When news broke on Thursday about Pirates of the Burning sea going Free-to-play, we got in contact with Flying Lab Software and DEMANDED TIME FOR INTERVIEW-CHAT. They submitted, fearing our mighty wrath. WE THANK THEM FOR THEIR TIME. Er... anyway, here's CEO Russell Williams and Head Of The Design Department Declan O'Connell talking about this move to go free-to-play before the end of the year, what's been happening on the Burning Seas and why people who launch subs-only MMOs from now "haven't gotten the memo"...
RPS: Firstly, the obvious. Why free to play? Why now?
Declan O’Connell: Subscription-access greatly limits the potential player-base of a game. You're making money off of every player who is willing to pay $15 a month, but you don't get those players who would play if it was $10 or $5 a month, or those who would pay piecemeal for things that grab their interest. You also only make $15 per account for which your hardcore players can find a use, when they might pay even more for extra features. That's the money end.
We're also immensely enthusiastic about PotBS, and we want it to be available to anyone who has an interest. Once players try the game, they tend to fall in love with it. We'd like to open it up to a broader audience so more people can enjoy the fruit of our labor for whatever they are willing to pay.
Russell Williams: As to why now, we didn’t choose this moment so much as this is how long it’s taken us to set everything in motion and to bring it together (while working on Power & Prestige). We would have loved to have been able to do this much earlier.
RPS: Could you explain how you plan to operate the free to play? What will actually be paid for? What sort of micropayments are you looking for?
Declan O’Connell: PVP is a major part of the game, so one of the most important choices we had to make was that free players will be able to compete just as effectively as those who pay for things. This means we sell convenience and prestige cosmetic items rather than things to give you an edge. XP accelerants, loot multipliers, clothing, pets, PVE allies; those sorts of things make up the bulk of the store at the moment. We've only put 1 piece of mission content behind a purchase (the Besieged Tortuga epic missions), but we plan to create new epic missions that we can sell as packs in the future.
When a player wants to buy from us, they purchase Burning Sea Notes, each worth several hundred Burning Sea Points (BSPs). These Notes are tradable in-game; players can buy and sell them in the Auction House, moving money around in the economy without adding to inflation. Currently, these notes are personal items that cannot be lost or destroyed in PVP or PVE. A player with more doubloons than they can spend on in-game goods could buy these notes from other players and have access to all the goods in the Treasure Aisle store without spending a dime.
We are also offering a Captain's Club membership that gives players all the upgrades and slots given to a subscription account, for players who want to continue using the subscription model. They will also get bonus XP, faction gain, loot rolls, and a discount in the Treasure Aisle store as long as they maintain a membership.
RPS: Equally, how will it affect the current players. In terms of other people going FtP, there's been various attempts to integrate this, from having separate servers for the two sorts of gamer to getting a load of free money per month to... well, other options. What's your plan?
Russell Williams: We’re moving the entire game over to free-to-play. There’s really no downside to current players.
Declan O’Connell: They keep all the benefits and account options of a subscription, and may choose to continue paying monthly for the benefits of a Captain's Club membership.
RPS: To be more specific, is this the end of the subs-first business model for new MMOs or is this actually about creating a second form of life for the game? As in, games would still debut as a subs model, and then switch to FtP down the line?
Russell Williams: It’s the end of subs-first. There will probably be another game or two that hasn’t gotten the memo and will launch subs-first, but I’ll bet it’s no more than 3.
RPS: For people who have perhaps played Pirates close to launch, what would you say are the key elements which will strike them as improved?
Russell Williams: One of the things I like to do is put our release notes for our post-launch builds into a single doc, and just start scrolling through it while I talk. It literally takes minutes, so it’s an overwhelming difference compared to what we launched with. But to hit the main points:
1) The sword fighting has undergone major improvements.
2) We’ve added an enormous amount of hand-crafted mission content.
3) More unique ports, rooms, and ship battle areas.
4) A new look to the open sea.
5) Port governance!
6) A new look and feel for the UI
7) The Skirmish PVP system
8) New epic missions
9) More ships
10) The Brawling fighting school
11) Huge numbers of tweaks to the balance and feel of combat as well as the rules for engaging on the open sea
12) More factions and rewards for building your reputation with them
And so on. And that’s just off the top of my head.
RPS: If our comment threads are any judge, there seems to suspicion of free to play games from many traditional gamers. What would you say to them?
Russell Williams: They’re right to be cautious. Many free-to-play games have been lackluster. They’re mostly games that didn’t do well in Asia that were thrown over the wall here with crazy aggressive upsell. But I think that as we start moving high quality games (like Turbine is doing) over to the model, people’s impressions will change.
Declan O’Connell: They should try the game and see for themselves. It's going to be free, after all.
The problem with MMOs used to be that, basically, people would only sub to any one game at once due to money. With the money issue removed , the secondary limit has taken over - that of time. Is there enough total audience for all these free MMOs? Is there a limit to the number of free MMOs you can see people playing - because even if they only do the occasional weekend on a game, that's still a lot of time.
RPS: In which case, out of this sweeping array of MMOs, why do you think people should play Pirates of the Burning Sea?
Russell Williams: It’s unique. There’s really nothing like it out there with the depth of our systems in our setting. It’s got best-in-class ship combat, and it’s designed to get you right into the action so if you’ve got an hour to spare, we can give you a great time.
I do think that removing the money issue will also encourage way more cross-pollination between games. As you say, if people only have enough money for one game, they pay the sub for that game and they’ve only got that game to play. And they’re going to play the game with the biggest grouping of their friends, which gives market leaders like WoW more stickiness. With free-to-play, they can play games that are new, different, and fun without having to turn their back on their existing communities and characters. I think it’s really going to help our industry move in a more positive direction than the culling we’ve seen in the last few years.
RPS: Thanks for your time.
Pirates of The Burning Sea's move to free-to-play is planned for Fall. There's a 14-day trial available for the current version.