We speak with Dungeon Runners’ lead designer Mark Tucker

“Good, free, or online?” asked Dungeon Runners’ Lead Designer Mark Tucker. “Yeah,” I told him. “The saying goes ‘good, free, or online: pick two.'” He laughed. “That would be a good motivational poster to hang on the wall.”

For those of you who haven’t heard of it yet, Dungeon Runners is NCSoft’s latest game. (You can read our review here.) What makes it stand out from the crowd? Well, other than the fact you can play it without paying a dime, the game is fun, funny, and damn entertaining.

I had a chance to talk with Mark about Dungeon Runners, designing an online game with his team, and what made Dungeon Runners so fun (and unique).

Brendon: Hi, Mark. How are you doing?

Mark: Pretty good, Brendon. How about yourself?

(I’m going to cut out the rest of the smalltalk; you guys don’t really want to read that.)
So tell me, Mark, what exactly is Dungeon Runners?

Well, Dungeon Runners is an MMORPG we’ve developed that is really geared for a more casual audience. It plays a lot like the classic hack n slash titles with little to no “downtime.” Unlike most [similar MMO games], however, players can play it for free.

You guys do offer a premium service where players can pay to play, though.

That’s right. For $5 a month, you can be upgraded to a membership status.

Is that something that will give the subscribers a big advantage over the non-subscribers?

Not necessarily. Most of the advantages come from the items you can use, as well as increased inventory space with stackable potions and a bank to stash extra gear in town. It really depends on what the individual wants to get out of the game.

So tell me, as a company, what made NCSoft go, “We should really make a game which people may never pay for”?

Well, it all started quite a while ago. This game has had several different names and different teams over its development lifespan. It has been shelved and resurrected multiple times as well. You might recall a game that NCsoft announced many years ago called Exarch. Well, that was a previous incarnation of Dungeon Runners that was never released. This game has been a pet project of our CEO Robert Garriott from day one.

He started looking at the free-to-play MMO market space and saw a great opportunity for NCsoft, and being fond of Dungeon Runners, he felt that it was the right game to launch as a Free-to play MMO.So, about a year and a half ago, he gave the go ahead to start building, yet another, development team to work on Dungeon Runners and finish it out. That’s where we came into the picture.

Since the game is free to play and not as big as the other NC titles being worked on like the latest Guild Wars’ titles and Tabula Rasa, does that limit you guys in terms of the size of your development team?

Well, we do have a fairly small team. Right now it’s ten people on the development side of it. We do have additional supporting cast, though. People such as our quality assurance team, community managers, moderators, customer service, and all that kind of stuff.

Having played the game a bit myself, one of the things I love about it is the humor and the way a lot of the game pokes fun at past action titles.

It doesn’t really poke fun at them. It’s more of an homage. I like to think we are laughing with them and not at them. We’re all gamers ourselves, and we’ve logged a lot of hours playing games over the years, so it was our way of giving due to all the things we’ve played.

We had an interview with Jeff Anderson from Turbine a while back. He was talking about how some MMO games only offer updates once every blue moon but still charge a monthly subscription cost. Meanwhile, you guys are putting out fairly regular updates, and people don’t even need to pay. Do you think that’s an important thing to give to gamers? Regularly updated content in titles like this?

Definitely. Our business is based on keeping our customers happy, and making sure they are getting their money’s worth every month. We’re adding our first big update really soon, which we have entitled “Chunk #1.” It’s going to add a lot of stuff! For players who are already at the level cap, we’ve added an entire new dungeon and quests for them to play. We’ve also added PvP to the game, which is great for all player levels. And of course as always, we have added new items, skills, and other interesting surprises throughout the dungeons.

What about lower level players? Do you guys plan to add a lot for them, too?

Yeah. Right now, though, we have people who have played so much that they literally have run out of things to do. So our focus is in providing more for them. That does not mean we won’t be adding more lower level content in the future, we just needed to throw our high level folks a bone, and hopefully they will dig it. I think the new Dungeon will offer them some fun new challenges.

Right now, in terms of MMOs there’s basically World of Warcraft, and other various games that take turns in second place. That means, though, that a lot of new MMO players will get WoW, simply because it’s all they know. Do you think games like Dungeon Runners that offer free play will help get newcomers to the genre initiated with titles other than WoW?

For sure. In fact, we get a lot of players who have never played an MMO before. Dungeon Runners is great to introduce people to MMOs because, like you said, they don’t have to pay, and it shows them that there is more out there. Hopefully this will reduce the intimidation factor and the “I’ve gotta play for a billion hours every day to achieve something” that is commonly associated with MMOs.

A lot of other high quality optional payment MMOs are coming out recently. Where do you think Dungeon Runners stands? Do you think there may be too many and people will lose interest?

I don’t think so. I think there are a lot of potential players that haven’t even been tapped yet. We are not completely recycling the same MMO market space here – there are newcomers playing our game. This game is free to play, so that means people can try it out with no serious investment other than their time. So far, we are happy with the results we are seeing with our subscription numbers.

Not to mention that out of most of the ones coming out, none really have the same humor that Dungeon Runners has. I was playing Mythos the other day, and it was a fun game, but I kept wanting something funny to happen. Have you tried any of the upcoming games?

*laughs* I’ve been looking at a few of them. A lot are coming out that look really good, and I’m glad to see that other people see how viable this is in terms of a business plan – it reassure us that we are doing something right here.

I have looked at Mythos, and they seem like they have a lot of really cool stuff going on. I look forward to seeing them go live – that will give us even more competition. I think that will be better for the consumers, and make sure we continue to do a good job as online game developers and provide the things that our players want.

The last thing I want to ask you Mark is about the change from a class-based system to a skill-based system during the end of the beta.


Was that something that people asked you to do, or was it a way of trying to make the game more varied, or what?

Well, some of the reasons for the change was actually for us and the way we develop the game. With a team this size, adding a new class can be extremely difficult and time consuming, while adding a new skill or two can be a fairly easy job. This ensures that we can get more content and new play styles out to players sooner than later. We like to think of it more like a collectible card game. Every update we release typically offers new skills that you can add to your “deck.”

This helps people play the game the way they want and explore new play styles without having to start over with a new character, and that’s a good thing. After we announced the change, most of the players at the time were very enthusiastic about it, and the general consensus was that we made a good choice.

Well, Mark, I think that’s enough for now. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule. It was great talking with you.

Anytime, Brendon.


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Author: Brendon Lindsey View all posts by

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