In a Daily Grind this past May, I asked readers how they would make another D&D MMO. There were a lot of thoughtful responses, a few instances of keyboard gibberish, and a contingent adamant that the D&D license was locked up in DDO and couldn't be handed out elsewhere. I guess the latter argument is a moot point right now -- obviously, Turbine doesn't have a monopoly on an online D&D -- although its existence brings to mind not just a few questions.
Is the world big enough for two online D&D titles? What does this announcement mean for our beloved DDO? Is Neverwinter positioning itself to be direct competition, or a different entity altogether? Has the Cryptic crew learned its lessons? In my final Exploring Eberron (Rubi returns next week, so you may start doing your happy dance... now), I'm going to answer all of these queries in such a way that your world will forever be rocked. On its heels.
Atari vs. Atari
Perhaps you recall a specific lawsuit that Turbine levied against Atari a year ago. Basically, Turbine accused Atari of shirking its responsibilities as a publisher by not marketing Dungeons & Dragons Online enough, among other various failings. Atari, of course, denied any wrongdoing. While we never got the full story -- and the lawsuit fizzled -- it's important to realize that one of the accusations behind the suit was that Atari intentionally ignored marketing DDO in favor of its interests at Cryptic. Take a pinch of conspiracy theory and a dose of we'll-never-know, and you get the theory that Atari knew that Cryptic was creating a D&D title and chose to ignore DDO in favor of this other game.
So is it possible that Atari essentially pitted itself against itself by taking Cryptic's side? Maybe, maybe not, but seeing the Atari logo slapped on both games is enough to give one pause. If this is the case, then Atari certainly perceives Neverwinter as a direct competitor to DDO, and is rooting for a big win when the game launches.
One of the odder aspects of the Neverwinter announcement is just how similar its core gameplay sounds to DDO's. Both appear to have the same small group focus, both have central hubs to form groups, and both use instanced adventures as the bulk of the game. While they certainly won't be identical, it seems like Neverwinter is skewing more toward a Guild Wars/DDO setup and less of an open-world traditional MMO.
For players who agree that this structure is best suited to D&D, it's a positive move. However, I've seen a lot of grumbling from folks who love D&D but were hoping for something a bit more sprawling and open than what they saw in DDO. Unfortunately, this announcement didn't help, so I guess all they can do is hope that someone out there is making a third D&D MMO. May I suggest Planescape?
The one thing that fascinates me about Cryptic's approach, other than its awkward use of acronyms, is that Neverwinter is going to give players the ability to create their own adventures for others to experience. Many Neverwinter Nights fans loved the ability to do the same thing in those games, so this news comes with a hefty amount of anticipation. If Cryptic can do player-generated content right (and that is a devilishly tricky thing to accomplish), then it'll be able to offer something DDO doesn't, and that would be a big advantage.
Fourth edition vs. 3.5
If you want to see the nerd-rage burn long and hot into the night, then get a few fans of D&D's fourth edition together with the die-hard 3.5 crowd. I personally have little experience with the newer fourth edition of the game, but I know that it is (a) a very touchy subject for some, (b) downright reviled among a sizable portion of gamers and (c) easier to adapt for video games. It's even been called a paper MMO of sorts, although I have no idea how true that is.
But if you or your friends are beholden to one edition over the other, then it could bias you toward DDO (3.5 edition) or Neverwinter (fourth edition) even if you've never stepped foot in either.
Another aspect of geeky preference is the choice of campaign settings. As I talked about a couple weeks ago, Turbine's choice of Eberron could be viewed as inspired, laughable, or somewhere in between. Eberron is certainly not the most popular or well-known D&D setting out there, but it has its supporters, and I think it's worked well to provide a special flavor to DDO that a generic fantasy background would've lacked.
However, Cryptic's campaign choice slides two big cards up its sleeve. Neverwinter Nights is one of the highest-profile brand names in the D&D universe, and it recalls not only the BioWare/Obsidian titles, but one of the very first graphical MMOs. Couple that with the Forgotten Realms campaign, which RPG video gamers have explored in Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale, and Cryptic has a lock on the popular kid on campus. Those who have pined for an MMO in Faerûn will finally get their wish (sort of).
Free-to-play vs. ???
Seeing as how Cryptic is specifically marketing Neverwinter as a co-op experience instead of an MMO, the question of a payment model is anyone's guess at this point. In Champions Online and Star Trek Online, Cryptic went for the hybrid subscription/microtransactions model, but Neverwinter could certainly break from this in favor of something that works better for its makeup. "We've got some kooky plans that I think people will like," Jack Emmert told us earlier this week, which tells us a lot and nothing at the same time.
What the Cryptic devs should certainly keep in mind is that if they make their payment scheme less desirable than one of the most successful F2P setups in the industry, then Neverwinter will be less appealing than DDO to anyone watching his wallet. Personally, I'd love to see Cryptic adopt a buy-once/play-forever model supported with the occasional content-pack purchases.
Conclusion and farewell
Obviously, it's far too soon to make any concrete judgments, especially with what little Neverwinter information we know at this point. Whether DDO and Neverwinter become head-to-head competitors or co-exist peacefully, I see it as a pure win for D&D fans, since they'll gain even more choices.
I want to thank you for allowing me to gab about DDO these past few weeks. It's a terrific game with a bright future, and it always keeps me hopping.