the MMO market gets more and more cluttered with titles imitating one
another, developers in this genre are having to work much harder in
order to create a game that stands out to consumers.
At the same time, they have to be careful not to go too far out
on a tangent lest they alienate their potential audience.
NCSoft appears to be trying to do something a little different
with the upcoming Dungeon Runners, but the twist won’t be coming from
the gameplay, which is a lot like that found in Diablo, nor will it be
in regards to aesthetics, which have some decidedly World of
Warcraft-esque leanings. What
is most likely to make Dungeon Runners stand out from the crowd is that
it won’t cost a dime to download and play the game.
in mind, though, that this whole concept of a free game does come with a
few qualifiers. NCSoft is a company, and not a charitable organization
after all. In order to make
money off Dungeon Runners, NCSoft plans to charge a fee for various
premium content in the game. This
will largely come in the form of elite items that players can equip.
What is unclear here is whether these items are consistently head
and shoulders above monster drops in the game, or a mixture of super
weapons, and cool looking items that only add aesthetic value to a
Of course, this buying of items brings up some sensitive issues. For instance, will this drive a wedge through the haves and have-nots in Dungeon Runners? Ie. Will well-off players have an unfair advantage in the game, over regular Joes? Also, how careful will NCSoft have to be in the future about maintaining a balanced game? In an interview we conducted with
Garriott last year, he discussed the risk of litigation MMO publishers
could face by selling items themselves.
One of his main concerns was that if the game appeared
unbalanced because a certain weapon, or class of items is overly
powerful, developers may not be able to adjust the item in question’s
stats, since they are changing the nature of the product that they sold
to a player, meaning they had a different product now that they never
asked for. Essentially it
would be like an auto manufacturer selling someone a car, then coming
back six months later and swapping in a weaker motor.
It just wouldn’t fly. So,
how does NCSoft ensure balance over the long term in Dungeon Runners?
We’ll just have to wait and see.
Besides, buying stuff, there are some other elements in Dungeon Runners that need to be looked at. From what is planned for the game, it appears that NCSoft is trying to make it appeal just as much to casual gamers as the hardcore MMORPG crowd. For one, the combat is lots of pointing and clicking like something out of Diablo, so one clicks, their alter ego swings, and finally the monster gets bonked on the head. There’s none of this activating the “fight” button, and watching your character go into some sort of semi-automatic battle mode. Also, the dungeons in the game will be randomly generated, helping to add variety to the game, as well as give players a chance to find rare treasure. Again, we still need to know where these items sit on the food chain in comparison to the purchasable items NCSoft has planned for Dungeon Runners.
actually look at the overall presentation of the game, it does bare a
striking resemblance to World of Warcraft (and I suppose that means it
looks a tad like the Warhammer MMORPG as well, no?).
Whether this is intentional or coincidence is anyone’s guess,
but it does give a sense of familiarity to the aesthetic of Dungeon
Runners. From what can be
seen so far, the graphics seem to be doing a good job of creating a
fantasy setting, and, more importantly, NCSoft is setting the system
requirements at a far more merciful level than other games coming out
these days, so players won’t need a high-end supercomputer just to
play this game.
approach that NCSoft is going with for monetizing Dungeon Runners will
be what ultimately makes or breaks this game.
The buying and selling of items in-game is new ground for
developers. We’re seeing
the start of it through micro transactions in new games and on Xbox
Live, but these have been in the closed environments of single player
games. What we’ll need to
keep an eye on is how this will be accepted in a community oriented
MMORPG like Dungeon Runners. Will
there be a schism between the haves and have-nots?
Or will this game manage to avoid such tensions?