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.
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.
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