Our chat with NCsoft's new president

Earlier today we discussed interviews held by Mr. Chris Chung, the new president of NCsoft, with 1up and Game Informer. Massively also had the pleasure of talking to Mr. Chung about NCsoft as a company, and we came away with a few interesting tidbits about the future of the world's most diverse MMO publisher.

In our discussion with Mr. Chung, we primarily focused on the future of the MMO business. We talked about where the future products like Exsteel and Aion fit into the company's stable of games, and examined a bit why NCsoft has been historically so open to alternative business models. Mr. Chung also hints at future plans for the company aimed at younger players.

I particularly found his discussion of possible future ideas for their well-known superhero title City of Heroes intriguing:

Massively: You said that you don't forsee bringing newer business models to subscription games; there's no interest in applying that to a game like City of Heroes?

Mr. Chung: In terms of games like that, the issue is finding out what the players actually want. We need to make sure the players have ways to access the game the way they want. Instead of saying "here's a half-finished product and you're going to pay for the other half" ... if we do offer microtransaction items for City of Heroes we need to ask the fanbase directly what they want that isn't already in the game. We need to figure out what they want, what they'll pay for, before we offer it to them. As we explore this we need to carefully tread this water.

Read on for more of our conversation with NCsoft's new president.

Massively: NCsoft is certainly a household name when it comes to MMOGs, but it seems like we don't know as much about the company as we do with groups like SOE or Blizzard. Is there an interest on your side for putting the company's name and personality forward a bit more?

Mr. Chung: That's actually a very good question. We've talked about that at some of our meetings internally. I think there needs to be a balance; we are very much an MMO-driven company, but we've sometimes let the games do our talking for us, we haven't been as visible as we might have been. We're thinking of ways to balance that out, while ensuring that our products always come before the corporate name. I hope that always stays that way. We want to talk to our collective community all together as NCsoft, to thank them.

Massively: Have you considered using a tool like a blog or a podcast for something like that?

(NCsoft PR representative) Mike Crouch: If you look on the PlayNC website we have been doing something for the last six months called the dev corner, where we our executives and development leaders write about the inner workings of what they're working on. Chris [Chung] is going to have something on there in the next few weeks talking about his transition. Podcasts, all these things, we are exploring ways to show the faces behind the curtain without interfering with the products. As Chris said, we want everyone to know NCsoft by the quality of the product more than anything else. There are some things we're doing along these lines.

Massively: From the perspective of NCsoft, how has Tabula Rasa done since it launched?

Mr. Chung: I think things have gone very well. I think the game has had one of the smoothest launches from any game in our company. Right now the development team is focused on providing content that the community has been asked for. At the end of the January there's going to be a signifigant update, a sort of wish list for our players. We're also happy to be releasing the product in Japan sometime in the first half of this year. Richard's products have always had a big following in Japan, so we're excited about that prospect as well.

Massively: Dungeon Runners has had several 'chunks' released recently, but my feelings is that the game is still not as well known as it might be otherwise. Are there any big plans for the game in the near future?

Mr. Chung: We are continuing to work on new chunks for the game; we recently introduced in-game advertising for our free players. That's been received very well, we're pretty happy with it. We think we've managed to get that out there tastefully without offending anyone. I'm really pleased with how that came together. We want to make sure that we do offer these types of games, more variety of them in the future. We're launching Exsteel very soon – it's a free to play game, microtransaction supported. It's a way to introduce a diverse way of interacting with our content to players.

Massively: It certainly seems like other companies as well are deciding that microtransactions and alternatives to subscriptions are viable options. Do you see that as a part of most NCsoft games, going forward?

Mr. Chung: I think that the business model and the content need to be developed together from scratch. I don't think that you could develop an MMO you're expecting to charge a subscription for and then decide that because the market has changed start charging microtransactions. We are working on sort of different types of models for all our games.

Is that where the market is going? I think it's part of the evolution, the maturity of the market. It used to be that you had to pay a subscription for all your games but I think right now there are diverse types of games out there, there are diverse genres, and all are calling themselves MMOs. It's a natural evolution of the marketplace; we're maturing by offering a variety of ways to play these games.

