Interview: Cryptic untangles Neverwinter’s new battle pass experiment

    
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Earlier this month, we learned that Cryptic is planning a multi-tiered battle pass for Neverwinter. Echoes of Prophecy will serve as the content campaign with three milestones as usual – in fact, the first begins today as you’re reading this – but this campaign includes a free battle pass along with a premium one that players can buy in exchange for everything from companions to mounts.

To get the low-down on what’s going on with the pass, how it’ll affect the game, and what developers had in mind when designing it, we spoke to Cryptic’s Lead Systems Designer for Neverwinter, Jared Sears, and Systems Designer for Neverwinter, Miku Vo.

MassivelyOP: First, why did Cryptic Studios decide to go with a battle pass instead of another format, like seasons? I ask this because the reaction to the pass seemed pretty grumpy as players seem to think it’s a sign of trouble for the game that Cryptic Studios is trying to find new funding avenues.

Jared Sears, Lead Systems Designer for Neverwinter: We did a battle pass last year called The Redeemed Citadel for Neverwinter’s 19th module, Avernus, only we referred to it as a season pass at the time — so this isn’t a brand-new approach for Neverwinter.

We try out new and different content, events, and features every year. Then we look at feedback from those new initiatives and if they’re something, which worked well and players liked, we make improvements from feedback. Those initiatives can be something like this battle pass, or our chicken PvP event for April Fools’ Day we launched two years ago that players enjoyed so much it now returns each year. We’ll try just about anything if we think players will have fun with it.

Last year’s battle pass was well received, which led us to do another one this year with some changes and adjustments to make it an even better experience. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether it was called a battle pass, a season pass or a season; the content is still pretty much the same. When players dive into Echoes of Prophecy, they will see many of the core features from the Redeemed Citadel.

Is the VIP subscription changing at all with the battle pass, or will the pass be integrated with VIP? Do VIP subbers automatically get the premium pass, or will they be asked to pay twice now? How much is all of this going to cost the player?

Sears: The VIP program is our most enjoyed premium items, and the one players recommend to new people trying out the game. It has its own defined set of perks which are a fantastic value as we want to make sure to give back and show our thanks to players who are supporting us in making Neverwinter.

VIP has never been a purchase that gives everything in the game. New items that show up for sale aren’t free for VIP by default. While VIP members do not get the premium pass for free, they continue to get all of the perks and benefits they already enjoy.

The premium pass for Echoes of Prophecy is 2500 Zen, which is $25. That unlocks the premium reward track for all three milestones that unfold over three months. It also offers the benefit that premium pass holders can continue to earn progress towards the milestones even after they’ve ended, which was an element players enjoyed from last year’s pass, The Redeemed Citadel.

Purchasing the premium pass is completely optional. All of the new content arriving with Echoes of Prophecy is available for free and there are free rewards to unlock with each milestone as well.

What exactly will premium players get out of the premium pass that they won’t get for free? Will freemium players be at a disadvantage? How is Cryptic Studios avoiding pay-to-win with the pass?

Miku Vo, Neverwinter Systems Designer: Both the free and premium rewards are a mix of fun items such as new emotes, items for your character such as artifacts, and even mounts and companions. All of the mounts and companions in the game can be upgraded to Mythic quality, including those gained from the free track. That means gaining a Mythic mount directly from the premium rewards doesn’t put you at a higher possible item level than other players, but it does save you time and resources. Here are just some of the rewards players can earn from all of the milestones:

· Neverwintan Hawk (Companion) – This hawk will attack your targets faster than you can tell it to, dealing a large amount of damage to a single foe. Players will have to choose between the Doohickey or the Neverwintan hawk when considering loadouts.
· Neverwinter Knight (Companion) – He has spent his life watching over Neverwinter, and now watches over you. The Neverwinter Knight’s Discipline that he will pass onto you increases your outgoing damage.
· Corbin the Venerated (Companion) – Corbin charges across the battle field with mastery over martial and arcane arts. Wielding his greatsword and Fireball, he instills you with Corbin’s Confidence, which has a chance to increase your Recharge Speed when an Encounter Power is used.
· Barded Neverwintan Lion (Mount) – This Neverwintan Lion’s Neverwintan Armament increases your Hit Points and Ability Scores. Its Neverwinter’s Pride increases your Forte and Critical Severity.
· Neverwinter Transmute, Fashions, and Tattoos – The Glistening Lion’s Attire eternally glistens, while the fashions boast the symbols of Neverwinter. There are also tattoos that offer an overwhelming sense of support for the lion mascots that watch over the city.
· Emotes, Companion & Mount Upgrade Tokens, Companion Gear, Reroll Tokens – To help you along your journey, each milestone is packed with helpful resources to increase the capability of your companions and mounts.
· Item Level 1000 Artifacts – These artifacts are precious to Neverwinter themselves, with the Jewel of the North being named after the epithet of the great city. Along with the Neverwinter’s Standard, these artifacts strengthen you and your allies in the midst of combat.

