Sunday, Sunday, Sunday – August 29th

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As usual for this Sunday feature, a whole bunch of quick thoughts:

1) The J-E-T-S are not looking good right now.  A really disappointing showing against the ‘Skins, Calvin Pace hurt (and it looks like a minimum of 4 weeks according to published reports) and his replacement, Jason Taylor, taking more contact in Dancing With The Stars than he has had in the preseason.   Not what RR wanted to see from his team, I’m sure (this week’s episode of Hard Knocks should be full of more colorful language I’m sure).  OTOH, still no reason to push the panic button but not a great way to essentially end the preseason.  I’m hoping that when the season starts the offense (once it starts using its real game plan) will step up and the defense’s prodigal son will return.

2) The Jets cut Laveranues Coles today.  When they drafted him it was considered by many to be a controversial pick as he had some issues in college.  Once he got to the pros, he was a hell of a football player, a great teammate (by all accounts) and a standup guy.  Smart pick, smart guy and if his career is really over (and I hope it’s not and that the Jets pick him up after the season starts), a most excellent career.  Best of luck to him.

3) I’m intrigued to see how Guild Wars 2 Dynamic Event System works.  I’ve seen some stuff on the ‘Net where people have said it is just Public Quests renamed or just improved upon and the GW2 guys have been criticized by some people.  In interviews I did regarding PQs during WAR’s development, I said I expected it to be one of the most important features in WAR and I also expected it to be used/improved on by developers more than any other feature of the game.  All of our games are derivative from what went before us at some level anyway, so if other devs use and improve upon PQs, fabulous.  If the DES is derived in any way from PQs, I’m thrilled and I hope more devs use PQ/DES/etc. going forward.  If it isn’t derived from PQs, that’s great too and I hope it brings a new element to the MMO periodic table.  Gaming (MMO or otherwise) needs all the innovation it can get so wherever it comes from, I hope it works out great for them.

4) Here’s to GW2 and Final Fantasy XIV both being smash hits.  The MMO industry (and especially PC gaming) could use some good news other than Cataclysm (which will sell a ton of copies obviously).  Hopefully there will be some real spacing between the release of these titles otherwise, well, it will be interesting to see what happens.

5) What an awful summer movie season it has been.  I go to the movies a lot but this summer there seemed to be far fewer interesting/enjoyable movies to see.  Hopefully the Fall/Winter season will have some surprise hits and the big films that are scheduled to be released then won’t disappoint.

6) More pain resulting from the NYC WTC mosque controversy with a recent stabbing and destruction of property inside a mosque.  What didn’t get enough attention, at least on the national level, is how long it has taken all the parties involved to agree what to do with the WTC site itself.  The NY papers have taken the usual suspects to task over it as the years have gone by but the fact that it took almost ten years to get something moving there is ridiculous (story here).  Now even though it seems everyone is in agreement, the real question is how long will it take to get done.  At the pace they are going we may have flown to Mars and back by the time the new WTC site is finished.  I’m reminded of the wonderful, though historically inaccurate, portrayal of the NY legislature in the play/film 1776.  The delegate from NY were always abstaining because, according to the film, that in the New York legislature “They speak very fast and very loud, and nobody listens to anybody else, with the result that nothing ever gets done.”  Ten years, unbelievable.

Mark

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Thank you to my friends/foes/etc. at the IGN Vault

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Well, I’m pretty sure that the title of this post will surprise some people but hey, what the heck, I’ve wanted to say some things for quite a while and now I can (well pretty much anyway). Over the past decade, I have spent a considerable amount of time at the IGN Vault listening, talking and having tons of rotten fruit thrown my way there. To say it has been a love/hate relationship is a great understatement but there are a few things I would to make clear:

1) The guys there have at times, been truly important to both DAoC and WAR. One of the reasons I decided to go back to the Vault during the development of WAR was that I believed the Vault had a lot of players who would end up being better testers than any QA team we could hire (internal or external).  With so many of them truly caring so much about games, I believed they could really contribute to WAR on an ongoing basis. While its role in DAoC was also to help create buzz for the game (as well as feedback), by the time we went back to the Vault for WAR the buzz was building nicely and we had lots of other ways to promote the game.

