Just last week the DC Comics inspired superhero MMO, DC Universe Online (DCUO), celebrated it’s 10-year anniversary! Dimensional Ink Games, the studio behind the development for the game, also kicked off a three weeklong in-game celebration that runs through January. For details of that event check out “DC Universe Online 10th Year Anniversary Event Impressions” piece.
To help celebrate this remarkable occasion we had a chance to sit down with Jack Emmert, MMO veteran and CEO of Dimensional Ink Games. We had a heart-to-heart chat about the first ten years and started to peer a bit into the next ten years for the game! We also even talked about current DC Comics!
MMORPG: Well, Jack congratulations on the 10th anniversary! That's a pretty amazing milestone!
Jack Emmert, Dimensional Ink Games: What's amazing is it was our biggest year ever. And that is truly amazing, obviously, to have a game that's in a growth cycle 10 years in is pretty, amazing.
MMORPG: Can you tell us about when you first got involved with DCUO? Were you there from the start?
JE: No, I was not, but there's a story there. Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) considered talking to Cryptic Studios to do DC Universe Online. We had an initial conversation after we had launched City of Heroes successfully, it was going great. SOE literally reached out to us. And NCSoft was not too pleased about that. So those conversations were shut down. And then afterwards, you know, we had the opportunity to see DC Universe Online when it launched. We had a lot of friends at SOE, so we were able to get into beta. And I loved the game. And when the opportunity came from Daybreak, Ji Ham, our CEO, he called me back in 2016, and said, “Hey, are you interested in moving to Austin, taking over DC Universe Online and potentially working on another game?” and I said, sign me up. At that point, I was doing more corporate stuff [at Cryptic Studios], I was very far removed from game development, I wanted to get back to what I love. And so, in 2016 I moved here to Austin, me and my 1.2 tons of comic books, and got to work.
MMORPG: At the time you started was Jim Lee still involved with the game or had he moved on by then?
JE: No, he had moved on. Jim Lee, in the beginning, was the art director and his studio at the time, was providing concept art, which is still hanging all around our office. I even have a funny story about that.
So, for a period of time, Cryptic was working on the Marvel MMO. I went to a comic book convention and Jim Lee was giving a panel just on a variety of stuff. And so, I stood up and said, “I hear you're working on the DC Universe Online game, how’s it coming?” And so, he chatted about that. And he said, “Who are you?” and I said, “Well, I'm Jack Emmert. I'm making the Marvel Universe online game.” And so, we had a good laugh about that. And then we chit chatted afterwards a little bit, he’s a very, very nice gentleman.
MMORPG: Do you recall your first experience as a player with DCUO?
JW: Yeah, what I remember vividly is fighting gorillas on the beach in Metropolis. I think that particular mission is seared into my memory for reasons both good and bad. Getting lost in the Watchtower, I remember that and cursing. And then of course, now since over the past four years I've become a heavily big-time player, remembering the raids and so forth. Because all I do is pick up groups, and that's always fun. Because people have no idea who I am. And you know, frequently people are like “you have no idea what you're doing. You know, this is what the schtick is.” And then I'm like, “no it isn’t dude”, I understand what they decided, but I can't say anything. I just have to let them do what they're going to do.
MMORPG: What is your main in game and your main spec? Are you a healer, tank?
JE: Oh, I am a sorcery build. So, healer.
MMORPG: When we started this interview, you mentioned that 2020 was the game's best year.
JE: Actually, the best year since the year after launch, which was PlayStation 4 when our PS4 version came out.
MMORPG: So why do you think this is your second-best year?
JE: For a period of time, there was a huge COVID bump of players. But we're getting a lot more committed players than we ever had. Just people spending a lot of time, a lot of money in the game at rates that we haven't seen before that are really impressive.
MMORPG: Are you seeing subscription rates go up at all?
JE: Yes, we're seeing that pretty much across the board, just a greater level of enthusiasm. Now, a lot of those COVID people, they're not playing now. But the people who are playing are extremely dedicated. And that's pretty amazing. I mean, we're talking in the hundreds of 1000s. playing every month. And that's remarkable.
MMORPG: So how do you think DCUO keeps the fan base engaged, especially after 10 years?JE: Well, number one key is constant flow of new content, and trying to make that new content relevant to the DC IP [intellectual property], both to the movies, but also to the comic books. Also, really keeping on that cutting edge to deliver people something that allows them to experience DC as it is today, not looking back 40 or 50 years. I think that's the real key.
MMORPG: What are some of your proudest development moments over the 10 years, or at least since you got on board?
