Combat Arms employs a clearly visible player ranking system in order to tie together rank rewards, the in-game currency, and the socialization aspects.
Kim and Yang noted that this balance between purchased items and off-the-rack choices didn't exist in the original Korean version of the game. As previously mentioned, the Korean gamers were looking for a more "arcade-y" experience. Grenades had flares to make them easier to track, mines had blinking lights, and every purchased item was a pure win for the player -- why not buy in that environment. As Kim put it, "American players have a definite concept of what is fair and what isn't," and they were determined to cater to that.
Yang noted that the despite changes from the Korean version, Combat Arms retains the "jump-in-and-out" gameplay that made this take on the genre so popular there. Nexon believes Americans will respond (and are responding) to this vision of what an FPS could be, based primarily on the "feel" of the game. As an example, Min Kim noted the simple feature that you can run in the game:
"If you press the shift button you actually run. That is not an option in a lot of other FPSs so it feels a lot faster and a lot of people like that. It's one of those things that is not easy to market; you can't say: 'hey you press the shift button you go really fast' on the back of a box. They don't know what that means until they start playing it."
After talking through the game as a concept, we sat down to play a few rounds -- dying numerous times to both Kim and Yang as they schooled us on the game's public servers. (Protip: Anyone interested in jumping into the game can already do so. Nexon has had an amazingly positive reaction, and had to increase their server capacity unexpectedly fast to deal with demand.)
During our back-and-forth matches, Yang stated that Nexon's planning to update the game on a regular basis. The company has been regularly releasing a patch to the game every two weeks since the game's beta began. Every update will add new weaponry, while a new map or game type will be added every month or two.
That endless state of updates driven by player demand will likely never stop for the game, and neither will the game's "test" state. After the interview, we spoke with Nexon representative Robert Holtzman to clarify when the game would be going with a hard launch. He laughed, and noted that the game might never get one -- given the title's popularity already, Nexon plans to continue to expand through word of mouth advertising and constant improvements.
Overall, we walked away from Combat Arms very impressed. Given the game's region of origin and the stigma of a free-to-play titles, Nexon's offering is a surprisingly fun and impressively attractive offering. It's a fast-action title that will please the twitch-happy mindless shooter fan just as easily as one looking for a more tactical approach. On top of it all, it deftly ties online clan gaming and Web 2.0 sensibilities together with ranks, formal groups, and eventually social networking plugins.
Given the unique blend of MMO and FPS in Combat Arms' DNA, it was intriguing and enlightening to see what the game has become. And it's always hard to turn down the offer of free.