ZAM Exclusive: Mark Jacobs Q&A

The co-founder of Mythic and City State Entertainment talks Camelot Unchained

"Being safe is for tourists and for most casual games.
This is the wrong game, wrong genre, wrong developer and wrong time to be safe." 

With those words, Mark Jacobs, co-founder and ex of Mythic, opened the latest blog entry for Camelot Unchained, the Kickstarter-bound working title for the upcoming MMORPG under development at his new studio, City State Entertainment.

As you can imagine, we were excited to hear the news of Mark re-entering the MMORPG space, and even more so when he agreed to answer a few questions for us! Interested in hearing what the creative force behind Dark Age of Camelot and Warhammer Online has in store for us in Camelot the second time around? Read on!

You've dubbed the construct of your new game Tri-Realm, and described it as an "RvR-focused game where there is no PvE grinding, no gear grinding, no “instanced-based PvP/RvR” but with an entirely player-owned and crafted economy and where your choices matter, all set within a truly open and persistent world."

Those words are music to the ears of many gamers hungry for great PvP in an MMORPG. What has the reception to the announcement been so far?

Mark Jacobs: Thanks! It is going really well so far. Our YouTube teasers have been very well received (especially our third one) and our newsletter sign-ups are growing nicely. So far, I couldn’t have asked for a better reception.

There was an initial view from some gamers that Camelot Unchained could be seen as a sequel. What’s your response to those fans?

MJ: Well, even if it could be seen as a sequel by some, since Arthur Pendragon is alive, it would have to be regarded as a prequel. In truth, the game is simply using some of the same public domain legends and lore that we used in the past. However, because of the “piercing of the Veil”, the setting has been greatly changed on every level. Unlike Dark Age of Camelot, this world had no magic, no legendary heroes/heroines and especially no dragons before the piercing, and the results were catastrophic. As to the name itself, well, it's just a working title for now.

Your affinity for the Arthurian setting is well known; did you at all consider a different setting for this game? Or was your next game always going to involve Camelot?

MJ: No, not really. I love all the legends that we are using as the backdrop. Frankly, I have wanted to make a game based solely on the Tuatha Dé Danann forever, but have never gotten the chance. I think that the setting we have chosen is perfect for the type of MMORPG we want to make; ruined world, legends arising, rebuilding, conflict over limited resources - sounds perfect to me.

Many players are fond of the 3-faction system from Dark Age of Camelot and were excited to see that it's at the very core of your new game as well. In your own words, what makes that setup work? 

MJ: A long, long time ago on a computer network far, far away I was privileged to play a game called Air Warrior, created by one of the true pioneering companies in online gaming, Kesmai Corp. It had three generic countries (A, B & C actually) that did battle over a nondescript land mass. When I asked those guys why they chose to use three, they told me it almost guaranteed no single one would dominate all night. That made a heck of an impression on me, and from that experience/conversation, I decided to pitch the three-faction combat system for an MMORPG to our studio back in 1999. 

What objectives or systems do you have in mind to help players to get back to that "realm pride" mindset? Do you plan to support guild alliances? Is RvR open to all levels?

MJ: To me, realm pride means working with and for the benefit of your realm and yourself. You need to care if your side is losing territory, structures, mines, etc. You need to encourage people to work together as a group in order to accomplish shared goals. I used to call this “forced socialization” in games that came before us. But as MMOGs became more solo-friendly, that was taken out/lost from our games and others as well. I want to bring that back in this project. As to supporting alliances, absolutely. As to RvR being open to all levels, not only is it, but we also expect you to get out there right from the beginning. 

You've stated that there is no PvE content in Camelot Unchained. If this is correct, how is the context or narrative delivered to players, how do they know what they're fighting for?

MJ: Context and narrative can be delivered in a number of ways that involve RvR quests, town criers, tutorial, in-game library, etc. Additionally, there will be special events that we will use to convey some of the backstory and on-going narrative.

Let's talk about the "entirely player-owned and crafted economy." What does that term mean to you and the team? What does that mean for the players?

