Interview: Survival MMO Age of Water on monetization, sandbox play, and the Q1 early access launch


Way back at the end of 2020, we first caught wind of a new sandbox called Age of Water: Developed by Three Whales Studio under Gaijin Entertainment’s inCubator guidance, the MMO was already floating a unique identity as a Waterworld-esque survival MMO (I believe MOP’s Chris referred to it approvingly as “Moist Crossout” in homage to one of Gaijin’s global hits), as it was set to offer a post-apoc ocean-world setting in sharp contrast to the other survival sandboxes and pirate MMOs already flooding our decks.

That was over three years ago, and the game has sailed along through beta rounds and is now nearing its early access release in Q1 of 2024 (so in the next two months). In advance of that release, we spoke to Three Whales’s Yuri Miroshnikov to get the measure of the tide; he told us all about how the game stands apart from other seafaring titles like Sea of Thieves and Skull & Bones, how the PvE and PvP systems work, and just how “massively multiplayer” it really is. Read on!

MassivelyOP: First, this game is listed as an MMO on Steam with online co-op and online PvP, but it’s described as an “online adventure game” and very much not a “session-based online PvP” title like War Thunder – in fact, everyone is on the same server, but layered across instances as in many AAA titles. So how exactly should we think of it – is it a true MMO or MMORPG, or just multiplayer? How many people fit into one of the zones, and would MMO players consider it properly “massive” on the player scale?

Age of Water producer Yuri Miroshnikov: Age of Water is very different from other Gaijin titles, even though the combat sequences might resemble War Thunder naval battles, and boat building might look like Crossout, but only at first glance. The genre, the game structure, and the business model are different here. Gameplay and visuals are also very different, as Age of Water uses the Unity engine instead of Dagor engine and is being developed by a new studio.

Other Gaijin titles focus on session-based PvP, while Age of Water is an open-world story-based PvE game with some multiplayer options (including PvP in specially designated areas and co-op gameplay). Players can progress through the story and explore the Age of Water world without actively engaging in any online activities if they prefer it that way. They will always see other players online who are in the same instance. This provides extra engagement in the game world, making it more vibrant and believable. But they won’t be able to attack others unless both parties go to the special PvP zone.

As for the term “massive,” there are many interpretations of that word. We hope the total number of Age of Water players will be massive enough, while one instance will have up to 100 players simultaneously. We feel that’s just enough not to let the players feel that the game world is too crowded or empty.

Can you talk about the game’s PvP? This is not a gankbox, right – PvP is optional? Will players who don’t participate in the PvP and go to the PvP-enabled areas be at a disadvantage or treated as second-class citizens as they are in (for example) Sea of Thieves?

We do not treat anyone as second-class, that’s for sure! All rewards available via PvP will also be available as rewards for non-PvP activities so that no one will be at a disadvantage. While we do not force anything, we’d like to ask our future players to consider trying PvP. Each new day will bring a few optional global PvP events that could be quite interesting. Some quests are linked to each other but have different goals. One such quest might bring a single player into a fight with another player who accepted another quest (the simple example: a caravan guard against a pirate). We have plans to expand our PvP options further after the game launches, but without putting PvE players at a disadvantage.

What sort of combat and character progression system can players look forward to? I’m assuming this isn’t an old-school tab-target type of game, right? Are we looking at leveling or skilling up and hunting for gear as our means of progression?

While there are leveling-up mechanics for each crew member, and with each level they unlock skills, the most visible and important aspect of progression is the boat a player uses. The players will upgrade their boats, build them from scratch, or capture them from enemies, and each new boat will immediately affect their gameplay experience.

Age of Water features dozens of boat hulls and numerous amounts of gear that can be installed there, allowing for thousands of distinctive designs. A player starts with a simple inflatable motorboat that is just big enough for one person and progresses all the way to the ships with a crew of up to 8 sailors and a huge cargo hold. Depending on the play style, there are many ways to assemble a boat: it might be best optimized for combat, trade, or treasure hunting, or it might be a compromise between those approaches.

Hunting for the new hulls and gear and experimenting with available upgrade options is the game’s backbone. Another important part of the game is the personal naval base with buildings that help the player produce in-game resources, unlock even more boat options, and make them feel at home. Expanding this base is also essential for the game’s progress.

Say I’m logging into the game after I’ve been a newbie for a while and learned the ropes. What does my typical gameloop on a typical evening look like? We know we’ll be working our way through a PvE story campaign, but will that include dungeon or raid type content as in other MMOs, mapped over to the seafaring motif, or will it look more like survival and exploration?

