick to their guns. The only hiccup remains the potential for cash shops to encourage that whole “pay to win” atmosphere that I’ve spoken out against in the past, and so far Perfect World has been sitting on both sides of that fence, depending on which of their games you look at. It’s in their best interest to steer as clear of it as they can, as they continue to gain more of a foothold here in the Western MMO market.

That brings us to the end of this week’s MMOrgue. Over the coming few weeks, I intend to produce episodes about League of Legends and Firefall, but the precise dates of each of those haven’t been pinned down as I’m trying to wrangle up an interview for each. So next week’s episode is a total mystery! I hope you can join me back here nonetheless, as I continue to plumb the depths of the online gaming market.

Question? Comments? Contact us here!