Derek Smart Returns: Free To Play, Line of Defense, Lockboxes

It’s been a while since we last talked to Derek Smart. A year and a half, almost, if you’ve been keeping count. Last time we talked about Quest Online and Alganon, focusing on aspects of free to play and how Quest Online was promoting the game. With the approach of Line of Defense and a few changes over the past year in the free to play market, I thought it was about time to get back in touch. In the interview, we discuss Line of Defense including plans for the game’s monetization, the use of lockboxes in other titles, and some thoughts on the competition for Line of Defense. I always enjoy the opportunity to have a chat with Mr. Smart, he’s one of the few people I can trust to not hold back or filter his answers through a PR machine.

You may know Derek Smart from Alganon, Line of Defense, as well as the Battlecruiser line of space simulators.

Q. How will Line of Defense balance free to play with a premium model?

Players gain Combat Experience Points (CEP) by engaging in combat, capturing installations, bases etc. These are used to increase your rank as well as used to purchase Combat Training Certs (CET) which give you access to certain skills. However, the premium aspect involves buying the premium pack for a minimal fee. This not only gives you a choice of starter weapon and ammo, but also the ability to select a unique armor scheme as well as a choice of inventory item (e.g. wingchute, jetpack etc). It also gives you some starter GALCOM Credits (similar to Gold in standard MMO games) which you can use to purchase some stuff.

The premium pack is a one-time purchase. There is no monthly payment. And you can purchase it at any time you’d like. Since you can still play without purchasing the premium pack and still be able to obtain enough CEP and CTC to obtain these same items, it is up to the player to determine whether or not they want to put in the time needed to get them. It is a competitive twitch based game, but everyone has the chance to obtain the same items. Since there is no grind in the game, getting the stuff you want is just a short investment of time.

We want a lot of gamers playing the game and so if only a small number pays for stuff, that – we hope – will balance the costs of running the game without making it a grind and penalizing those who do not wish to buy anything. Also, you can still acquire most items for a period of time. For example if you are working your way up to a powerful sniper rifle but decide to put that effort on hold because of some assault that your team is planning, you can easily rent that sniper rifle for a day and go play with it. Of course it will cost more to rent than to just buy it outright. Apart from that, you will still need the required CTC to operate it.

Q. How do you feel about lockboxes? Cash shop items that carry random items.

We’re not doing any of that. The loot drop boxes – randomly generated around the game world – contain random items. You don’t have to buy these boxes. And just because a box contains an item, doesn’t mean that you can actually use it; since you may not have the required CTC. You could of course sell it if you wanted to. So in LOD, these boxes are more about scavenging than gambling – and it gives those who choose not to buy anything, the chance to come across a cool item just from playing the game. Plus, most of these boxes will be CEP locked as well. So unless you have a certain amount of CEP or even a CTC, you won’t be able unlock a box. So the longer you play, the more CEP you collect, the greater your chance of opening a box that you come across.

Well gambling and videogames are two different things entirely. The introduction of gambling into these MMO games should be completely outlawed, banned or regulated. Slot machines operate in the same way that some of these in-game lock boxes operate and that puts them squarely in gambling territory. So yeah, that’s just all kinds of wrong. Gambling is gambling; no matter how it is framed. There is no fine line, the line is pretty clear. If it is not a gambling game, there should be no elements of gambling in it – period.

Q. Is there a list of items considered “off-limits” to sell for real money?

Well gambling style lock boxes are definitely off-limits. Also, we don’t have any cash shop item which someone else can’t obtain by playing the game for free. If an item is in the cash shop, you can very well find it somewhere in the game – for free.

Q. Line of Defense is going head to head with Planetside 2 in the very small library of open world MMOs. How do you shake someone off of the fence?

For one thing, Planetside 2 is shaping up to be a complicated, grind-riddled game with an identity crisis. For sure it is a fine game, but some of the choices that they’ve made, has to make you wonder if they actually know who their target audience is. You can’t dumb down the game in order to cater to a casual crowd as that will just alienate the hardcore niche Planetside 1 fanbase. On the other hand, since Planetside 1 was such a hardcore niche game, it is not likely to succeed in today’s market if it exists as such. The middle ground is far more complicated and not cut and dry. If you take one look at the Planetside 2 forums, you will see exactly what I’m talking about.

Line Of Defense has absolutely no concept of grind at all. You’re not going to be playing for the next decade in order to obtain a CTC so you can do/have something cool.  Heck, I estimate that in less a month of game play, a dedicated player would have access to every single CTC, weapon, vehicle etc available in his class. And since CTC will degrade over time, the incentive to keep playing, keeps your skills honed and in top shape. If someone wants to play for a couple of hours a day, I want them to feel like they have achieved something without them having to invest a month to get there. Gamers have a choice; so why make them seek out those other choices by frustrating them in your game?

Why have someone grind a month to get a CTC when they can play for a day or so, get that CTC and continue playing the game once they’ve got that sense of achievement? Also, apart from the fact that we have far more interesting and eclectic environments (and space!), gameplay aspects and features, the game has a lot more to offer than Planetside 2. However, both games can co-exist just as Call Of Duty and Battlefield co-exist in the same genre/space without one trying to be a mirror of the other. So both games have their strengths and weaknesses, will attract a specific type of gamer etc. Plus since LOD is cheaper to make, has cheaper operating costs etc, my guess is that – as with all my games – we’ll be profitable right out of the gate; thereby ensuring the longevity that will spawn all new cool stuff in our planned DLC pipeline.

 Q. Games like Line of Defense live and die on a populated world. How will you keep the server healthy and populated?

Well, all my games have always been about massive worlds. Those expanses of “dead empty land” are a direct result of players not having anything interesting to do in the game or in those areas. We’re not likely to have that problem at all. Heck, even the game’s base capture mechanics are tailored specifically to the game world, not one part of the land. And with players having the ability to be airborne in a variety of aircraft  be able to get to any part of the entire game world (including space) either by air, land or sea, it is highly unlikely that we’ll see this problem.

Think about this. If games have to grind for a long time to get a CTC to fly an aircraft, use a jump gate, just a jetpack, use a vehicle etc – how are they going to get around and explore the game world either for fun or for strategic reasons? This single issue is what alleviates the “dead empty land” issue. Plus since LOD allows grouped (in a Fireteam aka clan aka guild) gamers to build their own outposts, my guess is that before long, there won’t be any open real estate left since all those areas are going to be contested and battle-ridden.

Thank you again to Derek Smart for taking the time to sit down with us once again.

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