Mark Jacobs Explains Camelot Unchained

By Jim Rossignol on April 30th, 2013 at 2:00 pm.


The Kickstarter to create a new Realm Vs Realm MMO successor to Dark Age Of Camelot has just two days left on the clock. They need three hundred thousand dollars at the time of writing. A tense time, then, for its lead Mark Jacobs. I spoke to the man behind Dark Age Of Camelot and Warhammer Online, and asked him about the story behind Camelot Unchained.

RPS: How did this happen? A new RvR MMO on Kickstarter? It sounds like an unlikely event.

Jacobs: We’ve been talking about MMOs here for almost a year now, because I’ve got a bunch of people who are truly eat-your-own-young types to win in these games, they’re hardcore LoL players, and one of our guys knows more about Dark Age than I do! So there’s a lot of interest. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about whether we’re going to make an MMO again. And I kept coming back to the conclusion that I didn’t really want to do another one, especially if it was going to be another five year MMO project, which is pretty much de rigeur now for a PvE game. Plus I had no interest in going to publishers to get finances. Investors, maybe. I mean it’s funny, because when EA and I parted ways people said they wanted to do an MMO with me, and I said no then. After talking about it though, and then playing some Guild Wars 2, and then talking so that concepts started to come up, well, I got more interested. And then we saw all this interest in Kickstarter. If we did this right, we thought, then between what I am putting in, and what the backers are putting in, we could raise enough money to make a new RvR MMO. We can do it without publishers, we can do it without institutional investors who would of course demand a big piece of the company. It looks viable, people are making successful pitches. So we worked on it and pulled the trigger.

RPS: MMOs haven’t had a good run on Kickstarter, though. Doesn’t that present you with some serious challenges?

Jacobs: Oh absolutely. Look: MMOs are scary. They have the highest failure rate of any genre within our industry. We’ve had some successes, of course, and one unbelievable success, but if you look at it purely from a financial standpoint, well, they’re not great investments! Especially if you are doing the themepark style game over many years. It’s scary. It’s scary for backers. That’s one of the reasons why we went with RvR – not just because I really don’t want to make another themepark game – but because it makes more sense for our backers. We have to be able to say that we can do this with a small team. We have to show them we can do it with a small team. And we’re doing okay because of that, I think. We were at $1.6m the last time I looked at the ticker. But it’s not a slam-dunk. I understand people’s reluctance to back an MMO, or to back a small studio, or even personally – some people blame me for every ill in every MMO I’ve done, and even some I didn’t do!


RPS: I have a pregnant sort of question, next: I think people are burned out on MMOs, and to invest time in an MMO they need to know that the game they’re getting involved with is will reward that time they put in. Is this going to be that kind of game?

Jacobs: I totally agree on the point you make there. You’ve got an audience right now that has serious MMO fatigue. I don’t know how many hours you put in, but I put in crazy hours on certain games. I was tired of them. I was tired of “here we go again”, tired of seeing the same quest I have seen God knows how many times. Committing a whole lot of time to do the same thing over and over gets old. Now, in our case, because it’s going to be centered around player-interaction, whether it’s building, craft, or RvR, I think that model can work to minimise MMO fatigue. You’re going to be fighting different players and different strategies each night. That will help. We want to be able to reward people who can only put in a small amount of time. I don’t know if you’ve looked at this, but we are doing a horizontal rather a vertical progression, and that means that the guys who come and can’t keep up with the guys levelling up as fast as they can won’t have gaps between them as large as they would be in a vertical system.

RPS: Is horizontal progression, combined with player-interaction, a way out of the themepark rut? It seems to have worked for Eve Online.

Jacobs: It’s one of the ways out. I’ve never been a big believer in the silver bullet. There’s not going to be one thing that gets us out of our problems, whatever those problems might be. But it is an avenue. The problem with that avenue is that player-interaction scares off a lot of players. A lot of people want to play MMOs to be surrounded by people, but they don’t necessarily want to kill them or be killed by them. They want players without player interaction. But building a community is one of the ways out of that rut. It won’t be huge numbers – chasing WoW’s numbers is suicidally stupid. We know that. But there is a way out.


RPS: Why Camelot? What will Dark Age fans find here?

Jacobs: Why Camelot? Because I am a huge fan of the legends. I grew up on them. I got to see Richard Burton on Broadway in the play. I’ve always been a huge fan. Same with the other mythologies – if you are interested in Norse, well, we’re going full-on Viking. But it’s also about RvR. A pure RvR game. No other fantasy MMO is trying that. And I know for a lot of Dark Age fans that’s not what they want to hear! In the beginning the vast majority of people played RvR, but those numbers dwindled. Most people were levelling via PvE. People who really want RvR, however, and want an interesting housing system – build them, and then burn them down! – people who want something different, that is who we are pitching it. A game is different but still has a connect to that same lore. This is it. We’re doing interesting things with both lore and MMO game mechanics.

RPS: You’ve countered some of the ready-made criticisms of a successful developer using Kickstarter by offering up a big chunk of your own money, haven’t you? Was that how it had to work to avoid the finger-pointing that has been going on regarding these sorts of pitches?

