09/09/09: A Big Day in the Life of the Boston Video Game Industry

It’s a banner day for the Boston-area gaming industry. In what’s either a bizarre coincidence, a piece of arcane marketing numerology, or just a sign that the enormous PAX gaming conference in Seattle has ended, three local companies in the console and online gaming markets picked 09/09/09 to take the lid off big new products.

There’s Turbine, which is smashing down the old subscription wall around its Dungeons & Dragons Online title; Quick Hit, which is kicking off its online football simulation; and Harmonix Music Systems, which will take console gamers on a magical mystery tour with The Beatles: Rock Band. And oh yeah, there’s a little company out west that’s mounting a big media event today around a gadget called the iPod.

Here’s the full scoop:

Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited

As we reported last month, Westwood, MA-based Turbine has decided to take a big gamble with one of its premier titles, Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO). Formerly available only to subscribers who paid $14.99 per month, DDO today becomes the first major online fantasy game from an American game publisher to go “free-to-play.” It’s been a successful model for many Asian game publishers such as South Korea’s Nexon, whose free virtual world Maple Story has 15 million users. But for Turbine to avoid losing money on the changeover, which has been in the works for almost two years, it will need to entice users of the role-playing game to engage in microtransactions at the new DDO Store, where they can equip their avatars with everything from armor to healing potions to—in the company’s words—“massive cans of kick-ass.”

The currency at the DDO Store is Turbine Points, which players can obtain by putting in time online or by paying real cash. For the benefit of users who prefer the old model, the revamped game world, called Eberron, includes new areas or “adventure packs” that are open only to subscribers; these “VIPs” get a monthly cache of free Turbine Points to spend at the store.

Fernando Paiz, the executive producer of Eberron Unlimited, told me that Turbine hopes that the free-to-play model will draw more casual users into the DDO world. “One of the top barriers to any massively multiplayer online game today is the subscription,” he says. “People will say, ‘I like role-playing games or online games but I just don’t play enough to sign up for a $15 monthly subscription.’ We didn’t want that to be a barrier.”

The company is hoping, of course, that some free players will end up spending $15 or more per month on Turbine Points. Behavioral economists might call this a good bet: experiments have shown that consumers are more averse to losing money, even if it’s on something intangible like an unused game subscription, than they are to spending the same amount for a more visible and immediate reward.

“The DDO Unlimited Beta program has been a huge success and the initial response to the game from both press and players has been nothing short of phenomenal,” Turbine CEO Jim Crowley said in a press announcement today. “In response, we have already more than doubled our capacity to handle the increased demand.”

Quick Hit

[Delay of game! — Quick Hit (see comment below) has just let us know it is putting off opening the site to the public while it works on last-minute adjustments. No word on the new kickoff time as of yet.] My sports-fan friends inform me that the official NFL season gets underway tomorrow night with a game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans. But if you just can’t wait another day, you can try Quick Hit, an online football game that melds elements of fantasy sports, role-playing games, and console games into a … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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2 responses to “09/09/09: A Big Day in the Life of the Boston Video Game Industry”

  1. Samantha says:

    A very exciting day for Boston game companies indeed! Quick Hit did officially ‘launch’ its new website today, but the beta is still closed while we work to improve on some of things discovered during alpha testing!

    Fans should still visit quickhit.com – check out the new look and feel and request their beta key. We’ll be sending them out soon so you have your chance to get into the game!

    -Samantha Smith, Quick Hit