Pearl Abyss America CEO talks about the MMO market and Black Desert Online’s success

    
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Come on, vogue.

It’s a good sign that Black Desert Online has been not just a flash in the pan but an ongoing success in the MMO field even as that field has winnowed somewhat. But Pearl Abyss America’s CEO, Jeonghee Jin, is quick to point out that the smaller field doesn’t mean that competition between titles is any less intense than it was during the gold rush a few years back. She specifically notes that the market is diverging between more old-school experiences and bigger, more polished games, with success requiring an ongoing commitment to the game:

Using our own engine and live service experience, we put a continuous effort to improve the game starting from the launch date… To be honest, we were not really successful with our first launch in [South] Korea, but the team didn’t give up. We launched and updated with more content and more patches just hoping to make it better and better. So until now we’ve just had this crazy amount of [patches] and content updates. There were hopes and ambitions in the team, who believed in the product that it’s going to work.

Jin also notes that the dearth of successful subscription models has more to do with the simple value proposition when so many games, both online and single-player, are structured to work as a continuing service rather than a single purchase. It’s an interesting interview about the overall trends in the industry and the demands placed on a studio even with a successful studio, well worth internalizing for anyone who enjoys speculating about the future of the MMO genre and industry.

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Tee Parsley

Bought Black Desert for $5, just to get the character designer. Played the game a little, but the value for me was in fiddling with the characters, or admiring other’s character design.

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John Mynard

I’ll be honest, I’m in the same boat. I’ll log in and blow some stuff up with whichever character I feel like while looking good and enjoying the *ahem* physics while I do so. I’m not strong enough, nor wealthy enough to have my crappy gear much past PRI on my main character and I lost track of where I was in the campaign years ago. So it’s a happy distraction I indulge in every so often. And for the $5 I paid for it that’s enough.

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Gonsec

Black Deserts success is a combination of three things.

1. AFK mechanics. Build in cheats if you will. Very, very cool! Should be a new industry standard.
2. Amazing combat. The best in the industry.
3. Graphics.

That’s it. Most of us hate that company. The game is unstable, buggy and broken. The company itself has released tons of content on Korean servers that other regions never see. This included freebies and high level gear. When Korean content finally arrives to NA/EU servers it’s typically a year behind Korea. That leaves us feeling like red headed step children. Playable classes come much faster because NA especially is a cash cow for them. Every time a new class launches players flock to the cash shop to buy outfits and garbage.

My final complaint is service. It’s horrible! Spam fills the chat channels and there’s no way to report it other than filling out a very time consuming ticket process. Additionally there’s tons of cheaters/ hackers. Even though they do get recorded and reported they rarely get banned.

Pearl Abyss’ decision to penalize players that group together should tell you alot about them and their PVE content. BDO has the lowest player retention of any game I have ever played (since 1998).

And don’t get me started on the horrible RNG and stale 4 year old gear that we are all wearing.

All in all most BDO players hate Pearl Abyss.

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Harlow Games

I would add a fourth point, which is depth and diversity of game systems.

The game is stable for me, and coming from other titles that have extended periods of stagnation/content droughts, it’s refreshing to have a company that continually drives forward and delivers content on a regular basis.

NA launched ~2 years after KR, and KR provides the opportunity for PA to correct potential issues before they hit US. We’re on a similar timetable as KR, and we’ve done quite a bit to catch up at this point.. I definitely wouldn’t say we’re red headed stepchildren, as the delay is justified. We have the advantage of knowing what is coming and preparing for it. We also get the freebies (maids, pets, etc.) and the high level gear (tomorrow I believe we get TRI boss gear for the anniversary, just as KR did on theirs).

I agree that cheaters/hackers are a problem, and I think that’s partly because PA/Kakao lack the tools to manage it. I find it frustrating that reporting doesn’t happen (unless you screenshot and submit a ticket on the website, but who wants to do that?). Some might consider that a plus as it’s unlikely a player will get banned for an offensive name or language unless it’s egregious enough for other players to jump through the aforementioned hoops to file a ticket.

I’d like to see your player retention numbers!

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Arktouros

Can’t agree enough with the original article, all full of things I’ve been saying for a long while now especially in regards to the subscription model.

As for BDO I pretty much entirely credit Black Desert’s success as 50% non-traditional game play loops and 50% their absurd update schedule. For the last four years they have kept and maintained a mostly weekly game update schedule with pretty meaty patches and game feature updates. There is always new stuff constantly rolling out at a pace that is just unmatched in the MMO or live services industry. Most of those content updates are rolled out entirely free of charge meaning even if you do stop paying you can still access everything.

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Hex: Papa John's

Interesting. Don’t play BDO. Usually League of Legends is the gold standard for continuous updates. Every 2 weeks. But that is great. That’s what actual Live Service is supposed to be. Not this other BS where they update every couple of months, charging monthly subscriptions. Its a disrespectful joke.

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Arktouros

Yea I’m the same way. Like BDO is predatory as all get out, without a doubt. No one can argue that they’re just outright one of the most predatory companies out there. But God damn do they pump out game updates like no one’s business, there’s just so much game there to play.

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Harlow Games

I wouldn’t conflate profit-driven with predatory. Without revenues from their cash shop they could not sustain their development schedule.

GW2 tried it with the first season of LS, and it was unsustainable for them.

