Nexon America is the big-name publisher of MMORPGs including Dungeon Fighter Online, Mabinogi, and the ever-popular MapleStory. They helped pioneer the "microtransaction" revenue model, and they've been wildly successful in the last few years.
With success comes a critical eye, and our own Bob Richardson gave a piece of his mind when he wrote a review for Dungeon Fighter Online. He acknowledged the game was decent, and attributed much of that to the developer Neople. But Bob was also concerned and frustrated with some of the decisions Nexon America had made and, seemingly, continues to make.
So we decided to play a game of hardball with Nexon's staff. Okay, we weren't really all that confrontational. But we did want to give Nexon a chance to set the record straight while holding our own stance that, with enough elbow grease and TLC, a good game could get even better.
The following Q&A is answered primarily by Nexon America's own Luis Reyes, an associate producer for Dungeon Fighter Online.
RPGFan: What is Nexon America's role in working with Nexon's headquarters in South Korea? Do you help in development, focus on translation, or work on entirely separate projects?
Nexon: Nexon America provides and services free, multiplayer online games. And currently, all of our titles are developed in Korea, by studios owned by Nexon Corp. So we work directly with our developers to help enhance their great games for our North American audience. We're also leading the charge for a new Web site service, BlockParty.com, which will allow our players to have a great connection with each other outside the game.
RPGFan: Nexon America offers a number of free-to-play MMORPGs with a "microtransaction" component to bring in revenue. These games include MapleStory, Mabinogi, Dungeon Fighter Online, and the MMOFPS Combat Arms. This microtransaction business model seems to be rather successful for your company, which reported a 36% revenue increase in the previous quarter. Can we expect this revenue increase to mean better quality for the currently active MMORPGs Nexon provides, or will it lead to new MMO franchises coming to North America via Nexon?
Nexon: Both! The North American audience is growing up online and our item-selling model gives people great choice. They choose to spend money in our games how they want. There are no upfront costs beyond a high-speed Internet connection. Nexon America also understands the vital importance in consistently updating and upgrading the experience in our games. Our games don't sit in a box and get old. We deliver games to our audience as a service, rather than a product, and strive to give our players the best possible experience.
RPGFan: What is Nexon's relationship with Neople, the developers of Dungeon Fighter Online (DFO)?
Nexon: Nexon acquired Neople in 2007, so it is one of several internal development studios which work within Nexon. Neople leads the expansion of Dungeon Fighter Online into new markets and continually works to improve existing services. We were ecstatic to have key members of the DFO development team here in North America while we prepared the game for its open beta test.
RPGFan: Would you say you use a light hand or a heavy hand when it comes to guiding the development team? How much of DFO is Nexon's vision?
Nexon: We partner with Neople, creating a strong team dedicated to providing a great experience for the North American audience. Whether it's smashing bad guys in dungeons or smashing up each other in the player-versus-player Arena, we want players to enjoy the great gameplay of DFO.
RPGFan: Gamers can be quite impatient about updates and having games catered to their individual desires. How much, and in what ways, does Nexon take into consideration the emails, forum posts, and in-game chatter when making updates to the game?
Nexon: We take all feedback into consideration. We pay attention closely to what our players are saying about the game, using it as a foundation on which to build the best possible new updates, events, and features. The benefit to being an online game is that we can be flexible and respond to our fan base. For example, a big note we kept on getting was the experience curve to level up was too steep. In the Dawn of Retribution update, we re-adjusted the curve to make it easier for players to advance. We're proud to have players who care so much about our titles. After all, these are the people who play and, hopefully, love these games. We're close to finishing our next update, which should continue to give players more of what they want in DFO.
RPGFan: RPGFan's recent review of DFO states that Nexon seldom communicates with its player base. Indeed, there are frequent complaints about this on Nexon's forums. Do you agree with this assertion? What is being done to improve communication?
Nexon: We're always listening to our community and since the Dawn of Retribution update, there's been a tremendous increase in the amount of communication coming from the DFO team. We're working hard on the game, but to also share information. We're active on our Forum, having our very own Lady Arad answering questions from our players. The news section of the Web site is teeming with all kinds of announcements, including maintenance schedules, game and Web updates, events and more occurrences in the DFO universe. Soon we will be expanding our media section on the site to include not only the DFO magazine, which details aspects of the game, but also the DFO Corps - news articles written and reported by players and fans of the game. The media section will be rounded out with a fan fiction feature called Tales of Arad, and a tips and strategy section called Ask GSD.
