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A Look Behind Acclaim's Top Secret

Jon Wood Posted:
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GDC: Top Secret

At the Game Developer's Conference, Jon Wood spoke to Howard Marks and David Perry from Acclaim's new project, Top Secret that will see thousands of community members collaborating on the creation of a single game.

When I attended the Game Developer's Conference last week, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Howard Marks, the CEO of Acclaim, and David Perry, Acclaim's Chief Creative Officer. As you might imagine, our conversation quickly turned to the subject of Marks' and Perry's most recent project: Top Secret.

For those of you who may not be aware, Top Secret is the project that will see the end result of the first user-made MMORPG. Many thousands of people will be sharing their ideas, concepts, and skills, through forums, to create this newest MMO. In short, Acclaim is planning on playing host to the largest development team in history. With up to 100,000 people expected to participate in this project, it's hard to know who will "rise to the top" to claim the prize of a Directorship on a second upcoming, fully-funded MMORPG which Acclaim guarantees that they will publish.

"We're letting everyone in [up to 100,000]." Says Marks, with the disclaimer that, "It's not mob design, we want to keep everyone focused."

While it sounds like the premise of yet another new reality show, Perry is quick to point out that this project is very real and is being taken very seriously by Acclaim. "This," he said, "is going to happen".

The project itself actually spawned from a recent experience during the development process of another Acclaim MMORPG project, 2Moons. When it came time to introduce voiceovers into the production mix, rather than going out to a professional studio, Acclaim asked their community to record the dialogue themselves (the best of which would be chosen for the game).

Acclaim was thrilled with the responses that their contest garnered. In the end, after listening to many entries, the 2Moons community provided 150 unique voices for the game that they will eventually play. This same idea of community involvement is what led to the creation of Top Secret.

"We want our players to get involved," said Marks, "we care."

When the news hit that Top Secret would be developed in this unique way, there were many who saw this simply as a way for Acclaim to make a game without actually committing money toward getting the work done. On the surface, this makes sense. On the other hand, a game does not come from forum discussion alone, especially not on such a massive scale. When I posed this question to Marks and Perry, they told me that they will, and do, have a full staff of developers working on Top Secret. These are the people who will be watching the forums, and implementing the ideas and creations that come from it. After all, someone has to be there to smooth the edges. "We're not saving a penny team-wise." Perry told us.

Recently, amongst MMORPG players, there has been a complaint that the industry has lost its creativity. It has been said that too many of the same people move from one MMORPG project to another, and that their ideas have grown stagnant. Perry and Marks recognize this, and are hoping that Top Secret brings some fresh and new ideas from the people who have made the industry, the fans, and their expectations are high.

On the forums, Marks and Perry expect good things from the 100,000 people that are expected to participate in Top Secret, but while their enthusiasm is plainly clear to anyone who talks to them, their expectations are realistic. They don't expect that all 100,000 participants will be up to the challenge, but said that if even a small fraction, say, 1%, are skilled and talented enough, that's still 1,000 people all working toward the completion of the game.

Throughout my conversation with Perry and Marks, I found that they couldn't say enough about the abilities and talents that exist in MMORPG communities. Those players, they suspect, will rise quickly to the surface when the project kicks off. They also feel that the people involved in the project need to be the ones to recognize the talent of their peers, and point out the participants who really shine. Each and every idea and suggestion will be looked at by both Top Secret staff and participants alike. Those with the best ideas, and biggest contributions will naturally gain recognition for that.

Perry expects that Top Secret staffers aren't going to be the only ones paying close attention to this contest and the people who do well. Other companies will likely be on the boards, watching and reading, looking for potential talented employees. "I expect," Perry said, "to see some headhunting through the contest."

No matter who wins the contest and the directorship of an upcoming MMORPG, it should be exciting to watch as Acclaim tries something that has never been done in the industry before. So, for those who complain that developers have lost their sense of creativity and that the MMO landscape is disappointing, this is your opportunity to try to change that by stepping in and getting involved. Sure, you could win a job out of the project, or you could end up with a job outside of Acclaim, but the real prize is the opportunity to participate in something interesting and unique, whether the end result is the next big MMO, or not.

You can sign up for the Top Secret project at their website here.


Jon Wood