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Exploring Eberron: One year of DDO free-to-play

Rubi Bayer, @@rubi_

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons Online's switch to free-to-play, a move that worked out extremely well for Turbine.

In the past 12 months, the developers have kept the content coming with six sizable updates, and they're now preparing for Update 7. We got our first peek at Update 7 at PAX last week, and I also got a chance to hang out with Executive Producer Fernando Paiz. We talked all about the past year's ups and downs as well as what he sees coming in the next year.

So follow along after the cut and join me in wishing DDO free-to-play a happy first birthday. (And enjoy these retro screenshots that I couldn't resist including!)

Massively: What was the highlight of the past year for you?

Fernando Paiz
: I wouldn't so much pinpoint it as one day so much as the cumulative effect of all the people showing up in the first couple of months. Seeing everybody in the harbor, so many instances in the harbor, so many instances in the market. Everywhere you looked, there were new players having fun and discovering the game. That was really rewarding for us.

What was that first day like, when free-to-play launched?

We really did so much work to prepare for that first day that I'm very pleased to say that it went totally smoothly. It was just great. We'd been working on it for months and months and we saw a ton of players sign up the very first day. We quickly got tens of thousands of players coming in, and as we expected we had to open that second server after a little while, just looking at how quickly things were filling up.

It was really great. There was a lot of energy in our office, as you can imagine. We held "mission control" meetings where everybody's looking at the stats of who's coming in, how's the store working, how are the servers holding up, all that sort of stuff.

What was the store like that first day? Were people window shopping or buying?

Well, there were a lot of people buying items, but if you remember, we loaded up a lot of our players with a ton of free points. So our veteran players, we gave away a ton of free Turbine Points, so we saw a lot of people buying stuff with those points. People that used points during the beta got those points back too, so while people were using the store a lot, there weren't a ton of dollars coming in. But there were a lot of points spent.

It was very cool to see. It was what we expected, and it was very gratifying to see the players picking up the model and figuring it out like we hoped that they would.

If you could change one thing in the past year, do something different, what would it be?

There are a ton of things that we of course wish we had done differently. I guess I'll highlight Update 5 since it's a recent memory. Not the update itself. I think the update was great, but there were a lot of problems, we had to do a couple of hotfixes. There were a couple of issues with the guild system. It wasn't working exactly as designed, and [there were] bugs that we didn't find until we went on a large scale.

I think that if there was something that I would have done differently -- and that I'm trying to do differently for next year -- is to give us more beta time on all the updates. We're releasing such big features that we just can't catch all the bugs in a short two or three-week beta. So we want bigger betas, longer betas, and we'll be working to do that going forward.

Update 5 seems to be working much more smoothly now.

Now it's working very well. There are always a handful of nitpicky issues that got out there, that I won't delve into right now, and the players, I know, are very eager for us to fix. We're working on them, and they're coming for Update 7. There are some major bug fixes that are wanted, and we've got a ton of bug fixes in Update 7 -- players are going to be very happy with some of the biggest and most requested ones. For example, there's a hireling lag issue that we were able to locate and fix, so you won't be seeing that any more.

Another one that has been there the whole year and we have just now figured out is the Compendium coming up blank. On the page, on the Compendium, the page would never fully populate. We didn't know why, and we finally figured it out, so that's coming in Update 7 as well.

What do you see for DDO in the next year?

Oh, the next year. I think what the players are really wanting me to say -- which is true, incidentally -- is a lot more focus on the higher level of the game. We've taken this year to really focus on the new players that were coming in with free-to-play, focusing on the low and mid levels of the game. In the next year, we'll be focusing again on the higher level range. Things above -- we're doing level 12 with Update 7 -- you see things above that level coming with Update 8, Update 9, and so on.

So there's a lot of stuff coming there, and will make a lot of players very happy who have been clamoring for level 15, level 17, level 18, level 19 and such.

Thank you for your time, Fernando, and congratulations on one year!

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