Interview: Pearl Abyss turns ten, from Black Desert to Crimson Desert and DokeV
Pearl Abyss was founded just ten years ago (September 10, 2010) and since its creation, the studio has made some atypical choices: designing its own game engine rather than using a licensed engine; developing MMORPGs at a time when the golden age of the genre is sometimes considered to be over; or focusing on PC when its competitors are choosing mobile.
Choices which were apparently rather judicious in hindsight (Black Desert now claims 40 million registered players in 150 countries, on four platforms), but during an interview with the studio, we wanted to know what motivated the initial choices of Pearl Abyss and what are the developer's plans for the future, whether with Crimson Desert or DokeV, its next two MMORPGs.
Pearl Abyss is ten years old now and you have made a great path since then (we will come back to this later). But can you tell us about the creation of Pearl Abyss: for example, you decided very early on to design your own game engine. Why this unusual choice when the CryEngine or the Unreal Engine are very accessible? It seems to me that this initial choice was decisive for you. Are you right? Do you think “technological innovation” (alongside gameplay or design choices) is the key today in the gaming industry?
Pearl Abyss, from the very beginning 10 years ago, had the thought in mind “Without the right technology, you cannot be a leader in the videogame industry.” The founding team wanted to create an open-world MMORPG that offers extremely high fidelity graphics and seamless gameplay experience. To guarantee the quality of the results to every single details in such a complicated game, they knew they needed a proprietary engine fully optimized to the title, and started developed the in-house game engine for Black Desert. And 10 years later we’re still investing a lot on the game engine technologies. So, yes, we believe technological innovation is critical, especially for a game studio like us, who wants to create AAA blockbuster games. We’ve been always pursuing the technological innovation and will be continuing to do so.
Using your proprietary engine gives you lots of advantages as it allows you to be able to contol and improve your game development process and the quality of the results. Gameplay or design component are all critical for the game’s success but with the right game engine technologies, you can achieve the utmost quality for the results.
You have made another big choice, which was to develop a MMO (you were right since Black Desert is a commercial success) and some of your next projects are also MMOs. But it is sometimes considered that the “golden age” of (PC) MMOs is over, and one said Black Desert has been the last “AAA” MMO launched to date since 2015. Why this choice to make an MMORPG? What is your perception of the MMORPG market today? And what is your vision for the future of MMORPG market ?
Our goal has been to create a truly open-world MMORPG. MMO gameplay experience where players from different background and cultures mingle and play together online constantly interacting with each other has a tremendous value to the players and it will be more so in the future, in the more connected world, and we continue working on MMOs because of that.
Mobile MMOs are very popular in Asia today (less in the West where MMO players still prefer to play on PC). Crimson Desert will be available on PC and consoles – Western gamers welcome this, but it is a choice (another one) that seems almost unusual today. Can you explain us why you made this choice to make Crimson Desert on consoles and PCs, rather than develop a mobile MMO like most of your competitors in Korea? For example, are PC players more “loyal” (when it's more difficult to build loyalty on mobile games?
We want to be platform-agnostic as a game developer and we try to make our titles playable on all the major game platforms. PC and consoles are still very dominant and popular game platforms if we see the global market and those platforms allow us to offer the best gameplay experience for a title like Crimson Desert. We don’t rule out mobile platforms but PC and consoles would be a great start for the title. Through our proprietary engine technologies, we can fairly quickly work on multiple platforms’ requirements.
Five years ago, when you launched BDO, you partnered with publishers to distribute your game around the world. Today, you self-publish BDO in several regions of the world (including Korea, Southeast Asia and Russia). Why this evolution: can you explain us the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing? And do you plan to self-publish the Western version of BDO too?
As Black Desert grew fast in the global market and expanded to other platforms, we had to think about how we can deliver the better user experience, achieve better quality live-service and offer more fun to the players all around the world on multiple platforms. Self-publishing allows us to have more control over the service quality and the user experience through faster lead-time and content update. Also, as we switched to self-publishing in some regions, we could hear players’ voice better and work on the feedback faster, which is trememdously helpful to improve the game. We’re seeing good results in the self-publishing regions thanks to all our live-ops staff.
For North America and Europe we are still under contract with Kakao Games and their game service is going very well. Nothing has been confirmed yet.
