Desert Oasis: Black Desert’s Jaehee Kim and Jesse Joo on accessibility, community, and playing their own game


Attending the first Calpheon Ball in the US was an awesome experience. Getting to see fellow Black Desert fans, watching the joy in peoples’ faces when meeting their guildies in person for the first time, and capping off the night with an RNG-fueled raffle with prizes ranging from Black Spirit-themed bathroom mats to a custom-made BDO PC… it all made for a night to remember.

Now, one of the big things that I’ve always wanted to see the BDO team do is to build rapport with NA players like the kind Jeff Kaplan had with Overwatch players and Yoshi-P currently has with the Final Fantasy XIV fans. The Calpheon Ball was a huge step toward achieving that, with players cheering for Executive Producer Jaehee Kim by the end of the night!

So when I got to interview Kim in person, I knew my focus would be to help western MMO players get to know him a little better. I’ve interviewed Kim in the past, but only through emails; this event marked the first time we met in person. As a bonus, I also got to chat with head game designer Jesse Joo; he’s usually the person talking about the new game features being added to Black Desert. Alex Park was our translator for this interview and helped bridge the gap between the language barrier. So with this unusual opportunity, I started with something I’ve been wondering about for a while now: the motivation behind making Black Desert a more user-friendly experience since its inception.

Staying true to the world

I first asked what spurred the change in direction toward a more user-friendly game since the release of the Mediah content, and I was referring specifically to the new fast travel systems, the season servers, the guaranteed PEN items, and the myriad catch up mechanics that have since been added to the game. I was surprised to find out that both Kim and Joo believe that there never was a change in the direction toward making the game more user-friendly; instead, they argued that their development has always been tied to making sure that any changes are consistent with the world of Black Desert. So to them, any changes – whether quality-of-life tweaks or additions like the Magnus update that introduced fast travel and the ability to access all storage in every town – must only have some kind of connection to the world.

Alex Park (left) and Jaehee Kim (right) sharing the new features coming to Black Desert Online

Another point they wanted to make is that timing is everything. What we perceive as the game’s quality-of-life changes are seen by the developers as discoveries or technological advancements in the world of Black Desert. They can’t do everything players want as they don’t have unlimited time and resources, so priorities are rearranged to balance the cadence. Ultimately, if the devs are convinced a change doesn’t belong in Black Desert’s world, then it most likely won’t be added.

Playing their own game

This has always been something I wanted to know about Kim: What class does he actually play? I honestly didn’t know what his answer was. So color me surprised when he said he’s actually a Witch player! When asked about his gear score, he said it’s a secret, but he did add that there hasn’t been a single day go by when he hasn’t played Black Desert Online, so given that, I’d say it’s a safe assumption that he’s probably up there!

He also says that “he’s always somewhere in the world of Black Desert” and reminded me to be careful about PKing Witches because we can never know if that Witch we’re trying to steal a spot from might actually be him!

In all seriousness, Pearl Abyss developers are required to play their game under the same rules and limitations as their players do, and yes, playing the game personally is part of the job description and part of their development process. Fun fact: Some of the developers apparently quit the game because of failed PEN attempts! So the developers are very well aware of how frustrating enhancing can be, even as they argue it’s part of the world and has always been a consistent vision for the game.

A story that Kim shared regarding Joo’s dream horse exemplifies that mandate: Joo apparently has a running total of 67 failures on getting his dream horse. In fact, a favorite screensaver they have in the office is a looping video of Joo failing at his latest attempt.

When asked about their favorite grind spots, Kim mentioned that while he’s a fan of Blood Wolves, his actual favorite activity is his farm. He mentions that one of his favorite things to do in BDO is to plant crops, watch them grow, and sell them off. He finds lifeskills to be one of his main activities and soothing to boot, which will likely resonate with a lot of players.

A day in the life of making Black Desert Online

I asked the duo about what a normal day is like in developing Black Desert – a not-insignificant question given the scope of the interview. Kim and Joo said that one of their core activities was “just the tip of the iceberg”: logging into the game and keeping an eye on the global chat. The team naturally likes to keep tabs on the daily discussions happening on the game, and when a major issue that should be fixed immediately comes up, the devs use it as a jumping off point on how to tackle the problems. They mention that monitoring player chat and mood for pain points in the game is one of the key parts of their work and something that informs their next steps.

You can look forward to a deeper dive on this part in a future column, as we were only able to scratch the surface here. I very much appreciate getting to attend Calpheon Ball and would like to thank Jaehee Kim, Jesse Joo, and the rest of the team for making both the event and the game a memorable experience. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the new Woosa class, the new season has just started, so now is the time to peek in.

Disclosure: In accordance with Massively OP’s ethics policy, we must disclose that Pearl Abyss paid for our writer’s travel to and accommodation at this event. The studio has neither requested nor been granted any control or influence over our coverage of the event.
The Great Valencian Black Desert is a dangerous place, but thankfully there’s always a chance for respite. Join Massively OP’s Carlo Lacsina every other week for just that in Desert Oasis, our Black Desert column! Got questions or comments? Send him a message or drop by his Twitch channel to hang out while he’s streaming the game!
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