Interview: Crowfall’s freemium update, small-scale PvP, new players, and the future of the game

    
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Another month has passed, and another meaty patch is coming to Crowfall. That’s right, today we’ll see the latest update (7.300) arrive on the live servers. We’ve hunkered down with ArtCraft co-founder and Executive Producer Gordon Walton for an interview on just what new and old players can expect out of the patch. Walton tackles almost every aspect of Crowfall’s gameplay loop from small group PvP opportunities, Eternal Kingdom’s changes, new player experiences, updates to the Victory Card system, and even a new territory type to battle over. Let’s dig in.

MassivelyOP: As Crowfall pushes into its next major update since it released (the third in as many months if I’m counting right?), it’s apparent the cadence of your updates haven’t slowed down at all. How has the team found the transition from pre-release testing into an officially released and live service?

ArtCraft’s Gordon Walton: We are underrated yet again, as this is our fourth major update since launch, 7.000->7.300 as we launched with our 6.540 version. :)

I think the team’s sense of urgency, while quite intense on the road to launch, always increases post-launch. Player feedback certainly increases in volume and diversity resulting in our to-do list getting much bigger and priority decisions becoming more challenging. It can feel overwhelming to the team at times, as we want to make our players happy, so we try to focus on the things which will improve the game for the most players.

It sounds like the Live Team is under new leadership, with yourself at the helm. Could you explain a little about how this transition has been received and whether players should expect much to change in terms of feedback and game updates?

I am responsible for the Crowfall game and service, and we’ve been working on major updates that run 5-6 weeks in length, along with a lot of hotfixes published to the Live service. We monitor the feedback from our customers consistently, and that feedback is the overriding input into the decisions we make as we further develop Crowfall.

Would this mean that J. Todd Coleman has also transitioned to leading another team (as claimed)? Is this team also working on another aspect of Crowfall or something different?

As Todd mentioned in our first livestream post-launch, he’s focusing on something new within ArtCraft. This new initiative is not Crowfall-related and won’t be public anytime soon. It was always our plan that I would take over running Crowfall once it was live, and I hope to steward the game/service in a way that the game stays true to our initial goals and the vision we laid out for the game. We wanted a no-holds-barred, open world, action combat PvP game combined with a strategy game based on territory control, with actual winners and losers in each campaign. We wanted to serve serious competitive players by providing a game where their character design decisions and their actual player skill mattered while avoiding the pay-to-win elements that imbalance so many competitive online games. Our goal is a level playing field for all competitors within our campaigns. We wanted a player-driven economy where the best items in the game were crafted by players, for players. Most of all we wanted to create a game where player inter-dependency really mattered and was a critical part of the experience.

Switching gears back to the main focus of this update, I understand Crowfall is moving into more of a freemium game model. Prior to this update, I believe the refer-a-friend program offered players the ability to share up to seven days of game time with a friend. How would you describe the difference between your freemium model and the old refer-a-friend program? Could we consider this update as an expansion on that offering?

Our new Freemium offering (free trial play for 10 days) is definitely a great way to get more people to try Crowfall. We know that our trial customers who get into the campaigns with their friends get the best Crowfall experience and are most likely to become longer term players. We wanted to lower the barriers to try our game and also further incentivize current players to bring their friends with our Crow Recruits/Buddy reward program which now gives rewards to both the invited Buddy and the current player. If a players’ Buddy is already in-game in free trial mode they can still add a Buddy code to their account. We retroactively added these new rewards for Buddies to all prior Buddy code trial players of course as that’s only fair.

We’re also lowering the game price to $14.99. Together these should make it easy for anyone to try our game and see if Crowfall resonates with them.

As someone who backed Crowfall years ago, I’ve had access and been playing for years now. So I can only see this transition to freemium as a boon and a great way to encourage more players to join. Are there any thoughts on the new players who bought the game at release, which was only a few months ago? Has your team considered any sort of bonus crowns (premium currency) or possibly even a few months of premium game time as a bonus for having joined the game earlier?

Everyone who purchased the game in the 60 days prior to our reduction to $14.99 price will receive $25+ worth of Crowns (3,000) on their account to cover the difference between our new and old price. Over the last two months, we also reduced the price of many of the Eternal Kingdom items and we granted the difference in Crowns for all those items that were directly purchased, again we want to always be fair to our customers.

While I have joined a sizable guild, I often find myself shying away and playing with a smaller group of players at any one time. It sounds like ACE is looking to expand many of the options for small scale PvP as well. Can you tell us a bit about the changes we can look forward to?

