We reached out to Declan O'Connell, the head of the Design Department at Flying Lab, for answers to some quick queries.
Declan O'Connell: Overwhelmingly positive, if the player reaction to our announcement is any indication. The game will not change all that much. Our existing players will only see improvements as a result of the free-to-play shift, and new players will stir the pot and shake up the political situations as they currently stand on the servers. That's good for everyone.
The world your game is based on is our world. Do you think that presents challenges that a fantasy or sci-fi game does not?
Absolutely. From a design perspective, there needs to be a very clear line drawn as to what kinds of content we offer. Do we tell ghost stories? Do we have player characters with supernatural skills and equipment? Do we feature iconic, historic characters; and if so, how much creative license do we take with them? I think we've done a great job on that so far. The bulk of content in the game is within the boundaries of an historical setting, i.e., historical ships, period appropriate engineering and technology. We push the boundaries in either direction in time so we can encompass as much of the iconic material for the genre as possible. History, after all, provides a bounty of inspiration.
We have supernatural stories, too -- zombies, ghosts, voodoo... but those missions are optional. We don't force it on anyone. We set a fairly true level of realism as the baseline and let the player decide the level of fantasy they want in the game.
When your game first arrived, it was known as a beautiful game that required a pretty powerful rig to run. Now, our machines have caught up to the demands -- any graphics additions or re-dos in the near future?
With the recent release of the Power and Prestige expansion, we totally overhauled the way we handled character lighting in avatar space, optimized a lot of our graphics processing in ship space, and increased the maximum number of active character objects we draw on screen at a given time. That's a start. We've also made improvements to our rendering engine so that it can run on reasonably current (within three years) Intel chipsets, so that you can play on laptops without dedicated graphics cards.
As for the future, absolutely we will continue to find ways to improve the game's performance and graphical quality. We're going free-to-play, but that doesn't mean we stop developing the game client. We're dedicated to keeping Pirates of the Burning Sea one of the most breathtaking MMOs on the market.
We recognized some time ago that the conventional subscription model for MMOs was a good start for a small market, but gamers have a great many options for what to do with their play-time. Any barrier to entry is going to stunt your growth and limit your exposure.
In Asia, the free-to-play model has been wildly successful already. The Western world has different tastes and priorities when it comes to MMOs, but we knew that if we could make it work, there were a lot of potential players out there who would fall in love with the Burning Sea. We worked on the free-to-play conversion concurrently with the Power and Prestige expansion, so the game would be exactly how we wanted it when we went free-to-play. We're very excited about the change and can't wait for it to go live.
What do players have to expect from the free-to-play game? There are a lot of fears about game-breaking items sold in cash-shops -- will we see any of that in PotBS?
Absolutely not. The PvP in Pirates is some of the best in any MMO. We've worked hard to make a balanced and engaging game, and we're not going to start selling things that tip that balance. It would ruin the majority of players' experiences just to get at the pocket books of the few. That's not how we roll.
The Treasure Aisle store will offer goods to help you level quicker, keep you stocked with supplies, or get you back into PvP after a defeat. We'll sell you NPC allies who will help you in your missions (but not PvP) and account upgrades that will improve your player experience. We'll sell you cosmetic options like clothing packs, pets, sails, and other innocuous things. You will not be able to buy something that lets you get an edge over another dedicated player. That's what player skill is for.
In a crowded F2P market, how will PotBS stand out?
We'll stand out with our rich PvP game-play, intense national conquest system, rich and complex economy, gorgeous visuals, top-notch writing, vast amount of content, historical setting, breathtaking audio, and professional and responsive customer service. That should be a good start.
We want to thank Declan for taking the time to answer our questions -- here's to many more years of piratin'!