Battle of the Immortals is the first game to be published out of Perfect World Entertainment's new Shangai studio. With a different studio, graphics engine, and design, players can expect a game with a completely different feel than previous PWE offerings. While this can mean great things -- such as a revised tutorial system that offers brief flash videos rather than plain text and an auto-navigation feature to guide you to the current monster you're hunting for a quest -- it can also introduce some complications.
"As we all know, most North American free-to-play gamers ... will not respond well to power-based items that are only attainable through a cash purchase."
Technical issues aside, the cultural differences made themselves known strongly in the gameplay design. Battle of the Immortals is the first game to be sent to North America from the Shanghai studio, and the development team naturally designed the game along the lines of what they knew: Asian gaming preferences. The development team explained to Belliss, "Chinese players like this game to be very easy [...], they just want to hang out with their friends and use it as a virtual chatroom." This philosophy led to a game full of monsters with no AI and no willingness to aggro unless they were attacked. Even when fighting after players attacked them, damage was very minimal, and players needed to grind, killing the creatures over and over to get anywhere.
"Soul Gear" -- high level gear in BoI that changes and evolves as your character does -- was given the same treatment. "In China, the only way to attain Soul Gear was to get into large groups of people [...] 40 people or more, do an instance at only a certain time during the week, and compete against other guilds, and it's very hard to get access to this armor."
The cash shop was the final issue in the game. Item shops are a tricky feature at best in North America, with game developers searching for the middle ground between keeping their players happy and making the best profit they can. As the BoI cash stop stood, the guy with the biggest credit card wins. The player that spends money is the player that gets the powerful gear, enabling him to essentially destroy the player who doesn't spend money. Again, this is standard procedure in the Asian market, and the Shanghai development team viewed the suggested changes as PWE giving up their profit. As we all know, most North American free-to-play gamers -- if they visit the item shop -- will happily spend money on items that are vanity or shortcut based, but will not respond well to power-based items that are only attainable through a cash purchase.
In the end, the Shanghai team gained a much better understanding of the Western gaming mentality and were very willing to work to make the changes needed. "...the development team is incredibly receptive to all of the feedback that we've been giving them, and as a result they've been tweaking and changing the client and game in order to address those." Monster AI and damage will be improved. Soul Gear is still appropriately difficult to obtain, but will be available as a drop in several areas outside of limited, lengthy 40+-man raids. Players will find the item shop much more suited to their tastes, and many behind-the-scenes technical details such as monitor resolution will be improved as well.
The necessary changes will obviously take time to implement, but the teams on both sides of the ocean agree that it will be worth the wait. As they've pointed out before, "A late game is only late once. A bad game is a bad game forever." While there is not a specific date available at this time, look for a closed beta to arrive in mid-April. In the meantime, check out the video at the end for a closer look at Soul Gear in Battle of the Immortals, and we'll keep a close eye out for more beta information.