Happy Holidays!

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Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year all!

BTW, have a teaser on us. Tasty linkage here.

Mark

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Submitted!

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As of 3:30PM, EST today, City State Entertainment has submitted its first game to the App Store for review. We are SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO happy!

Congrats and thanks to all the guys and gals at CSE who made this possible.

Being out of crunch also feels sooooo good.

 

A game changer?

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Over the years,decades,eons (it feels that way sometimes) that I’ve been making games, I’ve always tried to come up with interesting bits that are unique to every game that I or my studio, have created. Usually these elements are evolutionary changes, sometimes, albeit more rarely, they are revolutionary (I hate the overuse of that word by so many people so I rarely use it myself). I’ve been fortunate over that time to have been able to both incorporate a lot of my ideas and those of my co-workers into games such as Dragon’s Gate, Aliens Online, DAoC and WAR. Once again, I believe our studio has come up with a feature that is both figuratively and literally a game changer. We call it Formation Craftingand its use in March On Ozis, in our opinion, quite a nifty feature to add to not only this type of game but other games we hope to create as well. And for me, one of the best parts is that someone other than me birthed the idea (in this case it was Scott, one of our artists) and that makes me smile. It is confirmation of one of the values that is core to this studio that, great game design ideas can and should come from any member of the team, whether it is a programmer, artist, human resources, PR, finance and yes, even a old warhorse of a game designer on occasion. Formation Crafting in MoO is just the first step, we have lots of ideas on how to take it to the next level and we look forward to bringing those to life as well a little further down the road.

Check out something cool here

Gosh, it feels like 1995 all over again!

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Folks,

There’s an old saying that you can’t go home again.  While I still believe that to be mostly true, the last few months have had an eerily familiar feeling to them.  As to why, well, here’s a look at some of the stuff that has happened in CSE during the Fall/Winter:

a) While CSE was desperately looking for a first-rate modeler to join our team, he appeared.  Eerily like when Mythic needed another artist ASAP and the talented Lance Robertson simply walked our door and asked for a job. Since joining our team, Mike has frankly, kicked serious ass;

b) I  drafted and executed a Term Sheet with another company and then wrote a first draft, hog-choker of a contract with said company.  We have a fine attorney, as we did then, but saving some significant money by me doing the grunt work is always a good idea;

c) Worked on a “Vision Document” and presentation  for two new games to show to our partner.  We were always “presenting” things to partners or potential partners back in the day.  The difference is this time, we don’t need to, as I used to say, “put on the Presidential kneepads” and beg for funding, now its to talk about JVs or distribution;

d) Got to work and hang out with an outstanding bunch of guys and gals, a team composed of a mix of industry veterans and less experienced folks who, working together, are focused on building a new studio and who are all excited about all the interesting opportunities in a growing gaming space;

e) Me, smiling broadly as the entire team contributes to our game both from within their work discipline and outside of it.  Our last two major design ideas came from our artists. That’s one of the many things that make CSE different from many (not all) other studios.  Everybody is part of the design, incubation and development process whether they are a programmer, artist, finance, HR, etc.  Lucas, one of our industry vets, confirmed that this was the first place he has worked at where everyone truly has a voice in the process;

f) The studio hired what should be our last major team member for a while, we now have everyone we need to be successful, now we just have to deliver.  It was the same back at old Mythic, we had a small team and we simply had to go out and make games that were fun to play;

g) Nerf guns firing within the office as people bring their kids and pets (including one very cool Bearded Dragon) to our space and bad jokes, puns and other assorted witticisms flow like water from the Nile (during its flood stage of course);

<<<drum roll please>>>

h) Back hurts again, not as bad as when I was walking around various E3s with a walker/cane/crutch but painful enough.

So, while this is not exactly the same as 1995, it is pretty damn good and I’m one happy camper.  As a matter of fact, I’m happier than I’ve been since the middle of last decade (way before the EA acquisition). And that alone makes it all worthwhile.  All in all, I consider myself truly blessed.

Mark

P.S. I’ll have a follow-up post that will focus on the guys and gals of CSE and why I think we have a real shot at success.  No guarantees as usual in this business but we are off to a great start.

P.S.S. More teaser goodness tomorrow.

Here come de judge, here come de judge, order in the courtroom, here come de judge

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Today’s not-so-mysterious guest columnist is James Dunstan, attorney-at-law and total geek like us.  He and I went to law school together and unfortunately, the pull of the dark side was too much for him.  Luckily though, he has maintained a sense of humor, love for gaming and has been involved in both my previous companies (AUSI & Mythic) from day one.  He has spent more than 25 years providing legal services to high technology, communications, and computer game law clients. He has been involved in almost every aspect of the digital revolution, from representing the true “fathers” of the Internet, to cable, telecommunication and media giants, to assisting computer game startups mature to profitable enterprises.  Jim has been an active “coder” since the early 1980s when he wrote computer games while in law school. Among the titles he’s provided most of the coding for include Lunar Eclipse Software’s “Return to the Moon” and “Mission: Planet Earth,” as well as writing the motion code for the first PC-based motionbased video arcade game, New Luna’s “Lunar Defense.”  He is the founder of Mobius Legal Group and he can be contacted at jdunstan@mobiuslegal.com.