This release is our first pass on purposefully adding small scale PvP and we are sure to learn as Players experience it. Crowfall was created primarily with the idea of large-scale PvP siege combat as the focus, and while that is fun for a certain subset of the audience, there are other groups of players who want to be able to play with their smaller guilds and not get obliterated. In an open world game, it is extremely difficult to encourage what seems like a fair fight from a small guild perspective.

To that end we have added mechanics and content in 7.300 to encourage the small scale as best as we can. First we can now limit how many players from a particular Alliance or Guild are allowed in a zone. This will make the playing field more fair. Secondly we changed how Forts work and introduced Mines. Forts are pre-built bases with building buffs and crafting stations that also generate Conquest points. Forts are mainly found in the zones with the smallest number of Alliance players allowed. The location limits and having all the services pre-built should make these bases ideal for the smaller player groups.

Mines are PvP objectives that generate building materials, which are used to build and upgrade Keeps. The mines can be fought over and claimed, granting the victors access to the building materials.

We’ve already gotten some early feedback that players want even smaller group (6-12 players) PvP options and that will certainly be something we’re looking at adding in the next update, as we can now dial zones to whatever size we want to. What’s really exciting design-wise is working on integrating all of these different experiences into Crowfall such that players can find competition that matches the size of their team, and they always have the option to ally with others when and if they want the larger competitive experiences we offer.

The Victory Card system has always been one of the more intriguing and exciting aspects to Crowfall’s Throne Warfare. They always add another dimension to play by offering guilds more activities to participate in besides strictly PvP and territory capturing. How is this system going to be changing?

You are correct that the Victory Card system has been our answer to giving players a way to win with many different types of activities, and these activities change every time the seasons change. (e.g., in the spring you may be trying to harvest the most items, and in summer you may be trying to destroy the most buildings in enemy Keeps.) In the past we have skewed the activities on the Victory Cards towards activities large guilds would excel at, primarily related to things one would do as an owner of a Keep. Now we will be adding additional Victory Cards that relate to activities around Forts and things one would do in the lower alliance capped zones. While not necessarily giving small guilds an advantage, it does allow them to have a more evenly competitive playing field.

Additionally, in Campaigns like the Shadow we are beginning to track participation in activities, so we can better put limits on what it takes to earn end of Campaign rewards. The great part about this is allowing us to increase the number of rewards players earn in that Campaign type. This also allows us to add more really cool and powerful items as rewards for Victory Cards, which realizes another of our initial goals for Crowfall.

Another system that I unfortunately never spent a lot of time in (I’m a fighter not a builder!) is the Eternal Kingdoms. I love that features exist for so many different play types, even if I don’t tend to play them as often. What sort of updates can players expect to see here? Is the goal to encourage more players to find and use player owned Kingdoms for buying and selling goods?

Yes, our near-term goals for Eternal Kingdoms are to improve the discoverability for vendors and the items on them. We also want to improve navigation and signposting within the EKs. We want to dramatically improve the shopping experience over the next couple of milestones, so watch for those designs to show up in our forums over the next few weeks. We’ve added more EK items to the store and are also using them as Twitch and streamer drops. I believe this is an underrated part of what Crowfall offers given we have a fealty system where you can create a collaborative Kingdom of your own inside Crowfall which can be as large as any zone in the campaign game.

Can you talk a bit about the new player experience? The system has become very robust and really guides players well across the game by explaining the various systems and how to interact with them while also dropping juicy bits of lore. Although, playing through it more than once can become repetitive. Would you say the continued iterations on it are driven by the unique world building and vessel system Crowfall has developed or something else?

The new player experience we launched with was a major area of feedback from our player base. We’ve streamlined the customized character experience, to get players through it more efficiently and it is the best way to learn more of the nuances of Crowfall. We also added archetype choices for a ‘fast pass’ new player experience for those players impatient to get to the PvP action in game. We’ll be monitoring the data as customers utilize these and improve them from that data and feedback. We’ll likely add more archetype choices for the “fast pass” as Crowfall does have a large set of potential archetypes.

One thing that never fails to impress me about the team at ArtCraft is not just the consistent and regular pace of updates but the sheer volume of features and updates the team pushes out. I know we’ve covered a lot already, but are there any other improvements coming with this update?

