In our exclusive phone interview with Cryptic Studios COO Jack Emmert, ZAM gets a heap of new details about the recently-announced Neverwinter "online multiplayer" RPG
Last week we published the first part of ZAM's exclusive Neverwinter Q&A with Cryptic Studios COO Jack Emmert, learning about the direction and overall theme of the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons online multiplayer RPG. In the second part of our interview, Emmert explains why he's the right guy for this job and offers a frank response to some of the criticism he's received in recent interviews after talking about Cryptic's previous two MMOs, Champions Online and Star Trek Online. Read the second half of the Q&A after the jump, or check out the complete interview, now appended with the final part.
ZAM: We know that Neverwinter's launch will be preceded by a book series tie-in with fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, beginning with Gauntlgrym in October; is he also involved with the game's development in any way?
Emmert: The storyline that we have coincides and goes along with the books that he's writing, so cooperatively we're working together on the storyline. There's been a lot of great back-and-forth there, and he's obviously a terrific writer. But yeah, that's basically the way it's worked up to this point.
ZAM: The Forgotten Realms is one of the most popular and beloved D&D properties of all time, so there's obviously a big responsibility to portray it faithfully. What would you say to all the fans who want to know why Neverwinter is in good hands with Cryptic, as opposed to a different studio?
Emmert: Well, we have four [D&D] campaigns running here within the company right now… Everyone on the Neverwinter team has been playing D&D 4th edition for some amount of time. A lot of them have played Neverwinter 1 and 2 to make sure that we can have a lot of Easter eggs that refer back to those games. If people look at my history and where I came from, I wrote paper-and-pencil RPG [content] 15 years ago; just about anybody at Wizards of the Coast will tell you that my knowledge of D&D is pretty voluminous. It's in pretty good hands.
ZAM: Would you say that Cryptic is using many of the lessons learned from Champions Online and Star Trek Online to shape the development of Neverwinter?
Emmert: Sheesh, yeah… We've changed our entire development strategy. We thought Star Trek Online and Champions Online were terrific and when they came out, we were very surprised to hear the comments and the criticism. And so, we've changed… By that I mean, we create vertical slices that encapsulate all of gameplay—not just a fraction of it—every few months. And we actually have this reviewed—not only internally by our senior management—but also by an outside [group] of reviewers so that we ourselves can get a sense of what [feedback] a reviewer would give this game now, today.
That way, we can constantly be improving. It's very easy to get in that bubble; it's very easy to think your stuff is awesome… But getting that outsider [input] keeps you honest. And also, these vertical slices mean that there's no excuse; there's no chance that one person can say, 'Well, this will be fun when this is added.' That would often happen a lot with our previous two products. We’d say: 'Well, this system isn't done yet…'
'So, when's it going to be done?'
'In a couple months…'
Well in the timeframes we were developing, frequently that critical feature wouldn't get in until the point at which it was too late to do anything. So you'd kind of be left with something that worked, but it wasn't all it could be. It's as simple as that; we need to make our products better. And the best way of doing that is to constantly be monitoring how well we're doing.
ZAM: Can you give us any idea about the type of revenue model that might be used for Neverwinter?
Emmert: I can't talk about that yet.
ZAM: How about in general terms? Are you anticipating some type of subscription model or downloadable content packs?
Emmert: Obviously we want to have a nice, long shelf life and continue to support Neverwinter with content. There are many ways of doing it, Lord knows; Guild Wars did it just by the client, DDO has done the hybrid model—free-to-play with subscription—while some companies use [pure] free-to-play. All of those are areas that we'll explore but we want to use the best business model that makes sense to give Neverwinter the best chance of having a nice, long life for all the fans.
ZAM: Finally, you've been taking a bit of flak in the media lately for some of your recent Neverwinter announcement interviews, in which you talk about learning from releases like Star Trek Online and Champions Online. The scuttlebutt around the blogosphere is that "Cryptic COO Jack Emmert admits releasing crap MMOs," to paraphrase some of the milder comments. What's your response to those accusations?
Emmert: I've been pretty honest about our faults in the past and people have accused us that I'm virtually admitting that we pushed out Star Trek and Champions as unpolished product. But as God as my witness, when we launched those games, we had zero idea that we thought they were anything less than excellent… When we launched those games, we felt they were superior to City of Heroes, which as you know was a big hit. And I still, to this day, say they are superior to City of Heroes—but, you know, the market changed. If we launched CoH now, oh my God; we'd be in the same boat as [Realtime Worlds'] All Points Bulletin. It would be a bad situation; the way people receive MMOs, it's just a completely different marketplace and I think that we need to change those expectations, and we need to listen.
The reason why I'm doing this interview—and not the guy running the Neverwinter project—is because Neverwinter the start of a completely different orientation to what we're trying to accomplish. I've been reading responses to various interviews, and I can understand people [asking], 'Why did you make Star Trek in 18 months?' Well, that's what it was… If somebody said, 'Hey, here's the Star Trek license.' You say, 'Great, I can't wait to make the game!' You've got 18 months. Do you say no? Of course not… we were full of ego and enthusiasm.
ZAM: Thanks again for your time, Jack. We look forward to talking to you again soon.
Emmert: Sure, no problem!