So, without further ado, I present:

Warning: Do Not Use This MMO To Trim Your Hedge, And Other Happenings In CyberLaw – By James Dunstan

While the dog days of summer come to an end and we look forward to Fall’s changing colors, courts haven’t taken a lot of vacations. Two important decisions came down during August that remind us again that the real world can be a silly place to live.

We begin with the case of Craig Smallwood versus NCSoft. It seems that Mr. Smallwood launched a lawsuit in late 2009 in Hawaii, after his Lineage II accounts were banned. He accused NCSoft of all manner of heinous acts, including taking his money, not conducting a “fair and square” game, not uniformly enforcing its no botting and no gold farming rules, and the one that has hit the blogosphere, not warning him that Lineage II can be addictive. In short, a disgruntled subscriber run amok. The judge threw out the case once, but because he was proceeding pro se (without benefit of an attorney), the judge allowed him to amend his complaint. He refiled, this time doing a much better job, too good a job in fact, as NCSoft argued that the amended complaint had been ghostwritten by a lawyer, who actually showed up at the hearing. The judge agreed, smacked the lawyer, and then moved on to discuss the merits of the case.

Posts are running rampant about how the judge agreed with Smallwood on the addiction claim and is allowing the case to proceed. That’s true enough, but misses the far more important aspects of this decision. First, the judge found that the End User License Agreement (EULA) was valid. The impact of this? The provision that limits NCSoft’s liability to $65 for contract violations and negligence are fully enforceable. That means even if Smallwood can prove NCSoft breached its promise to run a “fair and square” game, or took three months of Smallwood’s money, all he gets back is $65. Second, the only way Smallwood can cash in big on this case is to prove that NCSoft was grossly negligent in not warning him that Lineage II is addictive. THAT will be an incredibly tall order, since Smallwood will have to prove both that Lineage II is addictive (whatever that is), and that NCSoft knew it was addictive and chose not to warn subscribers of this defect in the game.

For those of you who have heard me speak at various industry conferences know how hard I stress the importance of crafting an enforceable EULA. My 2007 LOGIN presentation “It’s All in the EULA” stemmed from the 2003 case Black Snow Enterprises v. Mythic Entertainment, the first virtual property case that I litigated. There, all plaintiff’s claims against Mythic’s Dark Age of Camelot were short-circuited when the judge agreed that the EULA was enforceable, and we were able to dismiss the case and turn it over to arbitration. Faced with very clear language in the EULA that banned all forms of gold farming and item selling, the case evaporated in a heartbeat. While my “stock” EULA does not use the term “addictive,” it has clear language urging players to take frequent breaks from the game, and that prolonged playing may trigger all manner of ills, including triggering dormant photosensitivity and halitosis (ok, maybe not halitosis). Depending on how good NCSoft’s EULA is (I haven’t gone back to read it, so it may or may not be fully enforceable), chances are Mr. Smallwood now faces a similar fate. While others in the blogosphere may scream about the silliness of placing these types of warnings on games (hence the apocryphal reference to warning labels on lawn mowers to not use them as hedge trimmers), I urge all game designers to spend the time and legal budget to craft a EULA that protects themselves against frivolous claims.

Our second summer reading exercise comes to us from Mississippi, where local television anchor Toni Miles sued Raycom Media, her former employer and owner of WLOX in Biloxi. Her claim was that Raycom was guilty of “cyber libel” for allowing viewers of its website to post comments in response to an article reporting that Ms. Miles was arrested for cocaine possession. The judge found that the article itself was true (she was arrested but the charges were later dropped), and that Raycom was protected by the Communications Decency Act (CDA) as a web publisher from libel allegations related to the posts by readers. This is another huge win in a line of cases where courts have applied this immunity to websites that host third party forums. Those who lose sleep at night wondering if all the flame wars conducted in their user forums can come back to bite them can sleep a little easier.

Now, before folks start flaming Mr. Smallwood about his suit against NCSoft after reading the paragraph above, do remember that the CDA does not protect individual posters against libel. You may have to answer to Mr. Smallwood and Casper the Friendly Ghostlawyer.

James Dunstan

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So, thanks to Jim for this guest column.  Opinions expressed by my guest columnist are theirs alone and if you have any questions feel free to comment on this post or look it up in your Funk and Wagnalls.

Mark

Thank you – Bite sized, chunky peanut butter version

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Assorted thank yous, bite-size and gathered together for tasty goodness.

