Feature: Heroes Come To Neverwinter

Wizards of the Coast has made a big business out of their Dungeons & Dragons brand and part of that has been smart, strategic launches of various sub-brands within the property. When you talk about the different universes of D&D, from Eberron to Spelljammer, none is bigger than Forgotten Realms. So the launch of Neverwinter, probably the most famous location within the Forgotten Realms, is a very big deal for the company and will include multiple elements from table-top role playing to books and multiple video games. We talked with Peter Banks, Director of Product Marketing for Atari, specifically about the video games but also more generally about the property of Neverwinter.

Tell us about the total upcoming product lineup for Neverwinter.

This was largely catalyzed when Wizard of the Coast wanted to launch the Neverwinter setting supplement for 4th edition D&D and they’ve been planning that for quite some time. They have the trade paperback from R.A. Salvatore, Atari has launched Heroes of Neverwinter onto Facebook which is going after the mainstream audience. There;s also the Cryptic title and that is an online PC title that’s a spiritual sequel to Neverwinter Nights.

Talk to me about the excitement of taking Neverwinter into Fourth Edition D&D.

I think for us, it’s taking the re-imagining of Neverwinter to a format for new players. For us players of table top games like Neverwinter Nights or through the Forgotten Realms novels or the Drizzt books, I think its something that people have a lot of fun with. As much as D&D is about crafting your own stories, we can take some of the shared experiences and transfer it to other media types. While we look at what are doing from a video games perspective; Wizards of the Coast concentrates on the overall experience and looking at this as the next generation of trans-media experiences – it’s important to do it carefully, since people have attachments to the Forgotten Realms. In taking 4th edition specifically, one of the coolest parts is the new mechanic that lets us show the entire city of Neverwinter. It’s something most Dungeon Masters can do, but we’re not going to take the easy route – we’re going to look at the changes over the last 150 years. They leveled Neverwinter and the Spell Plague came out and now there’s these all these sort of forces vying for control.

In terms of taking it to the Facebook audience, 4th edition is perfect for the mass audience, since so much of it is designed and informed by gamers who are used to a video game mechanics, so it’s a natural evolution transferring it to a Facebook game, but we also had to make some structural changes because it’s designed to be played for 10 minutes not a few hours. It’s challenging but it’s something we’ve pulled off successfully.

Heroes of Neverwinter in action.

Why the decision to make the MMO game more story focused for groups, rather than being like an MMO?

From what I’ve seen, its a combination of the legacy of Neverwinter Nights and the online Neverwinter title — people play it differently, but at its heart, it’s about having a group of friends and going on an adventure. The tool-set to let the players create was another thing that Cryptic wanted to do differently. They were successful with Champions Online and Star Trek Online, but they wanted to change things around to the things they do best: create beautiful worlds and make great stories.

As for Heroes of Neverwinter, I think there are somethings people took for granted [in social games] and now people are starting to question it. With Heroes of Neverwinter we’re going into it by looking at what people say we have to put into a Facebook game and do away with those preconceptions. 

Tell me about the importance of the storyline in the appeal of Neverwinter.

With a piece of content like Neverwinter, it’s almost like it becomes a character in a novel. Every little detail paints more detail to where you’re at. The story is about your heroes or protagonists, but the story is set on all these different cultural layers of the city and I think there’s a beneficial historical aspect. And I think that’s the advantage from trans-media; you can tell so many different stories over these thirty years of history and it can be evolved at the same time. 

Talk to me about the cross promotional stuff, between the Salvatore book and the Wizards of the Coast tabletop game.

We’re rolling out the Neverwinter campaign that has a lot of moving parts; during the middle of the MMO’s development we sold Cryptic to Perfect World and we’re still working with them to and get it competed. As a marketer, it’s good to have a product or campaign when you know what you’re promoting something great; it was so nice for us to work with a company with such a long term vision so we can integrate all these elements properly. There’s a challenge that we’re all working in different formats with different lead times. The book guys, they need a year and a half out to get everything printed. So getting on the level with that was both challenging and helpful to know about. We’re all sharing the same logos and from there we moved very quickly to get our messaging squared away; the R.A. Salvatore books have a call out the PC product. With Heroes of Neverwinter is being integrated on its own timeline, it was challenging but it was a great to have so many different people working on it; but it was just a challenge finding out where it was a good idea to integrate.

