Q&A: That One Successful MMORPG, Its Rebirth, and That Free-to-Play Question
We’re not talking about World of Warcraft. No, we’re talking about GRAVITY’s Ragnarok Online, which took the eastern gaming scene by storm upon its release in 2002. Originating in Korea, Ragnarok Online eventually spread its influence overseas through its unique gameplay and class system, prompting animated TV spin-offs and a sequel. Titled Ragnarok Online 2: Legend of the Second, GRAVITY hopes to take back the MMORPG crown by force.
At the time, it was dwarfing just about every other RPG out there. Featuring a rich world that will change with the passage of time, and unique character classes that determine your strengths and weaknesses, it was an RPG junkie’s ultimate dream come true. There was monster hunting, looting abound, and events that took place in the world. With the international translations of Ragnarok Online, the world grew even richer. Region-specific areas began to crop up, each with their own individual characteristics and specific events.
A decade later, GRAVITY is looking to bring some new items to the table, and we had the chance to talk with GRAVITY’s European CEO Yves Blehaut. Now battling the MMORPG space with hundreds of other titles both big and small, the marketplace has suddenly become very crowded with other massive online RPGs. Bethesda steps into the ring in 2013 with Elder Scrolls Online. Blizzard, despite losing subscribers, still retains a hefty chunk of the MMORPG market. And where is Ragnarok Online now?
It’s still alive and kicking, and it’s looking to pull a few tricks out of its sleeves.
Yves Blehaut is no stranger to the industry. After having spent 25 years with Infogrames/Atari, Blehaut joined GRAVITY Europe’s offices as CEO on August 1st, 2011.
Speaking on the classic design of Ragnarok Online, Blehaut noted that the graphics and instantly-recognizable design is what makes it so lovable and successful.
“Ragnarök Online could be described as the undisputed model of the MMO RPG genre,” said Blehaut. “Created in the early 2000s, it merely introduced all the major features that would be considered as must-haves in today’s online games. Be it character customization, monster hunting or social features, Ragnarök Online is the iconic game that left a mark in every MMOG player’s mind back then.
“The player begins his journey as a novice, acquires new skills through battles and quests, fighting alongside with other players. He will then be able to change into a large variety of jobs, such as wizard, priest, thief, hunter, etc…in order to face the most dreadful monsters in their lair! I have always been amazed by those Asian-style graphics: they give the game some classic, instantly lovable design, which never gets old.”
It’s classic, but coming up on being 10 years old, it’s time for Ragnarok to introduce some tricks to keep up with the new kids in town. Calling it a “revival,” Blehaut detailed the latest patch to hit Ragnarok Online. Besides new classes and a raised level limit, the patch also introduces new areas for beginners to get their feet wet.
“It’s more than a simple update: it’s a revival!” said Blehaut. “Not only does the patch bring new content such as 13 brand new job classes, each one with its own set of skills and spells, and raises the level limit, but it also shakes all the systems up and gives the game a second life!
“Ragnarök Renewal revamps most of damage calculations to bring more diversity to the gameplay styles and more room for customization. There is also a special area for beginners to help them through the first hours of their adventure. Long story short, the game just got easier for newcomers and harder for veterans. And there is so much more coming with the update that I cannot remember everything!”
Now that GRAVITY has established a firm foothold in the PC world, they’ve taken the next logical step: the mobile world. With the rise of iOS and Android devices in the last few years, it’s hard for anyone to ignore the fact that mobile devices, especially iPhones and iPads, have become viable gaming platforms. Ragnarok Violet and Angel Poring are GRAVITY’s offerings to the mobile market, and they’re not going to stop there.
“It seems obvious that the mobile platforms are getting more and more important as we speak, doesn’t it?” said Blehaut. “The audience has moved, or at least they no longer play on a single platform: they want to play wherever they want, whenever they want.
“And while the current technology may not have been quite enough to bring the actual Ragnarök Online game on tablet yet, we felt it was something we had to do: offering our fans new ways to play, new entry points to the universe, with different stories and experiences. That’s what we did with Ragnarök Violet and Angel Poring. We definitely have plans for other titles — and for Android as well –- I am really excited about it!”
While mobile platforms are becoming more and more important, so is the free-to-play model. With games like Blacklight: Retribution, Dota 2, and Planetside 2 all following the free-to-play model, it brings up the question of the future in gaming.
“As Consoles become more and more open through their online features, we will see those devices hosting coming from very different universes than the traditional AAA videogame one,” said Blehaut. “Console manufacturers already offer creative business models to sustain this new breed of games and this is just the beginning.
“As for the AAA games, most of the videogame publishers have instilled online features, downloadable content that change already the historical business model.
“This diversification of both devices and games will -– thanks to the generalization of the high speed bandwidth — accelerate the dematerialization of AAA games without killing the traditional sales network. At the end of the day, this is another way to buy and play games and the only question we can ask ourselves is the financial impact on development of AAA games which may make them more expensive to make and harder to service.”