Role Model
Issue: Volume: 29 Issue: 3 (March 2006)

Role Model

Once the domain of techno and hard-core gamers, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) have expanded in recent years to include a wider demographic than ever before. Identifying this trend early on, Rob Denton and Mark Jacobs formed what is now Mythic Entertainment in October 1995, to pursue this market. After launching a number of online games, Mythic released in 2001 its most successful MMORPG title to date, Dark Age of Camelot , based on Arthurian, Celtic, and Nordic legends. Since then, the company has continued to support and expand the game, releasing its sixth Camelot expansion pack, Darkness Rising , last October. Not resting on its laurels, the developer is continuing its quest to broaden the MMO horizon with new and compelling content, and in 2007, plans to release its next MMORPG, which is based on the Warhammer fantasy world created by Games Workshop, the largest tabletop fantasy and futuristic battle-games company in the world.

Mark Jacobs is president/CEO and lead designer at Mythic. His first official step into the computer games industry occurred in the early ‘80s with pay-for-play online games.

We are hard at work on our latest MMORPG, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR), and we continue to add lots of new and exciting stuff to Dark Age of Camelot.

That’s where I believed the future of gaming was going to go. I just didn’t think it would take this long to get there.

My first pay-for-play online game was a 4X sci-fi game called Galaxy back in 1985, which was followed by an ORPG called Aradath.

One major obstacle was getting enough modems wired together so people could actually play a multiplayer game.

We’ve gone from an era where 32 players online at one time was a major accomplishment, to one where 32,000 concurrent players online is the minimum bar for success.

One problem is the ever-increasing cost of developing a next-generation MMO, as well as the ever-increasing expectations of the players.

MMO games are the most difficult games to design, program, and deploy of any type of game in the industry. We have all the same concerns as a non-MMO developer, with the added complexity of tens of thousands of simultaneous users.

There are lots of them. First, you have to predict how millions of people might try to play your game. If there is a bug somewhere in the game, they will find it. If there is an exploit, they will abuse it. If there are ways to play the game differently than the developers expected, they will discover it. Second, there are huge issues with the number of people and things that can be on the screen at any one time. In a stand-alone game, developers can control exactly how many objects can be within the player’s view at any one time; you can’t really do that in an MMO. There’s an old MUD rule I coined 20 years ago that says that if there are 100 people in your game, you can expect at some point that all 100 are going to want to go to the same room, at the same time, and do the exact same thing, and the game better be able to handle it. The same is true for MMOs.

You need to remember that you can never create enough content for players, and those players will chew through that content faster than you predicted.

After E3, we re-evaluated Imperator, and based on what we saw, we didn’t believe it was going to be a great game. A good game, absolutely, but not a great game. Based on that, we decided it would be better to postpone development until a time when we could turn it into a great game.

We are right on track with WAR’s development, and we will be showing a fully working version of the game at this year’s E3. Internal testing has already begun, and it is looking great.

The combination of Games Workshop’s fantastic IP and Mythic’s proven development teams and technology will be hard to beat.

DAoC was the first, and still is the most, successful game that features a system of Realm versus Realm (RvR) combat, which people have enjoyed playing for years. Killing NPCs and solving quests can get old fairly quickly, but doing battle against hundreds of other players, that never gets old.

There are three keys: a fantastic IP, stable and solid technology, and strong player-support systems.

Based on the success of World of Warcraft (WoW)-5.5 million players-the answer is an unqualified ‘yes.’

Not yet. As of now, the consoles don’t have a lot to offer the players in terms of MMOs. The current generation of consoles has great technology, and, eventually, I see them being a major part of the MMO scene, but to date, there aren’t a lot of MMO games.

Well, every time a new game comes out, some people switch, some people play multiple games, and some new people are brought into the market. Based on WoW’s success, I think we have seen the first major expansion of the user base since EverQuest (EQ) came out [in 1999].

To date, PC MMOs are more social than console MMOs. There is an entire world of people in the game to interact with. Also, the PC MMOs have had better graphics than the older generation of consoles.

The player types are all over the board, constantly changing depending on the successful titles released over a given year.

We are constantly trying to improve the newbie experience in our game and also expanding the availability of trial versions of the game over the Internet.

It will feature fantastic imagery that has its own unique look and feel. The game will not look like DAoC, WoW, or EQ, as we are developing a look that both fits the Games Workshop aesthetic and is attractive to the MMO gamer.

First, there is over 25 years of content to draw from. Games Workshop has created a lot of great IP for us to use in this game. This IP will help set us apart from our competition. As to other features, it wouldn’t be Warhammer if there wasn’t a major war going on, and as such, we expect the RvR system that we are creating to be the best in the industry. In terms of other features, well, that will be for another day.

Over the next few years, there will be a continued growth of the MMO market, lots of new subscription models being tried, and as I laid out during a keynote address several years ago, a number of high-profile failures in this space.