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GDC10: Massively's interview with Dungeons and Dragons Online, part 2

Rubi Bayer, @@rubi_

The decisions that needed to be made didn't stop once the fundamentals were worked out: It's giving you two options. You're either "renting" full access as a subscriber, meaning if you stop paying tomorrow you have to buy it again if you want to keep playing, or buy things a la carte, but then you as a player have permanent access. There were some special considerations about how to handle downgrades that we stressed over a lot. For example, if you're playing a monk should you get to keep your monk character? Eventually we settled on yes, you keep advancement, you keep the stuff you earned, but no you don't get free access to the monk. Not the most straightforward of decisions, but it's worked.

We definitely wanted to sell consumables, that's a natural thing, but what about features that are already live? The Warforged race that we launched with the Stormreach box, we charged for it, which was a little bit of a controversial decision to say no, that's the special thing about Eberron is this race. It's a really cool race, it's unique. It's not the core, most accessible race, it's got a lot of cool things about it, so we're going to charge for it as a premium thing.

Every paid element of the game got a similar look with regards to the DDO store: "what things should be a recurring charge, what things should be one time per account, what things should be one time per character. [...] These are the five C's of microtransactions for us: we sell content, convenience items, consumables, cosmetic items, and concierge services. Most are self explanatory, such as content in the form of adventure packs. Concierge services refer to items such as the 32-point build and reincarnation services.

"We're the same crunchy, hardcore, complex, rules-heavy game we've always been, and we're being called the most successful online game."

In the end, Dungeons and Dragons Online is the same game it was one year ago when it was "the forgotten MMO": "We're the same crunchy, hardcore, complex, rules-heavy game we've always been, and we're being called the most successful online game." The business model and accessibility is what turned it around. Players that left are returning and there's no question that it's been a huge financial success. Paiz had quite a bit to say about why this is, but at the core, "I think there's a combination of things. One is we didn't set out to just make the same free-to-play business model that other games have tried [...] We always had a sensitivity to what the Western market would accept. The general shift in the market over the past few years definitely helped smooth their path as well -- the public has become much more accepting of the entire microtransaction concept.

The transition was made easier with a little help from past experience as well. Paiz and his wife Kate worked with the recently-closed, on their store: It's not so much technology to come from as it was design learning, so we didn't actually take their engine or their code. But of course having built it once before, it makes it easier to build it the second time. Primarily, what was applicable to DDO was the integration of a web-based store into the game client, and then designing the things that were going to be available in the store: the pricing of them, the categorization, all that sort of thing. Again, not a direct analogy, but a lot of learning. Certainly Kate and I learned a ton from, and were able to bring that to bear on the design of DDO Unlimited.

While the business model and its inner workings were the main focus of the interview, Paiz had plenty to say on upcoming plans as well. With this business model being as popular as it is, many players are wanting to know if Codemasters is going to adopt it anytime soon -- will the European players get in on this? "I can't comment on too many specifics there. What I can say is that we are working with Codemasters to figure out how we can get this to Europe as soon as we can. So we would like to get it to Europe, but it's not something we're ready to announce a specific timeline on."

What about new races and classes? Will we see new ones coming soon? "Yes. We're actually going to post a state of the game address on our website in the coming week or two, and we'll have an announcement then."

We are looking forward to that address, and our congratulations go out to Turbine and DDO for all they've accomplished. Thanks to Fernando Paiz for his time!

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