While the primary focus of this update is on facilitating more small-scale PvP, the major chat system update and new player experience improvements, we certainly have a lot more in this update (as usual). The map performance was greatly improved, and we added a legend along with pins for your teammates and for recent deaths. In-game messaging for sieges and for periods when your holdings are being attacked is greatly improved. Armor is now more meaningful in combat, significant buff changes and dozens of individual combat/powers improvements. Campaign rewards are much more valuable and we now have an individual participation requirement to make them more meaningful. In crafting you can now click on any ingredient to go directly to the recipe for it, and it will tell you what kind of crafting station is needed. We added more mine and fort types to the campaigns, along with new dynamic buff pedestals at outposts. Eternal Kingdoms are seeing lots of improvements. For instance, Nobles and Vassals with land in an EK can now launch that EK along with dozens of fixes and polish additions. In addition, we’ve made several smaller quality of life fixes that were requested by players. Plus we put up nine designs since August on our forums, and expect to put up several more next month that are in progress now.

As far back as I can remember, ArtCraft has always kept the community in mind and looked for feedback on various features and updates. How has the feedback since release helped shape the direction ACE is taking today?

The feedback we got from our players at launch resonated with much of what we saw in Crowfall reviews. So we are focused on improving things that people found wanting in the experience, in the context of the vision of Crowfall. At the same time, we will be addressing issues and adding quality-of-life features players clamor for (which is a significant portion of customer feedback we receive). Some of the feedback we have gotten is “make your game a PvE+PvP experience like game X” and that was never our goal for Crowfall. We will keep our focus on competitive PvP gameplay and the community that goes with that type of experience.

One final question before we go, are there any other big changes we can expect to see on the horizon? As much as players love what we get today, we always love a hint of what’s coming next.

Not sure these will all be considered big changes, but as mentioned above, we’re definitely doing some work on extending/refining more small-scale PvP options within Crowfall and additions to the Eternal Kingdoms. We’ll also be focusing on flexible UI updates, Dueling Arenas, Skins/Weapon skins, even more map improvements, leaderboard extensions, varying campaign lengths, handshake sieges and refreshing and bringing back HungerDome. We’ll always be adding more content to the game with each update of course. Plus many quality-of-life additions/improvements.

Most importantly, we want our players to know the Live team is listening to their feedback and striving to serve them and improving the Crowfall experience with every update.

Thank you Gordon Walton once again for answering these questions and to everyone at ArtCraft for continuing to pump out these updates! More information can be found on the game’s official site and social media. In the meantime, check out our Fight or Kite column’s Crowfall coverage from before and after this summer’s big launch and the press release for today’s update:

Press release: Crowfall is Now Free to Try – PvP styled massively multiplayer game launches freemium service and lowers price point; small scale PvP options, streamlined new player experience part of major update

AUSTIN, Texas, November 8, 2021—ArtCraft Entertainment, creators of the PvP MMO game, Crowfall™, is lowering the price of the game and providing all new players a chance to try the game for free. Crowfall’s freemium plan provides new players a 10-day free trial. After that, players purchase the game for the low price of $14.99 and play forever. The new service comes as ArtCraft launches a major update today for Crowfall.

“We know that the free trial will be a huge draw for many MMO players,” said Gordon Walton, ArtCraft’s executive producer. “We’ve also made some very significant upgrades to the game in this latest update. We’ve streamlined the new player experience and we are now allowing for smaller scale PvP experiences. Crowfall was developed with large-scale PvP (100s of players) siege combat as a key goal and we achieved that. Now we’ve added smaller team size PvP options to accommodate the guilds our players are in. We listened to our player feedback and we are delivering what they have asked for.”

Guilds of 20-50 people can now siege and hold forts in Crowfall without being overrun by bigger guilds. Guilds of 10-25 can affect the game outcome by holding small forts, mines, and outposts and denying them to other factions. The game’s Alliance system has been expanded so smaller guilds can band together to take on even the biggest guilds on an even footing.