2) During the WAR days, I wish I could tell you how many conversations I had with the team at Mythic that went like this:

Me: The guys on the Vault said XXXX
Team: That’s impossible.
Me: Check it out anyway (sometimes there was an intermediate step of denial/wait for another report)
Team: Okay but…
Hours/days later, the majority of time what was said there turned out to be true.

Whether it was crash bugs, design problems, leveling curves, balance issues, etc. so much good stuff came out of the Vault that I lost my temper a few times with my people (I wasn’t a joy to be around when certain things posted on the Vault turned out true contrary to our internal tests). This wasn’t because my team wasn’t good at their jobs (even good people make mistakes and tools made by people are fallible), it was because the Vault had people who were not only really, really good at playing games (and had so much experience with MMOs including DAoC) and who were also good at finding issues/bugs but they also put in lots and lots of time in WAR. For WAR, I even had a trusted group of Vault testers who I knew I could count on to tell me the truth and I always relayed what they told me to the team.

3) I loved the passion displayed by the players there. Now, this passion could turn real ugly but during its best days, the forum was filled with people who really wanted the games to succeed and that was great. Even during the ugliest of days, I knew that many of the people who were upset were not upset because they wanted us to fail, it was because they wanted us to succeed and they could see us doing things that would damage our chance to succeed (and if/when I forgot that, during the DAoC days, Sanya was there to remind me). In all fairness though, there were also players there who were pissed because our changes made it harder for them to succeed even when we made things better for the vast majority of people and there also were the guys who were just causing trouble for a variety of reasons.

4) It’s not all love though and I remain steadfast in my belief that people shouldn’t throw nasty words/phrases, threats, accusations, vulgarity, etc. around casually and expect there to be no consequences. The nonsense that Sanya had to put up with during the DAoC days upset me greatly and that’s why I decided to scale back Mythic’s presence from the Vault. She was strong and could take it but I didn’t think it was right/necessary for her to do so any longer (FYI, as I’ve said before, she argued against the move). In hindsight, maybe I should have handled it differently and insisted that the Vault ban lots of posters for the kinds of vulgarity and harassment she had to go through but I didn’t want to do that. I had never asked the guys there to ban anyone and I didn’t want to set that precedent. I too was bothered by the hate, threats, etc. directed to myself (or my family) by a minority of posters. Maybe my skin should have been thicker and I shouldn’t let anything said bother me but I’ve never claimed perfection and never will. And like some of the people there who I have spoken to over the years, I too said a few things in anger that I shouldn’t have. Like I said, nobody is perfect.

5) When I first posted this entry I forgot to mention the moderators at the Vault so I am now correcting that oversight.  While we didn’t always agree on things either, they tried very hard to do their jobs and walk a very fine line at the same time.  I appreciate their efforts as both players of DAoC/WAR and as members of the IGN Vault.  They also cared about the game and their IGN community, not an easy and very rarely appreciated job.

So, to all the inhabitants of the Vault who contributed so much to DAoC and WAR, thank you very much. I truly do appreciate it.

Mark

P.S. I don’t expect this post to change a single thing if I ever reappear there. This is something I have wanted to get off my chest for a while and that’s good enough for me. 🙂

Update: I wanted to make a couple of quick corrections and an additional clarification or two. Also, I wanted to say  (since I got an email on the subject) please don’t ask me what things I am referring to in terms of bugs/issues found from the Vault folks, I’m not saying anything other than sometimes they were big things and sometimes they were small things and many times they were things that were sent to me privately in email by either the trusted player-testers and/or simply players.

Update #2: Added the bit about the Vault moderators.

Fan Mail From Some Flounder

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Well, time to fire up another R&B special feature, Fan Mail from Some Flounder.

