Mark Jacobs is not a man who hesitates to give his opinion. As the General Manager of EA Mythic, he is responsible for the MMO portfolio of the world's largest video game company. They are the stewards of Ultima Online, the creators of Dark Age of Camelot and the developer of one of the most anticipated MMOs of 2008, Warhammer Online. At the Austin Game Developers Conference, Jacobs took stock of it all and gave us an update on his studio and their projects.
Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning has built a rabid fanbase during the development cycle. With that anticipation comes the weight of expectations, not only from the fans, but from within the studio itself. That is why WAR, originally slated to launch in the pre-Christmas rush, slipped into the first quarter of next year.
Jacobs explained how in the past Mythic never had the resources to truly take their time and fully polish a project. With Dark Age of Camelot, had they not launched, they were pretty much out of money. Game over. Luckily, they succeeded and now as a part of Electronic Arts, they have the luxury of making a truly polished game. Jacobs cited examples like Knights of the Old Republic and World of Warcraft as titles that were clearly built to be classics. He does not want to see Warhammer on shelves until it falls into that class.
Does this mean EA Mythic's head believes they have a WoW killer on their hands? Of course not. In fact, Jacobs was emphatic.
"We're not going to hit the same numbers as WoW," he told us bluntly. Someone someday no doubt will, but to expect it of any product at this stage is wishful thinking. However, not expecting 8 million subscribers doesn't mean there isn't a lot of pressure. Jacobs told us he would be disappointed if Warhammer Online does not quickly become the second biggest MMORPG on the planet.
To get there though, they still have some work to do. When asked if he is happy with the current state of the product, in his truly blunt style, he replied: "No, but I never am." He went on to say that he is proud and that he truly believes they're doing something great, but he also knows that they can always do better.
Too often, according to Jacobs, companies get caught up in their own hype. He explained that the biggest danger for his company or any other is the loss of perspective. Developers need to see their games, no matter how attached they've become, as consumers would see them. If they cannot do this, they run the risk of a nasty surprise on launch day. Jacobs sees part of his role as the person who must make sure the company does not get caught up in its own hype. He has become the modern corporate equivalent to the slave would ride with a Roman general during his triumph and whisper in his ear: "Remember, you are mortal."
All of this can be simply explained as a commitment to quality and it extends to their publisher, who regularly encourages completeness and polish. They will release the game when it meets their standards and not before.
For part two of this interview, visit this link.