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Interview: Nexon's Yang, Kim Talk  Combat Arms

Interview: Nexon's Yang, Kim Talk Combat Arms Exclusive

December 18, 2008 | By Brandon Sheffield

Nexon has recently been making a major push into the North American market after success with localized titles such as MapleStory, Audition.

The firm also recently created the title Sugar Rush with Vancouver-based Klei Entertainment recently interviewed for Gamasutra sister site

Now comes the Korea-based development of Combat Arms, the company's first FPS, led by an aim to reach North American consumers as much as Korean, and already reaching 1 million registered Western users, as of late October.

In this interview, Gamasutra talks to Nexon America's Min Kim and Herb Yang about the title, the differences between the markets, and the individual design decisions during the process of development.

Combat Arms was released first in Korea?

Herb Yang: Yeah, I think they launched about three months or so ahead of us.

Min Kim: This was different because usually we release something, and then way later we release it to the States, but we identified this right away and we started modifying and localizing it as soon as it came out.

HY: So, we actually have more content, in some respects, than they do. We have new content that they haven't seen yet, but they have some extra maps and stuff like that.

Was this process at all accelerated by Battlefield Heroes?

Min: No. We were actually planning on it before.

I know it's an extremely different focus because they're trying to make a casual title and you're trying to make something a bit more ...

MK: Core.

How did you have to go about the localization?

HY: The main issue was just figuring out the US FPS expectations of how weapons should handle. A lot of the weapons balance stuff has changed.

A lot of progressions in Korea -- I think rank is enough incentive for users, whereas we thought that we want people to be able to gain access to more equipment or more functions. Say, after a certain level, you can join clans, stuff like that.

And also, probably most importantly, the business model is very different than what Korea would actually do, because FPS games here are skill based. The concept of being able to pay for an uber-weapon is repellent to anyone who plays FPS games. So, we're saying, flat out, that we're not going to sell any weapons at all.

MK: The Korean developers are very open minded towards putting in the different things that we want to put in, versus other games where it's built there and we bring it over and put a couple comments in here and there.

Did you try out the concept of buying weapons?

HY: No, I think we knew intuitively. If you look at some of our competitors, they've gotten some negative responses from their userbase.

MK: It goes against most of the other things that we've done with the business model, too, like locking out content for players to give other players an advantage if they pay. Generally we don't go down that route.

HY: Even stuff like unlocking more items at ranks everything that we add is supposed to be balanced, so even a veteran player versus a new player doesn't have some outrageous advantage.

For example, our weapon mods -- all our weapons are modifiable -- when you attach a silencer, it reduces your damage, but it gives you the benefit of silencing your shots. If you equip a backpack, that gives you another extra slot to carry gear, but it slows you down, so there's always some balance.

MK: First-person shooters are the biggest genre in Korea now, which is really interesting, because when they first started coming out, no one thought that was going to be the case. They probably thought MMORPGs would be the big genre.

Are you still working on the Counter Strike game?

MK: Yeah. Actually, that's doing really well right now. We're basically making Counter-Strike Online for Valve [in Korea], and we launched a new mode which is totally making the game kick ass right now.

It's called zombie mode -- it's basically like 28 Days Later, so there's a mode where you play either as a zombie or as someone on the strike force.

And, if a zombie kills you, then you get infected and you turn into a zombie, and you start chasing other people that are part of the strike force. You either have to kill all the zombies or you've got to infect everybody.

Having two games in the FPS genre are you competing with yourself?

MK: I think it depends on who you're going after. Maybe in the Korean market, you've got two solid games that are the major games, like Special Force and Sudden Attack, and then we have two IPs, Combat Arms and Counter Strike, that are trying to chisel away at that market... to go to the market and take away players.

Do you make your titles [while keeping in mind elements that] people didn't like about the other games?

HY: We use other games as benchmarks for the standard that we at least want to be at.

MK: Combat Arms answers a lot of different needs that I've had. It's got a shift button that you press where it allows you to run. While in a lot of first-person shooters, it's very slow to get back into the battle, here, you can actually start gunning it.

HY: And it's a customization. You don't want to play as the same soldier that looks exactly the same as everybody else. You don't want to be locked into a class, you want to be able to carry whatever you want. One of our main features is the backpack system, so you can carry two primary weapons if you want, like two assault rifles, or you can carry three different types of grenades, whatever your play style is.

That's one of the big things about Combat Arms. We want you to customize, not only your character, but your weapons and also the kind of matches you want to play. So, if you think that playing with explosives is cheap or newbie, then turn them off.

