Mixing the East and the West: Why you should pay attention to Molten Games

Molten Games has not released a game yet. Not even a synopsis of a game. The studio has only existed for a few months now, and it hasn’t even finished staffing up. Yet there are very good reasons for you to pay attention to the fledgling developer and its upcoming free-to-play MMO right now thanks to its pedigree and its plans.

The formation of Molten Games began with its CEO Jungwon Hahn, who spent the majority of his career as a manager working in Korea with companies ranging from Electronic Arts to Blizzard. Hahn’s idea in creating Molten was simple: assemble a team of experienced developers to create a new PC game using Western development techniques, but build it around the free-to-play model that has become dominant in the East. It isn’t the first time a developer has had this epiphany (SOE’s own PlanetSide 2, for example), but combining these traits Molten thinks it has found a wide open field to expand into.

“We still feel like there’s a great opportunity – and it’s still growing – to have triple-A products designed from day one with [the free-to-play] model in mind in the West,” Paul Della Bitta, Molten Games’ chief product officer, told Digital Trends. “For us it just really opens up and your product becomes much more globally accepted, because you are using a model that’s very familiar in the East, but also something that’s becoming more and more familiar in the West.”

Molten Games' new headquarters

Molten Games’ new headquarters

The developer officially launched earlier in 2013, but it has only been in the last few weeks, as hiring ramped up, that it is opening up about its plans. It’s still keeping a lot of specifics to itself for now, but Molten has said enough to give us an outline of what is to come.  

“I’d say we’ve been going pretty strong for about two months,” Della Bitta said. “All the legal things were put together, but when we really felt like we became a company was a few months ago when we started hiring.”

Molten has been in a self-described “stealth mode” when it comes to hiring, and the majority of key roles are expected to be filled by the end of the summer. The pedigree already at work though is part of what makes Molten so interesting.

Much of the staff comes from online MMO giants Blizzard and Sony Online Entertainment, including Della Bitta as well as several others. Despite having just a skeleton crew of developers, work on a PC game is already well underway and a console version is possible at some point in the future as well. Molten isn’t offering any specifics on its game yet, but it claims that developers who have heard the details have enthusiastically accepted it, making the hiring process fairly easy. 

The staff currently consists of around 30 people, and that number is expected to climb to around 40 by the end of 2013. As the game nears its release, that number will grow rapidly as roles ranging from marketing to community managers start to be filled. 

“The game that we’re working on has really got a lot of excitement, especially on the developer end,” Blain Smith, vice president of creative development, told us.  “People get it, and they are really excited to jump on and help us make this game. So it really hasn’t been a hard sell for us to be able to staff up and get the people we need in the door. We have a pretty high quality bar set, a pretty high talent bar set for the team, but the current pulse of the industry, it has been really quite easy to make a PC game. There really aren’t a lot of PC games doing what we’re doing, so it’s been really, really easy to get the talent that we need. It’s been amazing.”

The game is currently and tentatively scheduled for 2015. That could always change, but as of right now both Smith and Della Bitta are confident it will hit that window, and reiterated that it is under no immediate pressure to release from its single biggest investor NCsoft, the Korean publisher responsible for Guild Wars 2, Blade & Soul, and City of Heroes. Molten claims the partnership is amicable, and that the Korean publisher is content to let the new studio develop at its own pace. 

moltengames backgroundMolten is willing to confirm that the game will have an emphasis on the competitive side of gaming, with a deliberate eye towards eSports. The team at Molten see this as the natural evolution of gaming, and Della Bitta predicts that within 20 years eSports will be as large as traditional sports globally. That may be seem far fetched to non-gamers, but we’re already starting to see some incredible fan support, and eSports tournaments continue to grow. 

“We’re seeing all of these awesome steps forward, and it’s great to see,” Smith said. “I think [League of Legends developer] Riot had a lot to do with pushing that, and it just really brings awareness and makes it a little more legitimate. It is going to be something huge.”

Smith’s confident outlook remains unproven of course, but one thing that isn’t in question is the success of free-to-play pricing around the world. In Asia especially, it is the primary financial model for online gaming, and it is growing in America at an exponential rate. 

“We’ve seen a couple games, kind of the first generation of free-to-play successes that have come out – Wargaming has done some good stuff…. Part of the reason we founded this, and part of the reason we are so excited about this, is we see a huge opportunity in the PC online space, especially in the competitive scene,” Smith said. “Sky’s kind of the limit in where we can take it. And only a few of those games have capitalized on it in the first place.”

The team at Molten is relying on the international experience of its executives, and that is part of the reason the upcoming game will be free-to-play. The Chinese market is so heavily saturated with games with no initial cost to try that introducing a game with a big up front fee, as is the norm in America, would be disastrous. It also looks at markets in growing locations like Brazil, places where the free-to-play model is increasing, while boxed, full priced games struggle.

“I don’t know what to say about the boxed product stuff. I think it’s going to taper out eventually,” Smith said.

Check back in the coming months for news from Molten Games, a developer whose name you will probably be hearing a lot about very soon.

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