Like a lot of MMOs released in recent years, TERA launched with a bang and then dwindled, forcing En Masse to first lay off staff back in August and then lay off servers in preparation for yesterday’s realm merges. And yet the studio seems determined to keep the game alive in the West, promising content updates and small-group, impromptu flash events run by event staff, the likes of which MMO players rarely see outside of old-school games like Ultima Online.
Curious about what all these news bytes portend for the game’s future, we sat down with En Masse Entertainment Producer Chris Hager to discuss the reasoning behind the server merges, the effect of the layoffs on the game, and whether TERA might just be the next title to go free-to-play.
Many studios have balked at using the word “merge” when it comes to population consolidation, and yet En Masse showed no hesitation in calling a merge a merge. Why not? What made the merges and honesty about the rationale for them the right call?
Chris Hager: Merges are often portrayed as a bad sign for an MMO. I like to think of it as a way to address players and their ability to play and enjoy TERA. You can try to hide what you’re doing with different terminology, but everyone knows what the bottom line is. Merges are an opportunity to realign player populations and address the quality of life for our players. If that means we merge to provide more rich, full player environments, easier-to-find groups, and a thriving economy, then that’s what we’ll do.
How does En Masse justify asking players with more than eight characters to delete some of them in order to facilitate the merge? Couldn’t the team compensate such players with extra slots?
When we first started discussing this, we did some data mining to see just how many of our current users would be affected by the eight-character limit. The majority of our players do not have any issues with combining their characters and exceeding the eight-character count. Of the remaining players who do have nine or more characters, more than 50 percent are between nine and 11 characters, and at least one or two of those characters are under level 10.
With that being said, we want to take care of our players as much as possible while keeping the spirit of the original design of TERA (eight characters, eight classes, and so on). To that end, we’ve extended the original deadline of 30 days to trim down your character list to 90 days. We hope this gives players the chance to figure out which characters they really want to keep as well as allow them to transfer items and get settled into their new communities.
After the merges, TERA will maintain three Western servers, down from 11, which suggests a dramatic drop-off in subscriptions. How is the game doing financially right now in the West as compared to Asia? Is a free-to-play transition something that players might want to prepare for?
Every MMO has an initial rush as people want to try it out, and consolidating our servers is a way for us to ensure that we’re giving players the best in-game experience possible. We don’t have any immediate plans to convert to a free-to-play model, but as I’ve said in the past, we are always looking at options for how to make TERA better, both as a business and as a game.
Is En Masse anticipating any staff reductions or content slowdowns related to the decreased playerbase?
We don’t anticipate any reductions or content slowdowns. In fact, we are ramping up our interaction with our players through a variety of new events we’ll be running this fall. Flash events (spontaneous events focused on small groups of users and run by EME staff), weekend events (events focused at larger groups and server-wide like dungeon buffs, drop rate increases for specific dungeons, and so on), and large seasonal events (Halloween is around the corner!) are all on the plate for fall.
Let’s talk more about those events. The recent producer’s letter describes upcoming events, holiday plans into winter, and PvP tournaments, but it’s vague on PvE content, which might just be what TERA is needing most right now. Can the team elaborate on its PvE content goals in the short- and long-term?
Last month we introduced the first major update for TERA in North America, The Argon Queen. Battlegrounds, multiple end-level instances, and the first raid dungeons in TERA were the big parts of this update and included new content for both PvP and PvE. I can’t go into specifics of the new content that’s being developed because it hasn’t been released in any territory yet, but I’ve been in meetings discussing very specific details for both near-term and long-term updates, and there is a ton of great new content for all of our users.
What does the team now plan to do to refocus the playerbase and entice new players to pick up the game and boost subs again?
We’re focused on new, player-focused events run on a weekly basis, new content, and our continued commitment to responding to players’ needs with changes in the game.