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AGC: Howard Marks, Acclaim

Interviews By Dana Massey on September 14, 2006

Acclaim: Howard Marks Interview from AGC

Howard talks about the adult-oriented 2Moons and the martial arts themed 9Dragons

The day after giving a talk to AGC called “Game Over”, Howard Marks and I met on the show floor to discuss 9Dragons, 2Moons, Acclaim and future economic models for the MMORPG industry.

In his talk, Marks challenged developers to see the world through his eyes. Marks is a firm believer that the future of MMORPGs is in advertising, just as television and the internet itself have ended up. Through Acclaim, Marks hopes to be at the forefront of this future and has boldly promised that all Acclaim’s MMORPGs will be pretty much free to play.

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There is a slight emphasis on “pretty much”. The first two major titles 2Moons and 9Dragons are perfect examples.

In 9Dragons, players can play for free if they do not mind some advertising in the UI. If they do, they can purchase a premium account that removes the ads, lets their characters advance a little faster, among other benefits.

2Moons, on the other hand, offers players the ability to turn off the ads for free, but again they suffer a slight experience rate penalty.

Both games will also have some internalized item sales, but Marks promises these items are purely vanity items that have more to do with character customization than acquiring the game’s best sword.

So yes, players should be able to experience both Acclaim titles for free, maybe even without ads. However, in order to get advertisers to pay at all, there has to be incentive to the ads. Thus, those who can put up with them in 2Moons get a slight advantage, just as those who are willing to pay for them to disappear do in 9Dragons.

Both models are just two Marks wants to try and he should have ample opportunity to test other waters. He has three other MMORPGs in production or localization and while he is not yet prepared to say what they are, gamers should expect a very diverse crowd of titles. Marks has no interest in redundancy in his line-up.

9Dragons - Martial Arts MMO Hits Beta
The Monday before AGC, 9Dragons hit its first closed beta: Phase One. Acclaim sent out a round of 3000 invites and roughly half of them were in playing the game by the end of the week, which is not a bad ratio given the length of time they had between signups and beta.

Marks intends to invite a couple thousand more people, then once their goals are accomplished, move into an open beta.

Like any first beta, Marks admits not all feedback has been positive, but believes things are going as well as could have been expected and progress is being made quite quickly.

I asked him about the stigma some companies feel when they try and localize foreign games for the North American market. He believes his company has seen less of a backlash because they’re not just translating the game. Instead, he hired Steven Elliot-Altman to completely re-write the quests and story for a North American audience.

The other trick of localization is the contrast in play styles between North American and Asian games. Simply put, Asian games tend to have more of a grind. Marks wants to tune that too. The leveling curve is something they will tune throughout beta to ensure players have a steady rate of progression and do not hit any false walls along the way.

“This is statistics,” he said simply, adding that it would ultimately be up to his game designers how fast or slow advancement ends up being.

2Moons - David Perry's Violent Import
Acclaim made big waves recently when they announced they’d be working with David Perry on 2Moons. Like 9Dragons, 2Moons is based off an Asian game, but again, Marks promises localization both in terms of story and gameplay. Based of Dekaron, 2Moons promises an extremely violent and adult online experience.

Marks hired Henry Jones to write new story and text for the game and told us the results are looking very spicy. They’ve even took a step down the grown-up path by allowing full cursing on their official message boards.

Still, don’t mistake adult for abusive. The basic rules of all their games apply. Racism, personal attacks and other abuse will not be tolerated. All they’re allowing is a slew of four letter words I cannot write here. When they say adult, think of HBO. Swearing, blood, gore and extreme violent are the order of the day. The one exception to this analogy is nudity, which Marks doesn’t feel makes sense in 2Moons.

So how different will 2Moons be from Dekaron? Obviously, there will be the language and text differences, but unlike 9Dragons, Marks expects far more cross pollination between the two titles. Perry has been working closely with the designers of Dakaron and many of his new innovations should end up back in the original game as well as the North American version. The two titles will have some rather glaring differences, but likely not enough that anyone is going to ultimately end up playing both.

Marks has already begun planning to make sure their adult MMORPG is just for adults. They will have various forms of age authentication, but at some level, there is only so much a game company can do.

“Ultimately, it is up to the parents to watch what their kids do,” Marks admitted.


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