Catching Up with Mark Jacobs
MMORPG: It’s been a while since we chatted, Mark. How’ve things been going over at City State Entertainment since Oz launched?
Mark Jacobs: Things are going great; thanks for asking. March on Oz was released for the iPad in October and we’re in the middle of a major content and platform push (iPhone, Kindle, Android and PC) that we hope to have completed by spring. So, not so bad for a small studio’s first game, eh?
MMORPG: How have things in the mobile world been different from the bigger projects of MMO development?
Mark Jacobs: Well, the scope is just a wee bit smaller than the MMORPGs we created at Mythic. MoO is certainly the most bug-free and stable game at launch that I’ve ever been a part of in almost 30 years of professional game development. Working with the App Store is so much better than having to deal with all the different retailers and all their demands; I don’t miss those days at all. It's not perfect, but I’d rather pay the fees to Apple and deal directly with them than go through what we had to with our MMOs.
MMORPG: What do you miss most from those days, working on DAoC and at Mythic in general?
Mark Jacobs: In terms of Dark Age, I miss the Camelot lore and the world that we built around it. As far as Mythic goes, I certainly miss some of my friends from those days as well as interacting with so many of our players whether on the forums plus through my “folks”-style announcements, “State of the Game” and also the occasional “mea culpa” messages.
I’ve always been a believer, going back to my MUD days, in talking directly to the players and hearing what they have to say about our games. I don’t miss being the focal point for the hate, but I considered that part of my job rather than ignoring the players or throwing someone else out there to take the heat and only come out to take the bows.
MMORPG: How were the challenges of working on a project of that scope different from what you’ve been doing now? What sorts of lessons have you learned since then?
Mark Jacobs: I’ve certainly learned to be a bit more realistic in terms of the initial vision for a game, and based on what we’ve been getting in terms of feedback on MoO, I’ve also definitely learned how to reach a wider demographic. Maybe it’s because my writing is so bad, but I’ve been told that MoO is doing very well with children as well as adults. OTOH, I really, really want to get a good writer in here sometime soon because grammar isn't my strongest skill.
MMORPG: What would you have done differently with Dark Age of Camelot today, if you were able to go back in time?
Mark Jacobs: I would have fought harder to increase the scope of Dark Age for one. I would have insisted on listening to the players more often and not going with other people’s instincts - and at times, my own. I would also have insisted on having certain tools built that we didn’t have until Warhammer was well into development. They would have helped us avoid some bad balancing decisions.
I should have also focused more on DAoC instead of both Imperator and biz dev. If so, maybe some dumb things we did wouldn’t have happened. But who knows? I might have added my own dumb things instead. The problem was that once we sold a large piece of the company to the fine folks at Abandon Entertainment and TA Associates, I was being pulled in too many directions at once. I had to delegate more and more day to day design decisions while also focusing on maximizing Mythic’s value so all the investors and shareholders (including the employees) could get a good ROI.
I did that quite successfully, but it took quite a toll on me. And since I was the only major shareholder who didn’t really want to sell Mythic (and not because it was to EA) and my co-founder was quite eager to sell the studio, well, that made it even harder on me. But by then, I was simply out-voted and I wasn't going to go all scorched earth just because of what I wanted or didn’t want. Unfortunately for me, the results were as I feared. However, as I said, I owed a duty to all the employees, shareholders and investors in Mythic to put my personal feelings aside and not storm off in a huff and kill the deal. So I did what I needed to do - as simple as that.
MMORPG: What do you think of the slew of new “indie” MMOs making their way towards release? What kind of words of encouragement would you give them?
Mark Jacobs: May the force be with you? Seriously though, I’m happy to see indie devs get a chance to recreate the success that Mythic had with Dark Age of Camelot. I’d love to see another small, underfunded studio create a hit MMORPG just as we did with our game.
MMORPG: What about you? Do you ever have the urge to delve back into MMORPGs? The teasers CSE put out have us all wondering…
Mark Jacobs: When EA, Mythic and I parted company, I never wanted to work on another MMO. Frankly, it took at least 12 months even to decide I wanted to make games again since the previous four years and my exit/aftermath had been so brutal. However, as time passed, plus as I played various MMORPGs and saw that almost all the predictions I made while at EA turned out to be accurate, I started feeling more and more interested.
Now, after starting the new studio and getting to work with a talented, dedicated and really honest group of guys and gals, I really feel good again. Intrigued too because of what's happening in the industry, like that whole Kickstarter thing…