Interview: En Masse MMO TERA Meets Western Challenges
Developed by Korean firm Bluehole Studio and published by En Masse, TERA is an action MMORPG that features a dynamic combat system emphasizing player skill over character stats.
While the game is already available in Korea, Seattle-based En Masse isn't publishing the title in North America until later this year with distribution help from Atari.
En Masse's publishing VP Chris Lee tells Gamasutra one reason it chose to enlist Atari as the game's distributor is the company's enthusiasm for the project:
"Being an MMO, we were able to see the play metrics for the companies that we provided evaluation accounts for, and the folks at Atari stood out as having a strong interest in the game," he points out. "That really went a long way for us."
Lee feels that online-focused Atari is "not just looking for content to fill [its] fiscal calendar with." He says the distributor shares En Masse's belief that TERA has a shot at "being a breakout success."
En Masse realizes, though, that its confidence in TERA and the title's quality won't be enough to make the game a hit in this crowded MMO market. The publishing VP admits, "One of the biggest misconceptions in the business is that a good game will sell itself."
"Even in our early conversations with Atari, it was evident that they understood it would take a well-coordinated effort to compete in this space, as well as how to expand upon it given our belief that we've got a truly unique game that speaks to both MMO and action combat fans," says Lee.
The publisher sees Atari's experience working with major MMOs like Star Trek Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online as a plus, too: "It was a huge bonus for us that their sales team would know how to talk to the retail channel about an MMO AAA-title, as well as creatively keeping in mind the action component of TERA."
To build up buzz for TERA and prepare for the game's upcoming launch, En Masse is doing everything it can to get feedback from fans through demos, trade shows, previews, and betas of early builds. "We know that trial is the key to our success," explains Lee.
Noting En Masse's role as co-producer on the project with Bluehole, the executive adds, "Our current focus in working with the development team is collaborating with them on adjustments to the game that we feel will make it a better experience for gamers in the North America."
The two companies are also adapting the North American launch based on feedback from TERA's launch in Korea. "We have all been really excited to see the game in a live environment, and as is the case with any MMO, it brings to light some areas of the game that can be optimized."
Lee continues, "This gives us a head start as it relates to balance and polish -- it's like having a huge sample of beta testers so we can work out the kinks before we go live in North America."
And while the MMO market already seems saturated with localized online games from Korea and other Asian markets, En Masse believes TERA will stand out from the bunch. It sees the game's dynamic combat mechanic as "a large departure from traditional MMOs, regardless of region."
"The truth is that you only get one chance to do it right. There are a number of challenges in bringing a game from East to West and no one is immune to this task," says Lee. "This means starting with the concept of a global product, and establishing a truly collaborative relationship with your global partners.
Another way TERA differs from typical Asian MMOs is its use of subscriptions instead of the popular free-to-play business model that many titles have been implementing in recent years.
Lee says En Masse chose subscriptions over free-to-play because of TERA's scope: "We are going to deliver a vast world, deep gameplay, and cutting edge technology right out of the box. We will continue to deliver top notch service and significant game updates."
"We are not going to carry a big catalog of micro-transaction items to sell or have frequent expansion packs that we will charge for but instead, we want all of our players to feel confident they're getting a robust, dynamic game up front and through their subscription."