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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> simple games like battle royale games, FPS games, and mobile games

I like this guy.

Also BR / shadow arena mode is very lucrative – up to 50M silver per hour currently (2-3x times higher than PvE) – and you don’t have to be a pro PvPer. Although zero xp output


Their defense of gear-based PvP and non-consensual player killing is hilarious. That game is on the precipice of greatness for the west.

They are a business though and they are making a killing exploiting the proclivities of their customers with gambling addictions. Who can blame them for being deplorable?


Yeah it’s a shame. BDO is a beautiful game. I loved every moment I spent exploring the world and whatnot. But at the end of the day it feels like there’s no real point beyond PvP, and there’s very little to even do with friends in that game. It’s like this weirdly antisocial MMO if you aren’t doing PvP.

Matt Comstock

Nice job on the interview. Interesting to see how they view the development and rationale behind the Shadow Arena.

Although, I find this Developer comment laughable: “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.” There is literally no quick way to catch up to the TET, and certainly the PEN level of advanced players. The time, effort, and silver needed to either enhance your own gear or try to snipe it off the MP is significant.

Still beautiful game, fun to play, BUT… PvE servers when?

Yoshi Senpai

That part made me pause too. Does this guy play his own game? Unless his idea of catching up quickly is buy cash shop items by the thousands and either having God tier luck sniping or putting down fat pre orders for gear there is not quick way. I have dropped a ton of time and my ass still gets BTFO’d by anyone who is soft cap.

Bruno Brito

Of course he doesn’t.

Sean Smith

Thanks for doing this interview, it is appreciated by this reader at least :).

The answer to the question ‘what effect has Shadow Arena had on the rest of the game?’ was hinted at in the interview: Savage Rift is dead. That’s probably not a problem for anyone.

I hadn’t made the connection between the Courser/Dreamhorse price increase and Cron Stone increase: does nothing to lower the hurdle to people starting with the Dreamhorse process; but it *does* make it profitable to sell them now.

Life skill changes? Probably masteries, I guess? As they’re only in KR atm.

Toy Clown

I hate to say it, but they have a point that instead of attempting to fix something inherently wrong in MMOs, they’ve decided to go with the flow in order to maximize their cash flow.

Our society that we live in now, most people are on the go, they want to shut off their minds and do mindless things. They don’t want to take time to learn new things and from that perspective, I can see the appeal to what PA is cashing in on.

It’s something I notice across all MMOs: People rarely speak to each other, unless it’s of a toxic nature, dungeon groups are rushed along by people who don’t want to be there, but it’s a necessary evil to gear up, people don’t want to take the time to gear their characters as it’s too much work, and weirdly I’ve come across lots of people that don’t want to get into the long story of roleplay anymore, they much prefer to cut out all the character development and the reasons a character got to the point they did and just RP the action part of a scene. We see it on the forums often: “I click through the quests because who has time to read?” Or “I don’t care about story.”

It’s the theme that’s settling into the mentality of 1st world nations as technology lines are more invasive in our lives, computers are operating more things and people are pushed to work more hours, attend more school, and do more things they don’t want to do. It’s understandable why things are going the way they’ve gone and why people have more disposable income than ever before, willing to spend it to advance in games instead of putting the time in.

It doesn’t look like they’re going to introduce any sort meaningful PvE content to BDO. They used to put in new quests regularly, attaching neat fluff to them – like musical instruments and music boxes, but no more.

I find it all interesting on a sociological perspective, but it’s not so interesting for what I find personally fun as more players push development of games to less depth and story.

Nadine Blot

So I should just give up hoping there add anything meaningful cause they think RPG is unappealing…I dont do BR games and rarely play FPS. Sigh afk life Skilling it is then

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Trying to figure out how to cram a p2w cash shop in today’s BR climate is likely Pearl’s most pressing challenge.

Korean made games really aren’t worth playing. Not trying even.


When I played, I was a ‘life-skiller’ ( yeah, a LOT of horse breeding/running :) ). If BDO wants me back, then they have to do much more than concentrating on BR!


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.

Or now you can just buy that time and effort via the cash shop because fuck you and fuck your time and effort they want money.