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Mark Jacobs On Subs, RVR, and Sandboxes

William Murphy Posted:
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MMORPG: Thanks for talking to us again a bit today, Mark. I think the big thing a lot of our readers will want to hear from you is why you think RVR is making a comeback? Camelot Unchained won't be the first game to try and emulate what DAOC captured, and it may not be the last.

Mark Jacobs: RvR/PvP is on the mind of a lot of players and developers based to what has been happening in the MMORPG space since WoW’s release. With the less-than-optimal financial results from almost all “AAA” MMORPGs since then, I think players and developers are looking for another angle for new MMORPGs. In terms of emulating what Dark Age of Camelot captured, we are not trying to do that as that game had both strong PvE/RvR elements. Keep in mind (no pun intended) that I got the idea for the three-sided combat that set Dark Age of Camelot apart from the other MMORPGs at the time from Kesmai’s brilliant Air Warrior and my experience from playing that game way too much back in the GEnie days.

MMORPG: What do you think of the other recent three-faction games? Is there room for another, and if so, how will Camelot Unchained differentiate itself from the pack?

Mark Jacobs: CU first differentiator is that the entire game revolves around RvR not RvR+PvE or PvE+RvR or anything like that. Also, systems such as crafting and housing are also tied directly into RvR. The economy will be player-owned and crafters will be a very necessary part of the game/Community. In terms of the pack, well, if I was spending 100M on this game and needed millions of subs to break even, I’d be concerned. However, what we are shooting for is a nice, tight niche audience that is here not to play the “next big thing” and then move on but rather who want to spend time in a world where their choices matter, their actions are important and that realm and server pride mean something. I’m really excited to see some of the new three-faction games that are in development, especially TESO from the guys in MD. I’ve got a ton of respect for the Bethesda guys like Todd Howard, Todd Vaughn and Vlatko Andonov as well as lots of guys and gals at Zenimax Online Studios so I’m rooting for them. Besides, Matt Firor was an important part of Mythic’s success so I’m hoping it can really knock it out of the park with that game, team and Bethesda behind him. :)

MMORPG: What about monetization? The interview with our friends from Massively says you're definitely eyeing a subscription model.  Why is that?

Mark Jacobs: I believe, as always, that there is room for different monetization models in our industry. I’ve been a long-standing member of the “I love subscription-based games” model and since I’m going for a niche audience, I think it makes sense to use that model again. I really don’t want to create a game that has to figure out how to get a small percentage of people to pay for a game while the largest percentage of them will not pay for the game even if it’s great. In addition, since this game is geared to RvR, I believe we would end up with having to support a lot of people who are just “kicking the tires” and have no intention of being long-time player. Now, if the game is PvE –based, that’s not so bad. However, if you are trying to build a Community, that influx of players could hurt it.

It really boils down to the fact that I’d rather have 30-50K people playing and paying each month than having to support 1M players hoping to get 5% of them to pay. Now, I also think we can and should revisit the whole “All MMORPG subscriptions should cost $14.95 for one month” thing and be more aggressive in our pricing including lowering the price for certain subs but I’ll talk more about that down the road. What I will say though is I’m not interested in making this game one that needs “whales” to be profitable, nor of making the game $20 per month.

MMORPG: In that same interview, you talk a bit about the budget for the game. How much of that do you expect to come from Kickstarter?

Mark Jacobs: I’ll go into more detail about that when we get closer to the launch. It is safe to say though that I’ll be sticking my neck on the line (again) financially and I won’t be seeking the full funding amount from Kickstarter. A successful Kickstarter campaign will prove to me and the other investors that putting in the money it will take to launch CU is a worthwhile investment. I’ve been very upfront that this Kickstarter campaign could face-plant for any number of reasons but it’s better to know that now and only lose a small amount time/money from the studio instead of spending millions of dollars on a game that people don’t want.  FYI, the response we are getting so far is great and is exceeding my expectations so that makes me feel good.

MMORPG: How's the atmosphere around CSE now, setting out on this path? I imagine it has to feel a little like the old days, before DAOC became a hit and before the EA acquisition. Back when MUDs were your lifeblood?

Mark Jacobs: Combination of fear (smart), excitement (I’m trying to temper it), optimism (early responses, website hits), and relief. We’ve been talking about this game for so many months and now that we decided to pull the trigger on the Kickstarter campaign, well, that’s where the relief comes in. In terms of my MUD games, LOL, we already had more view of the CU webpage in 4 hours than players who would play Dragon’s Gate in a single month, makes me smile.

MMORPG: What do you think of the new trend towards "sandbox" games over traditional Everquest-like themepark MMOs? It sounds like CU is aiming towards the former. How much control will the players have over the world?

Mark Jacobs: Well, as I am both a fan and player of Minecraft, I’m a bit biased in this regard. As far as the whole “themepark vs. sandbox” debate, I’d love to see more sandbox stuff in most MMORPGs but I also know that the themepark-style games have sold a ton of boxes. That’s also one reason I don’t want to go to a publisher to get funding, I don’t want the pressure to do a themepark or even a themepark + sandbox + RvR game. Now, I don’t want to say that CU is a “sandbox MMORPG” because I think that using those two words together to describe an MMORPG is quite dangerous. It conjures up, at least in my mind, a Minecraft MMO (forget about the RPG for now) and also because, in the case of CU, I’m not trying to “engage hype engines, Captain!”

What I hope to do in CU is to build in enough sandbox elements into the game to add another level of fun/challenge/player ownership but still retain enough control over the game that the players can know that there is some method to the madness. 


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.