WarCry: For starters, what's your name and what's your role on MapleStory?
My name is Sheloman Byrd, and I'm a Product Coordinator for MapleStory. I assist with the day-to-day operations of the game, patch implementation, long-term scheduling, communication between our QA/CS/GM teams as well as event planning and game design for localized content (Masteria, Amoria, etc). I've been at Nexon America since September 2006. Still can't juggle though...
WC: Can you give our readers who are unfamiliar with the game a rundown on what it is?
Sure. MapleStory is a free two-dimensional, anime-inspired, side-scrolling MMORPG. It combines customizable characters, a vast game world, heavy socialization aspects (guilds, hunting parties) and simple game mechanics for a fresh, fun gaming experience. We're known for our quirky brand of humor in both quests and monsters-where else can you take on an enormous cake monster with your friends? We provide an atmosphere that encourages competition and friendship. A good way to think of it is as "Mario meets MySpace".
WC: How does MapleStory differ from more traditional Western MMOGs?
Well, one of the biggest differences is that MapleStory is free. It never costs anything to play; you just install the client, make your character, and start playing. We don't lock out content, nor do we charge for leveling up or anything of that nature. In addition to that, we also place greater emphasis on community and character customization. Want to look like a rock star warrior? Or maybe a fiendish magician or suave ninja? We root for you to do it. We believe games are most fun when played with friends, so we emphasize community development. The social experience in MapleStory is a massive part of the game.
What else makes us different? I touched on our monsters, and we're proud of them. We have some traditional creatures, like skeleton soldiers, and goblins, but we also have more humorous beasts, such as the pigs, the anniversary cakes, as well as a few odd ones, such as Pianus, which is our giant boss "Doom Flounder".
The game world itself is also very diverse. One of the things we do is add different areas on a regular basis. One minute you could be in the mountains, and decide to visit the beach, a lava-filled volcano, a futuristic city or a haunted forest. We really do have it all.
Customization, Exploration, Competition, Friendship, Freedom. That's MapleStory in a nutshell.
WC: You sell items in the game via microtransactions. How has the Western audience responded to that?
Extremely well. We offer a wide variety of items in the Cash Shop, from hair shop coupons to cool weapons to wedding tickets to pets. Overall, the response is great and hopefully will continue. We've got some exciting items in the works.
The Western audience is used to playing a lot of money up front before knowing whether the game is any fun or not. MapleStory players recognize microtransactions put the choice of spending money in their hands, which is a very value-driven option.
WC: How much does the average user spend on Maple Story in a month?
We don't share this level of information, but our prepaid cards are sold in denominations of $10 and $25. They are available in many major retailers including Target, BestBuy, 7 Eleven, Rite Aid, CVS, Duane Reade and others.
WC: Who's your target demographic? I've seen late night commercials on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim; are you aiming for the 18-24 demographic?
In a broad sense, our target user is someone who likes to play games and socialize online. Our largest age group for MapleStory is 17 and 18 years of age. Generally, we find that our games serve the teen market very well because they have been underserved. Our games our free which allows teens to engage in fun and meaningful online gaming experiences without being locked out by a monthly subscription.
We also find that our players seem to like anime. Taking a look at MapleStory, I think you will find this a no brainer =)
WC: How do players progress in the game? How much time does the average player spend adventuring. How much time do they spend socializing?
Players progress by combat, battling monsters to obtain experience and level up to gain new skills and abilities. Now, I know there's an out-dated perception where it's hard to level, however, we've worked extremely hard to address that via quests, party quests and combat. You can gain levels faster and it's a lot more fun.
One of the best ways to gain experience is Party Quests, which are the equivalent of a dungeon in other MMOs. These are the most popular areas in the game, as it's an adventure for players and their friends. They start at level 10 and go up to around 160.
The typical Mapler spends about 3-4 hours online. We don't believe that adventuring and socializing are two separate activities, typically, many players will meet up and go hunting, do quests, explore the world, or set up a shop and do some selling. It's all a part of the game.
WC: The game looks like it appeals to a younger audience. How do you protect them from people who may be trying to take advantage of them?
Well that's just it. The game looks like it appeals to a younger audience, but it is mostly teens. The largest age group is 17 to 18 years of age. We also have monitors keeping the world safe. We also believe in safety in numbers. MapleStory is all about socializing and hanging with your friends. It is more difficult to take advantage of a player when they are hanging around and constantly communicating with trusted friends.
WC: Weddings seem to be extremely popular among the community. Was that something you had originally counted on?
We hoped so! The popularity of marriages has surprised us a bit. We offer two types, Cathedral and Vegas-style; and both require Nexon Cash. The Cathedral one is actually quest-based-the guy hunts to find items, the girl gets her parent's blessing, etc. This is another area where we differ from other MMO's, married couples have activities just for them in the game, including an exclusive Party Quest that is very popular. All in all, we have anywhere from 600-700 Weddings per week, putting us right up there with so many other places famous for destination weddings!
WC: How do you envision MapleStory will grow as time goes on? How do you plan to add content over the years?
We expect MapleStory to develop into a piece of America pop culture. MapleStory has a unique art style, great character customization and will find its niche in pop culture a very fun, extremely popular free game played or known by all.
In terms of updates, we develop our own exclusive content in addition to importing it, so we have a rather robust slate of updates coming. Just in the past months, we've added two new areas, a new Party Quest, two high-level bosses and a host of quests, items, and new features. We won't be running out of content for a loooooong time.
We also run a full slate of yearly events-everything from Easter to Halloween to Christmas. That will also continue as time passes.
WC: In that vein, where do you think MapleStory will be five years from now?
*turns on the crystal ball* Man, I'm old in five years!
Kidding. We'd like to see the game maintain the growth we've seen over the past few years, while the core ideals of the game, friendship, competition and fun, drive it to be the most popular game in the world. We're certainly willing to work hard enough to see it become that, and thank the community for their support thus far. It's only going to get better.