It’s been a heck of a time for MMORPGs. Following on from July’s launch of PvP MMO Crowfall, a whole party of other games followed up with their own launch dates and live betas. Over the last couple of months we’ve seen activity from Crowfall, Bless Unleashed, and New World just to name a few. That doesn’t even acknowledge the major announcements from the likes of Guild Wars 2, Blade & Soul, and others. With such serious competition for headlines and consumer spending power, it might initially seem like Crowfall could easily drown beneath the din. Thankfully, after Crowfall hit Kickstarter back in 2015, this upstart or an MMO built a core group of players that followed, fought, and played this new adventure from its earliest incarnations, all the way until today. That seems to have proved crucial for Crowfall in weathering the torrent of other MMORPGs, and even pulling in new players, as Gordon Walton, co-founder and Executive Producer at Artcraft, noted when we sat down to speak to him about Crowfall’s launch.
GAMESPACE: Crowfall already had a very core community through early testing programmes. How did that change post-launch versus, say having a game where you have to best guess based on beta participation?
GORDON: Many people showed up (to launch) who had never heard of the game! Plus, we are thrilled to see our core community remaining with us and that has been a significant benefit. Thankfully our veteran community was welcoming to the new players joining post-launch. There are many streamers who have formed new player guilds to help those just starting out in the game. The advocacy we are seeing from our early community in terms of reaching out to new players is amazing. We are also excited by the number of players joining the game now. We are seeing interest in the game from a broad group of PvP gamers—looking for new PvP challenges. The excitement around an open-world competitive PvP game is contagious. We recognized early on that Crowfall speaks to players interested in strategy and competition. We are continuing to see that hold true post-launch and will lean into continuing to add value around experiences that deliver on both of those types of motivations.
Despite the influx of new players, new MMOs always end to see a flex in player size and population. Even titles that ultimately don’t make it still see a rush of new accounts, queues and focus that shifts and settles into a more manageable number. What’s interesting about Crowfall’s response to this is their campaigns. By splitting the game world up into instanced, and entirely temporary adventures, the players struggling to find players after the initial launch might be able to try again without having to go through the hardship we normally experience on transferring servers, and it seems Artcraft were fully aware of this when creating a range of worlds specifically for launch.
GORDON: We are still analyzing our launch campaign worlds which just ended as our new campaign worlds are starting up. It is a pretty exciting time to see all the things we have been planning and building for years be put into action with a larger player base! A key element of Crowfall Campaigns is they are all different; different maps, different rulesets, different rewards and in the future the possibilities are endless as to what we can change—races, classes or other parameters can be varied as criteria to gate entry into the campaign. Due to the constant change of gameplay rules, each campaign feels different from previous campaigns. The ability to offer diverse campaigns is one of the key pillars of gameplay we wanted to experiment with in Crowfall. As the game evolves, and worlds are reset, we will continue to introduce new challenges, diversify strategic options and create new biomes offering new world types and geography. We will continue to leverage player feedback, emergent behaviours and the creative vision of our team to keep our worlds fresh with each reset!
Of course, simply resetting and re-rolling doesn’t count for much if the experience is the same rinse and repeat. Crowfall largely leaves the game up to players, providing the play space for much for the action and letting the population get on with things after level 30. Getting a player through that initial segment of the game and handing off, as launch leaps off into the future, is something that seemed to be at the forefront of launch. Rather than mire new players in a grind, Crowfall takes an approach that gets to the heart of the matter without artificially gating what it’s trying to deliver.
GORDON: Our goal, with the new player experience, was to ensure that our new player experience would telegraph what the game experience is, as well as teach the player a wide variety of game mechanics that ensure their success as they advance to the worlds that follow which become increasingly more competitive. Crowfall has a number of systems that can be incredibly deep. The challenge is to make it easy for players to learn the basics and then let them build that early learning into mastery as they face greater challenges and move through the advanced levels. Our approach was to offer a very expedited levelling curve where the player rises from Level 1-30 (soft level cap) in a few hours (Level 35 is the max level). In that period, we have the player interact with each major system, including the advanced siege war systems to offer them a basic understanding of and familiarity with the core gameplay mechanics.
While I do feel like Crowfall does a great job of getting player’s up to level 30, the vastness of it can sometimes be lost on anybody who hasn’t fully prepared and after hearing what I could have picked, I might just re roll. I mean Necromancy sounds incredible!