JE: I think porting over to the [Nintendo] Switch, that was huge I'm really proud of that. I'm really proud of content updates. Before I came aboard, the content update schedule was basically like a new instance every month. And we changed that to large quarterly updates that were very narrative driven. I'm very proud about that. I'm very proud about some of the stories we've done, especially Batman Metal, Wonderverse, and Birds Of Prey which was fantastic. Really, in being able to do fan favorites like Legion Of Superheroes, which is live now. I'm proud that our new content updates are level-less as anybody can play it. So that way, if you're a new player you're not stuck with the community and people doing content that’s 10 years old. You can leap into the latest and greatest.
MMORPG: How about on the flip side? If there was something you could do over again from the last 10 years what would that be?
JE: I would have fixed end game [chuckles]. I think end game is a little bit messy. And I think I should have addressed that. I think I should have addressed the transition into endgame. You know, you get the leveling done very quickly. You reach max level, you get to the Watchtower, which is very confusing. And then all of a sudden, the game totally changes. You're no longer in persistent zones, you're entirely in instances, and you're no longer leveling. And I think I could have done a better job cleaning that up. And that is definitely one of my “to-dos” in the coming future.
MMORPG: So now let’s talk a little bit about a the 10-Year Anniversary fact sheet that you guys put out when we started the anniversary event. I'm curious on your thoughts on some of those statistics. Start with the top five powers. Is it any surprise that the five on top are on top? Given that those were the classic and free to play power sets?
JE: Fire is the biggest one by quite a bit actually. Flight is something that is obvious, because it's frankly, the definition of a superhero. You know, in DC, for example, superspeed is such an intrinsic part of the game. In the powers section it's a little surprising. Gadgets make sense for Batman characters or Deathstroke characters. Fire and Ice are a little interesting, because it's not as if either of those are super prominent among the iconic heroes.
MMORPG: While we’re talking about power sets, you think we're ever going to see more power sets added in the future?
JE: I can guarantee it. We're going to work on new powers.
MMORPG: That would be great. I think people enjoy hearing that because I get that question all the time.
JE: We definitely want to do it. It's a lot of time and energy so we need to carve it out just right.
MMORPG: And then going on to the flip side of that chart to movement modes. It seems like flight is obvious. But then it seems like a lot of the pickup groups I’m in I see a lot of super speeders for some reason.
JE: You know, I'm surprised superspeed isn’t bigger. Look, superspeed is a bigger part of DC than other comic IPs. Because you have the Flash and the Speed Force family of speedsters. And it's a little surprising that it isn't more.
MMORPG: And then you have that 1% which I assume is skimming. Are there any thoughts on taking movement modes any further or are we to the point where it's not even possible to actually add something? I remember in City Of Heroes though we had Super Leap.
JE: That's something that we could revisit, you know, alongside the new power sets. Power sets is something we've more actively discussed. Mostly with travel modes, we've thought about alternate forms of travel modes, so that you can use fire flight or ice slides, things along those lines.
MMORPG: The Fast Facts shows 59 million bases created for 72 million unique users. That seems like an average of three bases per user.
JE: Yeah. And honestly, the average is that high because of a small number of people having an inordinate number of bases.
MMORPG: I was surprised that there's over a million League halls created.
JE: There's a lot of people playing the game, you know, and I come from Cryptic. And I was shocked at the size of the player base.
MMORPG: Over the 10 years, you've also launched on five different platforms, which is a great feat. Is there any one platform that stands out as a development nightmare?
JE: I'm told Xbox was a challenge. I started the month that they launched the Xbox, I literally walked through the door. And they had been working on it for a while and launched it. So that was a real success story. But it was really tough.
MMORPG: Was there ever a big demand for a Mac client?
JE: In my previous experience at Cryptic we went native; I think with Star Trek. And with a Mac client, unless you can get into the Apple Store, virtually nobody plays it. The Apple Store at least previously was very restricted. Like you couldn't update your game on a continual basis and be in their store. So, things might have changed. So maybe I should look at that again.
MMORPG: Let's talk about the 10th anniversary celebration going on. There's more than $50 worth in free player gifts, including a CR290 skip token. I've never used any of these character advances actually, somehow, I feel like I'm cheating.
JE: You know, it's just a way to get closer to where a large number of people are playing. By grinding it naturally, that's going to take a long time. And World Of Warcraft has shown just put people where they want to be and then let them work towards an achievable goal.
MMORPG: Have you guys thought about maybe adding looking for group tools for some of those open world multiplayer missions at all, like World Of Warcraft did for epic world quests?
JE: Well, it depends on what part of the game you're talking about. When you're leveling in Metropolis and Gotham, you are breadcrumbed with solo-able missions so easily. And then once you get to endgame, especially the more recent content, typically what will happen is that either in chat and zone, you can easily find a group, or you're going to be running across other people who are doing their dailies at the same time. So those typically are the ways that it's pretty easy now. But it's a good suggestion for a future feature.
MMORPG: Let’s talk about the 10th Anniversary Producer’s Letter by Landon Falls. He talked about an Episode 40, about Flashpoint being a source of inspiration. He conjunction with that he talked about “a more traditional content structure”, what does he mean by that?
