Interview: Peter Cesario and Derek Simmons Discuss K2 Network

Peter Cesario (left), and Derek Simmons.On the second day of E for All I met up with Peter Cesario and Derek Simmons from K2 Network to discuss… well… who they were, for starters. We could get into the particulars later.

We soon found that their booth on the show floor was ill-suited for conducting an interview, being located in very close proximity to MTV’s Rock Band display, and all of the horrendous karaoke music which it entailed.

But don’t worry, they told me. They knew just the place.

We proceeded out of the hall and up to the third floor of the convention center, where the private meeting rooms overlooking the show were located. I had never been up there before, and with good reason.

Keeping the dream alive.In years past, these rooms would have been occupied by men with important-sounding titles, wearing suits worth more than my car, cutting multi-million dollar publishing deals while sipping Krug Brut and downing caviar and foie gras canapés.

This year, we sat alone in the midst of a barren expanse, whose sole contents were a table, a few chairs, and a conference phone which did not appear to be hooked up. Yet another sad reminder of how far E for All had fallen from the tree.

However, K2 Network did have one of the only booth babes of the show, so they should be heartily commended for at least trying to keep the spirit of E3 alive.

Press play to listen to the interview.

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The MMO Gamer: This is a bit of an unusual interview today. I’m here with two people, as opposed to my usual one. So, whenever I ask a question I’ll just let whichever one of them feels they have the best answer take it.

First of all, my standard interview starter: For those among our readers who may be unfamiliar, both of you, please tell us a little bit about yourselves and what it is you do for K2 Network.

Peter Cesario: My name is Peter Cesario, I’m the Director of Product Development for K2 Network. A little bit about myself, I’ve been in the industry for about eleven years now at several different publishers, and found myself at K2 to get a little more experience in the online gaming world, considering that the sector is growing tremendously, so it’s a good time to get in.

Derek Simmons: I’m Derek Simmons, Senior Producer over here at K2 Network. Also around eleven years of experience in the industry, started out at Blizzard, and then Activision. As a senior producer at K2 my job is basically at the lead-end executive level, help produce the games, make sure that from business, to operations, to assisting in the signing and publishing of games, just helping out where I can.

The MMO Gamer: While I was doing research for this interview I had to first take a look at your website, because, honestly, before I got the assignment I hadn’t heard of you before. I seem to be getting that reaction from a lot of people I know, as well. That seems strange, because you appear to be a fairly large company, with nearly half a dozen games in release.

So, also for those among our readers who may be unfamiliar, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your company?

Derek Simmons: K2 Network has essentially been around for about two years, so it is a young company. Our primary role right now is to be a premiere publisher of massive multiplayer games, focusing mostly at this time on popular Eastern games developed by Korean developers, bringing them out, westernizing them, so that we can really show and entertain the communities abroad.

Peter Cesario: Just to expand on that: K2, as Derek mentioned, right now we’re servicing five titles that were originally released in Korea. We took them here for the Western territories, and we provide all of the services, so, customer support, GM, billing, and whatnot.

That’s really what K2’s model is, and the services we provide. But, at this time we’re also looking to expand into a little more than just taking games from Asia and publishing them here, we’re also looking to publishing titles from Western developers, or actually working with titles that are still under development at this time.

The MMO Gamer: When selecting a game to bring to Western audiences, what criteria do you use?

Peter Cesario: Being an MMORPG is one of the biggest attractions. Four out of our five games are RPGs, and that’s just because it’s the most popular genre when it comes to the MMO world, and they also have a fairly long shelf-life.

That said, what the main criteria that K2 looks for, our principals are: Free to play, and gamers first. What we look for in a game is that the game is free to play, it supports item sales, those are the two most important factors when selecting games from Asia. On top of that, it’s got to be a game that we feel our community is really going to enjoy.

It’s hard to quantify that, it’s a game-by-game basis, but we take care of our communities, we’re really involved with them, so we make sure that it’s a title that appeals to them.

The MMO Gamer: You said earlier that you “westernize” games, and that was actually going to be one of the questions I was planning on asking you.

It seems that there is something of a wide cultural difference between Western audiences and Korean audiences. How do you go about reconciling that? Do you make design changes? Is anything involved other than translating the language?

Peter Cesario: Some times, yes. Of course, as you mentioned, localization is number one. Most of these games are either in Korean, or some times Chinese, so first things first we need to localize it into English, and some times French, and German.

