In the MMOG industry, free-to-play games are deemed by many to be "second rate" titles. Whether these games are imported or made locally, the term "free-to-play" seems to run almost in conjunction with terms like "needs localization", "already past its prime", and "not a top-tier game." While this attitude has started to dissipate with the release of a few well-received imported titles, it still remains a stigma for many MMOG press, developers, and players.
That attitude took a huge blow, however, when NCsoft – a top-tier development company – announced that one of its upcoming titles, Dungeon Runners, was going to be free-to-play. While many poo-pooed the idea, NCsoft CEO Robert Garriott kept the game going and when Dungeon Runners released, it was the surprise hit of 2007.
Far from your typical free-to-play game, Dungeon Runners is a fast-action, dungeon-crawling MMO. Unleashed by NCsoft in May 2007, Dungeon Runners has put up some fairly remarkable numbers. Sporting hundreds of thousands of downloads and the retention rate of the City of Heroes franchise, Dungeon Runners certainly can't be looked at as anything but a phenomenally successful small project for the ever-growing studio.
So what makes Dungeon Runners so special? "With Dungeon Runners, we really wanted to remove the downtime," said Mark Tucker, lead designer for Dungeon Runners. "The game is really designed around 15 minute experiences, so you can get in the game, play it, and get out. We wanted to get away from the 'wait around for a group' mentality. The game also has its own 'unique' personality."
But perhaps the most intriguing part of Dungeon Runners is their ability to still create huge free expansions, called Chunks, for their player base. Our visit to the NCsoft Studios provided the perfect opportunity for the DR developers to promote Chunk #2, an incredibly immense update that will change the way many of the current Dungeon Runners play the game, hopefully for the better. Chunk #1 already provided many players with the changes and fixes they needed to really enjoy the fantastic worlds of DR.