What are your title and duties at WoKF?
I am the Director of Business Development at VestGame Entertainment. I am primarily responsible for marketing the English version of WoKF to North American audiences. I also do other "behind the scenes" work for VestGame. I've been around in the game industry for a long time.
How did WoKF get started?
The Chinese version of WoKF has been in development for several years and has established quite a following here in China. It has also been licensed in several other Asian territories. Last year the management at VestGame decided to acquire the North American rights in order to bring this large virtual world based on ancient Chinese mythology to American audiences. So far, players have taken to the exotic backstory, which has been significantly enhanced by the outstanding artwork of Japanese designer Senri Kita, best known for her work with Capcom and SNK – most notably the graphic design for "Samurai Shodown"
How, exactly, has Senri Kita influenced the design? Have the actual models changed, or is she working on the environment, or the interface elements?
Senri Kita did the artwork for all the characters as well as for the clothing and armor. Her artwork was then modeled and animated for use in the game, so it would not be 100% accurate to say that "she designed the characters" -- slight differences exist between her artwork and the final characters – but most of the characters do in fact look pretty close.
Are there plans for future expansion?
As the game is still in the Open Beta phase, there are regular updates and additions. Last week the latest version upgrade went online and includes a bunch of new NPCs, a country-to-country battle system, and the chance for players to become King of a country – with all the privilege and responsibility that entails. Even with the new upgrade, the North American WoKF is still several versions behind the Chinese game. So yes, there is still a great deal of expansion coming up in the future.
When you say the North American version is several updates behind, what still needs to be changed to bring it up to date, and when do you expect to close the open beta?
The Chinese version gets developed first. When a new upgrade is finished for the Chinese game, the developer will then pass it on to us, the North American localization group. Therefore, the Chinese game is always a little bit ahead of the English version. The game will be officially released, and the open beta will finish, when both the English version and the Chinese version are the same. We expect that to happen probably in the Fall of this year.
How is the beta turning out; are there any surprises in player numbers that you didn't expect?
The beta is going well. Any day now we'll see the 100,000th registered player, which is something of a milestone for us. One interesting thing regarding our player numbers – the number of new signups is directly related to the strength of our marketing and PR efforts. When we release a press release or do an ad, our numbers go up, which tells me that the most important thing I can do to support WoKF is to keep getting the word out. When people hear about WoKF they want to give it a try, then they become fans because of the strength [of the] game and the novelty of the experience.
Are there any big differences in the story from the Chinese to North American versions? Have certain concepts not translated well?
There are no big differences in the story between the Chinese and English versions. Occasionally there are small differences between the versions, but on the whole, the game is the same. One of the responsibilities of the North American localization team is to make sure that the English version is accessible to US audiences, but retains the character of the Chinese version. For example, we made the decision not to give the characters English names, as was suggested; after all, who would believe a kung fu master named Bill or Susan? So we opted to keep the original Chinese names for the NPCs.
Is this a free-to-play model, or will there be a monthly subscription fee? Will there be microtransactions?
The game is free-to-play and uses the "item mall" or microtransaction model to generate revenue. There are no plans to charge a subscription fee. It should be stressed that items purchased from the item mall are meant to enhance enjoyment of the game, and are not required to play or to complete quests.
Do you see WoKF in competition with World of Warcraft?
No. WoW is subscription-based with vast army of subscribers. We are free to download and play with an item mall. Comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges. We attract different gamers, although we do get a certain degree of crossover. However, I have heard people say on the floor of the recent GDC in San Francisco, that the newer free-to-play model is gaining market share, and that the days of subscription based gaming are numbered. Only time will tell if that type of prediction will come to pass.
Jonathan, thank you for your time, and best of luck with World of Kung Fu!