Exclusive WAR State of the Game Interview with Mark Jacobs, Part Two

Questions by Cody "Micajah" Bye (Managing Editor) and Garrett Fuller (Industry Relations)
Questions by Cody "Micajah" Bye (Managing Editor) and Garrett Fuller (Industry Relations)

Answers by Mark Jacobs (GM, VP of Mythic Entertainment)

Last week, Mythic Entertainment's head honcho, Mark Jacobs, published the first of many "State of the Game" reports for Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. After getting Mark on the phone, the Ten Ton Hammer staff asked the Mythic Entertainment GM / VP a variety of questions regarding classes, crafting, RvR, itemization, and much more. Yesterday, Ten Ton Hammer published the first part of Mark's interview, and we're now proud to present Part Two of our exclusive "State of the Game" interview with Mark Jacobs.

In Part Two, Mark and the Ten Ton Hammer staff talk about having a fan-based event and the future of the MMO industry after EA's major upcoming announcement. Make sure you check back with Ten Ton Hammer to hear all about the announcement tomorrow!

In a few months the WAR team will be researching a possible fan event.

Ten Ton Hammer: BlizzCon was a pretty big spectacle this year, and pulled an amazingly fanatic audience. Do you see a EA / Mythic type of event coming soon? Is that sort of thing possible?

Mark Jacobs: Don't forget that we've been doing those sort of things forever.

Ten Ton Hammer: I guess it's more of a question of scale. Is it going to be the same size that BlizzCon was this last year?

Mark: That's really up to the fans, right? Every year with Camelot, we've had this Roundtable event and once we get through the next three months or so (with WAR) we'll look at doing these sort of things. As far as scale goes, that really depends on how many players we have. BlizzCon is 15,000 out of how many millions that play in North America and Europe? It's all kind of relative. Frankly, the more that are playing, the bigger the event will be.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will you have it on the East Coast?

Mark: That's where we're based, but does it make sense to hold the first one here, or in Vegas where we've held them in the past, or California? I don't know. The East Coast certainly makes our lives easier.

Ten Ton Hammer: Next week's big Bioware/Lucasarts announcement has the entire industry abuzz. How do you think this project will affect the rest of the MMO industry?  Most of us have a pretty good guess - not even really a "guess" anymore - of what the game will be. How will it affect Mythic and the rest of the market?

Mark: Y'know, when you come out with a fantasy title as big as Willow Online...

Ten Ton Hammer; *laughs heartily*

Mark: I obviously know what the title is - and have known for quite awhile. You've got a great bunch of guys working on this title. My respect for Bioware runs VERY deep. I've said this before in a number of interviews that they are absolutely one of the premiere developers in the industry. I have also gotten to know Ray and Greg better since they've been a part of EA and my respect for them has only grown.

I think that given their expertise and talent - and all the guys that are involved with it, whether they're in the North or South studio - I think the game is going to be a good thing no matter what they announce it as being.

In this industry, we need more successful games. The more successes we can have, the more the industry will expand. It doesn't matter whether it's a fantasy, sci-fi, horror, or whatever they are, we need more successful titles period. I really look forward to what they're working on.

Ten Ton Hammer: It seems like we went through a rough patch of MMOs for awhile, and now it seems like we've finally gotten some solid hits out there. What else can everyone do to expand the industry further?

Mark: I think that this is simply the hardest creative endeavor in the world. Creating a successful MMO. The numbers obviously bear it out. You're working a minimum of three years on a title, and realistically four. Sometimes longer. The vast majority - and I mean 99% plus - of titles that have gone into some form of development have never been released, let alone made any money.

Creating an MMO - according to Jacobs - is the hardest creative endeavor in the world.

The numbers go up even higher if you base it off of the MMOs that are successful. You can probably count on your hands the number of MMOs in North America and Europe that have been released in the last 10 years that have been highly successful in that they've made their money back that they spent on development within the first year. You don't want an MMO that's going to break even four years from now - that's a terrible investment. If you look at that Camelot was a huge success on that basis. Ultima Online was a tremendous success. EverQuest was a success.