RPGFan: DFO has been released in five different regions (South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China, and North America). How different are each of these versions, and what does Nexon hope to achieve by offering unique experiences to each region?
Nexon: At its core, the game is the same in each of these regions, classic arcade action wrapped up in an RPG fantasy game and brought online so gamers can play with each other. The differences are predominantly cultural, with some features developed for specific regions as needed, whether those needs be system-oriented or infrastructure-oriented. Each region means that we have more room to try new things, so we learn things we hope to filter back into the other services. For example, Neople is developing a different kind of Guild system for the North American service. Neople wants to give North American players more control in-game without requiring players go to the Web site to manage the Guilds. This will be a major difference from the Korean service.
RPGFan: Is the North American release not as up-to-date with its Korean counterpart intentionally, or is this because of a difficult localization process? If the process is difficult, could you please explain the challenges in keeping each version up-to-date with the latest releases in other regions, and why updating an overseas release takes so much time?
Nexon: Remember, we're still in open beta, working out the kinks. The open beta is not intended to be the final product. There are many challenges to localizing this game for North America. It's not just translating the content, but also some serious differences on the technical side. Also, the game is big. There are lots of moving parts. Getting all of them to work in synchronicity takes a lot of time and effort. We're proud the work we've done over the last few months and the feedback we're getting from our players have taken us a long way. We have a big update planned which should help us optimize the playability of the game as well as bring in a whole lot of new content.
RPGFan: What can high level players expect from Dungeon Fighter Online in the near future?
Nexon: We expect players to really dig our January 27th update to Dungeon Fighter Online, which is titled "Threshold of Power" and involves us raising the level cap from Level 40 to Level 50. This expands significantly the content available in the game, as new items, new dungeons, new boss monsters, new quests and — probably the most exciting addition – new skills. So players currently at level 40 can start working toward this new goal, and players under level 40 can see just how cool the game gets in those higher levels. Also, this will also be the first time players will have an option to acquire Advanced Avatar Items. These pieces of clothing and accessories are rare items, each featuring the standard boost for your character. But if you collect an entire set of eight pieces, you gain additional boosts.
RPGFan: DFO, like many other free-to-play MMORPGs, is flooded with bots that repeat spam messages. Some other MMORPGs have managed to avoid this problem entirely. What makes resolving this issue especially difficult?
Nexon: We are working hard to solve this issue. We're building our security and customizing it to keep things clean. It is a popular game with a lot of users so it is a savory target for spammers. We're already seeing a decline thanks to our efforts and we're going to keep working to improve our service to our customers.
RPGFan: In our DFO review, the reviewer commented on the absence of variety in quests, and the plot's lack of detail. How much does Nexon emphasize storytelling, and are there plans to flesh out the story so that there might be a stronger single-player experience?
Nexon: The game emphasizes action above all else, which is much of its appeal. The plot of DFO certainly has heft, and as we bring in more content, players will be able to appreciate the vastness of the story. But what this game is really about is beating things up: whether it be monsters or each other. And for that, this game is the best, inspired by nearly three decades of fighting games that have stood at the center of video game history.
RPGFan: Nexon is reputable for having games with enjoyable and addictive gameplay. How does Nexon stay ahead of its competitors in this regard?
Nexon: Nexon pioneered the concept of graphical MMORPGs and the idea these games can be free-to-play so it's always had an innovative approach to create really fun games. It pays attention to players, what they like, what they want, and delivers high quality, compelling games that allow for a lot of social interaction.
RPGFan: Trading card game fans and MapleStory fans alike are quite excited about the upcoming release of Nexon's newest game, MapleStory iTrading Card Game. Could you tell us a bit about this game, and perhaps offer a planned release date?
Nexon: iTGC Online is our MapleStory-themed online card game. It is currently in an open beta phase right now and should be a fun supplement to anyone who likes computer card games or MapleStory. We are very excited about this because it is also Nexon America's first browser-based game and requires no download at all. We haven't set the live release of the game yet, but it is coming soon.
Our thanks go to Luis Reyes for answering our questions, as well as to Robert Holzmann and everyone at Nexon America for their cooperation in this interview.