Inside D&D Online: Eberron Unlimited

Since 2006, Turbine has been bringing the epic feel and gameplay of the world's most popular pen and paper roleplaying game to online gamers via "Dungeons & Dragons Online" ("DDO"). After three years of being a subscription based Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMO), "DDO" will be moving to a free-to-play model, and will relaunch as "Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited." The game will continue to offer subscription based content, and will also introduce microtransactions through a built-in store, where players can purchase additional content and items.

Turbine's Kate Paiz is the Senior Producer on "DDO," and this week she spoke with CBR News about the launch of the free-to-play version of the game, and what makes "DDO" stand out from the crowd.

CBR: Could you give us a little overview of "DDO's" development history and how the decision to make the game free-to-play came about?

"Dungeons & Dragons Online" launched in February 2006. We have released 18 free updates to the service since then, more than doubling the content in the game. Our focus has always been to build an experience with the best action combat in any MMO and that brings to life the fantastic, rich adventures of the "Dungeons & Dragons" game. We have always gotten feedback from players and reviewers that "DDO" is a different kind of MMO and we listened when players (and research) showed that the number one barrier to playing an MMO was the subscription requirement. When we launched "DDO" in the Asian market, we saw a lot of our primary competitors using the free online play with microtransaction model, and learned a lot about the challenges and opportunities that type of model presents. Our decision to introduce the free-to-play option to "DDO Unlimited" came out of our desire to broaden the reach of the game to the fans of "D&D" and the fans of great, action based RPG games who weren't ready to sign up for a subscription.

What are the core differences between what paid subscribers and free subscribers will have access to in "DDO Unlimited?"

Free players will have access to most of the content in the city of Stormreach, which maxes out at level 12 (out of the 20 D&D character levels). One important note about content access, though, is that both free players and subscribers have the opportunity to earn Turbine Points just by playing the game. Right now in the beta, for every 100 total favor (there is over 2500 total favor in the game with the release of "DDO Unlimited") the character will earn an allotment of Turbine Points, which can be spent on whatever the player wants, including higher level adventure packs. VIPs (subscribers) also have more character slots than free players, and access to a shared bank feature that allows them to easily trade items between characters on a server. Both additional character slots and the shared bank feature are for sale in the "DDO Store," if free players are interested in those options.

What do you think "DDO" does that sets it apart from other MMO's out there?

"DDO" has the best action combat in any MMO today. We bring true RPG storytelling to life with hand-crafted adventures where the players get XP for reaching goals (like saving the lost party or disabling the secret weapon) instead of just for killing monsters (which we also have in our wilderness areas). In our private adventures, a party of players must pit their wits and skills, including reaction time, against hidden traps, falling floors, and cleverly designed puzzles in addition to monster ambushes and boss battles. Our Dungeon Master voice over provides guidance and ambience to the experiences as well.

We know the game is set in the Eberron world. What is the overarching story of "DDO?"

True to the Eberron fiction, there are several major story arcs that players will encounter as they adventure through the game. The city of Stormreach is built on the ruins of a Giant civilization, destroyed thousands of years ago in a war with the Quori. Players will explore many of these ruins, and experience the hazards and benefits of ancient Giant and Quori weapons and magic, as well as engage with the Dragons of Argonessen as they ensure the stability of the Eberron world. Extraplanar enemies also make an appearance as creatures from the Planes of Battle, of Dreams, and of Death come to Eberron to find new opportunities of their own.

As you've adapted the 3/3.5 "D&D" rules to "DDO," what kinds of things did you need to change in service to the gameplay?

The biggest change we made was the conversion to a real time combat system, in which characters actively dodge incoming attacks and player skills really matter. Character stats still play a huge role, but the marriage of character attributes and player skill makes the game unique. The "D&D" spellcasting system was another change - having only a handful of spells per day didn't provide a fun experience for low level casters, so we went to a spell point system that maintained the "conservation of resources" feel without leaving them helpless. We also had to provide rules and mechanics surrounding character death and resurrection, related penalties for dying and/or leaving and re-entering dungeons in-play.

In addition to the Dungeon Master voiceovers and the rules, how else does the game invoke that "D&D" feel?

"DDO" is full of real quests that could easily be straight out of a "D&D" module. Our design team does a great job bringing the feel of a party of adventurers crawling through a dungeon to life, as you and your friends are surrounded on all sides by hostile monsters, and working to avoid hidden traps and solve puzzles to unlock the way forward. The game is also full of iconic monsters, so you'll be able to meet over 100 classic "D&D" monsters, including dragons, mariliths, pit fiends, ogre mages, and, of course, kobolds.

Can you explain how the tiered difficulty system works?

Every hand-crafted adventure can be played on solo, normal, hard, or elite. Solo can only be played by one player, Normal is targeted for a small party (of the appropriate level), and hard and elite are meant to be challenges for a full party (or a smaller party of a higher level). There are extra XP bonuses and players get favor with the quest giver's faction (which unlock additional benefits at certain levels) for first time completion of an adventure on every difficulty level.

"D&D" is a game that encourages party-based exploration and adventuring. How easy is it for solo players to team up with a group?

"DDO" has one of the best "looking for group" systems. Parties looking for additional players can list what levels, classes, and quests they are looking to run, and individuals just need to open the social panel and click on an appropriate listing to apply. Players who are late to join their friends can join a party at any time, and just need to run through the quest (which, if cleared already, can be pretty easy, though some quests do have respawning monsters if their story requires it) to join up with their friends. If players are not interested in getting in a group, then they can find an adventure that is a good fit for their skills and try it on solo or normal and get a hireling (NPC combatant) that will join them for the duration of the adventure. Hirelings are a lot like normal players, but can be controlled by the player, and can be resurrected or healed if they take damage in the adventure.

You've built the "DDO Store" right into the basic interface of the game. What sort of enhancements will players be able to purchase through the store?

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 VIPs get them with their subscription. Conveniences allow players to enhance their experience by slightly increasing the XP or loot they get for the night, or help them 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!

As you look at the current fourth edition of the "D&D" pen and paper rules, are there elements that you plan on incorporating into "DDO?"

We've been evaluating fourth edition since it was released, and have been incorporating some of the elements of it already into the game. Overall, though, we work with Wizards of the Coast to make sure that we are always bringing the spirit of "D&D" to life in the game, and, as we've discussed above, some of the basic pen and paper mechanics have to be evolved to fit into an online game. We don't have plans to transition over fully to the 4th edition rules set, but are always looking for ways to make the game more fun and to stay relevant to the "D&D" players who enjoy "DDO."

Our thanks to Kate Paiz for taking time to give us the details on the upcoming launch of "DDO Unlimited." The game is currently scheduled to launch in North America on August August 6th (VIPs will have accesson August 4th). For more information on the game, as well as to sign up for the beta, head over to www.ddo.com

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