Black Desert Mobile has come a long way since launching in over 220 countries just over 100 days ago. Already a content-packed MMO at launch, it has benefited greatly from rapid, substantial updates that have simultaneously brought the experience closer to its big brother, Black Desert Online, while reinforcing the idea that Black Desert Mobile can be its own thing.
As the Lead Producer on BDM, Yongmin Jo has a major influence on the game's long-term live service support and overall design. I spoke to him about how the game has improved since launch and where he thinks it'll be in another 100 days.
"After soft-launching Black Desert Mobile on October 24th last year, a lot has happened. We have updated the game with two new regions (South and North Mediah), added two world bosses (Karanda and Nouver), and introduced important PvP modes such as Node and Siege war".
"Aside from that, we also launched the new Sorceress and Dark Knight classes and introduced an Ascension system that allows players to experience the currently available 7 classes in a completely different way. Each of the classes now has an alternative combat style that offers players more tactical choice. So, on the content side, we have been very busy".
"The service side has been quite the roller coaster. Thanks to our players, we surpassed the global milestone of 20 million downloads in over 220 countries". Unsurprisingly, the team has had to scale rapidly in terms of localisation, server infrastructure, and customer support in order for this to happen.
You might expect that the race is on to achieve content parity with Black Desert Online, though Yongmin tells me that it's a little more complicated than that. "Black Desert Online and Black Desert Mobile are just two different games. If you have played both, then you will understand that although they share the same universe, they are very different in terms of game systems, general gameplay, and content".
"We developed the mobile version specifically for that platform, and as such, the experience between the PC, console, and mobile versions is quite different. Unlike Black Desert on console, which was a port, Black Desert Mobile has been completely built from the ground up to best serve the mobile platform".
"As we have our own proprietary engine, we couldn't just make a simple port; we had to do a lot of custom design on combat, gameplay systems, UI, and of course the controls. We also felt that we had to redesign many of the quests and lifeskilling systems (gathering, fishing, and crafting) to make it feel engaging on mobile".
But Black Desert Online isn't the only comparison that fans have been making; there's also the Asian version of Mobile.
"The base content between both versions is more or less the same, but we differentiate content and/or the content update cycles to cater to specific regions. For the global version, we had the luxury of having a lot of content on the shelf, and we could prioritise certain updates that appeal more to Western audiences".
"To give one example, we have updated the global version with our Ascension system much faster than we did in the Asian schedule. This was done so that our audience could experience more powerful battles with their classes. Another big advantage of the global build is that most critical bugs have already been ironed out, which provides for a much smoother experience".
Community feedback and requests also keep the team busy. Yongmin tells me that, while extensive optimisation was done prior to launch, further device compatibility optimisation quickly became necessary. Black Desert Mobile is, after all, one of the more demanding mobile games on the market, but Pearl Abyss was still determined to open the experience up to as many players as possible. Adjusting the game for specific devices, available internet bandwidth, and offering external storage support were just several of the ways that the team has achieved this.
Now that millions of players have been drawn in, the challenge switches to how to keep them playing. Recently, we saw the arrival of the Dark Knight class.
"She's an alluring yet deadly female class that has a very distinct playstyle that seems to appeal to a lot of players. She combines close combat with highly effective mid-range AOE attacks, which depending on your playstyle can be very efficient. For Black Desert Mobile, we still need to see how her popularity develops in the long run. But since the update, the Dark Knight class has proven to be highly popular indeed".
"The other classes are more balanced with regards to how they are distributed amongst players. What you see often after a class update is that the entire community jumps on that character to see if they like it. Standouts currently are the Dark Knight and Sorceress classes. Players in the West definitely like their AOE for efficiently grinding mobs. After the Ascension update, the alternative class styles Huntress, Archmage, and Raven proved very popular amongst global players".
Yongmin also notes that the popularity of certain in-game events, especially the seasonal offerings, differs considerably depending on the territory and culture.
The team has a lot of content in the works right now, including world bosses, character classes, and regions. A new management system called "World Management" is also in development, and The Great Desert expansion, which includes two new territories in the Valencia region, is incoming. Yongmin teases that the Tower of Trial is seen as a stepping stone for some of what's to come.
While the Shadow Arena mode has now been detached from Black Desert Online, there is still some hope for those who want battle royale in BDM.
Yongmin tells me that Shadow Arena was removed because "it did not contribute to the core gameplay that MMORPGs should provide, which is growing your character. The battle royale genre conflicts with that notion as you reset the board every time a match starts, but we are trying to find the right way to include a battle royale feature to the game".Searching for your next favourite RPG? Here are 25 of the very best for iPhone and iPad