Besides that, we look at some of the features that may not appeal to Western gamers. For instance, Korean games, and Korean MMOs in particular, tend to be really heavy grind-fests, rather than story-driven, or diverse quests. Whenever we can we try to incorporate a little more story, we try to incorporate a little more involved questing. Some times it’s more difficult than others, depending on how easy it is for the developer to make the changes.

It’s little things like that, or some characters, for instance, may not be as appealing and we could get them to look a little more Western, or some of the items, or whatnot. It depends on what the game is, and what the developer’s capabilities are, but in general those are the types of things we focus on.

Derek Simmons: Just to add a little bit to that, we really want to focus on what the community values. So, a lot of times even though the game, from its core design, is still an Eastern-designed game, [we do] things such as running events, like Pete said, special items, but we’re definitely sensitive to our different communities.

Currently, one of our games, Knight Online, is extremely successful in Eastern Europe, especially. We keep an eye on that in terms of we’ll make sure our website, our forums, are translated to those languages, as well as making sure that if they have holidays or some kind of special event that’s important to them, we keep an eye on that and we try to put together things in-game to support that.

The MMO Gamer: Tell us about some of the games you currently have in your line-up.

Peter Cesario: Currently we have five titles, four RPGs and one FPS. The four RPGs are Knight Online, which is our biggest—it’s been running for how long?

Derek Simmons: About five years.

Peter Cesario: About five years now, so that’s very successful. After that we have a couple smaller RPGs, Global MU Online and Red Stone.

Most recently we launched a title called Sword of the New World, it’s only been three months or so since we launched that, and just prior to that we launched a title called War Rock, which was a first-person shooter, session-based title.

Derek Simmons: It’s an exciting time for K2 Network, because most of our titles are really showing a lot of growth. Knight Online is very popular, we have around four million users right now playing Knight Online globally. Realistically, there’s well over a million active unique players within a thirty day period. It’s definitely very popular in the PC cafes in Eastern Europe and such.

With Sword of the New World, which has just been launched, we’ve been happy to announce that we’ve switched that game from a subscription model to free to play. We really wanted to make an opportunity for the community to grow. Sword of the New World was Game of the Year in Korea in 2006, we’ve done some key things to help westernize [it], and we think it’s the best free to play game on the market today.

It offers really cool features that are little different, such as multiple character control, the PvP, the end-game, in terms of quests, and in terms of being able to group. There’s definitely a lot to do, it’s not an MMO that starts dying on the vine as you keep going.

Beyond those games, Global MU has been popular for a long time, we still have a really hardcore population all over the world that plays that game, and War Rock has shown some big strides as a game that’s been shown to continue to grow. And I think that shows the strength of our model, that with a lot of games there’s an initial kind of explosion, people will buy it and play it, and then in a relatively short amount of time they lose interest and switch to the next game.

Our games have shown that what happens is they build a nice hardcore group, and then they continue to play, and they bring their friends in, and you’ll see a continued growth, all our games continue to grow. And some of these games are older games, they’re competing with some of the more cutting-edge games that are our today, but they seem to continue to build an audience. I think that’s a tribute to the product, as well as to the service that K2 Network brings.

The MMO Gamer: All of your current offerings are free to play, correct?

Peter Cesario: Correct.

The MMO Gamer: Where does the revenue stream for the company come from?

Peter Cesario: The revenue stream comes from item sales. Each one of our games is completely free to play, free to download, free to register, free to play as long as you want without ever spending a cent.

But, each one of them also has a pretty extensive item shop. Sword of the New World, for instance, you can go to the website and buy gold, which is what we call the currency. You then go into the game and retrieve that gold and you can go to the item shop and purchase unique costumes, or certain power-ups and whatnot.

So, that’s where all of our revenue comes from, but we’re also pretty sensitive to the communities. We’re always striving to make sure that none of these items are necessarily mandatory, and none of them necessarily cause any game balance issues, because we want to have the item shops enhance the experience without forcing them to do it, or else they feel like they’re falling behind. So we try to make the items as appealing as possible, but never mandatory.

Derek Simmons: Really the model is that yes, the majority of our players probably don’t spend a penny, and they can play literally indefinitely and they can be competitive. Buying things is not supposed to give you, as Pete said, a decisive advantage.

We don’t want it to feel like, “Yeah, it’s free, but you really need to buy something.” That’s not really the model we have. I think our model is enjoy, have a great time, play, and that’s what’s important, and there’ll be things that you can do to enhance your gameplay along the way.

The MMO Gamer: Many companies in the MMO genre shun item sales entirely, even to the point of banning players should they attempt to do it. Why did you decide to go in the opposite direction?

