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Journey To Another Galaxy: An Interview With DUST 514′s Community Manager

July 25, 2012 Written by Jonathan Leack

In this special interview we talk to Phil Wang, Community Manager at CCP Games, about the ambitious upcoming PlayStation exclusive, DUST 514. During the interview we discuss the challenges with going from MMO to FPS development, how CCP Games plans to differentiate DUST 514 from its older kindred EVE Online, as well as how the game will keep players coming back for more.

Jonathan: First off, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. Would you mind stating your role in DUST 514‘s development?

Hi, thank you for the opportunity to speak to your readers. I am CCP_CmdrWang, and I am the Community Manager for DUST 514. Part of my work revolves around communicating news regarding DUST 514’s development to our player base. Another important responsibility that I have is to complete this feedback loop by reporting player comments back to our dev team.

I’m a big fan of EVE Online. Has an effort been made to retain the same genuine look and feel or are you looking to make DUST 514 form its own identity?

DUST 514 takes place in the same universe as EVE Online. It has the same 4 major factions or races, so that means the racial artistic styles will largely be retained in DUST 514. That being said, however, DUST will also have its unique art style when necessary so that it will maintain its own identity. For example with DUST, one of the challenges has been to establish a sense of human scale in a universe where “small” is the size of a B-52 bomber.

After being an MMORPG developer for nearly a decade, what’s been the most challenging part of moving to FPS?

Well, there is the change to a different platform i.e. PS3 and a change in genre as well going from more of a RTS MMO to a shooter MMO. Part of the challenge has been technical, i.e. how do you maximize resources available on a console and still achieve high visual quality and good frame rate. Another challenging aspect in the development is designing interesting and compelling game mechanics and features that will keep players engaged in the EVE universe via DUST 514. With DUST 514 being a sandbox type of game, it can get tricky to predict how a design feature will turn out when it gets into the hands of the community. Will it work out as intended, or will the players surprise us as they often do and take it down an entirely unforeseen path? But, these are the kinds of challenges that are interesting and rewarding.

How much of an advantage has it been to start with a universe you already created?

It is a huge advantage in that the two parts of the universe (EVE and DUST) complement each other so well. For years players in EVE have been able to only cruise the night skies above the planets of New Eden, never being able to touch the ground. Now, they will be able to visit those planets and take the human tapestry of EVE Online to new places and write new chapters. DUST 514 would certainly be a poorer experience without EVE Online’s expansive universe.

One of the greatest testaments to EVE Online is how it’s managed to keep a relatively consistent player base since 2003 with a monthly subscription fee. How do you plan to keep players around DUST514 in the long-run?

By giving our players the best, immersive MMO experience available of course! Our philosophy is “if you make it fun, people will come.” That has certainly been true with EVE Online and we are proud to continue this tradition.

How difficult has it been to balance the grind for more unlocks with instant gratification for the player?

Well, it’s certainly a complex challenge. It’s also something that we’re still working on right now. We’ve conducted various tests in the closed beta with the progression speed and will be conducting more with our next update. It’s something we keep a very close eye on and testing it “in the wild” gives us incredibly valuable data to help us continually improve the game.

We have a large number of different skills that the player is able to train. Some of these unlock new gear, some boost abilities, some improve gear performance. All these skills vary in how much time it will take you to level them, some can be improved quickly, other take considerably more time. The nice thing from a player perspective is that you have a lot of choice when picking a path through the progression system. You can go wide, picking up a broader range of different skills quickly at low levels or go deep, taking more time and specializing in a particular area.

EVE Online can be a very unforgiving game. What steps are you taking to ensure that new players stick around?

That is certainly true, and it is also part of its allure. We take many leaves from EVE Online’s playbook so to speak, and our goal is to offer as rich of a human interactive experience as EVE offers. Like EVE, we expect that it will be the friendships and rivalries that players develop in their trek through DUST 514 that will ultimately keep the community coming back for more. There are already groups forming with the goal to help introduce new arrivals to the ins and outs of DUST 514, and we are hopeful to see these groups evolve into deeper and bigger confederations as relationships are forged and sometimes broken. We are also planning for a NPE tutorial so that new comers can learn the ropes on their own if they wish.

Closed beta recently began. What’s the most surprising thing that you’ve learned from data during closed beta?

We are most impressed by how quickly and intensely the player community immersed themselves into the game. Many of the first beta testers understood how things worked very quickly and were able to take things beyond their design limits. This of course resulted in a positive feedback loop that allowed us to improve our designs and sometimes even to surprise the players back by how quickly we’ve addressed their concerns.

A lot of MMOs are moving toward free-to-play. Do you feel that the micro-transaction model will be a standard in the near future?

We certainly see a trend in the industry towards it.

Console gamers generally have a lot of reservations about free-to-play games. How do you hope to dispel these fears?

It is a valid concern. As with many systems, its success will depend on mutual cooperation, like a social contract with the understanding that we as developers and end users alike will not abuse the system.

What are your thoughts on Sony’s purchase of Gaikai, and is there a possibility that we’ll see DUST 514 hosted on the cloud in the future?

To quote Einstein, “all things are possible in an ever expanding universe.” :)