The best kept secret in the MMO universe was unveiled by Turbine today when it was announced that Dungeons & Dragons Online would become “free to play”, following the model of many of the Asian MMOs on the market today. The DDO community and D&D fans around the world were rocked by the news.

To help give some perspective to the announcement, WarCry editor Suzie Ford and columnist Jim Moreno had a chance to sit down with Turbine’s Adam Mersky, Kate Paiz and Fernando Paiz. The three have spent a long day talking with reporters and gauging the player reaction on the DDO forums yet they still had almost an hour to devote to WarCry fans. The result is a more fleshed out idea of what exactly this huge marketing change will mean for players.

The decision to take DDO to a free to play business model had been in the works for nearly a year, though much of the actual work has only been accomplished in the last several months. Turbine, after taking Lord of the Rings Online and DDO to the Asian market, found that it was somewhat ‘behind the curve’. The most successful MMOs in Asia are typically run on the microtransaction financial model. However, Turbine didn’t necessarily want to go completely free to play, yet it didn’t want to stay on the traditional subscription method either. Instead, a unique ‘hybrid’ system was developed that is an innovative tailor-made system specific to DDO itself.

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In fact, DDO, according to Kate Paiz, is a natural for this type of content delivery: D&D has always had module-based delivery.

“Finish one module book,” she said, “and you buy the next book. DDO simply takes up what D&D players are familiar with and takes it to the next level.”

What was made abundantly clear during our discussion was that fact that the player’s in game experiences will not shift in any significant way. What will happen is that the player base will grow and expand and that players will have choices in how they want their game delivered: Subscription (VIP model), “ala carte”, or utterly free to play.

Kate Paiz also emphasized that the store is mainly for convenience and is not a way to ‘buy one’s way to the top’. Items included in the store are adventure packs, basic weapons/armor, convenience items, and accessories. Kate talked about the fun of being able to buy hair dyes and change her characters on a whim. Adam mentioned having access to a bank vault that can be shared among all of one’s characters. Fernando mentioned the ability for VIP players to give ‘guest passes’ to players wanting to adventure into areas they have yet to purchase.

Gone are the days of experience penalties for leaving a dungeon before completion. If a player neglects to bring an adequate supply of arrows, for instance, three quick clicks to the store via a keyboard shortcut or a persistent UI button, and the arrows are instantly delivered into inventory. Players finding themselves confronted with a red door that leads to an adventure pack instance will be given a pop up option to purchase the content. Additionally, once an adventure pack is purchased by one character, it is available to all of a player’s characters on all DDO servers.

Store purchases are made via ‘Turbine points’ and there are three ways to get them:

  • Monthly subscribers, now called VIPs, will receive 500 Turbine points per month
  • Points can be purchased by players according to how much they wish to spend
  • Points can be earned by completing content on the normal, hard and elite modes as well as at specific milestones (every 100 favor)

Many players have expressed concern as to what all of these changes will mean to the ‘retail’ version of DDO. What we know now is that there is no retail version of DDO anymore. While boxed versions remaining on store shelves will still work and can yet be purchased, the game will be delivered in the future through digital download. It’s still up in the air as to whether or not a new boxed version will be sold at some point down the line. If so, the purchase would include a limited time subscription, Turbine points, etc.

There is no question that Turbine is very excited about this new ‘hybrid’ model and from what has been seen on the forums, players are guardedly anticipating good things from it as well. The main disappointment, according to the producers, is that the new content will not be delivered as soon as players had hoped and some are worried that content development will slow or even stop.

“There will be no cessation in content delivery,” Fernando Paiz emphasized. “This is a new foundation for the future and the beginning of greater success. It will open up new opportunities. Turbine will continue to deliver frequent updates and more content to DDO players.”

Asked whether or not this delivery method would be used for Lord of the Rings Online, the answer was a swift “nope”.

“It’s a different type of game and this model is not as good a fit.” Mersky said.

However, there is no question that it’s an exploratory model for future Turbine games, particularly as it delves into the console market.

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DDO Unlimited is scheduled to begin its closed beta very soon. The beta will be invitation only and current subscribers will be relieved to know that the invitations to participate will begin going out to all of them starting in the next several days. Turbine will be analyzing player reaction to new content, the store, pricing and all of the new features to be included in DDOU. Players wishing to sign up for the closed beta can do so at http://www.ddo.com Once the closed beta is complete, DDO Unlimited will go live, no open beta required.

We will close this by saying that this is an exciting time for DDO players and D&D fans alike. Turbine is an innovator and is one of the first ‘big house’ publishers to embrace the microtransaction model of game delivery and even taking it one step further by giving players full control over what they want to spend and how they want to spend their hard earned cash. Time will tell whether or not the endeavor will be successful. Our bet is that it will be.

Thanks to Turbine’s Kate Paiz, Adam Mersky and Fernando Paiz for their time and effort on this interview!

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