GORDON: Level 30 is where the game really starts to open up and the player can choose one of many paths to pursue. What is important is that at that point they have enough experience in the world, to have gained confidence in the use of their character’s key skills and talents. Plus, they have a deeper understanding of what they want their role to be and it allows them to hone in on fine-tuning their character’s specialization. For example, we have a Necromancy system which gives players the skills to craft body parts into advanced character vessels (player characters) to advance past the soft level cap and into the higher levels (Level 31 – 35)! The goal is that as players move into more dangerous and challenging encounters in the game they feel confident and they are ready for what comes next.
Launch and Looking Back
With launch now over a month out and worlds starting to fall to the hunger that creeps across Crowfall’s worlds, we asked Gordon about the initial launch and how it’s been for the team behind this very different MMO.
GAMESPACE: It’s been nearly one month since Crowfall shipped how did the team feel the launch unfolded?
GORDON: Like most game development teams, we always want to add more to a game even as it is about to be released. The challenge is finding that fine line that hits the quality bar that players expect while also being able to make the tough choices that get you to the finish line. That is the hardest part of game development, making the tough choices that matter —to the players. The good news is that a live service game like Crowfall will continue to evolve. That evolution is already happening and it is occurring at the same time we are learning more about how players move through the game and where they are most engaged. We are proud of the game we delivered in terms of what we set out to accomplish, a game where player empowerment is key and the PvP is built to accommodate diverse options from small raiding parties to massive armies. We want players to own the action and the outcomes. What makes Crowfall unique is that they direct their own story. They will decide what Keeps get sieged, what cities get built or destroyed, what alliances get created or betrayed. Every day their choices will change the world. We cannot wait to see where they take us in each campaign world!
GAMESPACE: There’s been some divided commentary about Crowfall on launch. How has the team handled the game’s reception?
GORDON: Honestly, it is tough. We built this game to bring an experience to players who love PvP as much as we do. Gameplay that offered a truly unique experience where player agency is key. Players architect their own strategies, deploy diverse strategies and create extremely unique builds—many we never even thought of! Players drive the moment-to-moment action with their choices and ultimately, control the outcomes. In that way, Crowfall bucks all of the established game paradigms. It stands apart. Sometimes, being different makes it harder for players when first joining a game.
When J. Todd Coleman (co-founder and Creative Director) and I discussed starting the studio, our vision was to create a game that was not like the other games at that time—most were pursuing a model that focused on PvE and replayable missions (a lot like World of Warcraft). We set out to create a world that players ruled—we put the power in the hands of the players. That is not something everyone wants to play. But, if you have ever had a moment of unexpected heart-pounding competitive PvP action, where enemies come out of nowhere; that spikes your adrenaline, and that you still talk about years later, then you know what we are delivering with Crowfall. We are working hard to be responsive to player feedback and continuously refining the experience based on data and insights. We are excited by the response to the game and we believe we have a strong framework to build on with a community that likes the type of no holds barred PvP experience we are delivering. We have had a partnership with players since pre-alpha. It has served us well. The great thing about massively-multiplayer games is that they continue to evolve over time. And, we are committed to continuing to listen to our community as we move forward.
GAMESPACE: What’s coming for Crowfall now that campaigns are underway. Is it content or systems that become the focus?
GORDON: Our current cadence for Campaigns is about every two to four weeks for The Shadow and The Dregs campaigns respectively—so new campaigns are starting regularly. The campaigns come in the form of world wars that move through the four seasons with the final climactic moments coming as winter moves across the world, the land starts to freeze and The Hunger consumes the world. Every campaign includes a campaign leaderboard with both Guild and player stats as well as a set of rewards that are granted to players and guilds based on their performance in Conquest and other achievements for the Gods.
Moving forward with each new release milestone we plan to implement a mix of new features, new campaigns and content as well as quality of life enhancements based on player feedback. We will be closely watching where players are spending the most time and getting insight into the activities that are driving the most excitement. Our game allows an incredible amount of agility to change almost any parameter of a campaign or the world through our system of procedurally generated worlds. This unique system allows us to easily lean into the popular gameplay rulesets and campaign challenges that we see resonating with players. We also plan to throw in a few surprises now and then!
While Crowfall might not strike you as the next FFXIV Online, it strikes me that Crowfall’s PvP centred approach was never meant to be. While fashion wars continue and the Endwalkers approach, Crowfall’s dedicated players based and the steady approach to design that Artcraft has fostered may very well serve it far better than you might expect given time. Plus, necromancy, why didn’t I pick Necromancy. You can find out more about how Crowfall is doing by checking out the official forums or head all the way into the game for as little as £29.99 or local equivalent via the official website now.