Mike Crossmire – Mike was a friend of mine before he worked a day for me at Mythic.  Mike was one of the earliest members of Old Mythic (pre-DAoC) and I’ve known him forever.  Mike is a very talented artist, a hard and loyal worker and somebody who doesn’t come into work with an agenda other than helping to make great art.  Well, other than trying desperately to survive in the lan-based shooters we played at OM, when Brian “The Assassin” Axelson would frag poor Mike repeatedly and the howls would shake the building.  So, unless a team needs a talented artist who is also a killer at the latest and greatest FPS, Mike would be a great fit. And even if being that good at an FPS is a requirement, Mike is worth an exception. 🙂

Scott Jennings – We hired Scott at the perfect time.  He really needed a job and we really needed a DB programmer who could code fast, code well, code cheap and who wanted to take a chance with a small barely funded team in Fairfax Virginia.  He came in, saved our bacon (on more than one occasion) and I was proud that I hired him.  Over the years we have certainly have at times wanted to express our opinions of what the other was doing rather, ahem, forcefully but he really came through for us when we needed him so many years ago.  Much kudos to him for that.

Mark Gagne – After we did the deal with TA Associates, Mark came on-board as our CFO (the first true CFO we ever had).  Even though he came in through TA (which of course made us sort of suspicious), Mark (and TA) proved that he was there for one reason only, to help us become a better company.  I’m proud to say that I also considered Mark a friend and he did a heck of a job for us over the years.  After the EA acquisition his job was done and he started his own company.  He’s a very smart and talented guy and I still miss going out to lunch with him and talking sports and life (he was a die-hard Red Sox fan but nobody’s perfect).

TA Associates – After the success of DAoC, a number of VCs wanted a piece of Mythic as they loved the subscriber model and our ability to do a MMORPG for only 2.5M.  TA was the best fit of any of those companies so we did a $32M deal with them.  They got seats on our board and I got to know two of their people very well, John Meeks and Bruce Johnston.  While investor/developer relations are never perfect, they were as good as their word when it came to their promise not to interfere in Mythic’s operations.  They are a bright bunch and I learned many things from them.

Missy Castro – Missy was one of the first artists we hired and was part of the Old Mythic crew.  She was (and I assume still is) talented, a fast worker and one of those people who is a joy to have in an office.  She also had a really great dog who she would bring into the office.  When she had to move (though for a happy reason) it was a sad day for me and everyone else at Mythic.

Richard Aihoshi – ‘Jonric’ – I’ve known a lot of writers/journalists over the years and I always considered Richard one of the best in the industry.  Not only was he a great writer but Richard always treated us professionally and fairly.  By this I mean that he didn’t look to score points by being a jackass while at the same time, he was also willing to speak critically about our games.  One of the other things about Richard was that he never, ever broke an embargo (when journalists are shown things before they are ready for release at shows like E3, promo events, etc.) and when we spoke  off the record about things, he never used any of those discussions in any way for his (or our) advantage.  On a personal level, he is also a great guy and one of those people I looked forward to getting together with at E3, Mythic, etc.  I definitely miss getting together with him.

Mark

Squish

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So, I had another piece almost ready to go up when in came this email:

[Mark,

It’s good to see you back. I was wondering how you were doing since you fell off the radar. I’ve always loved how involved you were with the community, but at times I wondered – were you TOO involved? One thing Blizzard does well is make you feel like you are yelling into an abyss. People don’t really know where to direct their anger there. I kind of felt like you stepped into the line of fire unnecessarily. At least your CMs can honestly say, “It’s not my fault!” and people will agree. I think it will be better for your health in any future endeavors LOL

Kind words for me removed for brevity’s sake.

All The Best,

Aikau]

And this got me to thinking whether Aikau was right or not.  Now, Aikau isn’t the first person in the world to tell me the EXACT SAME THING but my response was usually either “But if I jump in I can talk about things that the CM can’t and quickly calm things down” or “I don’t want my CMs taking abuse.” I do think that what Aikau says is absolutely correct at some level, I do know that by being there I both put myself in the cross-hairs and that my presence, at times, made things worse.  I do also know that the opposite is true as well and for extra goodness, I also know that early in the development process by talking to the general player base that I helped build a fairly large number of people wherever I spent a lot of time talking about the game(s).  We’ve seen the same sort of phenomenon with sites like Myspace, Facebook,etc. for other people in different industries as well.   What I need to figure out was which was the better system for my company, my enjoyment and of course, my stress levels/quality of life/etc.

Over the years (and especially over the last 15 months), I’ve looked at issues like this one to see where I made mistakes and how I should avoid making them going forward.  While I have figured out a lot of things, this is one issue I’m still not sure which is the right way to go (and some people I have talked to have, of course, completely different opinions).  While there might be a middle ground, anytime I think of trying to walk down the middle of a path, the wisdom of Mr. Miyagi comes to mind “Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later… get squish just like grape.”  OTOH, maybe you get squished anyway no matter where you walk?  Maybe there really is a truly no-win scenario. Sorry, just watched Star Trek last night for like the 12th time, I love that movie. 🙂

No matter what though, thanks for the note Aikau, it is certainly something to continue thinking about, a lot.

Mark

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