A game like free-to-play (F2P) massively multiplayer online game (MMO) Wizard101
, with its 16 million unique visitors every month, is a bit of an anomaly in the gaming world. Here you have an online game that sees not only kids, parents and grandparents all playing together in the same world, but one that caters to all three age groups in different ways. We call that "the Pixar
"You just look at the success of the Pixar movies, the success of things like Toy Story. They were successful because not only do they cater to what would be a younger core audience but very much to an adult and more mature audience," KingsIsle Entertainment
VP of Marketing Fred Howard affirms. "You know we've hit that with Wizard101 and even taking it to the next level with Pirate101."
Clearly, developer KingsIsle is well aware of the comparison, and looks to make even better on it with Pirate101
, which is expected to launch as a F2P game later this year. Pirate101
, set in the same world as its predecessor, will see players command flying airships and loyal crews as a range of character classes from buccaneer to swashbuckler and witch doctor. But how exactly does KingsIsle plan on ramping up the family appeal? For one, it's in the company's DNA.
"Our core game designers and tech guys came from the hardcore space. They had done ShadowBane before, which might arguably still be one of the hardest core MMOs that has been built," Howard admits. "But they have families now. They are like, 'I want to build games that my kids can play, but I don't want to give up the ability for me to want to play it either.' I think that has been infused in our culture since day one."
More important is how Pirate101 will present itself to players. While would-be magical air pirates will interact with one another in real time, duking it out is another story. Like Wizard101 before it, Pirate101 employs a turn-based battle system that sees players carefully doling out commands to miniaturized versions of their characters and crew members and trading blows with enemies. This evens the playing field for the twitch-happy 18 to 30-year-olds and the extreme ends of the age spectrum.
There are more nuanced ways in which Pirate101 will--hopefully for KingsIsle--recapture that Pixar-like spark, but nevertheless important. For instance, Pirate101's dialog will be professionally voiced, which Howard tells us will truly shine during key moments, like when players first meet the Frog Father, a frog that lives in the belly of a giant flying whale. (Don't ask--this is fantasy.)
"It really brings the game to life. Not that you're just reading the dialog but it's being acted by really high caliber [voice actors]," Howard gushes. "So when you engage the Frog Father, it's certainly a funny engagement and anyone that's seen any of The Godfather-type movies out there will immediately laugh at the kind of the references and the puns that are there."
Of course, KingsIsle knows that "the Pixar effect" would be unobtainable without a decent story. (Did the voice acting tip you off?) But rehashing the same type of story for Pirate101 that framed Wizard101 would be boring, right? "So, in Wizard101 where it's really the hero's journey for the player coming in and setting wrong to right, Pirate101 is a little bit more of a Han Solo story," Howard says. "You're still a good player, you're still on the right side of all the justice, but you're a pirate."
A myriad of technical achievements aside--like streaming the game to players as they download it and a suite of secure chat features--these are some of the ways that KingsIsle looks to strike lightning twice with Pirate101. Pixar has it down to a science--we'll see whether this developer took well enough notes later this year
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