Interview: Black Desert’s Pearl Abyss on battle royale design, metrics, cron stones, and future content


Black Desert has had a wild ride over the last year, as has its home studio, Pearl Abyss. Not only did PA pick up CCP Games in 2018, but it endeavored to bring BDO itself a massive graphics overhaul and port to the Xbox, the latter of which is still underway. Most recently, PA deployed a battle royale mode to the game in relatively short order.

Pearl Abyss opened up to us chiefly about that new mode, Shadow Arena, in today’s interview, but it also indulged us on a few other topics, including cron stones and life skills too. Read on for the complete discussion!

MassivelyOP: I want to start off with the big driving question here: Whom is the battle royale mode for? What I mean is, was this something existing or former Black Desert players were wanting and asking for, or was it designed more as a way to bring new players into the game? Adjacent to that, who is participating in the battle royale mode the most, according to the metrics – is it new players, is it existing PvP players, or is it PvE players willing to try something new outside the normal PvP paradigm in the game? Has it had any impact on the game’s existing PvP wars – that is, are people playing so much BR that they aren’t doing their usual PvP (or even PvE) activities?

Pearl Abyss: Currently, we are not actively pushing marketing efforts for the mode. We are more focused on making Shadow Arena a more engaging experience for the player. Therefore, many of the existing players are participating. At the same time, we’re also seeing a lot of players returning to enjoy the mode.

There seems to be an even distribution of players who previously enjoyed PvP and PvE content who are currently playing Shadow Arena. Also, we’re seeing Node War and Conquest War participants momentarily drop off from Shadow Arena to play their wars.

Is the mode proving more popular in the west than in Korea, and what seems to be the compelling factor of the mode for each region?

Overall, Shadow Arena is very popular in Europe, North America, Russia, Thailand, and Turkey. We’re even thinking about adding additional servers due to the popularity in Europe and Russia.

I think the fact that everyone gets to join a match under equal circumstances without any preparation is appealing to many regions. This is unlike the existing gameplay, where players have to consistently invest time and effort in order to enjoy their experience.

What was PA’s rationale for using prefab classes for the battle arena? It sounds like players believe the class balance is off and gear dependency is too great – which would’ve been the case without prefab classes too, right?

Shadow Arena is just getting started. Of course, we will have to prepare Awakening skills, but right now, we are prioritizing on making Shadow Arena a more complete game even with the basic skills.

Black Desert Online is an RPG where classes get stronger depending on their equipment and levels. However, since all classes begin at the same level and situation, the previously established balances of Black Desert Online does not matter. It provides a new type of fun experience, where matches are won through strategic decisions and gaming skills.

Speaking of balancing, it’s always difficult to deal with balancing the game. CC’s and equipment play an important role in PvP. The gaming experience could completely change depending on how you balance these.

Balancing for action fighting games like Tekken is based on controls. However, Black Desert Online is an RPG. You need to have rewards based on the time and effort you put into your characters. These include item enhancements and character progression. Therefore, you could say it’s natural for the equipment which you obtained through time and effort to influence the results of your battles.

But then again, although Black Desert Online is an RPG, it has a skill-based combat system. That means that you can compensate or overcome the advantages of certain equipment by playing to a high standard. The balancing must be focused on giving you the hope that you can beat others with good equipment if they play more skillfully.

The problem though, is the idea that “you might die before you get to do anything at all.” To prevent these cases, we tried to solve the problem by changing aspects of the game other than nerfing the characters. But then, we realized that this was not the type of solution the community wanted.

From now on, we want to think in terms of figuring out and resolving the source of the issues that our players face. We want to proactively and directly make changes. Of course, this type of approach needs to be handled with a lot of care, and needs thorough verification.

Is PA considering looping in other popular game modes and subgenres? We know PA is working on adding more meaningful non-combat sandbox gameplay – I’m thinking of how some players will literally do nothing but breed horses in BDO. How will PA recreate that special sort of magic?

The trend has recently changed to where simple games like battle royale games, FPS games, and mobile games are becoming more popular. Just like you pointed out, the RPG genre is quite complicated and involves a lot of memorization, which are some of the reasons why the genre is losing its appeal.

We fully realize this, so we’re trying to improve the game so that it is more intuitive.

One of the reasons why the RPG genre is unappealing is because of the constant loop of having to defeat monsters. Shadow Arena was introduced as one of the ways to resolve this problem.

When you recommend people to play an RPG, many say it’s too complicated. That they don’t have time. That it’s too late to begin. Of course, Black Desert Online is designed in such a way where various features allow new players to overcome these issues by allowing them to quickly catch up to where the other advanced players are at. However, it’s difficult, in any game for that matter, for a new player to reach the heights of where the top players are at.

Battle Royale allows us to provide a mode where you can overcome these issues of RPG games by letting everyone start under the same physical conditions. Of course, the only advantage established players may have are psychological in nature (such as their knowledge of the existing game).

Through the familiar battle royale genre, players can now join Black Desert Online more easily without fear or pressure of having to catch up to more advanced players. As they play Shadow Arena, we want the players to naturally become more familiar with the classes and controls of Black Desert Online, and then eventually experience the full game.

We want to continue to try various updates to give new players a fun experience, while at the same time allow existing players to continue to enjoy the game as well.

(In the interview translation, the team split this question up, so Jae-hee Kim followed up at this point on the question about other modes and life skills.)

Right now, we’re focused on Shadow Arena. It’s the most important one at the moment. Other than Shadow Arena, we have Territory Wars planned. Then, later this year, I think we’ll be able to introduce a new region and content.

Not only are we thinking about new contents, but we’re also preparing to enhance the quality of the existing content as well.

Take Savage Rift, for example, which was based on tower defence games. Currently, Savage Rift is barely being played. Therefore, if we were to revamp Savage Rift, it would have to be a major change.

Rather than utilizing other genres, I think it’s worth trying out ideas which we think suits Black Desert Online well.

We’re also always thinking about improving the Life Skill content, including Horse Training. In addition to the increased prices of horses at the Horse Market, we’re currently developing a new system for Horse Training.

Finally, it seems like players are still on fire over cron stones. Can PA comment on its intent regarding the cron stone price change and impact on T9 attempts?

It’s closely related to the fact that players were earning much more silver due to the recently enhanced economy of the game.

The income players are currently earning is significantly greater than the amount that was being earned back when Cron Stones were initially introduced. The amount of wealth being accumulated by players continues to increase through various methods such as events, better drops in Monster Zones, and the introduction of new drop items (like accessories), etc.

Therefore, the Cron Stone price was increased. We did recently compensate the price adjustment by increasing the value of Dream Horses sold at the Horse Market. We currently plan to provide further updates such as reducing the Horse Market fees, bringing improvements to Mount Training, and improving the overall convenience of the Horse Market. Some of these updates will be implemented very soon.

We want to make sure that Dream Horses have a value that matches the difficulties that are involved when obtaining something so rare.

We’d like to thank Pearl Abyss (and its hard-working translators!) for the thorough answers!

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