A game changer?

Leave a comment

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

Advertisements

Thank you – Bite sized, chunky peanut butter version

Leave a comment

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

2 Comments

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

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

6 Comments

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

1 Comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Regarding Electronic Arts

4 Comments

Before I began casting the resurrection spell on this blog I spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not this was a good idea.  After all, I’ve had a nice vacation, plenty of downtime and the chance to politely beg off from tons of offered interviews, questions/queries from analysts and assorted other interested people.  By jumping back into the pool I know/knew that I would get asked a lot of questions about my 3 years at EA, whether about EA itself, WAR, the situation regarding my departure, etc.  So after much thought and reflection I decided to not only bring back the blog but also to, as I said in an earlier post, continue my career walking down the same road I have almost always walked on, the high road.  I do this not from contractual issues (buh bye now), fear (I mean after all, I was happy to tangle with Microsoft years back) but simply because I think it is good manners.  However, I do want to say some things about my tenure at EA and for now this post will have to suffice.

First, I have always maintained and will always maintain a tremendous respect for EA the institution.  EA’s historical legacy is one of the proudest in our industry.  They have been responsible for more great games and game-changers then any other company since their founding so long ago.  Corporations are not inherently evil or good as they are made up of people (lots of people in EA’s case) who help direct and shape the company fortunes.  It will be a sad day for the industry if EA passes through the great corporate veil as so many other game companies have done over the decades and I hope that day never comes.

Second, as much as I respect the corporation itself, I have a much deeper respect for the hardest working men and women at EA, the group known in the parlance as the rank and file.  These are the people who literally burn the midnight oil (and the Saturday and Sunday oil as well) to make games.  Many of them live, breathe, eat, sleep and **** games and their dedication to their craft is amazing.  One of the many things I’m proud of during my tenure at EA (more on this below) is the fact that in our executive circle/meetings I always spoke up for them whether it was to push for a profit-sharing plan like we had at Mythic, repricing of stock options (when EA’s stock, like all the gaming stocks, took a nosedive during the recession/downturn/ecopocalypse) and other things.  As I said to my bosses on more than one occasion, the executives, including yours truly, can take care of themselves, we need to take care of the workers.  These are the guys and gals who really make or break the games that drive our industry.

Third, I’m very proud of what I accomplished during my brief tenure at EA.  Over the years there my opinion was asked about all sorts of games and developers that EA might want to work with and I can say without any fear of contradiction, that my advice (and sometimes warnings) were always spot on.  In terms of WAR, well, given the historical failure rate of MMORPGs (more on this another day), the fact that WAR was developed in only 3 years (compare and contrast to other already launched titles), is still operating, had to launch directly against a WoW expansion, sold a hefty amount of copies, was one of the highest rated MMOs to date, etc. is something to be proud of regardless.  I am also proud that during my time at EA I never once sought promotion, raises, super-special perks, more power, etc. all I cared about was trying to deliver a top title for EA.  I felt that doing anything else would be a disservice to the company and to the team that bought Mythic in 2006.  My mission was to help get WAR out the door and anything that could distract me from that I wanted no part of.

Fourth, I still thank EA for acquiring Mythic.  The EA leadership team at the time invested a significant amount of money in Mythic (though it pales before the Playfish, Bioware/Pandemic and Jamdat acquisitions).  They believed enough in us to buy us and again, regardless of what eventually happens to Mythic or what happened during my tenure at EA, that deserves a thank you.

Finally, one thing that I’m not proud of was that the three years at EA were the toughest of my PERSONAL life.  As a old entry here states, soon after the EA acquisition my mom was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.  The year that followed was rather emotional and her final two weeks were, to put it mildly, difficult culminating with her death only a few hours after my birthday).  I come from an incredibly small family (thanks to that wacky guy, Adolf Hitler) and my mom’s death left me a bit emotionally adrift.  What I should have done is take off a significant amount of time but once again, that wasn’t in my DNA.  Rightly or wrongly I tried to push through it and with very little emotional support it wasn’t the best decision I ever made.

So, time to wrap up this post and for now, that’s all I intend to say about my time at EA.  For those who comment here, ask me questions or seek interviews,  this post should be self-explanatory.

Mark

Older Entries