“Crowfall was created primarily with the idea of large-scale PVP siege combat as the focus,” said Walton. “While that is definitely fun for a certain subset of the audience, there are other groups of players who want to be able to play with their smaller guilds and not get obliterated. In an open world game, it is extremely difficult to encourage what seems like a fair fight from a small guild perspective.”
Additionally, the update streamlines the initial new player experience and adds a ‘fast pass’ new player experience for the impatient experts to get them to PvP as soon as possible. Other updated features include:

• Dramatically improved chat user experience featuring player configurability and overall utility
• New map features to support a host of new navigation and performance improvements
• Campaign rewards for the guilds/factions which are much more valuable
• Expanded our Crow recruit “buddy” program to provide more rewards to the buddy and player who invites them to the game
Crowfall is now free to try, page 2
• Significant improvements for the Eternal Kingdom and Crafting games
• Added more quality-of-life elements from player requests

To kick off the update Crowfall is bringing back the ‘Decapathon’ event. Always a fan favorite, the event will run from November 8 into mid-December. Players unleash their axes to take the head of any enemy they defeat in PvP and then sacrifice those heads to the Gods. There is a ‘Decapathon’ leaderboard for this event so the most effective PvP players can be known to all!

Every other week, Massively OP’s Sam Kash delivers Fight or Kite, our trip through the state of PvP across the MMORPG industry. Whether he’s sitting in a queue or rolling with the zerg, Sam’s all about the adrenaline rush of a good battle. Because when you boil it down, the whole reason we PvP (other than to pwn noobs) is to have fun fighting a new and unpredictable enemy!
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Mallus

Just make the game free to play (I already own it so I’m not looking for a handout), lower the cost of EK items so that people want to actually buy the stuff, introduce some PvE content (dailies, delves, dungeons, raids?), make crafting less convoluted/complicated and either link the EK’s into a searchable data base for buying and selling or just make a global auction house and I might consider coming back

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Kickstarter Donor
Greaterdivinity

Well shit, noticed that the free trial wouldn’t work since I had an account, was kinda bummed. Went to put it in my cart while thinking about picking it up and discovered there was a 33% discount for existing accounts so it was a cool $10.

You know what, I’ll buy it for that even if I don’t end up playing it too much. When I can afford to, I’ll put my money where my mouth is and support some cool/indie games even if I don’t end up getting super into them. It’s not much, but it’s something.

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Lash

If you have an account but haven’t done the free trial, I think you can use a referral code and get the free trial as well on an existing account. The free-to-try thing is just without the referral. For those interested, my code is LashLash

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Bruno Brito

Man…if the game was good, i would support is wholeheartedly. It just…isn’t? I don’t know.

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Mapper Ripple

Shadowbane 2.0/ failure until sunset.

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rk70534

Cynical thought: Somehow add blockchain to the game (unique vessels?), without harming the gaming experience, and they could get enough investments to properly advertise the game – the promised advertising blitz never really emerged.

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Bruno Brito

Free-trial is not a huge draw, sorry. For starters, this game is not interesting for casual PvE MMO players ( nor it should be ), but it’s laughable that they think we’ll have any interest in this.

Specially considering downloading gbs upon gbs of a game to try it for 10 days then be done with. I don’t download things that are timed. I can’t speak for everyone but i would assume this is true for a lot of people.

The price is passable, but there are other issues with the game. Barrier of entry is not one of them.

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Kickstarter Donor
Greaterdivinity

You know what…I should give this another shot. Got some vacation time coming up so I can make use of the 10 day trial. And with the reduced price, that’s even more reason. I’m not a big PvP guy, but if I can find a way to have fun with the crafting side of things while engaging in a bit of PvP here and there that sounds up my alley.

I hope this goes well for them. It’s definitely a niche product, but I want them to find success with this.

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Jeff Beck

Glad they reduced the price because the game isn’t worth more then 20 bucks at this time so 14.99 is good.

If they can survive long enough to add in enough stuff to fix the game maybe it will start to get players back because it’s basically dead in the water except for a few hand holding alliances.

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Arktouros

To me this still misses the mark of what’s wrong with the game, in that there’s essentially no real game behind it all. If I could log in right now and start playing, what would I do? Nothing basically.

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Ben Stone

Yeah that’s my feels too. I really like the combat, but so what? There’s nothing of value making use of that. If you aren’t doing big guild dregs battles everything else just feels punishing and worthless.

I will pop back in on it from time to time to see how it is going, as the combat is really, really fun. But the content outside siege windows might as well not exist.

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Arktouros

Yea the “content window” feels on this game is huge.

The worst part is they’re going to hear feedback like that and be like “Oh lets just remove the windows” and it’s going to be equally a disaster. It’s like WW2 bombers and bullet holes story where they think they should just directly fix the issue and not question what other things could be driving that feedback.

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Kickstarter Donor
Blaaznar

As a very niche game it will be interesting to see if catering to intended playerbase of unicorns is enough to cover staff salaries.

My bet is no, but as a backer I would love to be proven wrong.