But you're really looking at something less than two handfuls. Based on not only the overall failure rate but the time it takes as well; we need a lot more successes. People have always said that the film industry is the hardest. It does take a number of years to make a film, whether you're Peter Jackson or George Lucas, and that is a compelling argument. If you make those Jackson and Lucas-like films, they're very, very difficult.

On the other hand, just take a look at an MMO. You're looking at three to four years *minimum* to make a game. Film finishes principal photography in months unless you're doing like Jackson and film three at one time. You're done in months and then a different team takes over. In the case of making an MMO, you have to keep the same guys - the same team - on pretty much the entire project for at least three to four years and keep them inspired, happy and working.

When you compare the two, I don't think there's any comparison any more. I think there is nothing harder than making an MMO. If you go through just the games listed on Ten Ton Hammer over the years, and then put a list of titles that were released and then had those that exceeded 250,000 subscription, you're going to be on a very short list.

If you look at film and all the movies that are announced that are going into production, and then look at the number of successes you have, the numbers are a heck of a lot higher. And that's just for the actual movies. In film you have so many ways of making money besides just making the movie. All the ancillaries are worth quite a bit.

Once a game fails, that's it. You're done. You don't get to put out another DVD for people to buy.  We don't have that option with MMOs. There is no comparison in my mind between the two anymore.

Because of that, we need some more successes. We don't want people to run scared. If you're an investor and you're looking for a place to put money, are you going to put it in something incredibly risky? Probably not. On the other hand, if we do have some successes like WoW, or even games with a million subs; you get more investors and with more investors you can make more games.

If you look at the cost of doing one of these games, this is not something that other developers and publishers are lining up to get into. Not with all the failures we've been having. I've said this at a number of GDCs: If you look at the teams that are getting money and look at what's going on, I think I said that there was going to be a "bloodbath." There's going to be a lot of dumb money falling out of the industry because there are a number of them that are failing. It's going to continue. There are going to be more failures coming up. If you look at the teams and what they're doing, you just have to agree that there's going to be more money just flushed down the toilet.

These things are just really hard. And that's all there is to it.  

Another comparison with movies is that you can know the technical way to make a movie but not be a brilliant director like Spielberg. On the other hand, you can look at making an MMO and say, "Yeah, I'm a computer guy. I did a standalone game and now I can do all the tech for an MMO. It really doesn't work that way. It's not that you can't be Spielberg, but if you're not you won't even be able to get the game to work properly. At least when you see a film and experience a director that isn't great, you can still watch the movie. You may not like it, but it still starts and finishes.

There need to be more successful MMOGs like WAR and the original EQ.

With an MMO, you may never even get that chance. And when you look at the teams that are out there, a lot of them are forgetting that particular part of the equation. If you look at what Mythic did back when we were doing Camelot and our focus on the fact that we had the right tech and the right people; our focus was always to make something that worked. We were programmer heavy and we had to focus on that. It was my belief that that was more important than the pretty pictures.

At the time, we were able to launch beautifully because of how we focused our resources. Anarchy Online released at the same time with a focus on the pretty pictures, and you can see how well that turned out. It was beautiful and had some really cool ideas, but there were some definite issues on the technical side that caused them some serious problems at launch.

With Warhammer, we again had that focus on tech but we also had the money to make the pretty pictures and that's why we launched so well and had so little downtime. It even gives our CSRs time to answer real appeals rather than tech issues, simply because everything runs so smoothly. Other teams just don't put that much focus into the tech side of things, and if the damn thing won't run, you're out of business.

Ten Ton Hammer: One day, hopefully we'll have a conversation where you're not exhausted, Mark.

Mark: Maybe when everything settles down to a nice dull roar, maybe I can take some time to relax a bit. But right now, it's still too soon.

Ten Ton Hammer: Thanks for your time again, Mark!

Mark: Take care!

(Editor's Note: Don't forget to check out Part One of our two part interview!)

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