There was a time when MMORPGs ruled. They have since been relegated to a small corner amidst explosive growth in mobile and competitive gaming. Lack of innovation and bad monetization practices (pay-to-win, loot boxes, deceptive microtransactions, etc.) are two of the many causes of the genre’s decline.
Among the handful of upcoming titles is Ember Sword, a PC MMORPG playable directly in your browser or through a PC-client, promising to fix the broken monetization system found in traditional MMOs. Developed by So Couch Studios, it integrates blockchain tech into the game’s economy giving players ownership of some in-game items.
There’s only so much we can dig up on the web about Ember Sword so we asked So Couch Studios’ Chief Marketing Officer Sune Thorsen to give us more insight about the game and its development.
Ember Sword is one of the few blockchain games that is more than just a collectible. What were the game design hurdles in integrating blockchain into the overall MMO mechanics?
The blockchain tech we’re using has actually helped solve typical MMORPG design hurdles more than it has been a hindrance for the design. For example, keeping the end-game content interesting for hardcore players is one of the biggest challenges for MMORPGs. In Ember Sword, we reward players who participate in end-game PvP and PvE content with cosmetic items that would typically otherwise be sold through lootboxes. These cosmetics are “on-chain” items that each have a unique item history detailing the epic feats they have partaken in, they’re all probably scarce digital collectibles that exist in a finite supply, and they can freely be traded among players for the game’s premium currency; PIXEL, with us taking a small fee on these marketplace transactions.
...no on-chain item in Ember Sword impacts your power and strength in the game
In a traditional MMORPG design, these cosmetics would typically either be account bound or only tradeable for in-game gold. However, because we allow players to trade their cosmetics for PIXEL, players who are good at PvE and PvP can essentially earn PIXEL for free, which they can later spend on the optional monthly subscription, a pick-up pet, or other cosmetics. This is a huge incentive for players, and it solves one of the biggest MMORPG game design hurdles.
As with any technology, there are good and bad ways to implement blockchain tech in an MMORPG, but players of Ember Sword will get to experience how the tech can carve a new path forward for gameplay and monetization of Free-to-Play MMORPGs - a path without any Pay-to-Win! In fact, no on-chain item in Ember Sword impacts your power and strength in the game – but they make you look freakin’ cool, and their scarcity and item history make them true collectibles.
MMORPGs are often criticized for being time-sinks. How did you plan to keep the whole experience balanced and engaging for both hardcore and casual MMO players?
When it comes to catering to both hardcore and casual MMORPG players, the sandbox’ish game design helps a lot. Whatever you do in Ember Sword, you’re always progressing towards the next level in one of your many skills, such as woodcutting, fishing, mining, blacksmithing etc. This means even 20-30 minutes of gameplay will feel meaningful, as you’ve climbed one step closer to leveling up one of your skills.
As a casual player, you will focus on the skills that make the most sense to you, such as e.g. melee to defeat enemies, fishing and cooking so you can always eat food to replenish HP, and woodcutting so you can sell logs to other players to generate gold. Focusing on just a single weapon-type skill will allow a casual player to be able to compete with hardcore players much faster.
As a hardcore player, on the other hand, you will typically attempt to level up all your skills, including all three weapon-type skills; melee, ranged, and energy. This gives you a near-endless amount of content to explore, with thousands of hours of gameplay.
There’s also plenty of both relaxed and challenging PvE as well as high-stakes PvP content to keep both casual and hardcore players engaged.
You recently published a video on the first male playable character. How many more characters can we expect? How alike or different will they be from the usual MMO staples - tank, support, thief, etc.?
The video we released shows the main male character model, and we’re working on the female counterpart right now. These are the base models that players can customize during character creation.
Ember Sword features a classless combat system, which means there are no pre-defined classes to pick from when you create your character. This gives players ultimate freedom; the equipment you decide to wear determines who and what you are, and your skill levels define which abilities you can use with each type of weapon. Want to switch from your sword and shield to a bow? Go ahead. Want to switch back to a two-handed sword? The choice is always yours.
Relatively speaking, how massive is the Ember Sword world? And how will player-owned lands alter the gameplay?
The world is massive! And it’s ever-changing as well, ensuring a slightly different experience every time you login.
The world is split into 4 major regions, of which you pick one as your home region during character creation. Each region consists of 3 types of territories; Kingship, Wilderness, and Outlaw.
Outlaw territories are the most dangerous and are found on the edge between two regions. These territories are home to rare resources and high level monsters, but be careful; anyone you run into will be able to attack you. It is also in these territories that you fight over the control of Outlaw camps, which reward with you a rare collectible cosmetic, and allows you to place buildings only accessible by you or your guild and friends. Anyone can destroy your camp, so watch out!
Wilderness territories are the primary PvE areas and are rich in resources, monsters, and NPCs. You can attack players from opposing regions if they wander into your region’s Wilderness areas and start collecting resources. Open-world bosses also spawn in the Wilderness (and Kingship) territories. Get to them first and slay them for rare cosmetic rewards.
Kingship territories are strictly for PvE and resource collection, NPCs, quests etc. The kingship territories are controlled by the community through a total of 1344 landowners who decide what to place on each parcel of kingship territory land; NPCs, buildings, monsters etc..
Owning a parcel of land is not at the core of the Ember Sword gameplay experience (it doesn’t give you in-game advantages, nor access to content others can’t also access), and as such is not for most players, but it IS at the very core of the world design. It’s what keeps the world fresh and interesting. We wanted to create a world that was to a large extent controlled by the community of players, and those 1344 parcels of land was what fit the size of the Ember Sword world (more Kingship land would mean the open-world would become too large).
What is So Couch Studio’s guiding principle when it comes to balancing between developing a wonderful MMO experience and monetization?
We have a strong policy against Pay-to-Win. We want PvP in Ember Sword to be skill-based and competitive, and in order to achieve that, we have to make sure you can’t buy anything for PIXEL (the game’s premium currency) that makes you stronger in-game.
Maintaining a viable MMORPG business has often meant implementing Pay-to-Win, but with our business model (selling an optional monthly subscription, a few non-Pay-to-Win consumables, and earning a fee off of trading of cosmetics between players), we can thrive as a company while fighting predatory monetization and Pay-to-Win! In large part thanks to the blockchain, which is what allows us to earn a fee from the cosmetic marketplace transactions.
How do you foresee the evolution of Ember Sword and MMORPG, in general?
Ember Sword has already attracted thousands of pre-registrations, and we’re excited to bring a new, fair, and competitive Free-to-Play gameplay experience to millions of MMORPG players.
We hope that we’ll be able to influence the MMORPG industry at large, pushing it towards fairer monetization strategies and more enticing and rewarding gameplay. Time will tell.
If anyone wants to join us on our journey, we’re more than happy to discuss Ember Sword on our Discord server: https://discord.gg/46P8rFs