Neverwinter: Interview with Cryptic Studios CEO Jack Emmert

Perfect World and Cryptic Studios have just finished their first beta weekend for their upcoming free-to-play action MMORPG, Neverwinter. After we played through the beta event we sat down for an interview with Cryptic CEO and MMO legend, Jack Emmert. Holding Masters degrees in Greek, Latin, and the Ancient Mediterranean World, Jack went from role-playing game writer to game developer to running the studio that has created the signature MMOs City of Heroes, City of Villains, Champions Online, and Star Trek Online. Read on for his thoughts about lessons learned, the role of dilithium, and the pen and paper days of misspent youth.

What was your inspiration when approaching a title based on such a beloved world?

The magic of Neverwinter is the same magic I wanted to recapture playing D&D when I was 11, 12 years old. Those campaigns that we ran through on those Saturdays and evenings and weekends and holidays and to be able to take that magic that we had and to be able to replicate that online so that everyone at every time could bring together friends and family and play through campaigns of D&D like you just played, that’s really what we aim for. That’s our aspiration.

What lessons have you learned from your previous Cryptic titles like Star Trek Online and Champions Online that you applied to Neverwinter?

The really gigantic issue that we faced as a company, and it was really Champions and Star Trek, is don’t fall into the habit of scheduling a bunch of content. Try to look at the quality of what you’re doing and once you have something you’re really happy about, then great, you’ve got something. I’ve read the reviews and I’ve seen people say, “Why do you only have five character classes at launch?” And it’s like, “Well, look, I’d rather have five really fun character classes than eight really mediocre ones.” And that’s an important lesson in game development

I don’t know how long your memory is but in City of Heroes we got attacked because we didn’t have an end game, we didn’t have PvP, and I felt like every checkbox had to be filled and we did that with Champions and Star Trek [at launch] and I think that was a mistake. I think what we should have tried to do is whatever we do do in the game, we do it well. And that’s something we succeeded with in City of Heroes. Now, the difference between City of Heroes and Neverwinter is that I think we’ve had a lot more time and a lot more resources and support from Perfect World to fully develop the product. And that’s not to say NCSoft wasn’t, we just aren’t as dumb as a studio with our resources like when we were younger. Neverwinter is really benefiting from those lessons not only in the rate that we make content, but to be able to make quality content.

So you aren’t looking to have a locked schedule for content updates?

This is free-to-play and we want a continual amount of new content on a regular basis, but what goes into each of those updates, how big they are, all of that is going to be scoped by what we can get done well. Frankly, if an update isn’t ready, then we’ll delay it. There is no point in pushing something out that is subpar.

Can you talk about the differences between this game and Dungeon and Dragons Online?

DDO is more of a hub and spoke model. Where there is more instancing in that game, we have a number of persistent zones. Their game is primarily a 3rd Edition D&D game set originally in Eberron, but now they’ve gotten into the Forgotten Realms, whereas ours is primarily in Neverwinter and set in Neverwinter. We have user generated content and a suite of tools for it. I don’t think that’s something that they really tackle. Our game tends to be more actiony than theirs. I would say when DDO first came out it was about as actiony as an MMO could get. I think we pushed the envelope further in that direction.

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