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 Wizard101  studio KingsIsle's new game counts on pirates for big-kid appeal

Wizard101 studio KingsIsle's new game counts on pirates for big-kid appeal Exclusive

April 25, 2012 | By Tom Curtis

April 25, 2012 | By Tom Curtis
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Even four years after its release, KingsIsle Entertainment's family-friendly MMO Wizard101 has remained one of the most popular kids' games out there, and today the developer announced that it plans to build upon that success with a brand new PC MMO -- Pirate101.

While the game exists within the same fictional universe and follows the same freemium business model as Wizard101, it introduces a number of key changes to establish its own identity. Not only does the game feature all new environments and characters, it even trades Wizard101's card-based battle system for a tactical, grid-based system more akin to something from Shining Force or Final Fantasy Tactics.

It's a fairly notable shift from Wizard101, but KingIsle creative director Todd Coleman told Gamasutra that he wants Pirate101 to appeal to that same young demographic. He hopes the game's familiar fiction and novel mechanics will provide an enticing, complementary experience for the 14 million monthly unique users already playing Wizard101.

"We wanted to make a game that immediately resonated with Wizard101 fans, and they'd recognize it as a new adventure they could continue in a universe they already love," Coleman said.

In particular, KingsIsle wants Pirate101 to appeal to Wizard101's older players, who generally stop playing the kid-focused game when they're about 12 years old. With Pirate101's swashbuckling theme and tactical combat system, KingsIsle expects to keep those players around for a few more years.

"We're actually going to skew a bit older than the Wizard101 audience with Pirate101 -- I'm hoping we don't lose the base, since we still have 8-[year olds] at the low-end, but we're reaching as far as 14- or 15-year-olds now," Coleman said.

"Doing that was a big challenge for us -- keep it approachable, but add enough depth that we can keep it fresh and interesting as our player base ages, because Wizard101 has been out for four years now."

Considering the audience overlap between Pirate101 and Wizard101, Coleman said that the studio had to come up with a few measures to ensure that one game doesn't siphon players from the other.

"Part of keeping that from happening is timing. We're trying to arrange it where the timing of the builds or content updates for each game don't overlap, but kind of leapfrog each other," he said.

"Now, Wizard101 can come out with a big update, and players will burn through the content faster than we'd hoped, because that always happens (laughs). And now Pirate101 gives them something else to go and do, and when they exhaust that content, it'll be just in time for another one for Wizard101."

Coleman also pointed out that despite the four year gap between Wizard101 and Pirate101, both games will require the same minimum hardware specs, so existing Wizard101 players shouldn't run into any technical obstacles when moving over to the new game.

pirate2.jpg

Hardcore mechanics for casual players

Another key challenge facing Pirate101 is introducing kids and parents to the game's turn-based strategy combat. It's a system most often seen in more hardcore titles, but KingsIsle wants to make sure even brand new players can easily understand the game's depth.

To make the combat a bit more accessible, Coleman said he and his team made sure to pace the game such that players learn about the new mechanics slowly from level one until the end-game content. By taking such a methodical approach, he hopes Pirate101 players won't notice the gradual shift as they go from learning the raw basics to mastering the minutiae of unit-based combat.

"The author George R.R. Martin [A Song of Ice and Fire] said this about fantasy and I think it holds true for games: You have to treat the audience like they're crabs," Coleman said. "If you throw a crab into a pot that's already boiling over, they'll try to jump right out. What you have to do is put them in the water when it's lukewarm, and slowly turn up the heat until they don't realize they've been boiled."

KingsIsle has followed this strategy since Wizard101, and Coleman said it's been crucial for teaching casual players about hardcore game concepts. By incrementally teaching players over hundreds of hours of play, the games make learning about complex systems frictionless and fun.

"You can slowly stack that stuff on, until eventually you have grandmothers who are grand-wizards in Wizard101 who are talking about their heavy resistances, and crit chances, and things like that. They don't realize it, but we've turned them into a proper gamer."

Coleman noted that Pirate 101 is currently in Alpha testing, and is planned for an official debut later this year.


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