With the rising prominence of role playing games on Facebook, the team at Liquid Entertainment decided to do the only sensible thing: bring Dungeons & Dragons to the social network. Heroes of Neverwinter takes the legendary pen-and-paper RPG and transports it to Facebook, and attempts to rech a balance between offering deep gameplay while still being accessible. Gamezebo spoke to Ed Del Castillo, Cofounder and President of Liquid Entertainment, to learn more about how the team went about handling the D&D license and what fans can expect going forward.
What makes D&D and Facebook a good match?
In a word, depth. Facebook is awash with very light fare. It’s very easy to get into and out of, but the minus is that it’s also very easy to forget about. They don’t create lasting or memorable experiences. Our game is a little different. We’ve taken the D&D rules and brought as many as we could to the game while considering the overall play time. Some rules were reduced others modified to create a “faster than the paper game” experience. But unlike most D&D titles of the past we didn’t just grab the name and use it to make an action game in a fantasy world, we instead worked on trying to be true to the paper game (within the parameters of lighter faster play). The result is a game that’s a bit deeper than your typical Facebook experience. We allow for the creation and growth of characters, our play sessions are longer and more fulfilling, and we’re seeing a gratifyingly large positive response as a result. We aren’t here to compete with Zynga and the other casual game companies. Heroes of Neverwinter is a destination for all the D&D fans who can’t otherwise get a paper game going and for all the casual game fans looking for something a little more meaty to sink their teeth into. We don’t want to be an entertainment snack, we want to be a meal.
You’ve worked with the franchise before, how was crafting social version of D&D different than a more standard PC game?
The biggest difference is that we can get closer to the paper game experience. On the previous PC title, we were creating a real time strategy game. It was challenging. I think we did some really cool things but it became necessary to let some of the 3.5 edition rules go to do it. In this game, we can embrace a larger portion of the ruleset. At launch the rules are in an introductory capacity, but as the game takes off we’ll add more of the rules to enhance the experience. Another way it’s different is that it’s more social. RTS is combative and competitive. While there is fighting at the heart of most D&D campaigns and certainly in Heroes of Neverwinter, we can have more social elements like observation mode and user generated dungeons.
What were some of the challenges you came across during development?
The biggest challenge is trying to keep everyone happy. Every player has their own take on the rules and their own mods that they would like to see. We’re sympathetic to the requests, but it takes time to add those to that game. We’re forming our ongoing content plan and we’re looking forward to getting as much of the paper game and its adventures into the Facebook game as possible.
How did the game evolve over the course of the closed beta?
The game design has been pretty solid throughout. Apart from content additions, I would say that the biggest change was the way we handled the interface. At first we went with a more standard “Blizzard” interface with the buttons at the bottom and then we shifted to a more context driven interface that focused on targeting the enemy. We got a few vocal folks on the forums who didn’t like it, so we did something we could never have done in a boxed game. We gave them both and watched the numbers. The old interface has the clear advantage because it had 100 percent penetration initially, but over a very short set of days, the new interface had become clearly dominant. This is the great thing about building games like this. You can give the players a choice and let them decide which they prefer. It was very powerful to see in action.
Why did you decide to move into the social space?
There were several factors involved:
1. We felt that the very fans who created both paper games and video games were being forgotten in certain spaces (like Facebook). It didn’t seem right.
2. We believed that the best way to break the Facebook game curve of meteoric rise followed by a half as fast fall would be to give players something with more depth so that it could be more memorable and more interesting to return to.
3. We all really wanted D&D in a format that would allow us to play again despite our busy lives and inability to gather 5 people together for a Saturday. [sidenote: I have an idea journal that says, “I WANT D&D FOR FACEBOOK” written three years ago.]
4. We felt that the console space had some growing up to do with regards to the business model, business practices, and market expectations.
The result was that we got into the space. First we did Instant Jam on Facebook for Instant Action. That game got to one million monthly average users before the parent company decided to get out of game and shuttered Instant Action. In the mean time we also worked on Deadline Hollywood for Facebook which is still live. We also put out an iOS app called Dayo (a really great countdown reminder and still the most useful app I own) to cut our teeth on that platform.
We’re in this space for keeps. I really like the business model, the players, and the press here.
Who is the game designed for? D&D veterans, or those new to the franchise? Or both?
Two sets of people. The D&D vets who want a quick pick up and play experience and the casual player who is looking for something a little deeper than the typical Facebook game. It’s lighter than D&D 4th edition but much more memorable and satisfying than most casual games.
How do you plan to support the game going forward?
It’s a circle of life. If we build it they will come and if they come then we’ll keep building it. So far, we’ve built it and they are coming, so the sky is the limit. We have amazing plans for expansions and introductions of new rules. We’re planning new content continued story and faithful tie-ins with the current WotC special events. I would love to see this become the defacto online experience for D&D and we’re gonna do what we can to get it there.
Any final words for your fans?
As undying (undead?) fans of the game (I’ve been playing /DM’ing for 30 years) we want to bring you a one stop shop for playing D&D online. I can’t think of a more natural fit than to make it part of a huge social network, because D&D is social. In the coming months, if the players, Atari, and WotC are willing, we’ll be bringing you new adventures, new races, new classes, new items, the works!