Games like World of Warcraft and The Old Republic have established the idea of competing factions.  Are you planning on one of a number of different factions and you’re kind of aligned, or is everybody on the same team? How does that work?

There are not factions that you make immediate decisions about at the beginning of the game; you are not of the Horde or Alliance faction or something like that, everyone comes into Neverwinter basically answering the call of an adventurer to explore and help the city, so it’s equal footing there.

But there are some factions and groups that you might join up with – is that how it would work?

We haven’t specifically started talking about in what ways there might be other faction related stuff yet. 

How have you approached implementing fourth edition D&D rules into an interactive video game setting?

That’s been a really interesting challenge for us. One of the things that D&D Online has done, the other Dungeons & Dragons game, is they took a literal rule-set translation, although I think they used 3.5. And to be clear, we’re not specifically a fourth edition game – we are a Dungeons & Dragons game. So we use a lot of the same name-space and we use a lot of the emotional context of what the power is supposed to be. So for example, cleave – which is every fighter’s first ability for the most part – it’s an ability that is intended to attack multiple enemies in the arch in front of them, we’re not worrying about whether it is 2D10 plus weapon power or anything like that,  but we’re making sure that it’s evocative of that feeling so when you cleave in our game you’ll be swinging and hitting multiple enemies in front of you.

Do you have things like at-will, encounter, and daily powers, or have you moved away from those distinctions?

So we do actually have those, at-wills. When you play, those are bound on your left and right mouse click buttons. You can click those as much as you want; they are at-will. Your encounters have slightly longer cool-downs, and with your daily powers we still leverage an action point meter but it’s different for our medium. But yeah it’s based on those same core concepts. 

What about classes and races?  I’m presuming also since it’s a D&D focused game that’s kind of your big delineating factor, choosing a race and a class?

Absolutely, yeah.

Have you already revealed how many races and classes you guys are exploring, or is that information that’s out there yet?

We’ve only mentioned a few, the classes we’ve publicly announced so far; the Guardian Fighter, the Trickster Rogue and the Control Wizard. The races that we’ve publicly announced are Human, Elf, Drow, Halfling, and Half Elf. That’s one of those things that, there’s so many potential races and classes that we’ll just continue to expand out post our launch and just update with a new race, here’s a new class, it’s something that we absolutely have plans for.

Given that you guys are shooting to be in the MMO space, even though you’re going free-to-play, you’re wanting to maintain the heritage of really high-end subscription based MMO, are you including some of those what some people would say are staple features of MMOs? Things like PvP arenas, large scale raids, and auction houses, or are you trying to move in a different direction than that?

For the most part it is almost everything that you would expect from a MMO. So, large persistent areas where you’re running around and seeing other people, PvP arenas, you mentioned banks, auction houses, vendors in the main city, bars where you e-dance. What you play, you should think, “Oh this is just like an MMO.” It’s free-to-play, it’s action-combat, but it’s pretty much an MMO. 

So would you say action-combat would be the big thing that delineates you from other MMOs that are out there?

Action-combat MMOs, there’s probably like four or five out now, but specifically the moment-to-moment feel is different in ours. 

Given that you’re exploring the free-to-play space, how are you approaching monetizing the game?

Very, very, carefully. Cryptic Studios has now had two games, Champions Online and Star Trek Online, that were initially subscription-based model; they’ve now been converted to free-to-play. We’ve been running them as free-to-play games for over a year now. We’re published by Perfect World, which is one of the premier free-to-play MMO publishers in the west, so we get to tap into obscene amounts of data whenever we need to make a decision like, how many day-one or month-one items do I want to have and at what type and what category? Traditionally a studio would just have to take their best guess and do some research but I actually get to look at hard data and see what sells in these other games, what  is palatable for the western market, how are we packaging things that make it make sense? I think we’re approaching it very cautiously but with a lot of backing that will make it pretty successful.

So you’re thinking along those lines of pieces of content that players could purchase in a microtransaction format?

Yeah we’ll be micro-transaction based. When you say content, if you mean items and boosts and other things, yes. In terms of missions and maps and all of that – absolutely not. We expect that as a free player you will be able to play game in its entirety without having to pay anything. You’ll be able to access all of the classes without having to pay anything, and we will not be selling powers. It’s not like you can just go to the store and buy a level 30 sword as a level 10 character. So we haven’t talked too much in terms of the details yet but that’s our high level approach. It’s interesting; we found again going back to that data side of things, what makes successful free-to-play monetization is perfectly aligned with what makes a game that your users are going to like. You actually look at the data and you have to evaluate it: “What are my players looking to do right now, what are they looking to buy, what could they want?” It’s an interesting perspective because normally as developers you go into your think tank and think about what you want to make and all these cool things in your mind, so I think our games that have been free-to-play have gotten infinitely better because of their transition to free-to-play. 

When are you targeting for release?

We have announced early next year, I don’t think anything more specific than that.

For more on Neverwinter, watch for our hands-on preview in the December issue of Game Informer.