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.”