Besides attending the "The Future of Vanguard!" panel, I sat down with Producer Harvey Burgess to get his thoughts on how the game has performed since the move to free-to-play and to learn both what's around the corner (City of Brass, finally!) and what's on the horizon for the fantasy MMO.
It is no secret that Vanguard lost many players over the years, but some die-hard fans stuck it out through lack of updates, server merges, and finally the conversion to free-to-play. Was the latter the shot in the arm that was hoped for? Players noted in-game that continental chat channels sprang to life after the conversion, but was that little upsurge in players just an initial blip? Not according to Burgess, who noted that the game has seen steady growth since the move to F2P. He also expects even more with the game's launch on Steam that occurred just hours before the interview.
Of course, as with any type of major change in a game, the switch to F2P was not without bugs, crashes, and latency issues, but Burgess noted that those issues have been resolved. During the panel, it was also revealed that in preparation of increased numbers, the Isle of Dawn will now split into different instances if it gets too full, allowing for beginning characters to experience the game and complete their tasks without having to take a number for mobs. It should be noted, however, that this instancing is only for the newbie isle experience, and the rest of the world will not be instanced off.
Anyone familiar with Vanguard already knows that the world of Telon is massive but empty in places. Even so, with three distinct continents and multiple zones in each, there is truly no way to see everything while leveling up. In fact, with so many different leveling paths, folks will out-level content before seeing everything in a certain level range. And as big as the world is, it's only going to get bigger -- perhaps not in land mass, but definitely in volume as more content is filled into the existing vast lands.
The first incoming addition to fill out the world of Telon is the City of Brass. And while he couldn't give me any more specifics yet, when asked about New Targonor (the huge, yet empty capital of Thestra), Burgess noted that changes are in discussions and will be coming soon.
So what about this first new real adventuring area to hit the game in, well basically forever? Announced last November, this update is finally slated for next month. City of Brass will offer more adventuring opportunities and dungeons. However, the dev team isn't going to tell players where to find it; they will have to discover it on their own using clues and by communicating with each other.
The zone itself will have 13 fairly unique bosses and will culminate in a 12-man raid. Some adventurers may even find the optional, hidden boss that isn't always available. Aimed at 55 adventurers, the gear upgrades that players find here won't compete with gear from Pantheon, but compliment it instead. This story arc will loosely lead into the Cave of Wonders.
How will having yet another area for adventurers to split their attention with affect older areas? Burgess said that City of Brass gives players of the appropriate level range a reason to visit without taking them away from the other game. He also said the team was committed to continuing to provide content for all level ranges as it fleshes out the nooks and crannies of the world, noting, "We don't want to just build on the top of it; we want to give more options." Burgess also made a point of stating that the team is very careful when developing new content because it wants to make sure to not trivialize past content.
Also coming with this update are new mechanics, and devs are waiting to see how players react to these new mechanics. The level restriction for Kamelott Destruction Quota (KDQ) is being removed; developers are opening it up for players who focus on crafting or diplomacy instead of adventuring.
Although adventuring is the focus of City of Brass, that doesn't mean that developers are forgetting the other systems in the game. In fact, Burgess admitted he is a huge diplomacy fan. Calling diplomacy "truly Vanguard," he emphasized that exposing more of the things that make the game unique earlier on is important to hooking people. He also noted that changes are incoming to help make diplomacy more user-friendly, like visual cues to reduce walls of text and changes in the card decks, but nothing is finalized yet.
After City of Brass, high-level players can look forward to the development of Pankor Zhi, a Dark Elf area focused on group-play that will culminate in raids (to do justice to the big dragons there). This area will progressively become more difficult as players digest the content until finally reaching 24-man raids. And sometime after that, the continuation of the Pantheon story will come for high-end raiders.
There is no plan for a level cap increase in the near future. For the next level increase, Burgess said the team is committed to providing the content associated with it and admitted that the previous increase did not have the content necessary for it.
As the resident housing nut at Massively (just check out my housing tours of Qalia and Kojan), I had to ask -- was there any chance of the one house per account restriction being lifted? Burgess answered,
"We've actually been talking about it. Now that we're free-to-play and people have different options, I don't see a reason not to, though this is something we are still internally deciding. I can tell you this: We don't want to penalize the people for playing the game they want because that's our motto now as a company -- free to play, your way. If you want to to more in an avenue we should allow for that. So it's just figuring out how we're going to at this point."He continued by emphasizing that this answer applies to more than just housing, but also to character slots, to bags, and everything that Vanguard offers.
In all, the devs are excited to make the game grow. They recognize that they are few in number, so they are focusing on certain areas at a time to avoid spreading themselves too thin and diluting the product. The devs stated, "Quantity alone isn't enough to keep people playing -- it needs to be good content. We want to make sure its fun content, that it's compelling, that it makes [players] want to stick to it. "
Burgess expressed optimism for the future, saying, "We're a smaller team still, but everybody's devoted, which means we're going to get stuff accomplished."
What happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas, at least where SOE Live is concerned! Massively sent intrepid reporters MJ Guthrie and Karen Bryan to this year's SOE Live, from which they'll be transmitting all the best fan news on PlanetSide 2, EverQuest II, DC Universe Online, and the other MMOs on SOE's roster.