“We’re just eating some lunch, hope you don’t mind…”
Following their panel earlier in the day on Saturday, a handful of the senior staff from Intrepid Studios were enjoying some downtime at their hotel when I arrived. Greeted at the door by Steven Sharif, I re-introduced myself to Ashes of Creation lead game designer Jeff Bard, who we had the privilege of interviewing last year, and formally met Steven before we began our informal interview.
I was impressed by Steven’s passion at the panel, and commended the team on the tremendous progress they’ve made over the last year. Following a massively successful Kickstarter campaign last May, Steven recalled how the team was able to put together a combat system within 6 weeks and rolled out a very rough demo of the game to give fans a chance to interact with the world they were working to create. “It’s a very risky thing to do, because the fans see it and immediately assume it’s the final product.” Indeed, while there was quite a bit of positive feedback immediately following the show, there was a rousing chorus of concerned gamers – particularly regarding the clunky combat system. “Our team had worked really hard to put the demo together, and that was a major achievement in itself. No other studio would have rolled that out for people to see, let alone play or interact with…”
Indeed, before they showed the latest gameplay trailer, they screened a brief 10-second trailer from last years clunky combat system. Steven and the others agreed that it was tough to watch in hindsight, but there was a lot of learning in that phase – and as a result they are now ready to roll out Alpha One, Phase One. Much of the conversation at the panel surrounded the three PvP modes that would be rolled out over the next few months, starting with a battle royale-style mode that will introduce players to the revamped gameplay. Steven went on to explain that once the game is fully launched, this will remain intact as a separate mode for folks who may not be interested in the broader MMO experience.
Eventually, the conversation turned towards the recent buzz around their decision to go with my.com as their publisher in Europe. The company has been previously noted for distributing/publishing many pay-to-win titles in the past, and has also been plagued with customer service and stability concerns. This move from Intrepid was a worrying one for fans, and as a result there’s been some…passionate responses from their base. Steven brought up the official statement from my.com as a good place to start, and then went on to expand a bit as to why they made the decision they did. “It’s our goal to bring about the end of the pay-to-win monetization model. In order to do that, we felt that partnering with a company that has distributed a lot of these pay-to-win games and telling them ‘This is how it’s gonna be – we get 100% creative control, it’s subscription based and not a pay-to-win structure’ would be a way to shift the dynamic.” Steven went on to explain that during their conversations with all of the major European publishers, my.com was the only one willing to give them the 100% creative control that they required.
Now, it’s no surprise that getting an MMO off the ground is a big ask in 2018. Most games fall into one of two camps – each equally problematic: you either have a free-to-play game that has to rely heavily on micro-transactions in order to monetize, or you go with a subscription-based model. Going with free-to-play gets you a lot of players upfront, but eventually the realization that money needs to be spent in order to truly “enjoy” the game kicks in, and players run for the hills. If you go with a subscription model, you’re immediately going to be stacked against MMO giants like Final Fantasy XIV and World of Warcraft, and chances are your studio won’t have the resources that Blizzard or Square Enix does when it comes to server maintenance, customer service, etc. This puts many new MMOs between a rock and a hard place. So, how does Ashes of Creation hope to battle that?
“The answer is our community.” Steven explained “These folks have been with us from day 1. We released the pre-alpha last year and have been transparent in our development journey with them because we want them to feel like they’re properly invested in this game. The timeline that we have, our various phases and rollout strategy, it’s demonstrating that we’re taking the time that we need to, but we’re also inviting our community to engage and enjoy the progress we make in real-time.” Steven also had a special comment for the Alpha testers. “We really appreciate our Alpha testers. They’re going to be doing some…serious testing in the next few months.” he said with a laugh “Give them a hug.”
As our conversation wrapped up, I realized that the passion they all had was contagious. Steven, Jeffrey and the rest of the team are thrilled to have a new phase to offer to the community, and are eagerly looking forward to what this next phase of testing has to bring.
Many thanks to Steven Sharif and Jeffrey Bard for taking the time to chat with me at PAX! You can find more information about Ashes of Creation here.