DC Universe Online interview - Part 2: Monthly patches, new content
Last week, I had the opportunity to interview DC Universe Online’s Game Director Chris Cao. We talked about everything from what bugs the dev team is focusing on fixing first, March’s big update, future power and weapon sets being added to the game and if they’re planning to add mod support for the PC version. We’ll be releasing a new portion of the interview every day this week up through Friday! Today, we talk with Chris about today's big February update, how often players can expect updates in the future, and what will be in March's big update. Read part 1 of the interview (Squashing Bugs) here.
PCG: The original plan was to release major content updated every month. But you've said more recently that the quality of the updates is more important then releasing them exactly every four weeks. Do you have an idea of what the absolute longest time you’d be willing to wait between updates, and what's a realistic expectation for fans to have?
CC: It’s a tricky question because people are wondering, "Am I going to get something every month?" The general answer is, "Yes, we are going to try to get it to you every month." But because we have internal processes we need to go through as well--especially because being on the PS3 inherently means there's more [hurdles to release] than if you were just a PC game. Typically on a PC game, you can just build your own thing and put it out there, and no one else checks on you. But with the PS3, that's obviously not the case and we have a higher standard to hold to.
So really, what we're trying to do is: it takes X long to build an update; let's get ahead of ourselves. As we are now, we’re building stuff for April and May potentially right now. Again, based on where stuff is going to fit [in the updates], we try to package it up and go, "OK, where does this fit best?", but sometimes we cut stuff. There was actually stuff that was suppose to go in the February update that when I looked at it, I said that hasn’t cooked long enough, or in one case, it just didn’t end up being fun, so we cut it.
The reason I’m trying to expose our internal process to the player base is because it's not as simple as saying, "Hey, here are these things that we’re gonna plan and they're all going to end up being fun and cool." At the end of the day, we play what we've built and go "Wow, that wasn’t or was cool." And sometimes we go, "That’s good enough--we could have made it 10x better with 10x the time, but we aren’t going to invest that." And other times, we go, "Wow, we're lucky that worked out."
What we're tying to do is [release the major content update] roughly every month. The main reason for "roughly" is that it can't be "X day of every month", because different months have different number of weeks, so it starts to get off cadence. But basically, you are paying us a subscription fee each month and we want to make sure to give you value each month, and give you fixes in every update and add more and more stuff to the game. I don’t want to set players expectation that, "Yes its this," and then they're disappointed because we didn’t meet the date, but met the content. Judge us based on what we add, and not when we add it--and we will add it as fast as we can at a regular pace.
PCG: Are these content updates going to be targeted to end-game or low-level content? The February update seems to have a bit of both.
CC: For the first one, we knew that we had to give everybody a little something because we'd still have people hitting max level. Right now we don’t have exact percentages, because we are still running to the end of the month. But more and more people are hitting end game than there were in beta, obviously because they're invested in their characters and are going along with it. There are still a large amount of people who are still leveling up. As funny as it is, you have the sort of MMO guys who are like, "I’ll eat the whole game in one day," but then you have the other guys, like the PS3 players saying, "Cool, I come back a couple times a week, and there's still more for me do to!"
So with that breath of an audience, that’s why we have everything in this first update, from the holiday events (whatever level you are you can get in) to the level 30 stuff. If we're going to add new stories, we want to have it be available to the most people. So while we are still looking at a few things we'll add in the leveling game to broaden it out, we want to make sure to add the new stuff at the end. That's where we have the raid and the duo and we've actually added even more than that to the endgame [in our plans for content updates].
A good example by comparison is in the March update. We are looking at our metrics and see that most people are Duo'ing or are about to dou--we really see where the audience is and where the bubble is. Since we're growing and people are still coming in, there are a lot of people who are still leveling, but they want to see what happens to them in February [before they decide to subscribe or not]. And so that’s why we made it as broad as we did.
PCG: Thats got to be tough, at this point to not even be sure what you are going to be doing in March. That’s gotta be crazy.
CC: Actually we're building March [content updates] right now, so while we haven’t released the details on it yet we're watching the metrics [to see what players are enjoying most in the game], so we can build the stuff into the game that's popular--whether that's what you do by yourself or friend or a couple of friends or a lot of friends. So we have these sort of LEGO building blocks of content than we can go, "OK, lets add one of these here or there." We're obviously going to add more Batcave [the hardest Raid in the game right now], because even in beta, people played the Batcave.
