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What does Cartoon Network and college girls have in common? Apparantly FusionFall. Please excuse us while we sign up for an account.

Back in January, Cartoon Network opened the flood gates to their first MMOG titled "FusionFall". Since that time hundreds of thousands of players, both kids and adults have given the game a try. We caught up with Richard Weil, Community Director on FusionFall to see how the game was going and to try to get some information about content coming in the near future. What did we discover? College girls!

ZAM: Thank you for coming out with us and talking to us about FusionFall, among other things.

Rich Weil: Thank you.

Let's start with the obvious question. How has the game been progressing since its release? Also, how is the in-game population growing?

Rich: Well, that's a good question and one datapoint I can give you is that we currently have over 4.5 million registered accounts. Conversion, that's the goal - the Holy Grail, right? I would be flayed alive if I gave out subscription numbers. I can tell you the company's happy with how things are going, but up to this point, we've really been in a launch phase. We've made great progress from the last few weeks of beta with stabilization and accessibility. Over the last few months, our priorities have been bug fixes and continuing to address any kind of issue that was getting in the way of our users playing the game. We've had really good numbers, but like most publishers we still want to make it as perfect as possible. Now we're moving into the expansion phase.

What has been your biggest surprise since launch?

Everybody asks me that question! My biggest surprise, in beta, was how our closed beta audience, and open beta audience was, to a great degree, skewed. We had so many community leaders who were totally out of our target demographic, so they were... you know, girls. College age girls. They loved Power Puff Girls as kids and they liked the anime style look of the game. So we have a lot of really strong community people who are adults, but late teens, early twenties, girls. That was a big surprise to me to see that, to see how it appealed to them, which is good! Still a great mass of our audience is in that target demographic: boys 8-14.

Our biggest surprise post-launch has been how our community has used any tool available to do anything they want to do. For example, the buddy warp system was put in there so you could go play with a friend. You're in the game, I'm in the game, I'm going to warp to you. Well, they decided to use it to have parties, for mass gatherings. We still do not have an in-game guild system and that's something we're looking to address in the future, but players have also used the forums and in-game functions to make their own clubs. For example, their groups and clubs dress alike, they have special threads that they make on the forums to organize. They even plan outings and their own events. So really, how enthusiastic and innovative they have been has been a big surprise to me. I think there's a tendency to think of children as helpless. It's like "they're just kids, so we'll have to do all this stuff for them." Well... I should have known better as a parent! My kids will take a stick and it will become sixteen different things in an hour. It will be a wizard staff! It will be a gun! It will be a fishing pole! So, I really should have known better than to be surprised by the player's innovations in the game.  Pleasantly surprised!

ZAM: Well congratulations for two reasons. One, because you might have single-handedly destroyed World of Warcraft by announcing that college girls are in your game. Two, for creating such a new and diverse population base in your game because of that same statement.

Rich: *Laughs*

ZAM: As with any MMO, the last couple of months before launch is spent in crunch mode, trying to solve problems and design issues before the flood gates are open to the players. What kind of kinks are you still working out in the game?

In beta we combined a closed beta and sneak peek weekends, which is a concept I actually borrowed from Guild Wars. When I was at NCsoft, they did sneak peek weekends and I was like "Oh that's a great idea! I'm going to do that!" The sneak peek weekends definitely accomplished the goal of stress-testing the game, as we had a huge turnout for all of them. Those weekends really revealed a lot of the kinks. Of course, like most games there were stability issues with beta. Right before we launched, it was a race against time. Right before we launched, we finally nailed down a lot of the big issues so that when we did launch, we could at least feel good about going to sleep at night, because we didn't think that the game would be crashing and burning while we were asleep.

Since then, to answer the other part of the question, we have continued to address nagging issues. Performance issues and ones that interrupt your gameplay are always the top priority.  Since we also are using the Unity engine for the game we have also been working closely with the Unity team to nail down any kinds of glitches that might arise there, but overall it's been a very stable product to work with and we feel great about the decision to partner with them on this game.

