PAX 2010: Selena Gomez is Wizard101's new damsel in distress


She plays a fledgling spellcaster in Disney's Wizards of Waverly Place, but soon Selena Gomez will be taking it to the next level. KingsIsle just announced that Gomez will be coming to the magical world of Wizard101 as a princess in distress who needs a bit of saving.

The actress-musician agreed to be featured in Wizard101 as a sort of cross-promotion for her latest album. The story goes that nefarious forces have kidnapped Gomez from our world into the layered realms of Wizard101, and she must be rescued and returned to Earth so that she can finish her epic video. As our world is part of the spiral (Earth is just non-magical, hence why Professor Ambrose is so startled when player characters arrive at Wizard City), this crossover doesn't break the lore of the game. Instead, KingsIsle hopes that the popular star will appeal to its core tween demographic.

Hit the jump for even more juicy tidbits from PAX Prime!
Two years and growing

We sat down with KingsIsle's Fred Howard and Ben Conrad at PAX Prime this year to chat about the continued success of Wizard101. For a two-year MMO, it's defied the typical trend of the industry by starting small and exploding into "hockey-stick growth," as Howard put it.

While they wouldn't share the exact numbers of free players vs. subscribers vs. a la carte content purchasers, Howard and Conrad weren't shy about the overall growth. Wizard101 topped five million registered players (that's both free and paid combined) at the one-year mark and cruised past 10 million back in June. For the past three months (June, July and August), each month has broken the record set by the month before it. Clearly, Wizard101 is waxing with no end in sight.

In Europe, KingsIsle is handing over the reins to Gameforge, who will manage the account and server operations in the overseas market. Part of the difficulty of bringing this fully voiced game overseas is the necessity to re-record all of the dialogue in native tongues. Needless to say, this will only increase the playerbase if the North American reception is any indication.

The splendor of the heavens

As KingsIsle rides high on the game's success, the company is close to the launch of juicy new content that all Wizard101 players should enjoy. This fall will see the release of Celestia, the first "true" expansion for the game. This new world is intended for high-level characters who have finished the initial story of the main game and are dying to see what's next.

Apparently, Malistaire Drake wasn't a lone agent, but had the backing of a "bigger bad guy" who manipulated events from the shadows. The main tale of Celestia is uncovering this mega-boss and figuring out what he or she is up to.

Celestia is Wizard101's biggest world yet and promises to hand players features fresh to the game, such as underwater exploration. The expansion will add three new minor schools of magic with heavenly themes: Moon, Star and Sun. These schools can be added to a player's arsenal, which should also be beefed up by the addition of a new spell per major school. Players should appreciate a hefty level cap increase as well, from 50 to 60.

For pet breeders, Celestia is an underwater shopping mall, full of combat-enhancing genetics and new aquatic pets. We suggested SCUBA Ninja Pigs as a possibility.

The grandma seal of quality


KingsIsle has been terrifically pleased with how Wizard101 is smashing across demographics and gamer types. While its main audience consists of tweens and children, the team has seen everyone from families to single adults to hardcore multi-MMO players join in on the fun.

Howard laughed as he regaled us with a tale of one of the game's testers, an elderly grandma who insisted that she was positively, absolutely "not a gamer" -- even after she clocked over a thousand hours in Wizard101 and achieved five Grand Masters.

Howard and Conrad know that parents deeply appreciate the efforts that the KingsIsle devs have taken to create a safe play environment for their children, which is why strident safeguards such as chat filters exist. It turns out that the game actually has two types of chat filters, which the devs have labeled the "white list" and the "black list." The white list contains all of the words that are allowed in chat, while the black list forbids certain combinations of white list words (such as informing people where you might live). Adults can access unlimited chat if they're paid players who are over 18 years old and have a credit card, but they still have to deal with the black list.

Because of safety issues, the team has been slow to implement guilds. It's a feature that KingsIsle does want in some form or another, but the company is still trying to figure out how best to bring that into the boundaries of Wizard101 and satisfy safety, functionality and desirability.

Save the princess, save the world

When she wakes up in Wizard101, Selena Gomez will find that her fate is directly bound to your actions. If players can return her to Earth in time to record her music video, they'll find themselves on the receiving end of special loot created just for this event.

While Gomez does not play Wizard101, she was excited to be a part of the game. When shown her in-game character, she exclaimed, "That's rad!" The star not only lent her image to the game, but a full array of voice work as well. KingsIsle feels that this is a huge vote of confidence for the legitimacy of MMOs in mainstream pop culture.

Check out her Wizard101 music video and then log into Wizard101 this fall to encounter her personally.
This article was originally published on Massively.