JE: I think, for example, we experimented in Wonderverse with putting out cooperative world events, that players went around defeating each of the Olympian gods. We did something similar in Legion. And I think those were really great. But we don't want to overdo that. Like it was good for a change of pace. And we want to try to get back to a content structure that has the instances that people want. So, what we did before is take some of what we had done in terms of instance content and spent that development time in the open world. Now we're going to go back to making instances.
MMORPG: He also mentioned graphical improvements, are these going to be focused on the new gaming consoles or will we see changes across the other platforms?
JE: The updates that we do now with every game update is we improve the looks of characters and environments.
MMORPG: And the newer style pieces are definitely nicer than some of the older ones.
JE: Exactly. So, we're going back and that's through everything.
MMORPG: The letter also mentions you're also talking about improving the game for new and returning players. I know that some of this was done when the Switch first launched with the dialogues and help. What else are you guys thinking of in that area?
JE: Well, we're still deep in planning. But you know, the sky's the limit. We've done nothing but add new content at the end of the game, for years, since launch. There's certainly no reason to think we couldn't do new beginning content. There's no reason that we couldn't create brand new mentors. We have these big, beautiful cities, Metropolis and Gotham, that you almost never return to, once you've done them, once you’ve done the leveling. So, there are a lot of things that we're discussing. Certainly, the game was great when it first launched and we've learned a lot about how people play games, how they consume content, how they learn games, what's a good tutorial, what's a bad tutorial. We’re going back and reapplying those potentially even to new content, not just improve our old.
MMORPG: And he also talked about a special piece of content. I don't know if you've browsed Discord and the forums, but it sounds like everyone's thinking we're going to get a survival mode. But I'm sure you can't talk about that.
JE: Oh, that's top secret.
MMORPG: And then, of course, my last top secret one, which because the guys on my team here have bugged me to ask you about the Marvel license. But I know you're not going to be able to tell me something.
JE: I can only confirm whatever information that has already been shared by EG7.
[I tried guys, sorry]
MMORPG: So, is there anything else you want to talk about regarding the anniversary that I might have missed?
JE: No, I think that's about it. I mean, we're having a typical anniversary, we're seeing double the amount, double the player re-acquisition that we normally do in the first 13 days. So, people are clearly loving it, which is great.
MMORPG: I'm encouraged to see that you guys are talking about more episodes. And you talked about growing your team a bit.
JE: Oh, yeah, we did. We identified some things we wanted to improve and add in the game. And so, we added some staff.
MMORPG: For the PS5 and the Xbox Series X are those separate code bases?
JE: There are certainly things that we need in order to get native to both. There's definitely work to be done. And given that, it would be a very excellent guess that we're going to work hard on that.
MMORPG: I've been thinking about you guys this week, and last week a lot because of the new event that started in DC Comics, Future State, I don't know if you're up to date.
JE: Yeah, I've read them all.
MMORPG: While I read Future State issues, I'm like, boy, that would be a perfect fit for you guys. Because you could just take off.
JE: Exactly we could easily do an episode set in Future State. We could easily do for example, a brand-new beginning, leveling, set in Future State. There's any number of things and of course, Gotham in Future State even makes a better MMO setting. Literally, you’re hunted the minute you go out on the street.
MMORPG: Yeah. That was my exact thought.
JE: Now you know, I read it, right. And I'm not just BS’in there.
MMORPG: That's all I had unless you wanted to add anything, Jack.
JE: No, this has been terrific. I thank you so much, Scott.
Thanks to Jack and everyone at Dimensional Ink Games for their time! Here’s to another 10 years of DC Universe Online!
About Jack Emmert
Dimensional Ink Games
Jack Emmert, who has more than two decades of experience in the gaming industry across a wide range of leadership roles serves as the CEO of Dimensional Ink Games. Jack provides the vision and leads the development efforts for the studio’s current live game, DC Universe™ Online, and the exciting new soon-to-be-announced MMO project.
Prior to his current position, Jack’s responsibilities included leadership roles such as the CEO of Daybreak Austin Studio and the Head of Games for the broader Daybreak Games organization. Prior to Daybreak, Jack was one of the founders of Cryptic Studios. During his tenure there, he served as CCO, COO and CEO and led the development and design of the critically acclaimed MMORPGs City of Heroes (2004), City of Villains (2005) Champions Online (2009), Star Trek Online (2010), and Neverwinter (2013).
He graduated with a B.A. in Classical Civilization from the University of Pennsylvania, a M.A. in Ancient History from the University of Chicago, and a M.A. in Greek and Latin from Ohio State University (OSU). Recently, OSU hosted The Emmert Colloquium on Methods for the Teaching of Myth, a program that uses video games and comic books to teach students about mythology.