ZAM: Let's talk about new content. Five new missions were added for level 27+ players today. Can you tell us about that?

A vast majority of our players are still under level 15 because they're kids and are still in school so don't have as much time to play. We designed the game so that players could jump in, could have fun for half an hour, get a couple missions done, and then you're out because you have to do your homework, or it's time to go to bed, or you've got to go to soccer practice. So we designed the game with a kid's schedule in mind, we did not want the game to be grindy. But as some of the older players went through, they discovered some gaps in the levelling structure.  Keep in mind that you get fusion matter (experience) from a variety of activities such as missions, races and defeating monsters.

We really want missions to pay out more fusion matter (experience) that you get per level, so we started putting in regular mission 'packs', to address those gaps and we're going to continue to do that right up until the next content update. The content update will be coming this summer and later in the year will be another expansion. Even before these updates roll out, we'll continue to have more missions going into the game as well as new NPCs going into the game.

ZAM: Well, your answer already answered some of my next question, but what is the future going to bring, in terms of new content, other than the big update and the expansion?

As far as new content and new stuff down the road, with Cartoon Network, you have a lot of stuff to draw on. In the game now, there's stuff from Secret Saturdays, which is one of the newer shows. Chowder and Flapjack are two very popular new Cartoon Network shows for kids and so those are obvious candidates for stuff for expansion. Now, the content update, if I can go back a little bit and give you a little context on this, the content update will have some new game features and new missions and new NPCs , whereas the expansion is going to include new geographical zones, more new missions and more new game features.. It has always been our intent to provide regular updates to the game.

ZAM: Can you give any hints about the expansion, and what that might entail? Some secrets that only real Cartoon Network fans will get? Give us a riddle, good sir!

Rich: Hmmm... I will say that a lot of what's coming in the content update and the expansion is directly related to things that players have asked about. Travel times is a good example of that, and that's as far as I can go.

What Cartoon Network Universe character do you relate to, on a personal basis? I'm sure you've had plenty of time to think of this.

I do enjoy playing the game, I like playing it with my kids, and you know that they know that Dad works for the game. Like I was telling you earlier, my five year old is the inveterate explorer; he gets his level 6 character into the level 25 zone and then wants me to warp him out of there - which I do not do, because that would be an abuse of power - but I will put my play character into the game and actually go get him and make him walk out (but I'll help him!). My avatar on the official forums is "Fusion Father," and Father is the character from the Power Puff Girls; he's got an all dark figure, and he's got a pipe in his mouth. I like him because with our community, I can't help but feel paternal. And he's a bad guy! But in the game, all of the Cartoon Network Universe is on the same side, fighting Lord Fuse and all his minions, because everyone's going to get destroyed. My favourite ones are probably Father and Mojo-jojo.

This is more of a question for the kids, because they might be able to solve this if you can't. If a chicken laid an egg every day, how long would it take for a peg-legged monkey to kick the seeds out of a dill pickle?

We'll have to put that up to the kids then, because they'd obviously be smarter than me.

ZAM: Is that your final answer?

Rich: That is my final answer.

ZAM: Well, that really wraps up my questions. Do you have anything else that you want to address?

Rich: One of the things that we have talked about before is, when we were at Comic-Con, we had a lot of people who had been in the beta, who tried it on sneak peek weekends and were like "Aw, it won't work on my computer!" We have consistently driven down the system specs and we have consistently improved performance, and we want those people to come back and look at FusionFall again. Gosh knows we have plenty of accounts, we're doing well with conversions and all that kind of stuff, but we still want people to come back and take a second look at it. Especially if there was a particular glitch for their browser, or their computer specs and video hardware contributed to a bad game experience. We've done a lot of work on FusionFall and we want to show them that things have changed.

ZAM: Cool. Looking forward to see what the expansion looks like. Thank you so much for answering our questions.

Thank you very much, I appreciate it. I love what you guys do.

Andrew "Tamat" Beegle


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