MJ: What it means is that the only way to get items is going to be from other players, with one exception, if there aren’t enough crafters in the game and/or a realm is badly outnumbered. Under such circumstances, we reserve the right to help out that side by putting items for sale in the stores. It also means players who decide to be crafters won’t have to worry that they might work for days on something only to find nobody will want it because they can get better stuff by just killing an NPC. We are going to build in a need for crafters and make sure that they feel appreciated for all the work they will do for their realm. And crafting items is only one of the roles they can fill in this game.

You've mentioned elsewhere that the business model for your game is going to be a "multi-tiered" subscription. If you listen to many publishers right now, free-to-play is the way forward. Why did you decide on a subscription model? With no PvE content patches to push retention, what can the players expect for their monthly fee?

MJ: I’ve always been a supporter of different business models for different games. However, for this type of niche-oriented, RvR-focused one, I believe it makes more sense to try to build a strong community from fewer, dedicated players rather than from a much larger number of which a large percentage is just interested in checking out another free game. I’d far prefer 30-50K players paying a set amount each month rather than hope to convince 5% of 1M to pay. 

My bandwidth, server and customer support costs will be lower, and I won’t have to make any game design compromises just to bring in a few more dollars. In terms of no content patches, well, since the team doesn’t have to spend its time building new content that players will burn through quickly, we can spend our time and money building new content they won’t burn through as quickly. ☺

Why go to Kickstarter with the project? Will the game still get made in some form if Kickstarter doesn't fund?

MJ: Because this way, I only have to answer to the players, and not a publisher and/or outside investors telling me that “If you only add “X” you will get this many more subs. Our .ppts prove that!” or “If you don’t add this feature…” Look, I don’t hate publishers, and I’ve been fortunate to have had great investors, but I just want to focus on making the game I set out to make right from the beginning and sticking to it. 

Using Kickstarter, I know that since our backers funded us to make a certain game, that's what I’m obligated to make. Plus they won’t be pressuring me to change direction - quite the opposite, which makes me smile all over. If the campaign fails, no, we won’t make the game because it will mean there truly isn’t enough interest in it to justify my additional investment. That's one of the fantastic things about Kickstarter; it serves as the best focus group ever.

When the game launches, how will you measure success? Will it be a certain number of subscribers? Player or critical acclaim? 

MJ: 30-50K subs and 80+ on Metacritic would be great. We know we will have to cut corners with certain things that might hurt our scores with some critics - like musical score, trailers and interstitials (never liked them anyways). However, I hope that they will see the game for what it is and not for what it isn’t due to smaller budget, independent development, etc. - like many did with Dark Age of Camelot.

What else would you like the ZAM readers to know about Camelot Unchained that may not have been covered yet? Something that might surprise them!

MJ: Surprise them? Hmm… Well, I’ll give them one of the Foundational Principles before anyone else: Rock, paper, scissors, ‘Natch!

Thanks for your time, Mark, and good luck with Camelot Unchained -- we'll be watching closely!

Bill "Lethality" Leonard



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# Feb 12 2013 at 3:22 PM Rating: Decent
38 posts
Fantastic interview. I love that they are keeping it small and have realistic goals, the only way to make a truly great game in my opinion. When you start pumping large amounts of money into games development you very quickly lose sight of what you set out to do, all of my favorite title of 2012 were from small indie teams, at least two of them were from Kickstarter!

There is so much money in the Games Biz these days that the focus has become making money rather than making great games. Kickstarter gives developers the power to create the game they, as gamers and as designers, want to play.

I can't wait to hear more about this and will be eagerly awaiting the Kickstarter!

Can't wait...
# Feb 12 2013 at 12:26 PM Rating: Decent
3 posts
Really looking forward to this!
2 concerns
# Feb 12 2013 at 11:34 AM Rating: Good
4 posts
Love the interview! Thanks guys. I definitely will be a supporter.

I do have a quick two cents though. I agree with almost everything with what Mark has responded except for two ideas.

First off, what does he mean he won't answer to anyone? What about the player base that is interested in it right now?

Second, I think music scores are extremely important. I didn't before, but the right music sets the mode/mood and creates an audio memory that will create the sense of nostalgia only great games can do. I really hope you reconsider this part. Maybe make it a higher part of your funding goal tiers.

Thanks again and good luck!
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