I’m sure its a major challenge having to deal with fans who come from multiple levels of familiarity with the franchise.

On one hand you have to take care of the fans, on the other hand you have to keep innovating. The good thing is that we’ve been making Forgotten Realms games for some time, so being able to evolve that and still look to the past is natural.

What are some of the other ways you’re looking to promote the game?

That’s a cool and fun thing about this multimedia launch. We have one primary audience: D&D enthusiasts and once you go beyond that, you look at the different audiences for different platforms. There’s the super engaged people at game hobby stores, trade paperbacks are at bookstores and at airports, there’s the Cryptic title for core PC gamers, and then there’s Heroes of Neverwinter and that’s new territory with a broader audience so the funny thing with the campaign is that it’s like a sun or a flower – the center is saturated but the other sectors are seeing their own concentration. The stuff that’s new for us and new for me, it’s just thinking about the new audience – we were so focused on the core gaming demographic the GameStop the Game Informers where the big game audiences will be, but at the same time, we have these dynamic tools with Facebook where you can see all the metrics, where users are getting in for the mass media. We can really make the game and change it so quickly. You can see we have a dedicated group of people and address those issues.

It leads into the whole idea of this games business going from a product to a service and we have experience from doing it in Test Drive Unlimited 2 and Star Trek Online and Champions Online so this is a natural evolution for us.

So just to specify, you’re working with Wizards of the Coast, which is part of Hasbro, Cryptic which is owned by Perfect World, and then the WotC book publishing department . . .

Every asset from the media to the promotion, they need to be consistent and in line with the brand so building in those time lines is a complicated machine, but it’s something every one of us regards as exciting.

It’s interesting how Dungeons & Dragons has evolved from this Tolkien-esque world with a grab bag of other fantasy elements to something more unique and concrete on its own . . .

With that legacy, whether its Tolkien-esque or not, you have to drive everything into something new. The original creators were influenced by Tolkien, but they built their own world. It has elves and dwarves, but it was influenced by Jack Vance in that there are layers of mystery for a world that is sword and fantasy on the surface but then you realize how much gonzo there is. When you get into the settings like with Forgotten Realms that’s something with its own unique story and character. As a DM, you can throw it all into your story as a gumbo.


Will be the focus in letting players know about this new Neverwinter game, because of the series great reputation?

I think it is for us, because Neverwinter is the most popular of the D&D settings. People love it from Neverwinter Nights to Drizzt and people are very familiar with the setting. D&D games have have often gone with generic settings like Mystara or Greyhawk. Wizards of the Coast acknowledges the generic settings, but you can make it a specific setting. So with Forgotten Realms, it’s a way that they’ve made a world with a specific history for us to be able to tell a narrative story. Its good to put a steak in the ground, especially since multiple users have experienced it in different ways. It’s a world with a history that lends itself to a large thing like this.

Anything you’d like to add about Heroes of Neverwinter?

I think for us, we’re excited about Heroes of Neverwinter and it’s the first time a deep campaign has come to Facebook, but we think the D&D players going to love it and the causal players will enjoy it too.

Will you possibly expand with modules for other D&D worlds?

You’ll see more races and dungeons and and we’re looking to evolve it, whether its more of that or new features for Heroes of Neverwinter. It was ever evolving and even through the beta its been changing, so you’ll see.

Thanks Peter.

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Sony Launching ‘Video Unlimited’ Browser

Sony has announced that they are launching a new ‘Video Unlimited – Preview’ app for the PS3. It is designed to help users view the over 40,000 movies and shows on the PS Store more easily.

This app will have a more visual menu system that that Sony says will ease the process of finding videos by the genres, actors and directors. PlayStation Plus subscribers can download the preview app right now; general users will have access to it “in a few weeks.”

