Cryptic CEO Talks Neverwinter, MMOs, and More

We’re pretty into the new Neverwinter MMO from Perfect World and Cryptic Studios. Dan’s been covering the beta weekends, and I stopped by their booth at PAX East last weekend to see what was new. While I was there, I got the chance to speak with Cryptic Studios CEO Jack Emmert about the game, the MMO marketplace, and more.

One thing I’ve always wondered about working with licensed properties – what’s it like working with the folks who own the IP? Emmert said that he actually had a leg up on that process, since he knew a lot of people at Wizards of the Coast going in. “My background is actually writing pen and paper roleplaying games,” he said. “I worked for Wizards a long time ago as a freelancer, so a lot of these people I already knew through the tabletop gaming crowd. I was already part of that community to begin with.”

It turns out that Emmert wrote material for all sorts of Wizards games, including Marvel Super Heroes, Deadlands (A personal favorite of mine), the Star Trek RPG, and Conspiracy X. But even though he was comfortable with Wizards, what about Forgotten Realms? The Realms are an institution, home to countless novels, beloved characters, and who knows how many Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. I’d think that so much material would make it that much harder to fit all that lore into a game, right? Not so, says Emmert.

“I think it’s easier, actually. The hardest part of game design is when you start with a blank slate. The reason why Forgotten Realms works for the tabletop game is that it gives all players a starting point for their own adventures. It’s the same thing for us in creating the Neverwinter MMO. All the background and the lore helps get us started. We don’t have to think up the origins of every race, or the nations, or the name of the towns. It’s all there for us. But the individual stories are as rich and complex as the stories in the real world. It provides us with a great framework the same way it does DMs.”

One of the things I’ve noticed in the Neverwinter beta weekends it that while the game certainly has a D&D flavor to it, you don’t need to have ever played the tabletop game to be able to jump right in. Emmert said that’s definitely intentional.

“One of our key challenges it to make sure the game is accessible. Don’t put in too many obstacles and barriers. I wish Star Trek had been more accessible. You’re pretty much thrown in the deep end. God bless our players for loving Star Trek. With Neverwinter we went back to our City of Heroes roots. We wanted to make sure you didn’t have to be a D&D player to enjoy this game.”

If you don’t know, Neverwinter is an Action MMO. Instead of clicking an action bar, your mouse controls the camera, and you use hotkeys to activate your abilities. I wondered why Cryptic chose that route, and Emmert again said it’s all about accessibility. “We felt the action MMO model would be more accessible and intuitive than the traditional MMO model. There are plenty of games that do the traditional MMO model well, and we wanted to do something different and unique.”

One thing both Cryptic and Perfect World have been successful with is free-to-play. I asked Emmert how he felt about the free-to-play market, and he said, “The amazing thing about free-to-play is that it reaches an industry. If you were a gaming person, it seemed like everyone was talking about City of Heroes, and everyone played it. At our peak, we had 180,000 subscribers. But with free-to-play, I’m attracting a far wider audience. I’m a little nervous about Neverwinter, to be honest. I’m thinking about ordering more servers.”

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5 Comments on Cryptic CEO Talks Neverwinter, MMOs, and More


On March 28, 2013 at 8:50 pm

It’s great to see an MMO finally utilize modern virtualization techniques for game server instances. I thought The Elder Scroll Online was going to be first. But still;

Next time you speak to him please ask why he condones pay to win PvP. The 3rd beta weekend was nothing but chatter about the utter imbalance of PvP, which is perpetuated by the ability to charge a few hundred dollars to your credit card and buy a perfect set of gear. NOT COOL DUDE! His team needs to take a hint from Guild Wars 2′s design, or Rift’s PvP fair-play overhall, or even WoW’s still unpopular segregation of PvP stats for separate gear tiers.

I loved neverwinter’s story, environment, combat model, and the mindless follow-the-sparkles quest design. Put the PvP, oh my god what a pain. Needs a total overhaul. Let us enjoy that great fluid combat on equal footing.


On April 1, 2013 at 5:12 pm

first if you think neverwinter is p2w you havnt played a game that actually is…second the “chatter” of a bunch of people talking about imbalance when they have had no time to learn their class or other class dynamics doesn’t amount to much in my book

Legend of Vinny T

On April 2, 2013 at 9:37 pm

I’m curious, Ron.

How many times did either you or Jack mention City of Heroes, the superhero game he walked away from years before it went free-to-play though he speaks as though he had a hand in the F2P decision?

Now how many times did either you or Jack mention Champions Online, the superhero game that is a current part of Cryptic’s stable?

I’m wondering because of this quote from Jack:

“Content’s free. There’s no subscription, and no buying a box. The reason why people come to the game is the content. Our particular belief is that the best thing we can do is make it free, and then to provide the other things that players want to pay for to enhance their game experience. We feel like that’s a recipe for success. I want to do three major updates a year, and those updates will be content, new systems, similar to what we do with Star Trek Online. The magnitude and the frequency and events, look at STO – that’s going to be our model.”

That has bugger all to do with Champions development. For months, CO has had no new content, half-assed “systems” that are designed to push gambleboxes with ridiculously high drop rates, and month after month of “events” that are no more than temporary missions built with recycled assets and maybe one new boss at the end.

And all the while, CO players have heard almost nothing from Cryptic. It took a bunch of us screaming bloody murder in the forums in February to get our first Ask Cryptic since last August, only to get a bunch of “soon” and “no” answers to trivial questions. None of the important concerns about the state of development and the long-term future of CO were addressed at all. We haven’t had a State of the Game post since last June, while Star Trek gets them every 4-6 weeks.

To put it more simply, Ron, Jack has said as much to you in this interview as his studio has to one of its game communities in 10 months, and what he said contradicts what he’s done.


On April 16, 2013 at 5:01 pm

I can’t see myself using hotkeys for battle commands, spells etc. With some 60 keys I can’t see searching for the appropriate key to do different attacks when action bars are so much easier to position key spells and abilities. I signed up but doubtful I’ll even download game now. To me different isn’t always better. Just my 2 cents.

Ron Whitaker

On April 17, 2013 at 5:36 am

@larrymz – Here’s the thing about Neverwinter – all the keys are presets and clustered around the WASD movement keys. Sure, you could change them if you wanted, but since you only ever have seven abilities (two of which are bound to the right & left mouse buttons), you won’t need to find one of 60 keys. WASD is used for movement. Left & right mouse buttons control your ‘at-will’ (no cooldown) abilities. Q, E, and R are used for your ‘encounter’ abilities (most have a short cooldown of 15-25 seconds). Finally, your ‘daily’ abilities are bound to the number keys 1 and 2. Add in the potion slots (3, 4, and 5) and that’s all you need to know.

It sounds a little different if you’re used to clicking buttons on a bar, but it’s an easy system to pick up and learn. Heck, I’ve always used hotkeys for major skills in other MMOs anyway, as it’s much faster than having to click on things while trying to run around and position myself.