Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited Interview

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Eschalon: Book II

Release Date:2006-02-28
  • Massively Multiplayer,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
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Turbine took a lot of people by surprise last week when they announced plans to migrate Dungeons & Dragons Online over to a subscription/free-to-play hybrid business model later this summer.  Subtitled "Eberron Unlimited", this new iteration of the game will introduce Turbine Points for the in-game purchase of adventure packs, classes, bank storage, utility items, and many other useful - though entirely optional - perks.  To learn more about what this means to both current and new players, we turned to executive producer Kate Paiz:

GB: Based on the interview we did with you back in November and recent announcements that you've made about Module 9, most people would never have suspected that you planned to make Dungeons & Dragons Online a free-to-play MMO. Is this a relatively new decision? Or, at the very least, something you've only recently decided to roll out this year?

Kate: This is something we've been planning for at least a year, but didn't want to talk about until we could show the whole offering to players. Change can be disruptive within an MMO community, and we wanted to roll this out in a way that our players could really see and feel the changes, and give us great feedback on what still needs tuning.

GB: What sort of "convenience items" will we be able to purchase from the in-game store? The newly revealed experience bonus potions? Portable shrines? How about any meaningful magic weapons or armor?

Kate: The DDO Store sells three basic types of items account services, conveniences, and cosmetic items. Account Services, like Premium Adventure Packs, Premium Classes & Races, and Character Slots, are geared toward the free players, as they are mostly free for VIPs. Conveniences allow players to enhance their gameplay experience by slightly increasing the XP or loot they get for the night, or help players get out of a bind with heal potions, a place-able rest shrine, or replacement gear (like a basic +2 bastard sword), should the player find themselves deep in an adventure without functioning equipment. Cosmetic items allow players to change the look of the character, and we plan on adding a lot more to this category in the near future.

We do not intend to ever sell magical gear in the store questing for great gear is one of the main reward mechanics in the game, and we'd hate to spoil the fun of it!

GB: You've stated that "Stormreach and vicinity" will be available to free-to-play users. Does this mean that all adventures in the harbor, marketplace, and Houses (including the Vault of Night raid in House Kundarak) will be made free? How about Korthos Island and some of the other lower level adventure zones?

Kate: Currently in the beta, nearly all the adventures within the Houses of Stormreach and the Marketplace, and all the adventures in the Harbor and Korthos will be available to free players. Additionally, Ataraxia's Haven (and its two dungeon adventures), Searing Heights, and Cerulean Hills (with two new adventures) will also be available. The Vault of Night quest series and Raid is a Premium Adventure Pack, as is the Catacombs, Shan-to-Kor, and Delera's Graveyard. The Tempest Spine Raid is the only free Raid in the game. Naturally, feedback we get over the course of the beta may cause us to make changes to this distribution.

GB: Will you be adding new adventures in addition to those you already planned to roll out in Module 9? How many total quests and raids are you shooting for at the time of Eberron Unlimited's launch?

Kate: Yes, in addition to the Plane of Battle content that players saw during an early Mod9 preview, we will be rolling out a low level adventure pack that takes place with all new content in the Marketplace, two free adventures attached to Cerulean hills and a few more high level adventures for Shavarath.

With the release of DDO Unlimited, there will be over 200 hand-crafted adventures, 20 wilderness areas of various sizes with a combined total of over 600 wilderness quests, and 11 raids.

GB: An "all-new never announced class" will also make its debut in Eberron Unlimited. Does that mean that it isn't the Druid class you had planned to roll out in mid-2009? When will you be revealing the new class?

Kate: The new class is indeed not the Druid we'll be announcing it in a few weeks, but anyone playing in the beta now can probably figure out what it is :).

GB: What's the current status on the Half Orc and Half Elf races? Any chance we might see these sometime in the near future, too?

Kate: We have no current release dates for those races, but as they remain near and dear to my heart, I hope we can add them to the game in the not too distant future.

GB: DDO currently spans five live servers. Do you plan on expanding the number of servers to accommodate any additional people Eberron Unlimited might bring in? Why or why not?

Kate: This is something we are looking into. In addition to potentially expanding the number of servers/worlds, we will be adding capacity to the existing live worlds. Performance improvements will also allow us to host more players per server. Between those two changes, each of our currently live worlds will be able to hold many more active players, and we'll be lighting new servers as needed down the road.

GB: Are there plans to put DDO: Eberron Unlimited on retail shelves to help drum up additional interest in the game? If so, when might we expect to see boxed copies and what exactly will they contain?

Kate: Because the game is now free to download and play, we do not have a retail release planned. Anyone who buys a DDO Stormreach box will still get additional value with that (including a month of subscription and then 4 character slots if they choose to move to the free model). We may release a retail version at some point, and that will most likely include a bundle of adventure packs and a grant of Turbine Points in addition to the client.

GB: One would presume that Eberron Unlimited is being rolled out to bring in more revenue than the game is currently generating. What if many of your former subscribers switch to F2P and/or the microtransaction system doesn't catch on? Are you at all concerned that this change could ultimately backfire?

Kate: We feel that this is a great business model for the game we have, and we think converting to a model that allows players to pay at the rate that is most comfortable to them (especially in these tough economic times) will be good for the health of our overall business. Research has shown that the number one barrier to playing MMOs is the subscription, and we've made so many changes that open the game up to the more casual gamer market, that we are very optimistic that this will allow us to continue to invest in and grow DDO for many years to come.

GB: There have been plenty of rumors that console versions of Dungeons & Dragons Online and The Lord of the Rings Online are being worked on. And, well, making the game free-to-play and adding a DLC-like microtransaction system seems like it would be a reasonable first step in bringing DDO to a console. Can you give us any comment on whether or not a console version of either game might eventually become a reality?

Kate: Not at this time :) We'll be talking more about our console plans later in the year.

Thanks Kate!