Interview: Lost Ark’s regional parity, genderlocking, and the Amazon-Smilegate collaboration

    
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A few days before the western release of Lost Ark, we posed questions to the Amazon Games team, and franchise lead Soomin Park was kind enough to answer us last week. While it’s a tiny bit belated given the time lapse here, many of the questions are still just as valid here in April. We asked Amazon about parity between regions, the relationship between Amazon and Smilegate, genderlocking, progression, and what sets Lost Ark apart from other MMOARPGs. Read on!

MassivelyOP: How far “behind” the Korean version of the game can we expect Lost Ark’s Western client to be going forward? When a major new feature is added in Korea, what kind of timeframe can we expect to wait before Western players see their version of it? Weeks, months?

Soomin Park: One thing that we are focused on is finding the right balance between updating the Western version of the game with new features and quality of life improvements while also bringing in tried and true content from other regions that players around the world already know and love. We also want content updates to match the community’s progression level, so it feels fun and accessible, not overwhelming or frustrating. While we do plan to reach parity at some point, it’s important that we find the right cadence between the two. We’re evaluating each new feature or piece of content with this in mind, and listening to player feedback as we go.

Those who have followed Lost Ark in its previous versions will be familiar with the concept of “tiers” within the game, but for those who are just learning about the game now, can you explain how tiers work and where in the tier system the Western launch lies?

The Tier system starts when players reach “end game,” and the main focus of progression shifts from increasing your combat level to increasing your item level through upgrading your gear. As your item level increases and you progress from Tier 1 onto Tier 2 and 3, you will unlock more challenging dungeons and raids to participate in, as well as new lands to explore.

While all Tiers are already available in the Western version of the game, we still felt that it was important for players to experience each Tier in order. Tiers 1 and 2 have important story points and worlds to experience, and are significant jumping off points for Tier 3, which includes highly challenging content for players, and will eventually introduce the much-anticipated Legion Raids. Tier 1 and Tier 2 for the Western release have been tweaked to help introduce new players to the challenges and mechanics they will come across in Lost Ark’s end game, and flow into content for Tier 3.

Prior to launch, the Sorceress replaced the previously tested Summoner as one of the mage’s two advanced classes available at launch. What was the reason for this line-up change, and why not include both at launch?

In bringing the newest class to the NA/EU release of the game, we have a unique opportunity to shine a spotlight on some of Lost Ark’s freshest content and introduce it to brand-new players. This will help us and Smilegate RPG gather more player feedback on recent content, which is invaluable and can help guide creative decisions in the future. We are also striving to hit the right balance between updating the Western version of the game with new content while considering player feedback. There is no one rule of thumb – each feature or piece of new content is taken into consideration by evaluating the game and service as a whole.

How much freedom does Amazon Games have to make changes to the game for a Western audience? Is your purpose solely localization, or are larger changes possible?

We work in close partnership with Smilegate RPG on changes for Western players. While a great deal of our work is localizing all of the text and voice overs in the game, we have made other changes based on player feedback from players in the West. For example, we changed the approach to the game’s monetization to be more fair, and we added more diversity to character creation options. These are just some of the many ways we’re working side by side with Smilegate RPG to create an experience that matches expectations of Western players.

Related to the previous question, gender-locked classes are commonplace in Asia, but Western gamers tend to look less fondly on the idea. I know that Lost Ark has been adding opposite gender versions of certain classes, but it’s a slow process. Are there any plans to further soften the gender-locks for Western players?

From the earliest days of Lost Ark’s announcement in the West, we’ve heard players’ feedback about gender locked classes. We’ve communicated to Smilegate how passionate players are about playing a character of their choosing and having a breadth of representation options, and are working with them on this front.

Is there any chance we might get to see a return of the original, class-specific tutorials at some point for those who want to experience those stories? Maybe as an optional side-quest?

Based on global player feedback, the class-specific prologues have been replaced with a more streamlined single tutorial that is designed to get players on their feet and in the game as soon as possible. We’ll continue listening to player feedback on this aspect of gameplay.

I’m impressed by the consistent quality of Lost Ark, but it does sometimes feel quite similar to other action RPGs I’ve played. In your opinion, what is it that makes Lost Ark special compared to its competitors?

We feel that Lost Ark is a unique mix of finely-focused high-action combat, a smorgasbord of content for all types of players, stunning visuals, and a high level of polish in all aspects of the game, from character design to music to the world of Arkesia itself. The amount of fine-tuning and iteration from player feedback poured into Lost Ark can’t be overstated. This game already had great game design and content, but the most important part of a live game is a steady cadence of content updates and balancing tweaks that match the players’ in-game progress and community feedback. In that respect, Smilegate has an excellent team with valuable experience, which is one of the most important points in terms of sustainable success.

Also, there’s been a major gap in action role playing games. What Lost Ark does best is scratch the itch of ARPGers while combining the richness of a full MMO with deep social mechanics and an end game that never ends. The game takes the best features of both those genres into highly compelling engagement loops.

A lot of work clearly went into the story and lore of Lost Ark. Roughly how many hours of story content are in the game currently, and what plans are there to continue advancing the game’s narrative going forward?

Lost Ark has a huge amount of content in the game, and one of the biggest challenges was the sheer volume. The game contains nearly three million words of translated English text…and growing! That’s as many words as every book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series – multiplied times two. There’s a lot of content in the game at launch, and more to come. We will be working with Smilegate RPG to bring new content to the Western version of Lost Ark, including updates to the game’s ongoing story and lore, moving forward.

Many rewards and progression systems in Lost Ark are shared across a server-wide Roster, and many people feel the optimal way to play is to farm resources across several characters to funnel them to your main. How do you ensure that leveling multiple characters doesn’t get too tedious, and what is being done to support players who only want to play a single character?

For players who want to play a single character, there are many ways to gain experience and progress through the game through a variety of content. Once you get the first character on your Roster to level 50, you can earn a “Power Pass” that allows you to boost another character to level 50, speeding up the process. When it comes to funneling materials, alts can be convenient, but we are also making an effort to increase the amount of honing materials that can be earned in other ways, such as through fun and unique limited-time events.

The amount of content and systems in Lost Ark is truly massive. What do you recommend a new player focuses on initially, to avoid being overwhelmed?

New players can focus on the story and learn the ropes of combat and the game’s world while leveling up at a good pace. New systems will be introduced at various levels so you won’t be getting slammed with a ton of new things to learn at once. Take your time, stop to appreciate the world every now and then and when a new system opens up that you’re interested in, it’s okay to venture away from the main story to partake in it a little more.

Thank you to Soomin Park and the Amazon Games team for taking the time to answer our questions.
The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.
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