Why do you think there was a disparity between the beta and the post-release reaction? What do you think accounts for that?
JE: I wouldn't say it's discordance, I wouldn't say that everyone was positive in the beta, nobody ever is. But the level of negative comments was exactly what we had for City of Heroes and City of Villains, so we didn't hear that all out. I think my hunch is that people have played so many MMOs, and there are so many MMOs in the marketplace, by this point they're willing to try anything. But they're not willing to spend money on everything. That's the biggest difference.
Previously, with City of Heroes and City of Villains, there just weren't that many options. It's a much different market.
There are four or five other MMOs that have come out and have made the market that much bigger, not to mention that I'd say 70 to 90 percent of the people who'd be the market for Star Trek and Champions are already paying a subscription to World of Warcraft.
Now the question isn't "Do I like this game," necessarily, but "Man, am I really willing to pay another subscription on top of World of Warcraft and Xbox Live Gold?"
Do you think that these monthly subscription business models are the way forward, or do you think microtransactions would be the way?
JE: I just submitted a GDC talk about this! We haven't announced a business model [for Neverwinter], so I'll be general. Do I think that subscriptions are on the way out? No, because I guarantee you that BioWare's Star Wars is going to charge a monthly subscription. And I can guarantee you that it will do numbers, because it's going to be a great game, there are great people working on it, it's a great IP. So to say that subscriptions are dead is just flat out stupid.
But there is a threshold to get into the subscription business that requires a quality level that demands a lot of resources. That gives you a chance to roll the dice and see whether you're competitive. And in some cases, well thus far and in almost every case, every MMO that's been released has suffered dramatic declines. Even if you spent $50, $60, $70 million in development, that doesn't guarantee success. It gives you an opportunity to roll the dice, whether it's Warhammer or Conan or poor APB. It's a ton of money, but you don't know what's going to happen.
I think with BioWare, they're spending a ton of money, but those are great guys, and I think it'll be a great game, so I think it'll hit a million-plus subscribers. So I don't think subscriptions are on the way out, but I do think that it's extremely demanding and gamers are very picky. And they should be. When you're compared to World of Warcraft... That game is phenomenal. I can't complain, that's just the benchmark, and that's what you should aim to reach for.
So you said you haven't announced a business model for Neverwinter.
JE: Yes, we haven't announced a business model for Neverwinter.
So you're not going to necessarily slap a price on the box and forget about it.
Is it going to be a monthly subscription? Microtransactions?
JE: I can guarantee you that we envision this as an online product that will continue to grow over time, that we continue to add content to. So whether it's subscription fee, whether it's free-to-play, whether it's microtransactions, whether it's pay-by-the-minute [laughs], whether it's some sort of Ponzi scheme that I haven't figured out, I don't know. None of that has been announced.
Does the co-op format hint at a console release? A co-op game would be easier to get on something like Xbox Live and you had commented before about being flabbergasted about the situation in trying to get Champions on Xbox 360. Does Neverwinter have a better "in" on consoles by making it co-op?
JE: Oh I don't know, what kind of trouble can I get in here? I doubt it. Honestly I don't know. We tried for a long time. People will just yell at me if I'm too honest, so it isn't worth the hassle [laughs]. But no, there are no plans to take Neverwinter to consoles. Sure, I'd love to, but... um...
You can spill your guts to me, if you want...
JE: [Pause] It's been challenging, like I said in the past, dealing with big company entities, but it is what it is. But I'm looking forward to [SOE and Warner's] DC Universe Online this year, so I'll be there! Day one!
You're a pretty honest interview.
JE: Yeah, I'm a pretty candid interview, I always have been. The reason why I'm like this is because this is a new direction for Cryptic. The things that I'm saying about Neverwinter are going to apply to much more than Neverwinter. We're revealing other things in the future. I'm going to keep talking about it because we have changed almost everything we're doing, and it is important.
It's funny, the honesty -- people say "You shouldn't have done Star Trek," or "If you had to do it in 18 months, then you shouldn't have done it! You should've known that you were going to do a bad job!" I'm like, "Yeah, right." We had the Star Trek IP, we had done MMOs in 18 months that have been successful, we're going to say "No"? It's just funny being cut apart for being honest.
When you say this is a "new direction," does that mean you're done with introducing new traditional MMOs?
JE: No, I don't think it's out of the question, but I think our development philosophy is different. Mainly, make a great game, and don't worry about how many quests you have or how long it takes to level. Just make great games. And that's what we're focused on right now -- fun, good, high-quality products, triple-A products. No more 75 Metacritic scores [laughs]. My heart just can't take it anymore.