Aventurine has been quite busy with its social media push and the recent launch of Darkfall's Hellfreeze expansion. We spoke with Tasos Flambouras about these changes and the possibility of Darkfall 2.
Released in February 2009 in Europe and July 2009 in the United States, Darkfall is a subscription-based fantasy game that differs from the standard MMO model. Setting aside experience and levels, Darkfall focuses on skills as a method of advancement – for example, the more you use a spell, the better you get at it. Besides this skill-based scheme, Darkfall also hosts unfettered PvP combat: you can be attacked anywhere, at any time.
Darkfall has been described as having a steep learning curve, and the game has undergone several changes to entice new players. Aventurine has implemented everything from bug fixes and a streamlined introductory flow to a new blog and Facebook page to bring new players into the fold. We had a chance to speak with Developer Tasos Flambouras (who also got some feedback from Designer Claus Grovdal) about the game’s new features, the recent Hellfreeze expansion and Aventurine's vision for the future, which includes the possibility of a Darkfall sequel. Keep reading for all the details!
ZAM: The Darkfall development team has been incredibly busy recently. What have you learned since the game's launch to push all this new development forward?
Tasos Flambouras: We’re always incredibly busy since we’re on a constant development effort. We’re busier than ever now but that’s almost always the case since we launched the game.
We’ve learned more about Darkfall over the past couple of years through its players. We’ve learned what works and what doesn’t work, the path we need to take this game to make it the best it can be, and we’ve learned what the game itself does best. It’s one thing to believe that the game will deliver a certain experience and it actually doing it. You need to observe the live game carefully, gather metrics, and collect the right feedback in order to help Darkfall reach its potential.
ZAM: Darkfall has been said to have one of the steepest learning curves in current online gaming. While veteran players might see this as a good thing, how are you working to bring in new players?
Flambouras: We’ve used the steep learning curve argument and we’ve heard it repeated a lot. The fact is that it’s only partially true. You can do more in Darkfall than you can in most other MMOs. The degree of freedom is unparalleled. The real-time aspect and the first person shooter action make Darkfall combat very fast paced and player skill important. We’re talking about the most intense PvP MMO experience. Then you have the clan versus clan dynamics, city building and conquest, the naval aspect, all the sandbox elements and much much more. To be able to do all these things you need more controls than your typical MMO and the Darkfall experience is considerably different than that of other MMOs. The transition from anther MMO to Darkfall is not seamless. We were moving in uncharted territory when we made this game and we’ve had to figure out how to make this game work as well as possible. Now we know a lot more than we did before:
There are two major sore spots for us: One is our user interface that needs a lot of work and we’ve been all over it. We’ve made major improvements to it but these are definitely not enough to satisfy us. We’re just doing our best to improve the user experience while we work on the new user interface. We expect to have it completely redone in time for the next expansion. This alone should considerably improve the user experience. The second major issue for us has been the newbie experience. When we launched the game, there was very little information for the new player and along with the interface; new players had to really persevere to make it through the first few hours. With every expansion and every content patch we’ve taken measures to improve the newbie experience. Players have pitched in creating guides and tutorials, and clans made to help Darkfall’s new players. We’re definitely not happy with the starting player experience, as much as it has improved, we feel it’s still pretty unforgiving and it remains a very high priority with us to keep working on it.
ZAM: Aventurine recently started up a Facebook page and a blog to keep players up to date on news. Do you feel they’ve been successful? How are you trying to promote them to players?
Flambouras: We’re using social media for two reasons: One is to give our players more ways to interact with us and to start a dialogue with our community. Our forums give us limited communication options because not all our players are using them. We needed to augment our capability to communicate with our players. We started our campaign to achieve our goals by first appointing community liaisons with the purpose of eventually becoming the community’s advocates within the company. The liaisons bring us the feedback from the community and take our information to the community. They also create content, make the spotlights, interact on the forums and spark discussion. I’ve started posting weekly activity reports so that the community has reference in this dialogue we’re trying to get started. This is just the beginning and we’re going to take more steps to facilitate the conversation with our community and maintain the hard work and the resources we’re dedicating to this.
One might ask why we chose to do this now and why we haven’t done this from the start. We had to focus more on development and on listening to our player feedback up until recently. Right now we feel we understand better where we’re at, and we’d like to start cooperating on what we need to do.