We recently learned that Runes of Magic would be hosting servers for, and more importantly in, the ANZ region. Kotaku AU had a chat with the game's refreshingly candid creator Tony Tang from Runewalker Entertainment, as well as Tobias Gerlinger, CEO of the newly created Frogster Pacific, about why they've done what nearly no other MMO cares to do: open up shop in Oceania.
It's a small miracle that a team of eight could grow and eventually make, as their first game, what's considered to be one of the best free-to-play (F2P) games out at the moment. Perhaps this is Frogster's next business masterstroke - a change of perspective to view regions such as ours as an untapped resource rather than a burden on the main operation.
With the F2P market becoming more and more competitive, the benefits of having a presence where your competition is not could outweigh the cost of operating. Especially where PvP is concerned, if a player has a choice between an MMO that offers less than 100 ping, and one that fluctuates between 300-500, it isn't really a choice at all.
After the interview, Gerlinger was able to tell us the servers (or "server" we should say, as there's currently just one PvE world) will be hosted through AAPT. He was unable to confirm whether the ISP's customers would be able to play Runes of Magic unmetered, but given iiNet's acquisition of the telco, and their policies on unmetered content, we're going to go ahead and say the odds are looking better than average.
What made you decide this region was worth expanding into?
Tobias Gerlinger: Runes of Magic is a very successful game already, we're published in 24 countries, and still growing dramatically. We did some market surveys and found that Australians are pretty unhappy with the bad latencies they have playing other MMOGs. So we decided to give them their own local servers so they have the same rapid, stable gameplay the other countries have.
Tony Tang: Latency is a very big issue. If you're doing PvP, and miss out on that split second, you're done.
There is nothing in-game, as in content-wise, that you pay for. Everything is free. The only thing you can pay for is in the item shop. Where you can buy things to save you time. But nothing in-game will cost you money in terms of content.
What do you find is the most popular item to buy? Cosmetic or convenience-based?
Tony Tang: Convenience based. Has to be. We do have players who are really out there, really cool. We have one player who dyed his horse pink, and his armour pink. And you see this pink horse running all over the ground. It's one of the few games where you can dye almost anything in the game, and that's you.
What's involved logistically with bringing servers to Australia?
Tobias Gerlinger: There's a substantial investment in the hardware, and on top of that, you have very high data traffic costs in Australia due to the monopolistic [telco]structures here. And of course you need to offer local support, and local community management. You obviously need a local team here, and that's why we went with N3V games, who have 10 years of experience supporting MMOGs. So we feel like we are in a very good position to make Australian players very happy.
Why do you think other MMOs don't come here?
Tobias Gerlinger: It's a combination of two things, the Australian territory is rather small compared to other markets, and like I said, the investment is rather big compared to other markets. So you really need to be sure you have a good basis, in terms of the game, to make that decision.
Is free-to-play getting more competitive now?
Tony Tang: Yes, F2P is extremely competitive in Eastern markets. There's a new F2P coming out every single month. But we're not just average F2P. We're trying to bring the pay-to-play quality to F2P. That's our motto.
We have content coming out on a regular basis, we've got things planned all the way till next year already, Chapters 4 and 5. We are a triple-A quality MMO game for free.
What effect do you think other MMOs like Lord of the Rings Online, or D&D Online moving into F2P have on what you do?
Tony Tang: We welcome that. It's a big pressure, especially LOTRO coming in. But the impact hasn't been that great. Those players will grab their own market share, their own fans. But the market is huge. The average MMO player plays 2-3 games at once. And that's easy. So there's never any direct competition.
So we welcome players to come and try out the game, and tell us what we need to do, and what we need to change, because we'll do it.
This was actually our first game, and I'll be honest. There were a lot of problems. But we learned a lot from this one, and we've been fixing this one, and the next one will be better as well.
I think the key is service. If you have good service, that's what makes the players stick around.
The number "4 million players" is being used a lot. Are they all active?
Tony Tang: 4 million players is actually an old number, I think we just surpassed 5 million players. Active players is probably 25-30% of that, at least. Concurrent players is probably around 200,000 roughly. It's hard to say, because of time zone differences.
Are most of your future content plans along the lines of endgame, or do you plan on changing your core gameplay at all?
Tony Tang: Core gameplay is always constant. Balancing the game, balancing classes. Any game you look at, if they stop balancing the game, they'll lose players. If they do not see change, and progress, they'll leave the game. We understand that. And we continue to update new content and old problems.
In terms of the team's side, we've still got 90+ team members working on the live updates. There are not too many companies out there who can support 90 members on a live team. Maybe Blizzard can!
Do you think the simple, accessible style of game works best with the free-to-play model?
Tony Tang: Yes, because we are a new company. We cannot try anything too risky, we do not want to try new combat, we do not want to try a new playstyle. Let's go with something players know, and let's make it easy. And that's what we did, it's very quest driven - just follow along, and you'll experience the game.
Do you plan on introducing any of those types of innovations now that you're more established?
Tony Tang: There has been a discussion about changing the focus of the game. Previously it was all quest-based. You do the quest, you kill the boss, that's it. PvP wasn't a strong part of the game, because that's always the most controversial, as you'd know from any game that does PvP.
But PvP is always the most played. So we might be changing directions to something more player focused.