Black Desert is a game that's always eluded me. Picking it up almost a decade ago, I managed to enjoy my time but never really felt like I "got it". This is part of the charm of MMORPGs. You can play them for years and still not fully understand everything that's going on.
Being one of the biggest and most robust out there, Black Desert offers both a challenge and an acknowledgement that we can never fully indulge in everything the game has to offer. Recently, I headed out to the Voice of Adventurers in Europe, a special community event organised by Pearl Abyss to talk, play, and watch everything Black Desert Online. As well as this, I had the chance to speak to Lybee Park, the CEO of Pearl Abyss Europe about their ongoing expansion into the west.
All the way out at De Haar castle, cosplayers, content creators, journalists, and fans played a BDO pub quiz, competed in mini-games, engaged in PVP and mingled. My introduction to the community just before the interview allowed me to get a feel for what Pearl Abyss is really trying to do. As well as trying to tell fans about the upcoming expansion, it's part of an ongoing plan to establish a community presence in Europe. This is something that came through in my chat with the team.
Lybee was clearly very excited to talk about the community. "We were really craving the opportunity to meet our fans in person - listen to their experiences in-game but also take on suggestions". Rick Van Beem, the PR and Marketing Director at Pearl Abyss added to this, saying "we had a first trial at Gamescom, where we had a smaller community event. It gave us the boost to think bigger".
There was a slight nervousness in the room when I first walked in - something that could be misattributed to a long day or unsureness about myself. By the end of the conversation, it was very clear they just wanted the event to go well. Happening just before Christmas, it reminded me of my mother around the holidays, sprinting around the house making sure everything is in check.
After years of working in the pandemic, 2023 marks a huge push from Pearl Abyss to improve community engagement in Europe but it was clear in my conversation that they haven't lost sight of what makes the game stand out. Part of the problem with trying to bring a game traditionally associated with Korea to the West is the change in gaming cultural norms. With Land of the Morning Light, 2023's big expansion, the team are taking inspiration from the Joseon Dynasty. I asked how they go about engaging users who are unfamiliar with Korean history.
"It's the first time we've done something like that… Everything else has been quite European - a high fantasy, medieval focus. We feel confident that this content will appeal to our western audiences, especially when you look at the occurrence of a Korean wave of entertainment that is coming our way. It is really being accepted by western audiences."
Keeping up with the competition
Launching way back in 2014, Black Desert Online has had to stay relevant in a few major ways. Part of building out that community is keeping the game fresh and giving players a reason to come back. I brought up some competitors like the recent launches of Lost Ark and New World and asked what that means for them as a company. Lybee told me:
"Our competitors' existence and success kept…. putting the fire in our heart again and again". Rick then elaborated on that saying "competition is healthy. It keeps you sharp - keeps you focused on what it is you want to do with your game. We very much believe it is a game like no other. There is no competition that is a copy of ours. We have very specific key selling points."
After this, another member of the team walked in, someone that specifically deals with the community. I asked all three of them to sell me on the game - I asked why someone should play Black Desert Online. Lybee and Rick touched on similar themes they loved: how the story worked, how big the world is, and, most importantly, all the paths you can take. They loved how many choices you have. The new member of the team who walked in, a GM, said they love how the latest expansion pulls players in. Launched in 2022, Eternal Winter lets players tackle it all the way down at level 1. He loved the space for growth this gives new players, whilst also giving long-time players a reason to keep playing.
In it for the long haul
Despite all this excitement, Black Desert Online still has a bit of a journey in front of it. This expansion into the West is a sign of growth but also a bit of a gamble. The team need it to have a bigger impact here and this came through in our conversation. We talked about the game's competitors, trends in the market such as battle royales and battle passes, and more.
It is trying to take an approach that is fitting for the gaming palette of the European market whilst retaining what keeps it unique and this is something I was sold on in that room. The world of Black Desert Online is one I want to see grow. It's something I see taking its place beside other MMOs but with the likes of Final Fantasy 14's Endwalker and World of Warcraft's Dragonflight, there are so many more demanding my time. With such a big world on offer, I hope there will still be people to explore it.