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Howard Marks Talks Launch

Dana Massey Posted:
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The Chronicles of Spellborn: Launch Day Interview

Acclaim's CEO Howard Marks talks to MMORPG.com only hours after their brand new MMO hit the open market.

Launch day is easily the most important 24 hours in the life of a product. This morning, Acclaim flicked the switch and sent The Chronicles of Spellborn into the world for all to see. Hours after launch, MMORPG.com was able to catch up with Acclaim CEO Howard Marks to discuss the game and its launch.

“Are all MMOs doomed to be rolling the dice forever?” Marks asked rhetorically. That, to them, is the key to The Chronicles of Spellborn and the reason they wanted to bring it to the world. “We believe that MMOs do evolve and we have a game that shows that.”

Unlike most MMOs, Spellborn requires players to use both character and their own skill to succeed in combat. Marks pointed out that despite the visceral feel of the typical MMO’s combat, it is at its core essentially turn-based.

“Your skill in the combat system does matter [in Spellborn],” said Marks. “That has put our game in a completely new category than the classic MMORPG.”

The key innovations are that the game makes players aim manually in real-time and allows both sides to move around and dodge to the best of their ability. What’s more, players get to create their fighting style through a skill deck and are less confined than most MMOs in how they fight. Each player is able to build a character that matches their personal play preference.

“The players who go through the experience of going through the skill deck and playing with it love it to pieces,” Marks said. However, even he admitted, that the novelty of the system can be both a blessing and a curse. Players need to commit to some time to learn the system, it’s not as pick-up and play as he would like. “We’re going to add into the tutorial entire training on using that skill deck.”

Developed in Holland by Spellborn International over five years, this is a big budget game and the first published by Acclaim to employ a subscription model exclusively. It is an important launch for Acclaim.

“We’ve got hundreds of players coming all the time, lots of downloads. Our systems are holding well,” said Marks of the launch to date. He reported no major problems. “We designed it so we could probably have 10x more people and it would still be OK.”

Technically, he is pleased, but what about financially? While it is still very early, Marks said that commercial reaction so far has met expectations. They may not be getting World of Warcraft numbers, but they never expected to.

“The way we look at Spellborn is that Spellborn is a long term project for Acclaim, it’s not a one off,” he said. “We are able to release it, keep upgrading it, and offer every month new patches that are included in the game.”

He also reemphasized his company’s policy to both take and use player feedback. For example, each week, Creative Director David Perry, the lead designer of Spellborn and a writer for the game meet directly with the community in an online “webinar.”

The feedback gathered from these “webinars” are then evaluated and used to improve the game for the community.

For Marks, this is one thing that has been much easier for them to accomplish with Spellborn than some of their previous games. 2Moons and 9Dragons, for example, are both localized from Asian development studios and were originally aimed at a foreign market. Spellborn was developed from day one as an English language product. The developers speak English and come from a Western culture. It makes the process a lot smoother.

“David Perry has been working very closely with the designers and they are implementing lots of suggestions from our US players and David Perry into the next patch,” noted Marks.

He added that all patches and updates will be released in all territories simultaneously. Functionally speaking, Acclaim holds the rights in all markets save Germany, France and the Benelux countries. However, neither Spellborn International nor Acclaim employs any kind of blocking. Germans can subscribe to the American game and Americans take their business to Germany, etc.

While the localization and development process has been refined, the biggest departure for Acclaim is the business model. A huge proponent of the free-to-play market, it seemed curious for Marks to take on a subscription based game.

“Spellborn was designed nearly five years and was designed as a subscription based game in the classic way,” he explained. “What we decided to do was maintain that subscription because the game was designed that way and for us to say no lets change it into an item based game would destroy the real heart of the game.”

Still, that doesn’t mean players need to get their copy at GameStop. The game is completely free to download and the first seven levels are completely free to anyone who wants to play. Marks noted that based on Beta feedback they intend to increase that to somewhere near level 10, as their community told them that players need a bit more time to make a truly informed purchasing decision.

The Chronicles of Spellborn launched today and is available for download at spellborn.acclaim.com. Subscriptions start at $14.99 per month, $41.97 for three months or $77.94 for six months. Players can use either a credit card, or their Acclaim Coins to subscribe.


Dana Massey