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Feature: ' Dungeons & Dragons Online : Switching Gears'

Feature: 'Dungeons & Dragons Online: Switching Gears'

September 17, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander

September 17, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander
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For game developers, the decision about which model to pursue for a game in development is more than just a binary call. The decision will profoundly affect both the development of the game in question and the back office support infrastructure that the game will demand.

No one knows this better than Turbine Entertainment, the Boston-based development house perhaps best known for its high-profile Tolkien-licensed MMO, The Lord of the Rings Online. Its Dungeons and Dragons Online just went free to play with its latest update -- while the game was still live -- and today's Gamasutra feature goes in-depth with the company to explore the decision and the strategy surrounding its implementation.

We spoke to other developers in the free-to-play space for a thorough look at the factors:

Gamasutra spoke to Jamie Ortiz, Head of Business Operations for Atlus Online for a different of perspective on this phenomenon. Atlus Online is a division of Atlus U.S.A., the North American subsidiary of the noted Japanese developer responsible for the Shin Megami Tensei and Trauma Center series.

This is a company that knows something about making an Asian game palatable to Western audiences. Its biggest challenge may lie ahead, however, with the launch of Neo Steam: The Shattered Continent, a version of a free-to-play Asian MMO tailored by Atlus USA specifically for the Western hemisphere.

Ortiz doesn't underestimate the kind of difficulties Turbine faces in switching business models with Dungeons & Dragons Online. When discussing his company's experience with Neo Steam, he said, "It's not enough to just put out a free game. This is a completely different business model that requires a different back-end infrastructure and different organizational model than a subscription business."

Ortiz offered examples pulled from the company's Neo Steam experience. "A lot of customer service in a subscription game is in-game support. 'My character is stuck in a tree,' 'I lost my special sword,' that sort of thing. Support for billing and commerce is much simpler."

"Free-to-play games, on the other hand, need a lot more exterior support," said Ortiz. "You have multiple ways to pay, a number of different monetization methods, various levels of service. You need a larger investment in fraud prevention along with policies on dealing with 'soft fraud', like a kid using his parent's credit card and a customer service staff trained to deal with it. You need people who know how to run an e-commerce business, not just a game."

Even if all that is in place, Ortiz is quick to point out that free-to-play is not a game for the timid. "You need to really look at this business model before you enter. These things take a while to ramp up. Do you have the cash flow coming in so you can keep developing the game and making it better?"


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