Electronic Arts’ new MMOG-meister

The full article/interview is available here at GameDaily.

This is a very cool interview with Mark Jacobs, founder of Mythic Entertainment (makers of Dark Ages of Camelot). Electronic Arts has purchased Mythic, and with proper respect and encouragement to Mark and the Mythic guys, EA is making him head of the MMOG unit, to be called EA Mythic. Go Mark! May they give you the resources, the room and the independence you need to make Warhammer and your other projects as rocking as you can make them! I like WoW – but it lacks the depth to hold me like the old EQ did years ago. Me and millions of others are just waiting for someone to put together an MMO that compelling again.

If you’re interested in the game business or MMOs, I’d certainly recommended clicking the link above and reading the full interview. If you haven’t seen my previous post on many of the same topics, it’s at The Peace Bomb vs. Bazillions of Dollars. Ironically, this is also some of the Hollywood Reporter content that I mentioned but did not have details about in this post, Why would I blog about the Hollywood Reporter? It’s worth noting that it IS a Hollywood Reporter reporter doing this interview – if you’re not thinking about Hollywood’s interest, involvement and potential in the MMO space, now’s a good time to start. I’ll also clip some highlights here:

Nine years ago, “Ultima Online” launched to become the very first massively multiplayer online game to sign on 100,000 subscribers. This year, Blizzard Entertainment’s “World Of Warcraft” stunned the video game world when, in June, it announced that it had accumulated 6.6 million subscribers. That’s the kind of inspirational numbers that has newcomers flooding the MMOG sector and veterans redoubling their efforts to secure a bigger piece of the pie.

The Hollywood Reporter: It seems that the unprecedented success of “World of Warcraft” (WOW) has single-handedly changed the dynamic within the MMOG business.

Mark Jacobs: Absolutely. It’s brought in companies that traditionally had no interest whatsoever in games. Previously, traditional media would look at an MMOG, see that it was getting maybe a couple of hundred thousand subscribers, and say, “OK, that’s nice.” But when you hit 6.5 million subs, that’s more than “nice.” So now they’re interested, they’re analyzing why WOW is doing so well, and they’re concluding that MMOGs are exciting the mass market, those people who are getting broadband (for the first time) and never gave a thought to playing an MMOG.

THR: So what is it about MMOGs that is attracting all these new companies?

Jacobs: It’s the business model. In the non-MMOG space, a publisher gets to sell a customer a game maybe once a year, maybe twice. But with the MMOG subscription model, you sell the player the game one day, then you get a fee from him every month, and then you get to sell him an expansion pack a few months later.

THR: What about all the challenges of the business model which are …

Jacobs: Immense! They dwarf the hurdles posed by any stand-alone game. You’ve got customer support issues, you’ve got hardware issues like keeping the servers going, and you have special design issues. Imagine designing a game when you don’t know whether you’ll have one or 100 characters on the screen at a time.

THR: Do you think all the companies that are rushing in to do MMOGs are aware of what they’re going to face?

Jacobs: No. Some of them — not all of them, but some — are blind. They look at WOW and go, “We can do that.” Many companies think that just because they’ve designed role-playing games, this will be a piece of cake. Then, whoops! That’s why so many have failed. Either because they went in blindly or they went in without the right talent. Making games is hard. I’s like making films. People think that because they have a camera and a story, that’s all they need to make a good movie. But then they learn that they need the right story and the right people and the right equipment — and everything has to click. Which is why you have so many very bright and creative people in Hollywood who thought they could make a movie but failed. Games are exactly the same thing.

THR: Publishers are experimenting with a lot of different MMOG revenue models. Some, who don’t want to go the subscription route, are trying their luck with not charging the gamers and getting all their income from advertising. Others intend to sell virtual items within the game … and I know you’ve been adamantly against that.

Jacobs: No, what I’m adamantly against are microtransactions that affect the balance of the game. For example, if I, as the publisher, started selling special magical swords for $10 that would give you the edge in online fighting, I’m against that. I have no problem selling extra bling for your character — clothing, jewelry, whatever.

THR: Sounds like you believe that the subscription model is the best.

Jacobs: Absolutely. I want to give players the best experience they can get, and, for that, they need to pay a little money, which is the subscription price. Look, MMOGs aren’t cheap. For instance, I think Sony has said publicly that it spends $25 million or so on building one. Then add on the bandwidth costs, customer service costs, bug-fixing costs, and the hardware costs. If you want your game to be successful, you’ll always be fixing and improving things. So your costs don’t stop when the game is released. Maybe one day advertising in games will allow a company to do all that. But not today.

Jacobs: … there’s this huge market here in the States that remains untouched. How can anyone possibly say the market is oversaturated? Besides — and I call this my 25% rule — even if there are 28 games in development or 58 or 78, the one thing I can guarantee is that, at most, only 25% of them will reach the marketplace. The others will either be cancelled before they reach full development or they won’t work technically. It happens all the time. Look what happened at my company — and we are guys who know the space well. We postponed the game “Imperator” simply because it wasn’t working. So we said, “Let’s shut it down for now.” That happens to MMOGs as often as or more often than in stand-alone games. The bottom line is that 75% of the games fail simply because it’s the nature of the creative process to fail.

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