Along with the opportunity for some hands-on time with Infernum Productions and Runewaker Entertainment’s Dragon’s Prophet last month, Electronic Theatre was fortunate enough to sit down with key members of the team behind the videogame. Discussing the massively multiplayer online (MMO) genre, the free-to-play market and, of course, dragons, Infernum Productions and Runewaker Entertainment reveal some of the difficult decisions that have had to be made in order to bring Dragon’s Prophet to market.
Talking with Andreas Weidenhaupt, Founder and CEO of Infernum Productions, and Tony Tang, VP Business Development at Runewaker Entertainment, Electronic Theatre shared the opportunity with gamesTM’s Dan Griliopoulos. The full transcript of the interview follows below and Electronic Theatre will keep you updated with all the latest details on Dragon’s Prophet.
Electronic Theatre: Dragon’s Prophet is an interesting prospect, what came first: the dragons or the gameplay?
Tony Tang [TT]: The dragons! It’s been about… I mean when we were brainstorming in the early stages with just one or two people; ‘So what shall what shall we do?’ We thought about it and really dragons are a creature that works globally in multiple cultures – in any culture – and there aren’t many games that focus on dragons only. So there we have it; a brand new dragon game.
Electronic Theatre: Obviously there are many dragons in the videogame, do you have a favourite?
TT: [Laughs] That depends on what… oh I have no idea how to answer this one!
Andreas Weidenhaupt [AW]: I have, of course, a favourite. I have a huge statue in my office…
TT: Oh that’s not fair!
AW: It’s not fair? Not fair that it’s my favourite! [Laughs]
TT: Nobody will see that one for a while!
AW: There are a lot we haven’t shown yet. Some are so enourmous, so gorgeous, and so powerful…
TT: You know, the one in his office, the players’ size is the same size as a toe…
Electronic Theatre: And will that dragon actually feature in the videogame?
TT: We’re not supposed to say, but it will! [Laughs]
Electronic Theatre: Obviously there are a lot of mechanics in Dragon’s Prophet that have appeared in previous videogames and have now been built upon. Is there any feature in particular that you are most proud of?
TT: OK, straight out: housing. It’s just… we took what’s awesome already and we made it cooler. Being that it’s exisiting in a real world, in real time, and there’s so many ways you can tweak it. So many ways you can decorate; so many functions; so much you can add to it. We really think housing can be a game all by itself. Literally, I mean.
Electronic Theatre: Obviously the Frontier itself is a huge step forward, how do you think players are going to react to this?
TT: I think the concept is something that everybody knows is the next step. It’s whether you could do it or not. Ever since the first time that World of Warcraft allowed a lot of players from different servers to be part of the battle we knew that would be the next step. Having no boundaries, basically. So we worked on it and basically made it happen. So instances, guilds, chat, auction houses… they’re obviously shared…
AW: I think, for an MMO, adding those type of features into it but don’t go too far anyway from storytelling or deep world design… that is what makes Dragon’s Prophet so special. You gain ownership: ownership of your dragons, ownership of your house, ownership of your guild territories, and then you have to fight for territories, fight for reasources… and this all combines in a really deep world that has a huge background story. That is so amazing.
Electronic Theatre: You’ve got all of this combined with the raiding and guild system and…
AW: Everything you expect from a typical MMO.
Electronic Theatre: Were there any features or concepts that you couldn’t include in the videogame? Either techincally or due to time constraints?
TT: Oh, gee… Well there were a lot of things that we had thought about that are not ‘in’ but that doesn’t mean they will not be in. Does that make sense? [Laughs] I don’t want to say…
AW: You won’t see mounted combat at the beginning, but this has a high priority to be in for the world to make sense. For example, when you see armies riding on their dragons to attack another castle.
TT: Actually I do have one mechanic that probably will be difficult to make it in: a true breeding system. First of all, appearance ‘A’ and appearance ‘B’ will not give you appearance ‘C.’ Because the combination and the models required will be… They won’t morph, they won’t be a crossbreed. It’s almost impossible due to the number of model counts.
Electronic Theatre: Is there no possibility you could consider this for a future update?
TT: True breeding is not possible. Too many dragons; the combination of that would be…
AW: If you wanted to have a polished model…
TT: That kind of breeding will be difficult! Unless we come up with a technology that… ah, well no!
