My friends Ivan and Shamrokk over at The Big Freaking Podcast had a chance to sit down with Jack Emmert, Chief Operating Officer of Cryptic Studios. Cryptic has released two big AAA titles within 6 months of each other: Champions Online and Star Trek Online. He is proud to say that Cryptic is the only developer to release four MMORPG’s in its game developing lifetime. Counting City of Heroes, City of Villains’, Champions Online and most recently Star Trek Online, not many studios come close.
Jack Emmert, an avid comic book fan who reads over 90 titles monthly, says his favorites are The Green Lantern and The Hulk. He holds multiple academic degrees and was approached to do City of Heroes while he was working on his dissertation about animal sacrifices. He left a possible career of being a professor of Greek and Latin to create Cryptic Studios with Rick Dakin in 2000. While he reminiscing about the lean years during the parting of ways from NCSoft he says, “He never got misty eyed” over selling The City of Heroes/Villians franchise but thought they would be working on for the next decade. He claims that Cryptic and NCSoft had “divergent interests” and after rescuing the company from the brink of financial apocalypse they acquire the Star Trek IP along with the Champions IP (Intellectual Property, the right to an idea.)
It sounds like Jack Emmert has been through hell and back with Cryptic. He's passionate about his products and like everyone who creates a product for a particular market he has to deal with the critics. The mention of the different ratings systems and the mediocre scores would seem to have an impact on future customers for both games. But as Jack Emmert explains how the ratings system itself is quite imbalanced. When websites like Metacritic, Massively and Gamespot reviewed Warhammer Online and Age of Conan they didn’t expect the player sudden player drop off. Leaving many of the reviewers burned [sic] by loss of credibility.
Jack Emmert says it isn’t the reviewers or the fans that are ruining the MMORPG industry, “Wow has almost destroyed the MMO genre” he says. “Not in a bad way”, he follows, it’s because (wow) epitomizes everything that an MMO is, leaving all the others to be compared to it. This is why many reviewers judge a game on what it is NOW instead of what it COULD BE. But he also feels that it will take a lot of money and a strong IP to rival the World of Warcraft. After spending over 100 million dollars he feels that Bioware’s upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic could be the game to rival WoW.
The future plan for Cryptic Studios looks very promising. Jack Emmert seemed very positive about the new upcoming updates for both games, Star Trek Online’s Season 2 and Revelations for Champions Online. An entire survey of the taken by the Star Trek Online community is going to be created into the next expansion called Season 2. “What the players want is exactly what we’re going to give them”, Jack says with authority. When posted a question of a death penalty or lack thereof, he admits that the community has strongly requested it and it will be in an upcoming patch. “What is fun about a death penalty” he jokes but then tells us a deep, dark developer secret that the only reason why a death penalty is incorporated into a game is to get the player to play longer.
There is one thing to be wrong, but not to stay wrong. At certain times during the interview Mr. Emmert admits to certain points where both Champions Online and Star Trek Online they could be improved. He is looking to improve the company overall and make better product for the public. But the problem is a logistical issue of manpower, he doesn’t want to be detract from the developer team that is making new content to go back and fix certain issues. Problems ranging typos to quests that don’t tell the player where to go and ultimately description of powers and items that don’t make any sense, it will take manpower to make these changes.
Their latest campaign is to actively reach out to the community and the press to find their place amongst this universe of games. One of the many steps they are taking is something they practiced during their days as developers of City of Heroes/Villains’, they did this from taking a page from Richard Garriot’s book. By creating characters and actively getting involved with the players firsthand they get to see the game through the gamer’s eyes instead of a developer. In doing this they are looking to bridge the gap between gamer and developer.
Enter Bill Roper, the good cop to Jacks bad cop. As Shannon Posniewski ascends from the position of a software engineer to an executive role, this frees up Bill Roper to be the one who is going to oversee all games. One of Bill Ropers new roles as troubleshooter is going to be “making sure he play tests all of the taskforces in Star Trek.” Jack abruptly ends this subject with, “there is a little bit more going on than everybody knows yet.” Hmm, could there be a big surprise coming from Cryptic this year at E3!
Could it be Jack Emmert’s dream project of making a Godzilla MMO? Nah, never happen and I’m not one to speculate but one thing is confirmed that it will not be made for any consoles. “Consoles are not a current focus” he confides to the surprise of both Ivan and Shamrokk, he says he’s looking to “make the best PC products they possibly can.”
I will stop here; I don’t want to give everything away, but this was one of the most in-depth, personal and honest interviews I have ever had to chance to hear. This is a man that has made some tough decisions, choosing on becoming a video game developer than a college professor. During many sleepless nights he held up this company with the help of his staff. His employees look to him and put their trust in him not just as their boss, but as a leader.
Jack Emmert and Cryptic Studios are resilient, they have bounced back from numerous setbacks. The selling of a successful MMO franchise to release other successful MMO’s and in dealing with bad press they learn from their mistakes and keep the future in focus. According to Jack, 100,000 subscriptions is a success and their mission is to keep that level of quality. This builds confidence in their customer base and opens the door for future business.
But his main focus is on his employees that depend on him and his customers that look to Cryptic Studios to have fun by playing their games. That is the bottom line over at Cryptic Studios; they are just looking to make fun games, at the end of the day Cryptic is just a bunch of gamers. To hear the rest of the interview and catch up on past shows head on over to The Big Freaking Podcast, download and enjoy!