BioWare: ‘Adapt Or Die’

BioWare is now a huge division of EA, housing multiple prominent IPs and having seven offices worldwide. However, Bioware founders Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka say that their size is no excuse for complacency.

“If we weren’t adaptable we’d be dead. Like right now you will die if you’re not adaptable,” said Zeschuk. “The opportunities are greater than ever. Even when there’s flux, that’s when opportunity occurs, and if you’re one of those people that grab that opportunity then that’s a great place to be.”

The pair pointed towards their recent efforts in social and free-to-play gaming between Wrath Of Heroes and Dragon Age: Legends on Facebook. “The thing about all the different business models on new platforms is they’re not a threat if you approach them in terms of a unified experience for consumers. We look at it as an IP universe,” said Muzyka. “Luckily Bioware and EA are changing really rapidly to accommodate the new industry. I mean, look at The Sims Social, on track to be the number one social game. Who would’ve have predicted that a few years ago, that EA, a traditional publisher, would do that ”

Source: GamesIndustry.biz

Halfbrick Aims At Chinese Sales

Halfbrick Studios CEO Shainiel Deo recently announced at the Mobitalk Conference in Beijing that Fruit Ninja has been downloaded 20 million times in the Chinese region, representing 30 percent of all downloads worldwide. They’re looking to expand on that, however, and generate 70 million downloads in China over the next six months with an ad-supported version.

“When you see the rate of downloads per day and the rate its increasing, I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal to hit that target [of 70 million],” said Deo. “The Chinese market is our number one market going forward. We built the game to be accessible to a wide audience. I’m just grateful Chinese fans love it so much.”

Despite an estimated 50 percent piracy rate in China, Halfbrick wants to imitate the success of the creators of Angry Birds. “I think we are really following in the footsteps of Rovio,” Deo said.

Source: IDG News

NFL Thursday Night Package Nixed

Recently, talks were happening for the negotiation of a Thursday Night Football schedule. Despite eager suitors in Comcast/NBCUniversal, Fox Sports, and Turner Sports negotiations have beenput on hold, a perhaps a byproduct of the NFL’s failure to get the players’ union to agree to an expanded season.

“It’s not likely that we would do it in the next year,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. “We’re going to continue our discussions with our current partners and evaluate aspects of our new labor agreement as part of that.”

“I was sure that things would start heating up once the ESPN deal was out of the way,” said one programming executive who asked not to be named, mentioning the $15.5 billion extension of ESPN’s Monday Night Football contract. “My understanding was we’d resume talks as soon as that was off the books and that someone would have a deal by early, mid-October.”

The reasoning is believed to be a byproduct of a priority shift for the NFL. “The way it looks now, the league will probably want to close out its renewals [with CBS, NBC, and Fox] before they come back to Thursday night,” the executive said. “It’s a little disappointing, but this is the NFL. When they’re ready to sit down and talk, we’ll be right there with them.”

All three broadcast deals are set to expire in 2013; Fox’s agreement is worth $720.3 million per year, while CBS’ has $619.8 million and NBC pays $603 million per season for the rights to air Sunday Night Football. Without being able to secure two extra weeks worth of football from the players, and therefore being able to increase games without taking them away from the broadcast partners, the NFL has to change tack.

“The NFL doesn’t want to lead things off with [CBS Sports chairman] Sean McManus or [Fox Sports chairman] David Hill by saying, ‘We want more money, and oh, by the way, we’re taking some of your games,’” said one sports TV executive. “Until they get all those legacy deals squared away, Thursday night is going to have to wait.”

Source: Adweek.com

BioWare Says ‘Value Proposition’ Of Old Republic Warrants Subscription

Recently, SOE President John Smedley asserted that Star Wars: The Old Republic would be the last high profile MMO to utilize a subscription model. BioWare founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk are confident in the subscription model going forward.

“Those are very kind words in a way,” said Zeschuk. “It’s interesting – I think there will always be a place for premium content at a premium price and that’s one of the differences. Free to play is very much about trial, about ‘Hey, I don’t know what this is, I don’t have confidence that it’s any good, but I’m willing to take a look at it,’ versus ‘I know this is good, from a trusted source, and it’s the biggest license in the world.’ So it’s a different value proposition.”