Electronic Theatre: You’ve worked together previously on Runes of Magic, is there anything in that relationship that you could specifically say Dragon’s Prophet has benefitted from?
AW: There are so many aspects; first, you have this typical developmer/publisher role, but because we are not just doing business together but we are also friends, it’s a completely different kind of relationship.
TT: This guy can call me at five o’clock in the morning, and that’s OK! [Laughs]
AW: Yeah, and that’s… we completely understand that the developer has the ownership of their own product, but Runewaker also understand that we know our market. So we benefit on both sides, and we trust each other. For me that’s… I never expected when I founded Infernum that we had a chance as a start-up publisher to get the licence for Dragon’s Prophet, even if the core people from Runes of Magic now work at Infernum. There were other publishers asking for the licence, but it’s about trust.
Electronic Theatre: You talk about knowing that market; what made you decide on free-to-play for Dragon’s Prophet rather than a subscription based model?
AW: I believe in free-to-play. Since the early 2008/2007, we strongly believe that if you do it good it’s extremely fair. Because you don’t have to spend money; everyone can use a free-to-play game as a test and then decide if they want to stay. We know for sure that there’s stigma on the free-to-play business model and we try not to communicate on that range too much as really it’s all about the game. If you have a good game and if the monetisation model is fair – and it will be, 100% sure, fair in Dragon’s Prophet – we will not be selling any powerful weapons, ammo types or even high level dragons.
TT: What’s pretty simple actually is the dragons themselves. We know that dragons play a very big part in the battles, and anybody that captures a high level dragon will know that. So you can’t pay to get the skills that a dragon can have.
AW: It would ruin the whole structure of the game.
TT: Exactly. You have to go out and capture the dragon yourself and then see if that dragon has a skill. It’s not about paying or not paying, it’s always about ‘do you have the luck?’ And that’s it.
gamesTM: Are there any buffs you can get to make the capturing mini-game easier?
TT: Well there are things that will make it easier to catch a dragon, but capturing it doesn’t mean you’ll have better skills. It’s all random. There’s nothing to increase it or get you better skills.
gamesTM: I seem to remember there were previously two heavily dragon themed MMOs, one was Draken and of which was an Infogrammes MMO, Dragon Empires, which appeared and disappeared…
AW: Ahuh, Dragon Empires never made it.
gamesTM: It was released, but no one played it.
AW: Yeah. I can’t remember ever seeing a dragon in Dragon Empires…
gamesTM: That’s true; Dragon Empires was all about the endgame. But following that we now have Guild Wars 2 which has dragons… what’s going on? Why are we so obsessed with dragons? Are there other mythical beasts you’re interested in?
TT: It’s a very huge global appeal. And honestly, with the variety we have and things you can do with the dragons, it’s a very different model. It’s not like most other games where they are the enemy, where you go and kill them, it’s different.
AW: You’ve got Skyrim and the Dragonborn… and I think we’re hitting a time where fantasy is particularly popular. For us – I mean the decision for Dragon’s Prophet was made over three years and a half years ago – I never thought about why it’s become so popular at this time.
gamesTM: Maybe it’s because fantasy as a genre is very easy… you don’t need a licence for an MMO these days. Would you consider buying a licence for an MMO?
TT: No no, the licensing part of the process brings a lot of constraints. So why limit yourself to the retraints of others when you do something yourself and add in anything you like? It’s the only way.
gamesTM: Free-to-play is dominant these days whereas it wasn’t two to three years ago. How do you stay flexible enough to shift when the business model needs to?
AW: With Runes of Magic a lot of people asked me, ‘Isn’t it risky to go this way when you have a million budget production?’ Especially the old game industry ask that. But a change between 2008 and 2009: if you have an MMO people expect it to be free-to-play. It sounds silly to say you are selling a box for an MMO. We do, but that’s because we want to be next to World of Warcraft on the shelves; it’s a marketing decision, not because we have to.
So I think the whole industry has a lot of products floating in the market, but if you look at the lifetime cycle of MMOs we completely believe there’s space for a game like Dragon’s Prophet. Even Runes of Magic is still doing pretty well. So we are hitting an intelligent group – you have all those World of Warcraft players, Runes of Magic players and all those old school players – they are expecting to enter an MMO. They are expecting a lot of features, they are expecting a great story, and this is what we are doing with Dragon’s Prophet. There are traditional features, but there’s a lot more stuff to it. It’s so deep that you will dig into it, and you will stay. Hopefully our core community will stay for a long, long time. We have so many plans for the next two years already!
gamesTM: Can you talk about them at all yet?
