Our trusty eyepatches in place, we waylaid Russell "Rusty" Williams (Flying Lab's CEO) and Jason "Mr Nutty" Gettel (Lead Designer), who answered some of our "burning" questions. So sit back, put your bib on, blow out your candles, and click past the cut to see what they had to say on this special anniversary!
Rusty Williams: We think PotBS has aged very well! First, we've added tremendously to the game since launch, with both huge amounts of new content and entirely new games systems, to say nothing of the large amounts of polish we've applied. Second, there's still nothing quite like it out there, and that uniqueness gives it an enduring quality. Finally, PotBS is simply beautiful, and that's more of a function of our art staff's aesthetic sense than the underlying technology. While we do continue to upgrade our tech, it's the continued advancement of our artists that has made the new towns, coasts, characters, and weapons such a stunning improvement.
PotBS is often compared to EVE Online, so what are some of the key differences between the two games for players who might be on the fence?
Jason Gettel: There are some obvious similarities; both games feature ships and ship combat, have complex economies, and have meaningful RvR systems. The implementation of these systems is quite different, though. The obvious example is our ship combat. In PotBS, a player has to think about things like wind direction, enemy positioning, and land formation; all while steering their ship on a safe course and firing off cannon volleys. This makes for an intense tactical experience that is very unique and incredibly fun. So while it's very easy to say things like, "ah, both games feature ship combat," the words "ship combat" mean very different things in the two games.
We've heard a lot about new free-to-play players contributing to PvP battles, increasing their frequency and size. But is a new player even able to contribute to a battle that might be filled with veterans?
Jason: Skill and experience will always give you an edge in any game, but in PotBS we see many new players being recruited into groups that feature a range of character ages. The nature of our combat system means that there are many roles people can fill. There are veterans and societies in every nation that want to educate new players and use the strengths that new players can bring to a fight.
Looking back at beta, did you ever think that PotBS would reach three years? What about free-to-play -- was that anywhere near the ballpark back then?
Rusty: We absolutely expected to reach three years. If you didn't expect your game to have some legs, you wouldn't invest the kinds of resources that MMOs require. In terms of making the game free-to-play, we have always been aware that we would need to do it for Asia, but we weren't initially thinking about it in the context of the US market. It wasn't until the fall of 2009 that we were actively thinking about it and looking for a way to make it happen.
New, free players might add bodies, but do they add cash? In other words, although it is exciting to see more players, should a player take this as meaning that the game now has a longer life?
Rusty: They do add cash! Going free-to-play is a leap of faith if you're currently in a subscription model, but we're pleased with the response that we've seen, and we're excited to see where it goes. It's also particularly gratifying that in a difficult economic climate, free-to-play opens up the door to players who had to drop for financial reasons.
What are some of the lessons you've learned over the last three years? What have you learned about a PvP audience?
Rusty: We've learned a lot of lessons from the last three years, way too many to cover here, but if you read our hundreds of pages of release notes, you'll see a lot of them reflected there. For me personally, the biggest lesson is how we need to change how fast we can bring a product to market. With PotBS, we built all sorts of new and innovative systems from the ground up. Unfortunately, the odds of building it right the first time are extremely low, so you have to be willing to learn what went wrong, tear it apart, and then build it again. All the while the marketplace is changing, and faster now than ever before, and the strategy you based your game on may not be valid when you're finally ready to ship. As for the PvP audience, we haven't had too many surprises of what drives a PvP player, but knowing that doesn't reduce how impressive it is to watch them take your carefully thought-out rules and bend them to their advantage.
New servers are seemingly a hot topic on the forums. What would it take to open a new one, or is that not in the cards?
Jason: We're certainly not ruling it out, but we don't think now is the right time. A thriving population makes Pirates a really fun game; the more people there are playing together, the better their experience is. A new server is only a benefit when the population is overwhelming the game systems or server hardware. We have a lot of people on the current servers, and the systems and hardware are doing just fine at the moment. In the future? We'll see.
We'd like to thank these two scallywags for taking the time away from lootin' and pillagin' to answer our questions!