Cryptic CEO Talks Neverwinter, MMOs, and More
Hearing Emmert talk about servers inspired me to ask him about the launch problems we’ve seen recently from games like SimCity and Diablo 3. Just how does a company address the issue of having enough servers at launch without having to close servers down after the launch rush dies down?
“One of the things that we do to avoid that is that we have a shardless design,” he replied. “We’re doing that instead of the typical MMO structure where a shard supports maybe 10,000 to 20,000 concurrent connected users, and you end up with five, seven, maybe 10 servers at launch. Inevitably, the population decreases over time, and you end up shutting down servers and merging them. That alienates players, and it gives you a bad taste in your mouth as a company. But what we have is a single server. Everybody is playing simultaneously in the same exact shard. How this is modular is that we can add or subtract CPUs on that shard to make it more robust, or to shrink it as demand changes. That way players are never inconvenienced about changing shards.”
Shutting servers down almost always negatively affects perception of game, and Emmert acknowledged that. “As soon as you start shutting servers down, it’s a snowball, because there’s nothing more important in MMOs than the belief that there’s a future. It’s a persistent world. You’re committing your time into the game, and if you don’t see that there’s new stuff on the horizon, you’re not going to want to play anymore.”
One of the keys to free-to-play design is getting monetization and content updates right. Would Neverwinter be a game where you pay for expansions, content updates, and the like? Emmert says no. “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.”
I also asked Emmert what he thought about the MMO market today, and where he thought it was going. He replied, “It’s funny, I read a lot of articles that MMOs are dead. But if I’m a first-person shooter, and my competition is three or four games that year, I’m happy, because that’s not much. But look around this hall. We’ve got Neverwinter, Elder Scrolls, Wildstar, Marvel, right? I actually think that the amount of games and MMOs coming out is about right. Hopefully there’s room for all of us.”
Talking of other MMOs got me wondering what Emmert thought about World of Warcraft, its explosive success, and whether or not it could be replicated. Would there ever be another MMO like WoW, one that garners ten million or more subscribers? “I would have said that a Star Wars game had a shot, but Star Wars [The Old Republic], which was a great game, didn’t hit that. I’d say it’s possible, but it’s more likely that the game that does it will be not quite an MMO. I’m not sure that MMO mechanics will translate to that level. What WoW did, it was accessible. It was familiar to players, because they knew the Warcraft IP, and anyone could get into it. Nothing like that had ever really been done before. I think a MMO could do it, but it would have be a combination of a bunch of different things.
It’s gotta be a game that anybody can play, it’s gotta be a game with a universally recognizable IP,” Emmert said. I pointed out to him that there weren’t all that many huge IPs left that didn’t already have an MMO, and he replied, “Skyrim – The Elder Scrolls is one. The thing that makes me nervous about my servers is that Neverwinter is a D&D game. D&D is pretty universal, and it’s free. Anyone can play it. That makes me a little nervous.”
Regardless of Emmert’s nervousness, we’re definitely keeping a close eye on Neverwinter. It’s got the IP, the polish, and the perfect price point – free. All that remains now is to see how the launch goes. If Emmert’s worries are right, here’s hoping he ordered enough servers.
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