As of August 22, 2013 the heroes/players of Neverwinter will see their first expansion unleashed; Fury of the Feywild. An official news announcement including teaser trailer can be found here. This expansion is a free-to-play addition to this Dungeons & Dragons™ themed online game, but with the entire MMO having gone live just outside of two months prior, what impact will this release have on the overall game, and more importantly how will this affect their community within the game?
In order to really determine as much a number of contributive factors regarding Neverwinter definitely need surfacing for any that may not be fully aware of them.
First and foremost to consider is this MMO is a completely free-to-play platform. Like many of its competitors it does have a money-market from which players can purchase items and unlocks using their hard-earned dollars from the real world; unlike many of its competitors however this is simply a faster avenue for those willing to proffer the cash over the time playing to acquire the same.
To put it bluntly, the same funds that cash will provide, can be traded for within the game using what are known as Astral Diamonds. Astral Diamonds can be earned through various mechanics within the game including; daily quests, sales from the player auction house, and even within the Leadership profession of the crafting skills. Mind you, these earned diamonds will come in an 'unrefined' form which you must 'refine' prior to using them, and the game has a daily limit to the count of how many you are eligible to refine daily. Once refined however players can then utilize them towards purchasing Zen, the same tender their cash will achieve, amongst several other purchase uses. Something to definitely be aware of in this mechanic is the Zen purchased with Astral Diamonds comes from players selling Zen they've acquired, thus the pricing can regularly fluctuate depending on the player market thereof. Ultimately creating a unique value regarding Astral Diamonds, Zen, and more importantly the time a player spends on the game and not so much the money.
The next major component of free-to-play to consider when it comes to Neverwinter is the fact that no purchase is required to even play. Simply sign up for an account, download the client, and begin adventuring. This expansion is no exception to that provision, no purchase required to partake whether a new or a current player anyone taking the time to play Neverwinter has immediate access to the expansion once released.
When taking the above into account, a clear question can begin to form;
'If they don't charge for the game, players can manage to earn their Zen through playing, surely they have a massive money-grab within their market!'
Given any time in researching player-response to this title and the above detailed mechanic therein, it may come as no surprise to know that the Zen market pricing can run a hefty tab for those unable to resist what it may offer. Something to remember however is the fact that no purchase was required to determine as much. While other free-to-play games may offer a free client and connection to their game, almost immediately the need for purchase will make itself known during game-play. While Neverwinter definitely has its own flavor of tempting players within the same regard; the ability to enjoy any item offered becomes more a question of desire than need.
While elements like inventory space may become an almost immediate need, the Zen market is not an exclusive on the means there to. A number of inventory bags can be found in player auctions for a cost in Astral Diamonds. Though offered the cost can often be more than players would pay in Zen for the same, which can definitely give rise to pressure to purchase. Still when you consider the cost in cash for the largest bag will run no more than ten dollars while purchase-to-play MMO titles will rarely cost less than twenty just to log-in and observe their money-market; the reality of how little this is becomes readily feasible.
Inventory space and game unlocks like additional character slots may be offered from the Zen market, however these elements are definitely not the first and foremost advertised therein. Probably the most common purchases to easily observe players have made, would be those of the mounts and companions the Zen market offers. While these temptations may seem strong enough to demand funds from some players, the reality is there are actually a number of means to these types of desired objects. Ardent coins for example, a coin earned daily when taking the time to pray to your chosen 'God' within the game can be slowly accumulated and used for exclusive mounts and companions not available on the Zen market. So if you prefer being that 'elite' player you can either be the elite player that could afford to pay the cash, the elite player that spent the time to earn the diamonds for zen, or the elite veteran that has obviously put in their time according to the vibrant white horse they rode in on; regardless of your preference there is definitely more than one way to a desired objective.
Nearly unlimited expansion material
All of this taken into account, what seemed a clear picture may begin to haze out of focus as one attempts to recognize just how this game manages to make any money. While expensive costs on the Zen market may seem to indicate this as their key source, and it very well could be, a lack of advertisements within the game and the ability for players to utilize Astral Diamonds for/or instead of Zen definitely inhibits a steady flow of income for the providers, developers, and the like to be paid.
So what mechanic does it seems they have utilized instead? Why the same one they've found success with in Star Trek™ Online, release of an expansion coupled with packs of unlocks available for players to purchase prior to, and upon release thereof. These packs offer a number of in-game items and unlocks that can definitely tempt those that have been sucked into their Forgotten Realms and found themselves having fun therein, but are in no way required for as much. Add this to the fact that there have been countless additions to the Forgotten Realms RPG campaigns, stories, and overall fiction offered from Dungeons & Dragons™ as the theme; and the reality of such a fast addition to their game becomes all that easier to wrap your brain around.
It may be difficult to truly determine the impact of this expansion and the overall outcome of the Neverwinter MMO as a successful title, the reality of their world no matter how virtual has successfully perpetuated itself long prior to its virtual existence. While maybe not all those that enjoyed the dice and paper version of the game are likely to find themselves as absorbed with the MMO representation, you can rest assured the cornucopia of material their being has to offer the game will be making its presence known throughout its lifetime.
If the success and popularity of the Forgotten Realms™ in Dungeons & Dragons™ can make for any indicator of the MMO; Cryptic™ and Perfect World™ have at least managed to retain the realism of the role-playing game experience with as free-to-play as its managed to be. Just like decades ago, when the game existed solely on paper and in the imaginations of its patrons, anyone can join in with an assurance the Dungeon-Master will assist them along until they have a fair understanding of the game and how to play.