Did the team have the battle pass planned when it recently retooled the leveling game? I ask this because the pitch here is that the pass will “deliver content for all players, both new and old,” which is similar to the pitch for the level squish.

Sears: After the Redeemed Citadel pass launched last summer, we saw how engaged players were and how much they were enjoying it. It didn’t take long for us to make the call that we would do another pass the next year.

For the game as a whole, we have a goal of making it more accessible for new players and easier to get to the endgame, which is where the common theme came from. Jewel of the North brought a lot of improvements to the game, including reducing the amount of time it takes to reach max level as well as better equipping and teaching new players to help them be successful in our numerous dungeons and our different zones which take them to areas all across the D&D universe. The new leveling system also has benefited veteran players since they’ve been able to level up alternate characters so they can experience what other classes have to offer.

Most of our new events and features like battle passes were designed for a very wide range of players so that everyone can enjoy them. Also, we still will have new endgame zones and trials like those which will be in the next major module release that continues the story that begins with Echoes of Prophecy.

How much time does Cryptic Studios think players will be devoting to battle pass content every week or month? Is it concerned that it might turn into the situation in other games with similar structures, where players are spending more time working on (for example) grinding out cosmetics than doing the core content loop in the game?

Sears: Echoes of Prophecy is a flexible setup that will work for many different playstyles. While there is all new content and story that players will get to play through, you also make progress in the battle pass by doing daily random queues, one of the main activities players already do, and weekly Legacy Campaign Quests.

The pass also doesn’t require players to play every day or grind for hundreds of hours to finish. A player may log in on some days and do their random queues like they normally would to earn their Astral Diamonds and will get a bonus of making progress in Echoes of Prophecy at the same time. On a day where they have more time, they may run through a bunch of the new quests. If they play often, they’ll likely complete a milestone with ample time to spare. If they’re more casual, they still should find that they can make solid progress each time they play and that they can complete the milestone before the month ends without having to stress about it.

Another option for someone who has very limited time to play is the premium pass which allows them to finish milestones even after they’ve ended. The final milestone ends Dec 31st. With the premium pass, all milestones can be finished up until April 30th of next year.
Echoes of Prophecy is really about kicking off a new exciting story and rewarding players for spending time in the game. It isn’t content intended to force people to log in every single day or miss out. I think players will really enjoy Echoes of Prophecy, and I hope you get a chance to check it out for yourself.

We’d like to thank Jared Sears and Miku Vo for taking the time to explain the studio’s thinking on the pass and alleviate player fears. Echoes of Prophecy’s first chunk arrives on both PC and console today.
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LawfulGood

I’m doing the event without paying the $25 and it’s fine. For those who want to pay for different stuff, fine. I’m supporting Cryptic through the VIP system and that’s good enough for me. Thumbs up.

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Poocifer

How are they thinking this is a good idea?

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Raidervc

The battle pass model worked so well for Cryptic’s Magic:Legends, it seems crazy to me a monetization employee looked at that game failing and said,”Let’s do THAT, but make it cost $25 instead of $9.99 or $14.99.”

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Aquarion

He’s not wrong that it’s exactly the same crap they pulled with the Redeemed Citadel thing, and putting this battle-pass system on top of the VIP subscription system is a consumer-hostile mess that is transparently an extra attempt to monetise in the wake of Magic Legends crashing and burning so painfully.

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Jon Asgaeroth

Sears claiming Cryptic looks at feedback is personally offensive to me. Neverwinter is an ailing dumpster fire because they spitefully refuse to improve the game in any way at best, and at worst they troll feedback to look for things to spitefully do the opposite of. Your game is failing because you have every possible anti consumer concept that has ever been dreamed of in triplicate. You would have 20 times the customers if you removed some of the monetization arm twisting. What good is having 30 systems you need to pay and gamble through when they eclipse the game and hence no one plays it?

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HawkeWar

Tell you what…you remove that idiotic AI flying boat in Protectors enclave, and I might buy a few Zen every month or so.

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Breck Bachle

“Pay us for the privilege of grinding to earn crap. What’s that? You have FOMO because you aren’t a nolifer who can login and grind every day? Well have I got a deal for you! Pay us more money and we’ll just give you the crap!”

Battlepasses are the worst.

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Bruno Brito

Yo dawg, i heard you like wasting mone, so we put a battlepass on one of the most already-heavily monetized MMOs in the industry, so you can spend, while you spend.

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Richard de Leon III

I dont mind the battle pass style of revenue as much as I should. The use of FOMO is a psychological low blow imho. I get the mmo companies need to make money. I just dont like feeling rushed or obligated to pay in order to miss out on emotes and items that in the old days were rewards for just playing the game if it just had a proper sub or buy to play system.

Or maybe im particularly bitter about it because they use the battle/season pass system in addition to other moneymaking items that are much worse like lockboxes….

EmberStar
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EmberStar

Battlepass? No thanks, I’ll pass.