Good old Neverwinter. Bringing D&D’s Forgotten Realms campaign to life in an all-new way, Neverwinter Nights was both the first graphical MMORPG and a wildly successful series of 3rd-person RPGs. Can going free-to-play resurrect this title and let it compete against the WoW juggernaut?
At first blush, there’s little to distinguish Neverwinter from, well, any other RPG. You run around. You hit things. Giant wolf throws ridiculous lightning bolts at you.
You know, the usual.
Neverwinter has been in develop for a pretty long time at this point. It’s gone from RPG to MMORPG, and from for-pay to free-to-pay, the latter change thanks entirely to the acquisition of game house Cryptic Studios by Publisher Perfect World. Perfect World is an international company with headquarters in Asia. They make MMORPGs as a matter of course, and their stock-in-trade is the idea of free-to-play.
Free-to-play games are a lot more popular in certain parts of Asia than they are here. That’s due in no small part to the communties that rise up around the game. The trend is starting to change, however, with major titles here in the States either changing to, or being developed entirely as, free-to-play apps.
Not everyone enjoys the direction these kinds of games are going. The developers don’t always have a lot of choice, however, as going up against Blizzard’s World of Warcraft juggernaut often results in games shutting down just months after launch. Free games, however, require no sort of monthly fee, and attract both different gamers and different gaming styles.
I spoke with a localization lead from Perfect World who talked about the decision to take a game like Neverwinter and bring it into the free-to-play space. Traditional multiplayer games, he said, have a steep drop-off once the afterglow of the game wears off. “You’ll have a million people playing it online the weeks after launch, but just a few years later, and they’re all empty.” Free-to-play games, he said, are different – years after the original ship date for the game, you’ll still have small but highly dedicated players taking advantage of the storyline and the community that the games offer.
Still, Neverwinter was once a very popular franchise, and many gamers remember that. As such, the new Neverwinter won’t be like a traditional free-to-play MMORPG. According to Perfect World, it won’t be quite like traditional MMORPGs at all. Jack Emmert, Cryptic Studios’ COO, once told MaximumPC, “It’s not an MMO in the sense that there aren’t zones with hundreds-and-hundreds of people. You are not fighting for spawns. There’s a very strong storyline throughout the game. So it’s more of a story-based game closer to things like Dragon Age or Oblivion, which we really try to follow.”
In that vein, it was announced in 2010 that a new sort of content system would actually allow players to create their own quests and other game content pieces. Given the wildly creative mod market, this alone could create substantial value not present in any other kind of MMORPG, free-to-play or otherwise.