Warhammer Online: Mark Jacobs on the IP, Marketing and EA
MMORPG.com Managing Editor Jon Wood had the opportunity to speak with Mythic Entertainment boss Mark Jacobs about the Warhammer IP, Marketing and EA.
Today, we continue with Part Two of my interview with Mythic Entertainment VP and GM Mark Jacobs. In this part of the article, we focus in on working with the Warhammer IP, Mythic Entertainment’s relationship with EA and more!
When I first asked Jacobs about Mythic’s lack of experience handling a major IP like Warhammer Online, I was reminded that this isn’t Mythic’s first kick at the IP can. I was quickly reminded that while it’s the first time that they have applied it to a massive scale MMORPG, Mythic has worked with titles like Aliens, Godzilla and Starship Troopers and others in the past and that they do have experience with IPs.
Speaking directly to the experience working with the Warhammer IP, Jacobs credits the team’s strong familiarity with the franchise in terms of making it easier to develop. The third point that Mark made revolved around what he describes as the strong relationship with Games Workshop (the owners of the Warhammer IP) that the studio had even prior to getting the license.
As a result of these things, Jacobs tells us that they had the advantage of being able to hire a number of former Games Workshop employees, including the wacky face of WAR Paul Barnett and a number of others.
“You look at 25 years worth of glory,” Mark said, referring to the Warhammer franchise. “Worth of great stuff, and you get to go ‘oh I like this, or I like this, but can we change that…’ That just makes your life easier, not harder. In the end though, the biggest difference between GW and every other IP holder I’ve ever worked with is when I asked GW a question, ‘Which is more important: for us to do a great game, or for us to do a great game based on Warhammer?’ They said, ‘Make a great game,’ and that’s the answer I wanted because what they wanted more than anything else was a great game, and if that meant making some changes, or coming up with the Age of Reckoning, for example, to do the things that we could do in this game… That’s what was important to them. Make a great game, change what you need to… within reason.”
From there, we went on to talk about some examples of what “within reason” meant in terms of Mythic’s freedom to play with the license. Mark gave me the example of no greenskin females. They just don’t exist in the realm of Warhammer, but he tells me that there were very few of these restrictions.
“I’ve loved it,” he said when describing working with Games Workshop. “It’s been an absolutely wonderful experience.”
Changing tracks just a little bit, we moved on to talking a little bit about marketing. It was a thread on the forums that prompted me to ask this question and I was interested to hear the answer. Blizzard’s World of Warcraft seems to saturate television and other media with commercials for their game while we have yet to see any form of Warhammer Online television spot.
“You haven’t yet,” Jacobs answered slyly and then referencing the fact that we didn’t see TV spots for WoW until it was already successful.
This simple question led me into another slightly more complicated question. I asked Mark how he felt that Warhammer right out of the gate has to compete with a World of Warcraft that already has four years under its belt. This is a common thread on forums where the two are compared with Warhammer fans often pointing to the age difference between the two as a argument for the new game.
“I don’t mind us being held up to WoW four years in because I expect that,” he answered easily. “You have to. We’re competing against the game today, not the game as it was at launch. That’s just fair. You can’t go into the space and whine that you have to compete with them. That goes with the territory.”
Going back to the television commercials, he said that, “WoW earned the right to have all of those commercials and everything done on it. They got the subs, they had the money, they have the right.” He told me that he wasn’t going to go to EA and have a tantrum looking for more advertising money. That was just silly when you could market the game through other means.
“So far,” he said,, “I think we’re doing just fine.”
The last thing that I wanted to talk to Mark about before letting him go back to launching his game was the real relationship between Mythic and Electronic Arts. I remember when the announcement was made over two years ago and many predicted that EA (admittedly because of a lousy previous track record) would spell the end of both Mythic Entertainment and of course their Warhammer Online project.
I’m not saying that those people were out of line. In fact, I was one of those people who privately thought that there was no way that the EA merger could have been a good thing for either the company or the game. So, what did Mark have to say about the relationship?
He started by recounting a number of the popular complaints about the move, forecasting doom and gloom:
“Twenty Eight months later, what has happened?” he began. “We’re releasing a great game. We were able to delay the game a couple of times because we had EA behind us going ‘okay, we understand your reasons… go for it.’”
“We have the best distribution system in North America and Europe supporting us,” he continued. “We’ve had the support of EA in their marketing and sales distribution. Human Resources that have helped us bring more people into Mythic. We’ve had help from them when we outsourced some of the art… So it is now twenty eight months later and look where we are. We are a more polished game with a distribution system. Being part of EA meant we didn’t have to scrape like we did back in the Camelot days for every server. If I can justify why we need it, then EA is going to go, ‘Okay, makes sense.’”
“Back when we were independent, it was’ gee, what else should I sign away in order to get those servers? Can I give you another pint of blood?’ I mean, it was really that bad back in those days. So 28 months out, because we’re a part of EA, it’s made a lot of things easier and better.”
Next, we talked about the fact that many people thought that EA wouldn’t be able to resist meddling in the game design for WAR. Mark told me that this wasn’t the case at all. He also pointed out that the massive price hikes that many suggested would be inevitable with an EA takeover never actually materialized.
In terms of input, the developers were never given any directives from the parent company in terms of what should or shouldn’t be in the game. They might have given suggestions, but they were always just that, suggestions. This shouldn’t be confused with “suggestions” that come from parent companies, as Mark was very specific about the fact that they were always free to take or leave suggestions from EA. This practice extended into payment models, and more so that:
“In the end, “Jacobs said, “we got to make the game that we wanted. Not that game that EA wanted, not the game that Blizzard wanted, it’s the game that we wanted. That’s what it is. One of the criticisms that’s always been heaped on all of the publishers versus the developers who tend to at times come out smelling a little bit better is that publishers can run a game out before it’s done… We got two delays out of it with EA where we said, ‘we need to delay it again’. EA didn’t rush us out the door. They could have said to us in June, ‘no guys, you’ve gotta ship it, patch it afterwards.’ They didn’t. And I don’t mean that I threatened so they didn’t, they never said that.”
Mark credits a very open philosophy at Mythic when it comes to keeping EA involved and up to date with the production. The more that Mythic (who is on the east coast) can keep west-coast based EA in the loop, the better things are going to be.
In the end, it seems as though folks who worried that EA’s takeover of Mythic would mean the end of Warhammer worried needlessly now that Warhammer has made it through a relatively successful launch. In terms of the future, Jacobs told us that we should expect much more out of the Warhammer team (they plan to staff up on the project, not down should the game succeed) and from Mythic Entertainment. While Mark tells us that they don’t have anything new in development just yet, he did say that we shouldn’t expect to have seen the last from Mythic.
Do I smell an Imperator revival? Time will tell.