I’ve played nothing but the Black Desert season servers in the last month. It’s such a fresh breath of air, and it’s something I didn’t even know I wanted. There’s so much good stuff going with for it that I really think that this is the shot in the arm the game needed to stay relevant. Adding easier-to-enhance gear that turns into useful items in the non-season servers provides meaningful progress while teaching players the ropes and getting players used to the game’s cycle.give games like Diablo 3 such longevity. And their addition is a sign that this game’s much more focused on longevity now. With these servers, the studio pretty much gives new and lapsed players a predictable timeframe to jump into the game when everyone’s on a relatively even playing field. The servers are also a much more approachable way to get into the game after players lose access to non-PvP Olvia servers. Some more pessimistic minds will tell you that it’s sign of maintenance mode, but I don’t think that’s the case.
But what is going on here? Are these season servers signs of a new direction for Black Desert? Or are these signs of Pearl Abyss preparing to transition into Crimson Desert Online? For this edition of Desert Oasis, I’ll be diving into some speculation of this beloved game’s future.
No, the game is not on its last legs
In fact, it’s the opposite. Looking at PA’s Q1 2020 financial report, you can see the game made a lot of money last quarter, to the tune of ₩118.6B (South Korean Won aka KRW), the equivalent of $99M US. That’s nothing to scoff at. Interestingly enough, the Asian market is expanding. Plus, PA can also count on Black Desert Mobile and EVE Online. The data show that both BDO and its mobile counterpart are holding steady (which is good news for me because I had a bad dream the other day of the game sunsetting).
All that said, we shouldn’t ignore how long in the tooth this game is now. Even though it’s been out around for only about six or so years, the engine technology is a decade old, and it really does show. While the screenshots still look amazing, there’s so much room for improvement, and I’m eager to see the studio showcase the newest build of its engine.
Some might see the game preparing for a smaller team and maintenance mode, especially when it seems like revenue from NA/EU is shrinking. But since the game is still profitable, it would make more sense to say that the game is heading in a different direction now.
There is a difference between a transition and new direction. A transition means preparing to move into something new, while embarking in a new direction is taking what’s already there and adjusting the focus. With the Asian market getting larger and NA making up a third of the revenue, it’s possible the game is simply moving away from a lengthy grind with an unforgiving open-world PvP system into something more digestible for the other markets.
I’m not going to ignore the fact that the NA/EU region’s revenue has gone down 8% since Q1 2019. And that’s fine for now. I’m no big fancy CEO, but as someone who actually plays the game, I know the players who stay know exactly what they’re getting into. I’m going to also hypothesize that NA/EU’s region is also the group that primarily plays Black Desert on PC. The financial report didn’t differentiate between the mobile game and the PC game, but considering how large the mobile market is in Asia and the need for a high-end computer to play BDO with decent settings, we can posit that the Asian market is playing the mobile game more than the PC. If we can consider those factors, then of course BDO is going to make less than its mobile sibling.
A grindy, open PvP MMO is also certainly not NA’s dominating zeitgeist (I can’t speak on the mood in Europe, so please share your insight in the comments). It would be unrealistic for me to think my region on the whole is foaming at the mouth to play this type of game. And Pearl Abyss isn’t going to go out of its way and risk what works in Korea and Asia in favor of getting more western audiences to play the PC game. Besides, it looks like Crimson Desert’s features will have much wider mass appeal here on our side of the Pacific. Also, bear in mind that Pearl Abyss recently set up shop in California, so it does have eyes and ears in this market and clearly intends to focus here for the long haul.
So, with the upcoming Crimson Desert most likely planning an earnest attempt capturing the larger NA/EU gaming audience, the mobile game printing money in Asia, and Black Desert having a smaller but dedicated playerbase, I can see the game’s primary objective will be to reach a compromise where all regions will hold steady. Instead of making a hard left into a more casual-friendly game and alienating the established playerbase, PA has opted for the season servers, which constitute a much better compromise that meets the needs of the slightly smaller NA/EU userbase and gives players who enjoy that playstyle just the right level of catch-up mechanics to stand toe-to-toe with more seasoned veterans of the game.
What the future holds
I’m still very optimistic and I’ve got no doubt this game will still be played after the new PA games take the stage. In an interview earlier this year, Pearl Abyss America CEO Jeonghee Jin noted that today’s MMO players enjoy an old school experience with the niceties of today’s technological advances. That’s exactly where BDO falls. I suspect that BDO will remain PA’s grindy, open-world PvP take while CDO is going to be the game for players who like running dungeons and group content.
I can’t help but draw parallels between BDO and the original Lineage. Lineage didn’t go free-to-play until about a year ago, and it’s been a reliable source of income for NCsoft all these years, in spite of and because of the rise of mobile. I can see Black Desert being profitable in the long run too. And Pearl Abyss isn’t blind to that fact either: It’s made numerous claims that it plans to support BDO for as many as 20 to 30 years. I have no problem with that.
What do you think? Do you think I’m right in my predictions? Or am I totes wrong on this? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear what you’ve got to say!