Jeremy writes  “Wow…Mary Kate and Ashley Online? Sometimes I wonder what goes through peoples heads. Not only would it have been a bane on the mmo industry as a whole, I cant even begin to imagine the fallout after people realized it would have been a candy store for sexual predators. That aside, I’m SO glad you helped talk them out of that. No one would have ever taken MMOs seriously at that point. Side note: Welcome Back Mr. Jacobs. I look forward to hearing about your future projects. Glad to see you back in the swing of things.” You nailed it in one my man.  The whole “sexual predator” bit was something I brought up to them at the meeting.  As to the side note, well, I’m not back in the swing of things yet (this blog is a just a warm up I hope) but I expect to be.  I ain’t the shy and retiring type.

Robert writes “Marry Kate and Ashely – The MMO!  ROFL!  You should keep track of the moron that thought that was a good idea. Make sure that if he’s gone to another company, and has been put into a position of power, that you avoid that company like the plague!” LOL, I don’t need to do that, the “old” Acclaim went bankrupt and as far as I know, the guys who wanted us to do MKAO are no longer in the industry.  Unfortunately, they took a lot of jobs with them when they imploded.

James writes “I hope subscriptions in mmo’s aren’t dead. I really don’t like the micro transactions. The trends I am starting to see in mmo’s as player is adding more linear flow to them like a single player rpg’s and a move to low the difficulty so everyone can play. I personally can’t say I like either but oh well.” I truly don’t think that sub games are dead but they are not the “Take cash, add team, bake in oven, release game and make GIANT BAGS OF PHAT LOOT” that some investors thought that they were (and some think social networking games are now).  A few years ago I sat on a panel where I argued that RMT games weren’t the future any more than subscription games weren’t the future, there’s room for all types of games and there isn’t a silver bullet out there.  I hate silver bullets (unless you are killing werewolves) and I always get a chuckle out of people who think that the “Next Big Thing” will be the “Ultimate Big Thing”. That’s one advantage of having been around the block a few times, you’ve seen and heard this type of stuff many times before.

Alexis Muhly writes “I still get teary eyed when I think about all the good times I had playing Island of Kesmai via Compuserve on my Apple //c over 1200 baud at $6/hr. My first introduction to the world of MMORPG’s(well not so massively but still). I wonder what happened to Snafu? Probably the first real online addict lol. I was a total AW junkie myself. I played some of the other games too but Kesmai really had their mojo going great guns back in the early days. And when you consider the hoops we had to jump through to make a game work on those services (and from what I was told, CServe was even tougher to write games for than GEnie), man oh man, it’s a miracle that anything got done.

Silverel writes “Oh you beautiful genius of a man. Looking forward to following your blog for any bits of wisdom and inspiration that fall upon your path. Mythic is a win in my book under your leadership and it really is their loss that you’ve been thrown under the bus. Kudos sir, I wish you the best and thank you for all you’ve brought the MMO community.” As to being thrown under the bus, obviously I have no comment on that other than to thank you for the kind thoughts about myself and Mythic. We did some pretty great stuff together over the years but one of the things I am proud of is that we never did anything with malice aforethought. Stupid, yes, epically STOOPID, yes but never out of malice towards the players. And as always, success or failure depends on many people getting things right or even getting things wrong and it was always a team effort at Mythic. Like anyone involved in the creative process especially as CEO/GM, I made a lot of choices. Some of my choices/design elements worked, some didn’t but as anybody who worked on DAoC/WAR can tell you, lots of creative/design authority was delegated to a wide range of people as it is in every MMO. It’s why I’ve never taken all the credit for DAoC/WAR and never will (even if I do another MMO) but it’s also why I never have thrown any of my guys/gals under the bus publicly, even when they screwed up truly epically. I’d rather the community hate on me, blame me for every bug, bad design choice, coding error, poor communication, etc. than some team member(s) who was trying to do the best they could but still screwed up. That’s actually one of the few good things about no longer being at Mythic, I don’t have to be mocked, screamed at, etc. when I tell something to the community that was told to me and then it turns out to be wrong. Makes things a lot more relaxing to be me or to be around me. 🙂

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

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

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