It's been a while since we've talked some serious ArcheAge! We're beginning our lead-up to Alpha and today seemed like a good time to not only talk about where we are now but also give you more insight into what we've been doing these past few months, and a glimpse into the road ahead looks like.
To do that, I sat down with our CEO, Scott Hartsman, and had a conversation that included a lot of the questions we've been hearing from some of you over the past couple weeks.
Hey, Scott. Thanks for being the guinea pig in our first ArcheAge Q&A.
It’s been a while since we’ve said anything about ArcheAge. What’s the hold up?
I mentioned some of this in my last update on AA a few weeks ago in an MMORPG AMA – A company launching their first MMO is insanely hard. To do it with four different locales lined up behind the initial launch is like doing it on insanely-hard mode, and the job XL has done so far with so many pressures has really been commendable.
While the time between signing and where we are now has also been frustrating for me as a gamer, as a producer I understand that it’s for the best. This is mostly for two reasons:
- XL can only work on so many things at a time while they strive to constantly improve their live Korean service, and that’s necessitated them working on the partnered launches serially. Working on all the locales at once would have put them in a spot where they couldn’t succeed with any of them.
- Our locale being where it is in the lineup (after Russia) means that we’ll be benefitting from a lot of what they’ve learned with both their native game as well as the locales in between.
You mention XL can only work on so many things at a time – In this type of game, who’s doing what between XL and Trion?
This has been an interesting learning experience for us too – Since with our own games, we control everything from scope, timing, to delivery, and so on. With a partnership like this one, it’s a lot different.
With ArcheAge, XLGames is the developer – Anything related to changing the way the game functions, the content in the game, adding or changing features, integrating with our account system, integrating with our billing system, integrating with our operational system, integrating with our patcher – Anything that you’re familiar with “the dev team” doing, those are things that only they can directly do.
We’re the publishing partner – First and foremost, that means localization (which is actually a lot more than just translation!), it means working with them to determine what the best business model is for our regions and develop plans on that being implemented, it means setting up our alpha, beta, and launch schedules in a way that works with the way they can deliver what’s needed for each, it means the marketing and community work for the game, the technical operations setup, hardware, and networking, the metrics analysis for the game, setting up customer, account, and tech support services for the game, and all of those service elements.
On the vast majority of things that an average customer would care about, which a lot of the time boils down to “How fun is the game?”, those elements are generally planned in partnership, executed on by XL, and have to occur on a schedule that works out for both companies.
You also mentioned game improvements?
While we know that we love the visuals, the characters, and a lot of the other unique elements in ArcheAge, the team at XLGames identified a number of places they’d like the game to do better, which they’ve just now begun talking about with their audience. (In my last update, this was what I had mentioned about us needing to let them open the conversation with their own audience first.)
While working on their lineup of locales, they’ve also been working on some sweeping improvements to the gameplay in ArcheAge, due out from them early next year. While we don’t have all of the details to share, we can open the topics they’re hitting up as most important to them. Those include:
Fun of Progression: The leveling up experience needs a better feel of growth. That satisfying feeling of getting stronger as you level, while keeping that important tension. It’s a delicate balancing act, and they’re aiming to improve this pretty dramatically.
Fun of Economy: The economic game of ArcheAge is a big part of what attracted a lot of us to this game. XL will be implementing improved balance between crafting, farming, and trade – The goal being to promote a more vibrant economic game, that produces more valuable and more frequently used items, than what the original version launched with.
Comprehensibility of Rewards / Viability of Paths: In the initial game’s launch, there were many rewards to be found, and many different types of points and other things to earn. How those rewards mapped to different activities didn’t prove out to be as coherent as they had hoped. One side effect of that was that there tended to be a single, most optimal, path, in this vast world of exploration, adventure, pvp, crafting, and economics. We all know what happens when there’s one optimal way to play – It becomes “the only way.” Them addressing this head on will ensure that the full game of ArcheAge is valued in all of its proper splendor.
Trade Content: Similar to the previous improvement, the act of trading is going to be having its rewardability addressed, and they’re creating new content around it. A great improvement for the economic game.
Free/Paid Player Benefits: As they’ve adapted their model in Korea, they’ve discovered places where it would be a better experience for everyone if free players had more gameplay that’s additive to other players’ experience, and have found places to add more benefits for paying players as well.
Class Balance and Progression: And, of course, they’ll be taking their learning from their existing class balance and progression and applying improvements there as well.
The gamer in me looks at this and wishes it was all done right now, no different than I imagine most people who are excited about the game would feel.
The producer in me who’s launched MMOs understands that with this kind of change occurring, we’ll end up doing far better for our customers having launched with all of this in place.
Given that, we see our role here as being both our customers’ advocates with XL, and XL’s advocate to our customers – We do what we can to make sure that XL has the headroom they need to do the best job possible, while making sure that as information comes out, we’re able to clearly explain to our customers how and why things are happening the way that they are, as we’re doing right here, and plan on continuing to do going forward.
So while all that’s going on with XL, what’s Trion up to?
The whole time through, we’ve been translating and adapting text and stories like crazy. For instance, the originally-written lore and quests have a lot of themes related to obligation, duty, interpersonal harmony, and other concepts that are foremost in minds of the originating culture that, in some cases, don’t translate directly.
While the game is now at the point it’s perfectly understandable to the internal testers (and I’ve put in a few dozen hours playing myself), it’s not yet rewritten to the point where you’d call it fully localized – A core part of that is that it must also be compelling in the destination language and culture.
Most people don’t get that a lot of what we do in localizing to quality is actually taking the core concept the original author is going for, and rewriting entire stories, quests, and so on, given the documents of background lore. That is not easy. But that’s the only way to get to quality. When you play “cheap” feeling imported games, the ones that don’t last – A big part of the reason is they seldom go through that extra effort.
We’re using this extra time to get the parts that we control the highest quality we possibly can.
Where do we go next?
With the recent announcement of the Russian Beta dates, and the Korean Game improvements, we’re now at the stage where we’re locking down stage dates with XLGames for our release. We’ve been working on nailing that down while the rest of this has been going on. Once we have that locked down, we’ll be able to talk about when we expect the first external testing to occur. I know that’s the information that people want the most, and we’re working toward having it as rapidly as possible.
While that’s all happening, we’re also going to continue with the articles we currently have in progress, additional Q&As, new lore releases, and so on -- so we’re always sharing as much information as we possibly can from here on out.
That wraps up our first official unofficial chat with the Trion team. I hope this was a good jumping off point for more frequent Q&As like this one. We'll definitely have some more stuff between now and the end of the year for you to sink your teeth into - and I'd love to hear any other questions you have so we can do more interviews like this in the future!