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

Derek

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.

kenny

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.

larrymz

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.