As I walked into the office, I nearly tripped when I saw the countdown of days before we launch TERA had hit single digits. Two and a half years have passed since I helped start En Masse Entertainment and began the journey of bringing TERA to North America, and here we are—just days away from launch.
En Masse is not a publisher with millions of dollars or thousands of employees. We are less than one hundred strong, equipped with the desire to succeed and the talent to achieve. We all relished the challenge, believed in TERA as a product, and set out on a path to make our dream a reality. We were challenged with doing what hasn't been done before—successfully bring a triple-A Korean MMO to the Western market.
En Masse started with just five people and grew to meet this challenge. I was, and still am, humbled by the talented individuals I have the opportunity to work with and learn from each day. We have built a team at En Masse that has the passion and talent to overcome this challenge. Other publishers have tried to bring products from Korea to the West with moderate success, but no one has achieved the level of success some of those games deserved.
Path to Success
We believed the key component to success was the complete buy-in from the development team to support the Western market as they would support their own market. If a game is merely ported over after it's published in the original territory, you can expect mediocre results. But if the publisher and developer work together to institute a plan for a level of service and support equal to the original territory, the game can achieve true success. Before we even started En Masse, Bluehole Studio assured us their commitment to the West was genuine. That assurance, our own commitment to success, and the potential TERA held as a game gave us the foundation we needed to succeed.
Developing for the West
TERA took its biggest strides this past year for the North American market. In previous years, we worked with Bluehole on higher-level items like design and direction. Big concepts and systems came out of this initial collaboration—achievements, controllers, solo-friendly fights, progression pacing, and so on. But we knew that unless we got all of the small details right, we couldn't succeed.
Once the original direction of TERA was completed, we officially established our live development team to begin the development necessary to meet the needs of the Western market. This was a huge step, because it broke the pattern of typical Korean MMOs. They tended to be slaves to whatever was released in Korea—a North American release had minimal impact on development. With TERA, we have set En Masse up to have the power to react and treat the Western market with the time and attention our loyal customers deserve.
Of course, it is often said among geeks that with great power comes great responsibility. Excuses were off the table, and it meant that we had to deliver. We set out in our late 2011 alpha test to gather the feedback we needed to make necessary changes to TERA before launch. From this feedback, the live development team was able to deliver on the specific needs of the Western market. A rebalanced end game, a better introductory play experience, economic tweaks, and PVP servers were just some of the changes brought about as a direct result of our alpha test phase. We also dedicated resources to many quality-of-life changes throughout our closed betas.
Now We Can Play
The day open beta began was a huge milestone for En Masse. We celebrated in typical gamer fashion—pizza and beer. We all argued on who chose the best server, who had the most elite guild, which class was the best, the best path to level...you name it. Our conversations were not much different than what you find in fan-forum threads. For those few hours, we were more players than developers, and it was a damn good feeling.
As a developer, when work is over, sometimes the last thing you want to do is play the game you spent all day working on. With TERA, it was the opposite—the entire company was excited to finally create a lasting character and join the community in exploring the world they helped build.
During our open beta, were able to join in with hundreds of thousands of players participating and getting a chance to see what makes TERA so special. I personally spent most of my weekend answering questions, doing countless Sinestral Manor dungeon runs, and, of course, engaging in some good ol' guild-versus-guild action. The combination of RPG elements and action gameplay made for an engaging and fun experience. I felt in control of my results more so than in any other MMO I have played before. You're driven not only to level and gear up in TERA, but also to hone your skills and improve as a player. You need to know your range, understand your combos, detect movement patterns, be aware of who is where, and know the strengths and weaknesses of each class.
Something that struck me this past week was how quickly the term BAM (big-ass monster) caught on with the community. All throughout the weekend I saw fellow players looking for a group to go hunt BAMs. We originally used this term for fun internally and did not really expect it to catch on. I believe the reason it did wasn't because we used a swear word to describe a game feature, but because the word BAM is rooted in the core of what TERA is all about. BAMs combine all the elements we worked so hard to balance and tune. They require the necessary preparation of an RPG game and the skill and ability of an action game.
When you party up in TERA, you eyeball the other members in your group for the right level and gear, but you don't truly know how your party will fare until the battle is underway. Is your warrior timing dodges right? Are the berserkers getting knockdowns? Are the slayers executing combos on the knocked-down BAM? Is your healer standing still, or circling the perimeter of the fight, constantly aware of everyone's location? No gear score is going to give you all that info. Gear and levels get you in the door with TERA, but player skill keeps you alive.
New MMOs are a fantastic experience because they are so vast in content and detail. To me, learning is one of the most rewarding experiences in exploring a new MMO. For TERA, I helped provide as many answers as I could, but I still had questions of my own. I felt very self-aware that here I was, senior producer on TERA, asking my guild for clarification on a skill. That is the beauty of MMOs and TERA, though—two and a half years of playing every day, and I still don't know everything.
We're Ready for You
With just days left before TERA's launch, the biggest question for fans will be whether or not the game is ready. I can definitively say that TERA is ready to launch in the Western market. It isn't perfect—no MMO is—but it's ready for the community to shape it. MMOs take years and years to develop, but very few really establish their identity until the community takes hold of the game. The game you will see on May 1 was shaped with community feedback, through focus group tests and betas, but the true future of TERA will be determined once the game goes live. Our goal was to get fans playing TERA for real as soon as possible, which was key to our decision not to wipe characters after open beta. This was our first live experience with how TERA will be played in the Western market.
With lasting communities and lasting characters now formed, the path for TERA is set. We have time for tweaks and updates before launch, but the train has left the station, and it is time for us to listen and observe so we can continuously deliver top-notch, compelling new content. The biggest question isn't whether the game is ready. It is instead are we, the developers, ready to meet the needs of the community? To that, I say don't judge us on our size and our budgets, but instead judge us on our skill and ability to react to your needs as a player.