Usually, it’s a mix of roaming around looking for treasure, encounters with pirates, and completing story missions that might include bigger ones that you call raids or boss fights. For example, there is a raid about attacking an enemy fortress that is defended by numerous ships and gun installations. Bosses are usually huge custom-built ships with an arsenal of different deadly weapons that will require smart thinking to stand against and win. Bringing some friends to the fight might be a good idea, as they are quite tough.

Age of Water is mostly about exploration and adventure in the open seas. It’s not a survival-focused game because it won’t make you build a house from scraps and gather food to avoid death from starvation. The game’s events unfold many years after the apocalypse, so people have already learned how to live in this new world. It’s just their hunger for profit, power, and knowledge, which are very powerful, clashing factions between each other and motivating captains like you to pursue their ambitious dreams.

There seems to be an emphasis on trade capabilities – does that mean a crafting system, and if so, what does it look like? Will player housing and land ownership be off the table if the game is more about ships? What sandboxy or lifeskill content will be available?

There are simple boat modules that can be crafted by sailors during their sea adventures, and there are more advanced ones that require researching them at the base and establishing certain production buildings there.

Can you talk a bit about the game’s monetization? War Thunder, of course, is a F2P title, but we understand AoW won’t be; on Steam, the devs have said flat out the game is buy-to-play through a single purchase. How much? Will players be paying for DLC, seasons, and cosmetics? What about the possibility of pay-to-win buyables?

As Age of Water is not a session-based PvP game, we could not just use the monetization approach used in War Thunder and other Gaijin titles. We did test some microtransaction options during the Closed Beta in the summer of 2023 but ultimately decided not to sell any gameplay-influencing content for real money. One single purchase will give the players access to the game, and they’ll be able to purchase optional cosmetic items (basically, ship skins).

We’re considering different options for the future that might include DLCs, but our plans do not include anything resembling pay-to-win, not even close. Pay-for-content is what we’re thinking of.

If AoW is “available for purchase in Q1 2024,” does that mean a full launch or some sort of early access open beta? If it’s early access, when are you targeting for the full launch, and what will roll out in the game between those dates?

Age of Water will launch as an early access title on Steam. While we spent a lot of time polishing the game, we intend to improve it even further after the initial release and add some minor features and extra content, including some story content. But the version launched in Q1 will be a full-fledged game, not a first act or a trial version.

How does the game aim to contend with rivals like Skull and Bones, which is also supposedly coming out this year? Same question for Sea of Thieves, which has dominated this niche for years now. What does AoW offer MMORPG players that those two games don’t?

Both games are about sea adventures and battles, but they are different from Age of Water. First, they are about Age of Sail-era ships with huge broadside cannons. Age of Water is about building post-apocalyptic battle boats from scrap collected from the seabed. For example, an ancient bus body could be installed on a ship to provide a safe shelter for sailors during battle. The weapons in Age of Water are either the remnants of modern weapons like machine guns, grenade launchers, or makeshift copies of those. Therefore, the battle distance, pace, and overall strategy differ.

Sea of Thieves is a great game, but it relies heavily on co-op activities and manual control over the ship. At the same time, Age of Water features a more traditional control scheme and is way more comfortable for solo players.

While those two games intend to recreate the Age of Sail piracy aesthetic, Age of Water is much closer to post-apocalyptic movies and animation, such as Waterworld, Mad Max, or Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet to name a few.

What are the key differences between Age of Water and Gaijin’s most popular title, War Thunder? What would a War Thunder player need to relearn to get a handle on the new game?

Playing War Thunder coastal fleet battles might help a little with battles, but these games are entirely different. Space exploration games like Elite and Space Rangers have more in common with Age of Water.

There is also one important thing you need to know: while there are many hull types in Age of Water, you won’t build huge cruiser-sized or battleship-sized ships and mimic World War 2 battles. Age of Water is all about small and medium-sized boats that could be realistically built in a post-apocalyptic society and owned by a bunch of people or individuals, not just a state-type entity. It’s not a game about military vehicles.

Finally, we have to ask about the water mechanics because every MMORPG player knows that water movement is extremely hard to get right, and this is not just a surface-ship game; it includes underwater content too. Tell us how you’re going to make underwater content and combat click!

We do not want to mislead anybody: most of the action in Age of Water occurs on the water surface, even though some occasional airborne enemies or activities happen in the settlements. Underwater content focuses on retrieving ancient seabed artifacts and does not feature underwater swimming. For example, you might detect an ancient aircraft’s remnants lying beneath you, pinpoint its location, and launch an operation to extract whatever is left there. All of this is done via your boat equipment.

These activities might be assigned to the player as a part of a bigger quest, but it’s also possible to roam around looking for something remarkable. You never know where the seas might take you.

We’d like to thank Yuri Miroshnikov for his candid responses! Age of Water is due out Q1 of this year; you can wishlist it on Steam right now and scope out its mechanics on the official site.
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