B-I-N-G-O, B-I-N-G-O,B-I-N-G-O and Bing-o was his name-o

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One of the things I truly enjoyed (more on this another day) about my time at EA was getting to know and interacting with Bing Gordon.  I considered Bing one of the brightest people at EA (I was far from alone in this regard) but his ability to think outside the box was unsurpassed, unique and in my estimation, invaluable.  Bing is one of the guys who earned and deserves an immense amount of respect and credit for his work at EA and his new career at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers continues to add to his legacy.  During the development of WAR, he visited the studio and he and I also talked a number of times about the game and he delivered both useful insight and contributions to WAR.  He is like the Hollywood screenwriter who could look at script/scene and add something really unique and unexpected to it (I think they referred to it as a “wild man” in the old days).  Getting to hang out with him, exchange ideas and discuss/argue with him is one of the things I miss even now.  What brought this to mind was an article he just penned over at TechCrunch.  It’s a great read, check it out.

http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/23/the-end-of-moores-law-a-love-story/

Mark

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TWM – The Mother of All Bad Ideas!

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It’s late 1999, money is running out fast and we’re scrambling to find a development deal or sell the studio.  We entertained a few offers one of which was from old Acclaim.  During our many discussions with their leadership, we talked about the kind of games we could do for them.  I pushed hard on doing online games (including variants on our current games such as Silent Death Online) and even MMOs.  Unfortunately, their CEO didn’t think much of SDO and even went as far as to say “Why would we want to do that, we were making those type of games 10 years ago?”  I pointed out that as far I knew Acclaim wasn’t making online games that long ago (I don’t think he enjoyed that retort) and also explained how low our budget was for it and all but one of our other games (our highest budget prior to DAoC was 450K for Aliens Online (with an essentially an expansion) with the rest being well below 100K). They listened politely to what I said and replied “But We have a better idea!” Expecting a merely bad idea to come out of their mouths, I told myself no matter what they say, don’t be an ass**** when I respond.  “Let’s do an online game” they said “based on Mary Kate and Ashley. Now, that would be great!” They told us how hot they were commercially and that we could make a ton of money if we could do an online game/MMO based on them.  At that moment all sorts of thoughts went through my head.  Is this a sign of the coming apocalypse in 2000 perhaps? How bad would it really be to go back and work in fast food?  What constitutes justifiable homicide?  Which countries don’t have extradition treaties for capital crimes with the US?  However, we needed a deal desperately so I politely pointed out what that would be a bad idea and why MMOs like EQ would be a much better idea.  They didn’t agree but we continued to talk about other, smaller budget games going forward.  Like the vast majority of publishers, they didn’t believe that there was much future in those MMO things.  After many months of negotiations I desperately wanted to walk away from the deal.  Truth is I didn’t trust them at all and the deal terms weren’t all that exciting.  IMHO, I’d rather go belly up than take a bad deal especially since we would have to stay and work for them.  So, we walked away and a couple of months later we did the deal with Abandon for DAoC, things could not have worked out better for us and the world was saved from perhaps one of the worst ideas for an MMO EVER.

Mark

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday

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Just some quick thoughts for a lazy Sunday afternoon:

1) The Jets looked awful on Saturday night against a depleted Carolina Panthers team.  No reason to push the panic button but I can’t imagine R2 was happy about what he saw out there.  Offense is taking a lot of heat and it’s easy to blame the players but Schotty seemed to have an off day himself.  Defense looked okay (except for a handful of plays) but Carolina wasn’t 100% healthy but the 2s didn’t stink up the joint as they did against the Giants so overall, it’s a plus.

2) The news about the makers of APB this past week was not surprising, sad but not surprising.  As always, making MMOs is exceptionally hard and it’s that much harder when you try to go out of the MMO comfort zone, don’t have an experienced MMO team and don’t have proven (bought or made) tech.  Having all of them are not guarantees of success but having none of them definitely makes it a lot harder.  As always, I feel sorry for the people who put in so much blood, sweat and tears on the game and I wish those laid off the best and hope they find another gig soon.

3) The “WTC Mosque” debate and controversy continues to build in NYC (and it’s going to get worse) and most of our political leadership is either standing on the sidelines, wafflling or resorting to cliches.  Way to earn your  power, pay, perks and prestige guys and gals! And people wonder why so many of us have lost/losing faith in the political process and elected officials in our country.  It’s a tough call but if you want to be in politics and be a leader you have to be willing to make tough calls occasionally don’t you?