Peter Cesario: For games with subscription models, they were never meant for item sales, so people that are doing it are basically profiting off somebody else’s IP. It’s not necessarily something they like.

For us it’s a completely different story, it’s not the players selling items that they’ve gained through playing the game, this is us monitoring and controlling which items are allowed to be bought. That’s where the difference is. But, the reason that K2 decided to go with this model is that it’s something that’s been quite popular in Asia for a long time. All the games in Korea are almost exclusively free to play with item sales.

It took awhile for Western gamers to really accept it, when you’re just so used to equating fifteen dollars a month with much better quality. And, for a long time I think that was the case. A free to play game here meant not-so-good, right?

But, that’s definitely changing, and I think K2 has really led the way with bringing more quality titles into the Western market, and making them free to play, and slowly it’s really gaining acceptance and you’re going to see a lot more—even some of the really big publishers starting to switch to that model.

Derek Simmons: And it really gives the power to the consumer. Because they’re able to, on a micro scale, get the kind of things that they exactly like.

We all only have so much money. How often do you go to the store, you’ve only got so much money to spend, you see a bunch of different titles on the shelf and you’ll only be able to afford a couple, and then this game better be awesome or you’re not going to pay that subscription fee every month. You’re really missing out on a lot of the fun games.

This offers us an ability to keep the servers up and keep supporting the game, ultimately gives the consumer the opportunity to play more games and do more things.

The MMO Gamer: Morbid curiosity on my part: Could give a rough breakdown of the percentage of the people who play for free versus the people who buy, or is that proprietary?

Peter Cesario: I don’t know what it is off the top of my head.

Derek Simmons: I would say that it really depends on the game. I would say that the majority of the people are playing for free, and I think that for us that’s Ok. I think it would be great if—the stronger the revenue, the more investment we can put into the products.

But, ultimately we feel that we don’t really focus on who’s paying and who’s not. We really just focus on, is the community excited? Are there a bunch of people there having a great time? We feel that’s the first step.

If you don’t have the first step—yes, this is a business, but ultimately Pete and I are gamers, we want to build the community, get them excited, get them enjoying the game, and I think that’s the most important thing. The business model is indeed built around the fact that the majority are probably just having a great time and not doing much else.

The MMO Gamer: You said earlier that you aren’t planning on being an importer of Korean titles forever, and you’re planning on distributing some Western titles.

Would that be working with Western studios, or would you be considering starting your own in-house studio for something like that?

Peter Cesario: First, we’re going to move away from doing Korean titles exclusively, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll never publish another Korean title. If the game is good and it fits our needs, we’ll still do that.

That said, we are definitely talking to quite a few Western developers right now, and they could be from North America, or from Europe, or South America, even, wherever. We’re looking all over. As far as in-house development, at this time we don’t really have any plans to do that. Maybe somewhere down the road, but not in the near future.

The MMO Gamer: Was there anything we didn’t discuss in this interview you would like to tell our readers before we go?

Derek Simmons: First, I think K2 will be more well-known, because we’ll be carrying more and more MMO titles, as well as perhaps getting into the casual game space, or sports games.

We’re open to growth in different fields, and we feel that, on a global scale, just the sheer size of the community we’ll be supporting will make us be popular.

Because some of the titles we have are smaller and from the Eastern market, currently we aren’t a big name, but I think that this company is continuing to grow, and the vision is there in terms of we really the games to be free to play, and we really want to focus on what we can do to put the gamers first.

Peter Cesario: I kind of second what Derek is saying. As you mentioned when we first started the interview you hadn’t really heard of K2, and that’s fairly understandable, we’re still fairly young and growing, but I definitely believe in the next year or so you’re going to hear a lot about K2 as we continue to expand into other genres, and just grow our operations.

So, look for some good things from K2.

Derek Simmons: Our CEO, the company’s name is from the mountain, K2. He sees climbing the mountain as his vision in terms of what this company can do to help celebrate and grow the gamer community as a whole.

I think as the MMO space continues to grow on a global scale this company is going to be there with the expertise and the experience to do what it takes to entertain and support and celebrate the community, which is the MMO gamer.

The MMO Gamer: Thank you very much for joining us, we appreciate it, and we hope we can do it again some time.

Peter Cesario: Thank you.

Derek Simmons: A pleasure, thank you.

My first instinct on concluding the interview was to ask why the CEO didn’t name the company Everest Network, but, I kept my mouth shut. I’m sure he had his reasons.

For additional information on K2 Network, you can visit their official website: http://www.k2network.net

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