AW: We have to wait. There already is a lot of features in this.
TT: We do have plans all the way towards 2015: new zones, new features. We share everything [with Infernum], they know our stuff. It’s not guaranteed that it will be on time always, but actually we know the first update is already getting ready. It’ll be ready very fast; in the next several weeks.
gamesTM: How do you design an MMO so it’s going to be flexible? How do you make it so that it can change with these updates?
AW: Putting on a subscription model would be easy. I mean, right now, I strongly believe that in the future we will see a hybrid model. There will be a subscription as an optional premium plus there will be goods sales. I think it makes sense for those extremely hardcore players who want more; why not ask for a premium subscription. But the base model will always be free.
We will definitely see a free-to-play World of Warcraft sooner or later. I mean, if you have a few many subscribers you have no need, but look at TERA. I was discussing in the past… Aion, now free-to-play.
gamesTM: What do you think of the two big MMOs on the horizon? Destiny and Titan, do you think they can still follow the traditional box copy, subscription, DLC…
TT: Box copy for sure.
AW: Yeah box copy, because they will make millions. Even if their margin is not that big, even if they try to shift a little more towards digital… for example, Elder Scrolls Online, they have sold millions of Skyrim boxes so why not millions of Elder Scrolls Online? I think they would start with subscription, but they will have – it’s my opinion – they will have a shop. I mean, how many mounts did World of Warcraft sell when they announced the first…? A million in one day I believe.
There are some hardcore fans that say, ‘What can I buy? Let me buy.’ And we have found out that, with true fans, it’s seen as an event. ‘No new item? Why not?’ They want it. They want to decorate; they want a little bit more. A new outfit? For them it’s part of the game.
And then there is the mass player; will they stay? Maybe or maybe not. ‘I’m unsure. There’s other MMOs. I’ve heard there’s another game still going…’ For those players you can only hope it’s a good game.
gamesTM: So let’s get a prediction from you: when do you think Destiny will be free-to-play?
AW: One and a half years.
gamesTM: While gamers tend to love free-to-play videogames it’s often hard to get journalists to write about it. What’s the disconnect?
AW: I think the biggest problem is that ‘free-to-play’ stands for everything. It stands for social games, it stands for browser games, it stands for MMOs. So, in my opinion we have to get rid of this ‘free-to-play’ because we are not talking about ‘will you write about a box game’ because it sounds silly. But the old gaming industry was much more creative when doing PR and marketing, and that’s what we are trying to do.
For example, the free-to-play space – social games, browser games – it’s all about buying traffic. I hate this job; ‘I’m buying traffic for my game.’ It’s true, at least, in the internet you can buy traffic, but it sounds wrong. For example, I had a marketing candidate and I asked him to create a ‘claim’ for a game. I gave him ten minutes. I was sure that was too short, but after ten minutes I came back and he asked me, “What do you mean by ‘claim?’”
‘Well you’re the marketing candidate.’
“Yeah, but I’m buying traffic.”
And this is whole the whole industry works, especially from the browser game side. Buying traffic; if you look at the design in most cases its metrics driven design and not creative design, and that makes it so different. How we work as a publisher and how Runewaker work as a developer; when I first hand my hands on Runes of Magic it took me ten minutes to say, ‘This game will be big.’ So I think this is a problem; you as an editor get so many shitty games to look at. And you feel, after the fifth free-to-play, ‘OK, I’ve seen it twice, why again? Why are they even trying to enter the market with such a game?’
And then you have all of these Asian – Korea, China especially – coming also, and all the Chinese companies trying to enter our markets… They don’t even need or want polish because their lifetime is six months, six months, six months…
So with this understanding in design and operating a game you’ll see that Dragon’s Prophet is a much different experience. Different for the editors and different for the players because, I can tell you, I played and testing 129 games and I can tell you 99% are really shit. They’re not only not good but they’re really clones of other clones. It can be reduced to the grinding model, on the one hand, and on the other hand World of Warcraft. That’s it.