4) What’s next for the MMO market?  Are subscription games dead (I don’t think so) but it’s certainly getting more challenging out there as social networking games eat up more bandwidth and more MMOs from Asia come ashore here and both of these trends will continue unabated for the next few years at least.  Hopefully the economic climate will improve worldwide but it ain’t 2004 anymore and anyone who doesn’t realize that is in for a rude awakening.

5) Thinking about what the social gaming space will look like a year after Google makes its big splash.  Could be a real game changer (major understatement).  No matter what, it’s going to be a very, very interesting year for FB/Zynga/PD/PF/etc. as well as for the whole online (MMOs included) segment.

6) Looking forward to seeing the new tablets from Dell, LG, etc.  Let’s see how the non-Apple tablets sell before we pronounce them the new must-have device, but they are very intriguing.

7) The most interesting new reality show of the Fall should be “Survivor – Minnesota Vikings Edition”.  Grab some popcorn, settle back in the La-Z-Boy, things could get very interesting very quickly out there.

Going to see Piranha-3D tonight, I hear it is a true Summer Popcorn Movie.  Big nasty creature invades, upsets natural balance, eats some people.  When you think about it, it might not be much different than (7) above. 🙂

Mark

The Wayback Machine – Part Deux

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Well, since the rez spell seems to be holding so far for my blog, it’s time to bring back another early feature of it, The Wayback Machine.  While some of the thank you notes I have written could qualify as TWM posts, I’ll try to make these posts shorter (yeah, like I’m so good at short posts, I’ve never mastered that skill) and more focused.  For today’s entry, I present one of the reasons Mythic ended up doing a deal with GOA and why I have been rightly accused of being rather blunt on occasion.

It was E3 2001 and we were trying to land a European publisher for DAoC.  One of our meetings was with the representatives of a large, multinational corporation (whose global wingspan is only topped by a few other companies) who were interested in talking to us about publishing/distributing DAoC in Europe.  As the meeting concluded, one of the VPs there, a French gentleman, turned to me and said something along the lines of (insert bad French accent for effect if you wish, his was legit) “I do not understand why you think Europeans would be interested in playing a game based on Camelot?”  To which I replied snarkily “You do know that Camelot is a European legend right?”  Jaw dropped, deal dead and how do you say “Check please!” in French?

Soon afterwards we signed a deal with French Telecom (GOA) who did understand why people across the pond would love to play a game based on Camelot.

I hope to bring back another feature for this blog soon, Fan Mail from Some Flounder which also was gratefully borrowed from one of the greatest TV creations of all times, Rocky and Bullwinkle (and all its component parts and characters, different show names, etc.).  At the time I stopped blogging I was also working on another column entitled “Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!”  As you can tell, I loved that show.

Mark

Thank you Abandon Entertainment

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Things were looking rather bleak for Mythic back in the late 1990s.  We had lost the vast majority of our revenue stream when EA bought the AOL Games Channel and shut down almost all existing online games and our rainy day fund was quickly drying up.  While we were still making the rounds in our bi-annual beg-a-thons (presidential knee-pads on full, begging mode engaged Captain) we weren’t getting anywhere.  Rob and I were preparing to go into “turtle mode” which would have cut our salaries down to zero (not a very great fall from where we were anyway, we never even came within sniffing range of six-figures then) and impose drastic salary cuts to try to keep the company afloat.  We had also received some much-needed help from employees like Bob Sellers (as always man, thank you) but time was running out. We had turned down several offers for the company (more on this another day) and I continued to believe in our company’s future.  Fortunately, just before the bell tolled, I convinced a company in New York that we were worth investing in and that I had an idea and Mythic had a team and leadership (Rob Denton, Matt Firor and myself of course) that could deliver on it.  That idea of course was Dark Age of Camelot and the company was Abandon Entertainment.  Abandon was, and is, primarily a film and television production company founded by two people who I care about deeply (with financial support from other people I also care about) Karen (my sister) and Marcus Ticotin.  I had bugged them for years about doing a game together and either out of a desire to finally shut me up, filial responsibility or just good judgment they decided to make a deal with us.  We sold them about 1/3 of the company and in return received $2.5M to develop DAoC.  During the development process we also borrowed $660K to market the game.  Well, 18 months later we released DAoC and it went on to be the surprise PC hit of the year (I don’t think anyone could have been more pleasantly surprised than Vivendi Universal though) and one of the most successful MMOs of all time in terms of its Return On Investment (prior to the EA acquisition, DAoC had already earned over nine-figures for Mythic and its total revenue was a lot higher than that), longevity (almost 9 years) and its Metacritic (still one of the top all-time scores for all MMOs).  Needless to say, Abandon was very happy with the way things turned out.  We repaid the loan and maintained a great relationship with them for years afterward.  Besides repaying the loan, Abandon also fully participated in the TA investment and the EA acquisition and it is safe to say that they profited greatly from their investment in us whether directly as above or when they hit a rough patch or two and needed some help and we were there for them.  That’s the kind of relationship Mythic Entertainment (FYI, I mean no disrespect to Bioware Mythic, I just can’t speak for BM since I’m not there any longer, ‘natch) had with its partners whether they were Abandon, Centropolis and Dean Devlin, Numerical Design Ltd. (NetImmerse/Gamebryo guys now Emergent) and others.  I’ve never forgotten when a business partner was good to Mythic (or to myself) and I’ve always tried to repay them in kind and that is never going to change.