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agemyth 😩

What “dearth of successful subscription models”? Black Desert effectively has 3 simultaneous subscriptions of its own! They dip their toes in every form of monetization they can come up with and then dip in it again.

Using our own engine and live service experience, we put a continuous effort to improve the game starting from the launch date… To be honest, we were not really successful with our first launch in [South] Korea, but the team didn’t give up. We launched and updated with more content and more patches just hoping to make it better and better. So until now we’ve just had this crazy amount of [patches] and content updates. There were hopes and ambitions in the team, who believed in the product that it’s going to work.

Success stories are nice, but its the same success story every other service game goes through. “We had a rough launch, but we crunched some game devs into dust and then tossed that dust in a volcano to wish for the good fortune to get attention when we put out new content.”

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Arktouros

The $60 in subscriptions each month they offer has always been one of the biggest things that annoy me about the cash shop.

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Gonsec

WTF? What $60 in subscriptions are you talking about? The value pack costs $15 bucks. Have you ever played BDO?

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Arktouros

I have played BDO pretty much non-stop since it’s release in 2016. The game has 3 optional subscription like services.

The first is the Value Pack, coming in at 1500 Pearls and lasts 30 days. It provides a variety of buffs for it’s package mostly inventory, weight related as well as the market tax rebate, mervs pallette and salon. They later added some boosts for Bartering.

The second is the Kama Blessing buff. Originally just an Energy Recovery and 20% drop rate boost, it’s since been expanded with additional benefits such as increased central market capacity, transaction maid limits, and transport weight increases at storages. You can buy this for 1250 pearls for 15 days, or 2500 per month.

The third is the Secret Book of Old Moon which combines multiple old time limited services such as the Book of Combat (100% XP and 50% skill XP), the Book of Life XP (50% Lifeskill XP%), the Armstrong Guide (reset skills for the duration) and Cliffs Guide (adjust skill addons for duration). It also adds new effects such as buying villa buffs without a villa invitation at your Tent and +1 stable/warf slots at each town. This also runs 1250 pearls for 15 days, or 2500 per month.

So if we do some basic math 2500 + 2500 + 1500 = 6500 which you can buy 6600 pearls for $60 worth of Kakao Cash.

PS: You can argue these things are not necessary, and to a degree I would agree, but I also never claimed they were necessary only that they offered them.

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Gonsec

The cash shop in BDO has a million items in it. By your logic the players will want to spend $5000 a month to play BDO. You don’t need anything to play BDO, it’s buy to play, forever. But they do heavily incentivize the Value Pack ($15 bucks a month). Everything else is just optional fluff that’s not needed.

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Toy Clown

I agree with a lot that is written and still remember when WoW exploded on the market. Back then, I didn’t get why it was so popular. After trying it myself, it was like EQ-lite and I realized that’s why it was popular. The game was simple, cartoon-ified and appealed to a much broader sweep of players than its predecessors did.

After watching what happened in SWG with the CU, then the NGE, followed by the inevitable shut-down by Lucas Arts, I became a bit bitter toward all things WoW. LA attempted to chase down the WoW numbers with all the crazy reworkings of the SWG content that ended up pushing people away more than it attracted. While the last 1-2 years of SWG’s life began to see a rise in population once again with the new content it brought, it wasn’t good enough for LA. Even SW:TOR was a WoW clone, which was a slap in the face of SWG players.

That’s the point where I started throwing the proverbial middle finger around whenever LA or WoW were mentioned in conversations. Just shut ’em down and walked away.

Now? I’m not so attached to my MMOs anymore, because the article is correct in that they’ve been a dime a dozen the last 5 years or so. I feel the reason the popular MMOs work is that they offer something for every playstyle and do regular content updates.

I do feel that we’ve hit a point in MMO times that customers are tired of feeling ripped-off and losing their money, thus causing them to tighten their purses and wallets more. That’s what it comes down to for me: Does the money I spend give me a good degree of entertainment value?

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Harlow Games

I remember people leaving SWG to play WoW, and I’d had the isometric design of original Warcraft in mind and couldn’t imagine that being nearly as engaging as SWG – let alone worth making an MMO out of. So, I never even looked into it and didn’t even try the game until like, 2009. SW:TOR was mismanaged, and their business model was simply unsustainable.

I still feel that the money I’ve invested in games has gone further in terms of entertainment than any other avenue I’m interested in. Considering the number of hours I’ve sunk into BDO, for instance, is a greater return on investment than things like going to a movie, going out to dinner, going out for drinks, going to a concert, etc. etc. and those are capped at like 2 hours – and I’d be lucky to spend less than $40-50 in one night doing those things. That’s more than what I spend in an entire month and dozens if not over 100 hours of entertainment.

There’s a mentality of entitlement when it comes to subscription-style games, or games as a service, in which we expect a buy-to-play business model yet complain when the game isn’t continuously updated. When cash shops are added to support development operations, and yes, generate a profit – players are OUTRAGED. Even when 99% of the time those items are optional and rooted in convenience or cosmetics. The expectations there are just unrealistic. I feel most players don’t have an appreciation of the costs involved with developing content and maintaining a game to anything close to the standard expected, and they act as though anything over a flat $15/month is a greedy rip-off or predatory developer (and some think even $15/mo is too much to ask).