MK: I think the ultimate thing to answer that point is the socialization features. When you play first person shooters here in North America, generally the way that you join a clan is to put brackets, the clan name, and then your name, and then all of a sudden, you're part of clan, but what we're doing is actually building all those features in the game. It creates accessibility for clans; you can communicate through messenger systems already built into the game, or if you wanted to basically check someone out to see if theyre good enough for clan, you can actually go in and check all their stats. You can pre-screen by their record.

I think that's probably one of the reasons we got so much support in Korea, and why it beat out packaged first-person shooter games. It had all these socialization features that everyone starved for, but you can only do them through workarounds. So, having them offered through the game itself actually makes it a lot more accessible and more casual. Even though it looks like it'll actually take you more hardcore, it actually makes it a lot easier for the casual player to get involved.

What sorts of things are then appropriate for micro-transactions in the "no weapon" realm?

HY: Cosmetic things that sort of run the gamut from just a different colored hat, a different colored uniform, to a camouflaged AK. It has the same basic functionality as the standard AK, but it just looks different. Stuff like clan features, like if you want to have an emblem for your clan, or just pretty up the interaction, you can have that.

MK: The wipe.

HY: Yeah, the wipe. So if, for example, you've been playing for a while and now you really want to see what your real kill-to-death ratio is, then you can just pay to have your account wiped, and from now on, since you're a much better player now, people can gauge you based on that. And also advanced features. We're aware of the fact that not everyone can spend hours and hours, so...

MK: The way that it works right now is, if you play a lot of matches, or if you kill a lot of guys, you basically get gear points. They level you up, and then it unlocks different items, and then is basically what you buy weapons with.

But if you don't have enough time to commit towards raising your "GP", and you don't play enough games, then you're going to run out of money to be able to actually purchase these guns.

HY: The trade off is that if you're a really good player, you have to invest less time in order to get some weapons. If you're not so good, you have to invest more time or you can invest money, so that's the trade off that we're offering.

MK: We haven't finalized buying a boost for your GP yet.

Are you going for a low PC spec?

MK: It's pretty low.

HY: Obviously, with free-to-play, it costs you nothing to try it out, and especially for the FPS market, where most of the people who are still in the FPS market have been playing first-person shoters forever.

So, it's really hard for someone new to the genre to come in, because it takes you a month to get into.

And it's just intimidating, so it's a turn off if you not only have to pay 50 to 60 bucks for the game to do terribly for awhile, and possibly even have to buy a higher spec computer, since most first-person shooters require a lot. I think this game just allows people accessibility built on the technical end.

How's the download size?

MK: We're trying to get development to be sympathetic towards download speeds here in North America. This one's like 440mb, which isn't that bad, but it's not small. I did download it here at the hotel yesterday -- took me a little over ten minutes, which isn't that bad.

Is FPS going to be the reigning free-to-play champions for some time, or do you see something else coming up?

MK: For the North American market, I think it's definitely going to open up the business for us, because I think it's a genre that a lot of people understand. There are a lot of first-person shooter players out there, and then once they get a handle on this, they'll actually start inviting their friends to try it out.

In Korea, this is like the dominant player right now, but I think we've got a lot of games in the pipeline that is very unique. There are a lot of games like Dungeon & Fighter that are really big out there, and that might be the next class of gaming that's actually going to be extremely dominant, which is more like action-based Diablo-esque type games.

This game is not a huge departure for Nexon necessarily in Korea, but for the North American market, everything that Nexon's brought out so far has been cutesy in comparison.

HY: I think we're finding that a lot of our users are totally new users to the Nexon brand.

MK: And the existing ones are like, "Oh, wow! Nexon makes games like this!" But we just did a huge research study which also shows that a lot of our players don't go to the website, so they don't know that we make games other than MapleStory, or if they're an Audition player, they think, "Oh, all they make is Audition."

HY: I think Nexon is about community driven games. I think even for something like an FPS game, where here, traditionally, there hasn't been a lot of community features built around it. We're trying to bring that to other games.

MK: We've got a lot of users, too. I don't know what the last count was We launched it July 10th, and this has probably been the most successful title after MapleStory, in terms of just user pick-up in the US. We're having that problem of running out of server space, which is really good, but you don't have that problem very often.

Is the trade off worthwhile, to get more users versus getting more money from the outset?

MK: There are a lot of games out there that have extremely high paying user percentages, and extremely high RPUs, but they're also very hardcore. So they'll have $70 average revenue per user, but they'll have a hundred people playing the game.

And we'd rather have the game be a lot more healthy, which is to have RPUs around 15 to 20 bucks or whatever, but have a lot of people playing it, and then a good percentage of people actually paying for it.

So, that's the direction we want to go towards. We don't want to make people feel like they're not competitive if they don't spend any money.

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