Massively: You said that you don't forsee bringing newer business models to subscription games; there's no interest in applying that to a game like City of Heroes?

Mr. Chung: In terms of games like that, the issue is finding out what the players actually want. We need to make sure the players have ways to access the game the way they want. Instead of saying "here's a half-finished product and you're going to pay for the other half" ... if we do offer microtransaction items for City of Heroes we need to ask the fanbase directly what they want that isn't already in the game. We need to figure out what they want, what they'll pay for, before we offer it to them. As we explore this we need to carefully tread this water.

Massively: There was some surprise when Cryptic made the handoff of City of Heroes of NCsoft. Can you talk about what NCsoft's interest in taking on a more hands-on role for the game was?

Mr. Chung: Cryptic and NCsoft has been talking for some time about what the best option would be for the City of Heroes IP. We sort of both decided that either one of us should be taking complete control of the IP, make sure we have a fully committed team to work on that product. We're looking to make a significant investment, to really push this franchise, to make it the premiere super hero MMO out there. We both decided that NCsoft was probably the right place to hold that IP.

Cryptic worked with us every step of the way to make sure the transition was smooth. We have an entire City of Heroes team at our Mountain View studio, so we're pretty excited about that. We're going to increase the amount and quality of the content coming out of there. I think you'll see some results coming out of there fairly soon, probably by the second quarter or second half of this year.

Massively: You'd previously mentioned Exsteel and Aion, and I think there are still a lot of western MMO players that aren't fully aware of what those games are about. Can you give us sort of an overview of what those games are about, where those games fit into NCsoft's portfolio?

Mr. Chung: When you look at our games, I think people are recognizing an NCsoft style of game. We are always looking for a high quality game, internally we have a high expectation of quality. We're always looking for a different style of gameplay from your run-of-the-mill MMORPG – your basic man in tights. We are excited that we've been able to introduce some new types of gameplay into the genre, as well as a new type of business model. With Guild Wars, there were a lot of people that said we were going to fail, a lot of doubters. We've since proved that it could be a viable business model. Dungeon Runners is a different model, ad-supported, and Exsteel is yet a different model again.

In terms of Aion, I think it's closest to our AAA MMO titles that we're used to developing. It's got some nice play mechanics that would differentiate it from other games in the crowd. Exsteel is sort of a third-person fast-action game. We're creating a portfolio of a variety of games that sort of fit into this NCsoft style I was talking about. Having opportunities for different gamers with different tastes to enjoy NCsoft content, and perhaps in different ways , that's a focus of ours.

Massively: Something we've seen over the last half of 2007, and especially through the holiday season, was the popularity of kid-oriented online games like Webkinz and Club Penguin. Do you folks see Dungeon Runners as partially appealing to a younger market, or do you have some other plans in the works for younger players?

Mr. Chung: I wouldn't call Dungeon Runners a kid game. I definitely has a sick sense of humor (laughs). We are definitely looking to that space, though. There are a couple of titles in development in Korea that might be geared towards that crowd a little bit better. We are looking at that area a bit closer.

Nothing we can talk about very specifically right now. There is a title public in Korea right now called Atrix that is aimed a bit more towards the younger audience. Other than that we have some unannounced titles in the works.

Massively: From a big picture perspective, do you see the future of MMOs being more of the microtransaction-style titles, or will there always be room in NCsoft's library for subscription games?

Mr. Chung: I think there will always be space for subscription-fee based games. There are certain expectations you have as a gamer when you're paying a regular fee, just as there are types of gamers that just don't like to pay a regular fee. There are specific needs that both models address, and so we're going to make sure our lineup has enough variety so that people will be able to play no matter what the content.

Massively: One last question for you: Of the games that NCsoft offers, what's the kind of game that you like to play?

Mr. Chung: I've actually been enjoying TR quite a bit. I think TR really brings visceral fun to MMORPGs, and I'm really enjoying that game. I've also played some Guild Wars and City of Heroes recently, but most of my game time has been spent with Tabula Rasa.

Massively: Thanks for your time, sir.


This article was originally published on Massively.