We have to finish that series of Raids, but we're building other stuff all the time: Alerts or Duo modes or whatever. And that way, at any time, we can go, "Well, which ones do we want to fit together to make March, based on the audience?" Some of the updates we're building are dedicated to the focus character [like Catwoman in February], while others are meant to add to what we already have. So for example, we had to pull Bane into the February update because we saw that people were liking Duos, but we didn’t have a Duo lined up for February at the time. We were working on making Bane into a Duo alreayd anyways, but we didn’t know when we were gonna use him. So we pulled him into February, so people would have stuff to do with one other person. It’s a flexible strategy, because we have to react to what the players want. And if we don't react to what players want, then we're going to be off in left field and everyone's goings to wonder why we're building more X when they want Y.
PCG: You've mentioned that the February update will add multiplayer races. Is that going to be like Mario kart, where we're cruising around shooting people? Or how is that going to work?
CC: What's funny is that we have multiplayer races in the game right now, but I don’t think most people realize what they are, because we put them in a starting stage [and you can play them by yourself]. There's these races that turn you into great apes in the city that actually are multiplayer races. So if you got together with your friends, you guys would all get shape changed into one of the evolved or devolved (how ever you want to look at it) apes that you can race as.
In the February update, what we’ve actually done is taken it a step further. In the Valentine's Day event, there's another one of those multiplayer races, but it has "good" and "bad" hearts along the way. The good heart will give you speed boosts and the bad hearts will drop you out of the race. So think of it as our way of moving towards the Mario kart side of racing. You’ll still have to get together with your friends to do it, because its in a shared zone. Ultimately what we'll do, if player think they're fun enough, is take them to private zones and let people queue for them. It's basically: superhero movement is so fun that races are a natural downtime activity for it.
PCG: Is the amount of content in the Catwoman update, not including the holiday part, going to be fairly standard for what players can expect to see on a monthly basis?
CC: It varies. The last time I played it, [the Catwoman storyline] took 35–45 minutes to complete. It’s a tricky instance, because it has 5 boss fights in it. Its not hard, but each boss does have different elements to fighting them. There's some shared world part, but what we found was working well for us, is the instances give us higher fidelity content. There isn’t a lot of ways to have players be in a shared world with someone who's as exclusive or elusive as Catwoman. She's very much a one-on-one type of character. A lot of the stories that circle around her are robberies and what you're doing with her. So we chose more of an instanced approach.
In the future we might choose to do more of the shared world content and less of the instance-based character stuff. Really what we're doing is telling a story with individual characters. Our efforts are always going towards what's going to play best for this character, and of course for Catwoman, that's going into a place she's robbing to beat up on the guys and finally face against her.
PCG: One character that really stood out to me as I was playing, that didn’t think got his due was the Penguin. He got one tiny cut scene saying, "I’ll be here in the future!" What are some of the DC characters that you are personally looking forward to seeing how they pan out in DCUO?
CC: I can say this with Penguin: I understand where you're coming from, because we treated him doubly unfairly because his restaurant got bottled up by Braniac! You can actually stand there and look at his poor house inside. But I can tell you, coming soon in the near to immediate future, Penguin's coming in.
We have a lot of those characters--even Catwoman is funny, because you fight alongside her as a villain, and you see her a few places, but you don’t get to see her back story. So we definitely are punching her side of it up and we're really looking for the highest profile characters that maybe didn’t get as much treatment as they would. Ambush Bug got way more mileage then he ever had [in the comics], but that’s because he's a cool character that fits in the gameplay we added him into. And we are just going to keep pulling that up.
For me personally: The Rogues. A lot of cool stuff happens with The Rogues. We have them in a boss fight in Stryker's Prison, but I think there's more we can do with those characters and the Flash stories in general. We have a couple of Flash story arcs in there, but Flash is obviously a high-profile guy. Of course the Justice League stuff: we put two of those episodes in there, but we actually have reserved some JL stuff, because we want to keep it for awhile and make sure we do it right. We're working with DC to figure out how to get that in. Some stuff, we built before launch but didn’t ship with it, because we looked at it and said, "Is there a better way to fit it in the game?"
And other than that, we're going to be playing up a lot of those characters that we've introduced but not a lot of people really know. The big 6 everyone knows. They are classics and we used them well in the stories, but I think people like the Flash--maybe not Gorilla Grodd because marketing would kill me if I put more monkeys in the game--but I think that that tier of character is there [for us to use]. They're not "secondary", because they have their own book series--it's just that they haven’t been in the forefront of the public because they haven’t been as big in movies or anything else.