“There’s more competition for entertainment dollars now than ever before from social and play for free, and all sorts of entertainment, which I think is actually really healthy from an entertainment industry perspective,” added Muzyka. “But I agree with Greg that there’s a space for a certain number of premium products that are subscription based or whatever the premium pricing model is. But they have to merit it, they have to earn that from a consumer trust perspective and delivering and exceeding expectations. I think The Old Republic is definitely in that triple-A premium category. That’s the feedback reading from the players and data testing.”

Source: IndustryGamers

7-Eleven Adds More Fun To Lunch

7-Eleven is pushing their selection of lunch items, and to compliment that they have a series of fun activities running alongside lunch. The “LARP” video does a particularly good job of parodying the hobby it brings up, since live-action role-playing practically parodies itself.

Heavy Rain Maker Talks Marketing Problems For Non-Shooters

The games that are made my David Cage are often lauded for their originality, but that also makes them problematic to sell. When asked why the Quantic Dream founder has problems like with name changes from Fahrenheit to Indigo Prophecy, he gave a long reaching answer.

“The games I make don’t include a gun. Very often, American marketing departments have a problem with this,” he said. “They have this image of their market being gun-loving red-necks. It’s completely wrong. We had huge arguments with Atari in New York about Fahrenheit. We told them they were making a huge mistake not supporting the game ““ they will see the reviews and they will like what they see.”

“They should have put marketing dollars on the table, and I told them that, but they didn’t want to listen to us. When the reviews came in they were even better in the U.S. than they were in Europe, but by the time they realized, it was too late. Fahrenheit sold well in the U.S., we made money out of it, but it was a slice of the potential, because of this lack of trust.”

“The problem is that we are in a very conservative industry. Each time you come to marketing departments with very simple concepts, like ‘the hero has ten weapons and goes through twenty levels, and there’s a snow level and a jungle level and a sand level and a whatever level and it’s gonna be so great because I can display more explosions on screen than any other game and . . . then they have it. The marketing departments go, ‘oh that’s really interesting’,” he added. “When you come to them about a game based on a story. Or, a game based on child abduction, they think ‘my god’. It’s very difficult for them to commit to anything that’s remotely different. The only way to solve this is to keep at it; game after game, get more trust. Show them how successful you are, and hope that eventually they, and the whole industry, will turn around.”

Heavy Rain has easily been the most successful game for Quantic Dream so far, and the best promotion for the game was good press, according to Cage. “We spent two years talking to press at trade shows, and I think they played a major part in the game’s commercial success,” said Cage. “They’re the ones who created the hype and expectation for the game. I think that people were excited by what I was promising; a game where the heroes have no weapons, where you don’t kill anybody, where your choices have real consequences.”

“I felt people understood what I was going for. I think people weren’t sure about how it would play, but the concept sounded interesting. I actually think a lot of people tried out the game to see if I was lying. But all the same I knew people were saying ‘this is something new, this is something different, at least this is going to be something else’,” he added. “But y’know, the success was there for Heavy Rain, but at the same time, look at the biggest games of today and it’s always the Call Of Dutys, the GTAs, it’s always the games where you have a gun. It’s always the sequels. Yes, people want something different, but not too different. And not too often.”

Source: Develop

Valve Invites Protesters In For Studio Tour

Valve recently had to deal with the unique problem of having protests over the release of Half-Life 3. Valve founder Gabe Newell indicates that the Seattle-based developer took it all in stride.

“We thought it was awesome. We wanted them to stay,” he explained. “We took them pizza – they’d only brought two sodas and they were planning on being out there for two days. They were very nice and very passionate about our games. At one point, somebody else in our building called the police and we were worried, but it turned out the police officer was a huge Team Fortress fan. He’s like: ‘Oh yeah, I totally understand, let me go get my sign!'”

Valve then graciously gave the protesters a tour of their office, afterward they continued their vigil. When asked how many protesters it would take for word on a new Half-Life, Newell responded, “I don’t know, but if they’d like to come out, we could find out.”

Source: CVG