Interview: Wayfinder’s AJ LaSaracina on the Echoes transition, launch, and long-term plans

'We love the world, we love the characters, and it was hard for us to just let go and shut the game down.'


Following yesterday’s surprise reveal that Airship Syndicate is planning to transition the always-online MMO looter shooter Wayfinder into a buy-to-play online-optional title – without microtransactions – we naturally had a ton of questions. Airship Syndicate executive producer AJ LaSaracina has now kindly addressed everything from how the multiplayer content will downscale to what content is on deck after the launch. It’s a lot. Let’s dig in.

MassivelyOP: I’m feeling kind of torn about the transition – happy that no matter what happens, the game will be playable, now that it’s not fully dependent on online services, but also sad because this was a near-MMO, inspired by MMOs, designed to be played that way, and the genre is losing a little chunk today. Is the studio truly happy with this call, or is it just making the best of an unlucky hand?

Airship Syndicate executive producer AJ LaSaracina: We aren’t hiding behind the fact that this is us doing what we can with a difficult situation. We really had two options: shut the game down forever, like countless MMOs we’ve all sunk time and money into, or make this conversion with the Echoes Update. It was also important to us that we delivered something to people who believed in us and our vision. Factors we can control and some we can’t have obviously been a hurdle in that vision. When we took over the publishing rights, we fully expected to continue as we were. Those plans had to change once everything was finalized and transitioned over to us. We hope that people see that we’re trying to make the best of a bad situation, and while doing so, we made a pretty good game. I can’t stress that enough. The game, with this update, is a better game, without a doubt. Yes, there are no major towns to run around and see 30+ people near you, but the moment-to-moment gameplay, the core loops, the new systems—all done in about three months, and all feeling superior to what is live today—is a testament to this incredible team and their passion.

How exactly has the team achieved a balance in turning all the character concepts and content aimed at small groups into content that can be fully soloable? And what does the switchover entail for Wayfinder’s intended endgame?

A large portion of the game was already soloable, and we looked at specific mechanics (especially in hunts and world bosses) and adjusted them to be more friendly for single players. We have some other levers on top of just scaling stats for multiple players (escalating waves of adds, etc.) when multiple players are present. We also added four different difficulties that can be changed at any time for accessibility or for those who want an extra challenge. Our current endgame consists of Mythic Hunts and collecting armor sets, weapons, and the thousands of items we removed from the cash shop and put in as loot drops. After the credits roll, more difficulties open up for the previous hunts with different rewards and items for players to collect, allowing them to really find their endgame build.

How exactly will co-op work – is anything at all hosted on Airship’s servers now?

Nothing is hosted by Airship. Just like in a traditional co-op game, you join your friends’ game via Steam or PSN and are then instantly loaded into the host’s game. All of your progress comes with you. If you’re in a friend’s game and you both have the same quest to complete, you get progress for that quest just like before and then carry that over to your solo play.

Will players who’d previously purchased microtransactions be compensated in any way? What about refunds for people who wanted the always-online experience?

All refund requests will have to go through the store where the game was purchased, if eligible. As far as compensation goes, what we’re doing is taking a look at the total amount of Runesilver (in-game currency) that has ever been in your wallet and putting those into buckets. Each bucket then gets assigned a currency that can be exchanged for exclusive cosmetics with a vendor. We understand that it’s not ideal, but since we are no longer selling weapons or Wayfinders, there isn’t a way for direct compensation. For example, if I bought the sword and shield “Legacy” in the old version of Wayfinder, I’d have that sword forever, level it up, put more resources into it, etc. In Wayfinder’s Echoes Update, Legacy will drop. You can run a level 15 dungeon and find a level 15 Legacy with unique stats and echo slots, then 10 minutes later, find a level 18 with even better stats and the echo slot you wanted.

I didn’t see much discussion on what development will look like after the transition and Xbox launch are done, apart from Ryan Stefanelli’s quote that the studio hopes the makeover will “allow [you] to support it long term.” So is the team planning on more content development after all that? Any teases about what it could look like? What about balance patches?

To be blunt, we’re making this change so that we can continue on as a studio and support Wayfinder if the audience is there. We love the world, we love the characters, and it was hard for us to just let go and shut the game down.

Our goal right now is to deliver a 1.0 product before the end of the year. No longer being on PlayStation actually allows us a lot of agility for updates and patches, which we’ll be doing as we work towards release. During Early Access, we’ll deliver another Wayfinder, a new location, expanded housing, and more. That content is in various stages of completion but is very far along. If we get to that 1.0 launch and the game has an audience and people playing it, we’d love to continue working on it.

At the risk of sounding gauche here – what is the studio’s plan for making money off the project into the future? Does the company believe just box sales will sustain it or is it looking to DLC to fill the coffers? Or is the studio planning to move on to another game once this one is cleaned up?

Given the amount of cool content, we think the premium price will attract enough players to sustain a team that can continue updating the game. As for DLC, that’ll be dictated largely by demand. If we do introduce a paid component after Early Access, it would likely be under $10, and we might include it in the highest tier founders packs as well for those who already bought the game. We have some significant content updates in development right that will definitely be included before we leave Early Access, and we’ll see how things go once the game is available for purchase again in a few weeks.

If the transition isn’t a financial success, what are Airship’s long-term prospects?

Our goal is for Airship to be multi-project again, like we were during development of Darksiders Genesis and Ruined king. That’s a great way to be sustainable as a business long-term, and to keep our great team together on cool projects. Wayfinder is a big part of that plan – we have a bunch of cool updates that were planned for the live game in various states of completion, including new characters, weapons and locations. This is a big moment in time for Airship, and we’re ready to adapt to the future, whatever it may be.

Is Airship still hunting for a new publisher for the game, or has it decided to stay in-house?

We are not. We’ll be entirely self publishing Wayfinder going forward.

Finally, it sounded to our writing staff as if the game is “a half step away from maintenance mode.” Can you reassure us (and everyone else) that it’s not?

We’ve put a ton of work into the game to get here, and then the last 3 months while we worked on the Echoes Update. It isn’t a repackage of what exists today; it’s a huge fundamental shift that we think players will be shocked and also happy with once they get into it. As I mentioned above, we’re keen to support the game if there is an audience, and that also means other things outside just content. Official mod support, cross-play, matchmaking, and lobbies are all things we’ve explored and want to do but didn’t with our limited time and resources. If it makes sense financially to do it in Early Access or beyond, we’ll do it.

Thank you so much to AJ LaSaracina for the scoop and clarification on everything during what has obviously been a stressful time for the studio. Existing Wayfinder players on Steam can steel themselves for the soft-launch of Echoes on May 31st, followed by the proper launch (and return to sale on Steam) on June 11th. The PlayStation rollout is coming later in the summer, followed by the Xbox launch, which is when the game will exit early access for good.
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