Next-gen consoles are coming (PS5 and Xbox Series X). As game engine developer, I guess the release of a new platform is always a challenge, but also an exciting experience for you (next-gen consoles are more powerful and offer new possibilities). What does the release of the PS5 and XBSX mean to you? Do you plan to launch your (next) games on PS5 and Xbox Series X (Black Desert, Crimson Desert or DokeV?
Black Desert started on PC and expanded to consoles and mobile platforms. We try to have our titles playable on any game platform in any circumstance so we can serve more audience better. It’s one of our important development principles. We’re very excited about these next-gen consoles that are more powerful and offer new possibilities for our titles. Can’t reveal certain plans for the future titles, but I can tell you we’re keeping our principle of developing our titles on multiple platforms so players can enjoy our titles on any platform of their choice.
Black Desert is your first game and after ten years you are now developing Crimson Desert. Both games apparently have similarities and differences. What did you learn from BDO that you would like to apply in Crimson Desert development? Have you made any mistakes with BDO that you will not make again in Crimson Desert?
We get this question a lot. We certainly have made some mistakes during the Black Desert development and there are some improvements we hope to have, but we try not to be too aware of or critical about those. Throughout the Crimson Desert development, we rather focus on creating something better than Black Desert, while keeping all the components we believe are our competitive edges such as stylish action, cinematic in-game scenes, or combat effects at their best quality.
Crimson Desert is described as a narrative multiplayer online game (and produced by Jason Jung, former action MMORPG RYL Online veteran). It seems that Crimson Desert will immerse the player in a vast story. But what can you tell us about the “multiplayer” aspect of the game? Do you plan to offer group content? Maybe PvP or boss raids involving many players? More?
Crimson Desert is based on the story of mercenaries that is fille with wars in the medieval fantasy setting. There will be a story-driven single player content and there will be also multiplayer content such as PvP and Raids. I can’t reveal too much about the Crimson Desert content at the moment but I can tell you that one of the distinctive multiplayer content is the siege warfare. Siege warfare in Crimson Desert is not just a massive battle. Players will have unique experience of utilizing their own bands of mercenaries. Each member of the band will have different roles like providing resources or supporting the battle in different ways.
DokeV is a very different game from your other productions. Can you explain the origins of this project to us? Are you looking to target an audience that is very different from the players you usually reach out to?
We wanted to create an MMORPG that family members can play together. A game parents would like to play with their children and still have fun together. We believe our current core player group will also love DokeV. The title looks cute and adorable but will have all the MMO game mechanics and offer the same level of fun as an MMO like our other titles. We’re not targeting different segment but focus on expanding the target groups so that life-long MMO fans in their 40s, for example, can genuinely enjoy this game with their 10 year old kids.
How do you see the gaming industry in the next few years? Apparently, today, the industry is tending to become more and more concentrated (a few large groups are buying more and more development studios). You are also adopting this strategy - for example, in 2018 you bought CCP Games and I believe you are looking for other studios to buy. Do you think in the long term the games industry will be controlled only by these few large groups? What is your strategy in this area?
Pearl Abyss aims to be one of the major game publishers in the global market, and acquisition of CCP Games was an important milestone on the way to achieve the goal. As CCP and Pearl Abyss have different strengths and different experiences, we actively share knowledge and know-hows on the game development and live-operations, believing these efforts will make our game titles and services better and better. I defitniely see the trend where big companies get bigger and bigger through M&As but our goal is not just to get bigger but to build a greater team to be.
Our main focus is always the game development and live-operations for our titles and we’re not planning to acquire many developers, but we’re always looking for an investment or M&A opportunity that can create synergies and help us to grow in the global market.
For the last question and alongside all your other projects, can you tell us how you'll develop and manage BDO moving forward?
Black Desert is currently being played and loved by the players from all different regions and cultures. Black Desert IP has proved that it offers the fun and quality that appeals to the global audience. I believe one of the key success factors is the open-world content that gives players the immersive gameplay experience.
Moving forward, we’re planning to constantly add new content that players want and keep improving the live-service quality based on our experience and know-how on the MMORPG live-operations. We will try our best to continue to offer more content and more fun to the Black Desert players.
Thank you for your time!
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