Last week at Pocket Gamer Connects London, I sat down for a chat with Pearl Abyss America CEO Jeonghee Jin to discuss the recent global launch of Black Desert Mobile, plans for the MMORPG going forward, and the company's many upcoming projects.
What is your role at Pearl Abyss?
"My team is working on the western business for Black Desert Online and Mobile; we're focusing on marketing, community management, and live-ops."
What is the current state of Black Desert Mobile?
"The game first launched in Korea in February 2018 following a full two-year development cycle. We brought it to Taiwan in the summer of that year, then to Japan in February of 2019: It was a huge success. We tested the Asian versions first, then for the global release, we went through a process of working out how it could work for western and worldwide audiences. We conducted focus groups, we did a lot of research, to test specific new content and features."
"We launched the global version in December of last year, and between both the Asian and global versions, we now have over 20 million downloads. People really enjoy that we have different content from the PC and console versions; that's getting a good reaction from the community."
How has Black Desert Mobile found success in both Asia and the west? Do you think the pre-existing brand identity has helped?
"I've seen a trend of MMORPGs going multi-platform. Historically, the genre has been more PC-focused, though Black Desert has obviously expanded to consoles and mobile. I think we got a lot of help from the pre-existing Black Desert fans, who wanted to see this large MMO running on small screens. While the MMORPG genre on mobile is not as popular here as it is in Asia, I think it's growing in western markets. People are spending more time on their phones, and gaming is one of the most popular entertainment types on mobile. There are clearly more and more people enjoying these complex experiences on their phone."
Do you see "console-quality" releases, such as Black Desert Mobile, being the future of mobile gaming?
"I think there are just different trends. There are players who enjoy casual and hypercasual on mobile. But, at the same time, there are those looking for more complex gameplay and hardcore experiences. Right now, there are diverse player segments who are enjoying more genres than ever. So I think it's more that the mobile games market is growing, not necessarily going in one direction."
What are your plans for seasonal events going forward?
"We are very proud of our ability to run live events and seasonal events for our community. In future, we're planning to bring more of these types of events to Black Desert Mobile."
Is the goal to reach content parity with the PC/console versions in terms of character classes?
"Definitely. We started with only five character classes on mobile platforms and we currently have eighteen on PC. The console version was launched last year. Since then, we've vastly updated the content and character classes, so it's almost caught up with the PC version. We're going to do the same for Black Desert Mobile. That said, we do have new content and systems specific to the mobile version. But in terms of character classes and new regions, there is eventually going to be the same level of content on iOS and Android."
You have 30 million registered users across all platforms. The mobile version currently has over 20 million downloads. Has this split surprised you?
"Black Desert's console and PC versions are pay-to-play in most regions. We are getting more numbers from mobile platforms, but we are still seeing user growth on PC and consoles. It's easy to download the mobile version compared to purchasing a package."
Have you seen PC players moving over to mobile?
"There are definitely overlapping players. We don't track each user to see whether they're playing on certain platforms, but we do see players in the community comparing content and their experiences across platforms. We want to see more interactions between the communities. I think it's fun to see how different experiences form different types of discussion and player interactions."
Is there scope for a mobile and PC crossover event?
"We are thinking about it. One day, we hope to implement those things more."
After launching your next few titles, do you see the company's focus shifting to mobile?
"We don't focus on one single platform. When thinking about genres like MMO shooters and RPGs, PC and consoles are probably better platforms. But for our new projects, we just work across all platforms to cater to all players."
Your future projects are all very varied in terms of genre, tone, etc. Do you see there being a creative thread that runs through them all?
"I think each IP is unique by itself. If you're a fan of Black Desert and Pearl Abyss, you might be able to notice that there are overarching styles. What our different devs are trying to achieve is pretty similar in terms of quality, though."
Does Crimson Desert tie into Black Desert?
"Crimson Desert started out as a sequel to Black Desert, but it's now adopted new ideas, stories, and characters to become a whole new world. It's not set in the same universe as Black Desert."
How is DokeV coming along? And is it headed to mobile?
"It's going pretty well. We recently put out a K-Pop song that was written specifically for DokeV. We're trying to make more trendy game content; you're going to see a lot of cute monsters. You'll be able to collect and fight against them. There are going to be lots of fun elements like K-Pop. The look and feel of the game will be different from Black Desert or our other projects, but for a casual-looking MMO, the quality bar we're aiming for is very high."
"We are targeting as many platforms as possible. DokeV is definitely a better fit for more casual platforms than some of the other projects we're working on."
As a major creator of live games, do you think subscription services like Apple Arcade could be a viable model for projects like yours?
"I don't think there is a certain business model that works best at the moment. People are still going to pay whether it's a package purchase or subscription if they see the value of the content. A lot of people think subscriptions are dying and that it's all about free-to-play. I don't think that's the trend in the gaming space. I think we'll keep seeing more hybrid business models. For example, in some countries, we sell packages and use an in-game store to sell items."
"I think something like what Netflix is doing could be a good solution. I think free-to-play will continue to be dominant; players are used to playing games for free. But we do see complaints from the mobile game community about free-to-play titles charging more over time."Are you a fan of RPGs? Well, here are 25 of the very best on iPhone and iPad