It was no coincidence that Mark Jacobs was open to talking about his Warhammer Online experiences with us recently. If you deduced that it was the prelude to his MMO comeback attempt, you were right.
Jacobs' City State Entertainment announced today that it's working on a new MMO under the working title of Camelot Unchained. And yes, it will be RvR-focused with three realms duking it out: Arthurian, Tuatha Dé Danann, and Viking. Camelot Unchained will tie RvR conflict into player housing and a dynamic economy as well.
Because this tightly focused concept may prove to be too difficult to draw publisher support, the 13-person studio is turning to a future Kickstarter campaign for support. Obviously, we have no shortages of questions about this project, but we contained ourselves to the 10 most burning queries that we presented to Jacobs. Read about the future of Camelot after the jump!
Massively: Could you give us an overview of this new MMO? Does it have a name yet?
Mark Jacobs: As of now, the working title is Camelot Unchained. The game is an RvR-focused (almost no PvE) MMO that looks more to the past than the present for gameplay inspiration. In my opinion (I'll skip the "humble" part as some people will laugh if I say that), most if not all modern MMOs don't challenge the player as much as they should. As developers, we (myself included) as we have made things more convenient, easy, and hand-holding. We've lost touch with the portion of the playerbase that wants more challenge in their games.
I am not talking about making it challenging by adding more boring grind but in other more interesting ways. By the way, when I say RvR-focused, I mean that every aspect of this game will be designed from the perspective of how it impacts RvR.
So why stick to RvR instead of striking out in a different direction?
I've been making PvP-centered games since my first MUD (Aradath) in the mid-'80s, and frankly, I like this style. In addition, considering the small size of our team, I think we can do a great job of making an RvR-focused game. I'll leave the job of trying to reinvigorate the themepark-style MMO or the PvE aspect to teams that have at least half a decade and blockbuster movie budgets.
Do you see this as the spiritual successor to Dark Age of Camelot?
No, not really. While legally I would be able to make a spiritual successor to Dark Age of Camelot, I would rather focus on making this game great rather than on it as a sequel. I want this one to stand on its own, even if it does draw on some of the same literature and traditions.
I'd like it to be very clear that we are not making a sequel. I won't try to tell DAoC players that our new project will meet all their desires in this regard. I have always valued their trust, so while I want the people who played my past games to look at this one and get excited, I won't go around shouting that it's the "spiritual successor to the greatest RvR MMO evar!" I'd rather simply say that we are working on a great concept for a new RvR-focused MMO that draws on some familiar European myths and legends, then go from there.
Why return to the Arthurian setting instead of a different three-faction setting?
For the same reasons I chose to use it before. I have always been a huge fan of the IP, and I thought that it was the perfect setting for DAoC -- even if I had to convince some members of Mythic I wasn't insane for choosing it. Given the fact that Camelot Unchained is an RvR-focused game, uses the same public domain legends and IP, and is re-imagined thanks to the piercing of the Veil, I think it is an even better fit this time around.
What does the estimated budget for the game after all is said and done look like?
The total budget will be over $10 million, of which we need about half to launch the game. We have more features and elements in mind to add via expansion packs. However, if we meet our stretch funding goals, we can aim to implement them either for launch or as soon after as they're ready.
What will we see new in this game that wasn't in DAoC and WAR?
A lot. The biggest difference is that RvR isn't the endgame -- it's the only game. Every system, skill, ability, gameplay element, etc., is geared toward RvR. There's almost no PvE (just a training area, some special events, etc.), and everything we add will always be tied into RvR.
This game, unlike almost every other MMO that has PvP/RvR, isn't trying to serve two masters. We only want to do one thing right by creating the best RvR experience in any MMO to date. While this will be quite difficult, as there have been some great games that have some great RvR embodied in them, we think we can do it.
What lessons from DAoC, Imperator, and WAR are you applying to the development of this title?
In terms of design, less is more, quality over quantity, and focus on doing one thing really, really well.
On the development side, listen to the players more and make sure you spend as much time as possible making the tools that you will need to test and balance this type of game.
From the personnel perspective, surround yourself only with honest, hard-working people who are focused on making a great game rather than working toward their next vacation, bonus, etc. Also, don't let your personal feelings interfere with doing what you need to do to succeed, especially when other people may not feel the same way.
Why return to MMOs after (apologies) being so badly burned by WAR?
Honestly, while WAR wasn't the game it should have been, I try to see it in perspective. It had a three-year development cycle that cost less than most if not all AAA MMOs from 2004 onward, added a number of new things to the genre, was released in the heart of "The Great Recession" against a major World of Warcraft expansion pack. Yet it sold a ton of copies, is still running, and remains one of the top 10 highest Metacritic-rated MMOs.
So I don't think I was all that badly burned by it. Again, it wasn't the game I thought it would be when I wrote the initial vision document, but when you compare it to some of the real financial and critical disasters in the MMO space, I'm not sure it would even make the top five.
Oh, and to the whole "WAR cost $100 million (or more!) dollars thing" I've seen talked about for years, all I can say is no chance; we weren't even close to reaching that number. While I was CEO/GM of Mythic Entertainment, our spending was quite low compared to other studios, and even within EA, we were known for fiscal efficiency. We had our problems, but spending a ton of money -- or worse, doing so wastefully -- wasn't among them.
As I've said both publicly and privately, I've learned a lot from what happened at EA/Mythic and with WAR. Nobody was more disappointed in WAR than I was. At launch, it had lots of wonderful things in it, but it also had way too many bugs, balance, and leveling issues, and of course, crashes in Tier 4. It was my worst nightmare come true, and as I've stated before, I was the only one who believed that was the case before launch (or was willing to stand up and say so). I definitely made some mistakes (crafting system) but frankly, the last three years have shown me how foolish I was to put so much faith into what certain people were telling me about WAR. That will not happen again.
What business model (i.e., free-to-play, buy to play, subscription) are you looking at for this game?
Multi-tiered subscription with no free-to-play option but with (maybe) some cosmetic items for housing. I think F2P and buy-to-play have their places, but we are trying to create a very niche-oriented MMORPG that won't benefit from using those models. I'd rather have 30K people paying and playing monthly than hundreds of thousands playing for free and hope to convert 5%. This game is geared to doing one thing spectacularly, and that one thing is RvR. I believe there is a core group of players who have been waiting for this type of game, and our Kickstarter campaign will either prove or disprove this notion.
What aspirations do you have for the housing and crafting systems?
One of the lessons I learned from what happened with WAR's crafting system is not to hype any system until it's almost ready to go. While I've always believed what I've said (and as I've pointed out before, I always had buy-in and sign-off from the team on anything major), I'm going to be a bit more circumspect this time. What I will say for now is that the housing system will have a strong sandbox feel to it.
So will the crafting system, which will be more than a simple bolt-on to the game. The only way for experienced players to get their gear, items, etc., will be from the crafting system or from certain challenge (PvP) events. I want to make Camelot Unchained that best choice for players who want to be full-time crafters. I won't call it a sandbox game as I think that term has already been overused by developers, but I do want to have some extremely sandbox-type stuff in the play experience. This IP setting, this game style and this team are capable of pulling it off.