If it wasn’t for Abandon Entertainment, DAoC would have most likely never been born and Mythic would have gone out of business sometime in the early days of the new millennium.  So, thank you Karen, Marcus, Gary, William, etc. whose investment and support made all of this possible.

Mark

Thank you Kesmai, I still miss AW damnit!

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Over the years I have thanked the guys at Kesmai for many things.  I thanked them for creating my favorite MOG of all time, Air Warrior (whose three country setup directly led to the decision to create DAoC’s three realm RvR), I thanked them for allowing Mythic and I to be part of Gamestorm, I thanked them for development deals and of course I thanked some of them for the friendships that grew out of a rather inauspicious first meeting.  What I will thank them for now, is on behalf of the entire online games industry (players and companies alike)  because if it wasn’t for them, I doubt that the online game space would be what it is today.

I won’t go into detail about their studio’s development history because that isn’t necessary here.  What is necessary is to remind people that if the guys at Kesmai hadn’t been working so hard on creating the earliest and most successful of online games (they were one of the few companies that even predated me in making pay-for-play online games), I doubt anybody else would have until much later down the road.  At a point in time where almost nobody believed (maybe a handful of people worldwide) in online games, the guys at Kesmai were creating games that were going to influence, teach, train, infect, addict, etc. a generation of gamers (albeit a small group) who would later go on to either create their own games or support the creation of such games.  Now, there were other developers who were around at the same time but Kesmai’s creations had more impact than any other developer based solely on their games’ numbers, presence on multiple networks (Compuserve, GEnie, AOL, etc.) and envelope-pushing features.  And when they came out with their masterpiece, the Air Warrior series , they proved that you could play a 3D flight simulator over very slow dial-up modems and slow networks and it still be a lot of fun.  That technical achievement ranks as one of the most important events in the history of online games.  Yes, it was simplistic by today’s standards but at the time, it was an eye-opening revelation to those who doubted there would be a future for online games.  While the debut and the success of AW didn’t immediately lead to giant sacks of cash pouring into the industry, what it did lead to was that many people began to believe that an interesting future was at hand.

So, thanks to all the many talented and hard-working people at Kesmai, from two of the founders who I got to know well, John Taylor and Kelton Flinn, to guys like Gordon Walton, Jonathan Baron (still miss flying with ya buddy),  Rich Lawrence (who coined the phrase, don’t trust the client software), Jeff Hanna, etc., you also have my thanks.  Kesmai, and its contributions to the industry should never be forgotten and certainly deserve better than this pathetic wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kesmai).  As I have done so in the past and will do so until I stop talking, I will remind people of what you and the earliest online developers meant to this industry.

Mark

A very special thanks

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As I posted yesterday, the last 12+ months have been a very mixed bag for me.  For those people who know/knew me well, they know how much the departure from Mythic meant to me.  During this time, quite a number of people have not only reached out to me, sometimes to thank me for the opportunity to work at Mythic and sometimes just because they knew me from EA and/or the industry and they wanted to express their support over the situation that I was in at the end of my 15 year run at Mythic.  For those people who were kind enough to do so, I thank you for that.

I have been described, quite accurately, by many as a driven, emotional and passionate (and a whole lot of less kind words) human being but above all else I am also blessed with a very fine and therefore inconvenient (at times) memory.  An old saying was that an elephant never forgets, well, neither does a guy raised in the Bronx.  As such, I will never forget your outreach/support to me and I hope to, as I have in some cases already, be able to repay it in kind.

Mark

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