Jacobs: I don’t know if it had to work that way. If you have a guy like Richard Garriot, a guy who could afford to put himself into space and back again, not putting any money in, or at least only prefunding some development, well, it doesn’t have to work like that. It’s not necessary. But I wanted to do this for our backers. Like I said, MMOs are scary, and I am the guy who is blamed, rightly or wrongly, for anything that went wrong with Warhammer and Dark Age. I wanted to put my money in and say “I am right in here with you.” I am not a billionaire! I don’t come close! But I wanted to do this. And that’s the other reason to do this, and go the Kickstarter route: to gauge interest, to see who else is interested in supporting this kind of concept. People are suffering from MMO fatigue, and for all I knew, had I gone and developed this myself, I might have found nobody playing it. This way we go to Kickstarter, and people who are interested get their chance, and we know we have an audience. That’s important.

RPS: I’ve been having conversations about this stuff increasingly over the past year, particularly with gentlemen like yourself. Has the development landscape really change that much that you can and should self-published through means like Kickstarter?

Jacobs: Yes, I think the development landscape has change that much. Look how many publishers have gone in the past ten years. We’ve gone from an E3 which was overflowing with big budget publishers, to what it is now. We’ve lost ways for companies like Obsidian or ineXile to go to publishers and get money to make a game. And I think publishers have got greedy. Not just in terms of making a big profit for publishing – they should do that, after all – they are now greedy for IP. I had a publisher who was simply offering a distribution deal ask me for not only for a slice of revenue, but derivative rights! All they were doing was distributing. You would never hear that ten or twenty years ago. THQ said this, before they went belly-up, they wanted IP. They all want it. They want a real piece of the IP, and I have a real problem with that as a developer. I’ve done a number of deals over my career, but I’ve never given up a piece of the IP. Maybe it’s because there are fewer publishers, and they can sit back and say “okay, good luck!” if they don’t get what they want. But ultimately I think Kickstarter has the potential to be a very big deal for this industry. As big as the effect of consoles on the PC industry. If the majority of Kickstarter developers can deliver on their games, that puts power back in their hands. This whole thing puts power back in the hands of developers. And that might force publishers to change. People can now go away and distribute themselves, and that could end up making the industry better. It’s an interesting and exciting time.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Camelot Unchained is on Kickstarter.

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21 Comments »

  1. db1331 says:

    The “C” is silent.

  2. Wayfster says:

    If you are thirsting for even more information about the project you can head on over to the unofficial FAQ:
    http://camelotunchainedfaq.wikispaces.com/Camelot+Unchained+FAQ

  3. Ultra Superior says:

    Can anyone explain to me, why should I back this project ? I have been on their KS page 3 times : I have no idea what the pitch is – why should this game exist.

    I’ve sifted through the rewards…and all I could find are some points for March On Oz (iOS game?) and few months of free subscription. SUBSCRIPTION.

    They could do more to make their presentation a bit more inviting for people who are not aware of Mark Jacob’s famous accomplishments of yesteryears.

    • Dermott says:

      if you loved the old RvR game Dark Age of Camelot then you should back. If you really don’t know the old game.. well then you have to read about DaoC or CU and learn yourself if you like an MMO like this.

      • Ultra Superior says:

        That’s the general sense that I get from this: DAoC was the great mmo game (that I don’t know) and Mark Jacob is a MMO legend.

        However I’m not familiar with DAoC and I’ve only played Warhammer Age of Reckoning – which I liked but… ceased to play after 3 months.

        On a side note: Mr. Jacob, should you in future obtain a Warhammer 40K license and should you revive Dark Millennium or were this Camelot game dressed in W40K universe, you would have it backed four times over by now.

        • cpt_freakout says:

          It’s true that the page is made for people already ‘in the know’. I’ll try to be brief: Dark Age was one of those MMOs made in the adventurous years before WoW, which introduced a new gameplay element called “Realm vs. Realm” to a normal Everquest kind of structured play. The game had three sides, each with their own races and classes (hence the ‘realm’ instead of ‘race’) based on different mythological settings; each realm had its own territory, full of PvE stuff in the EQ vein, and the frontiers were subject to territorial conflict between the three sides. There were fortresses and relics and so on which had to be taken, defended, and whatnot from the part of each realm, and all the activity regarding this came from the players. This led to all kinds of awesome developments in the community, like ‘realm pride’, which led to the feeling that you were a part of something bigger, and that all that work you were doing while in PvE was building up to the massive PvP experiences of the endgame. People in realms tended to help each other out and so on, which was a far cry from the kind of every-man-for-himself situations that you usually found in games like Ultima Online.

          Once you got to the PvP part, the PvE felt very flat, so I guess that’s why they’re going the all-PvP route. It’s exciting for people like me because DAoC was pretty unique in terms of what it made to the community, something you’d be hard pressed to find in other games. Anyway, I hope that helps!

    • Pony Canyon says:

      I’m a huge fan of this Kickstarter, but, yea I completely agree that the pitch isn’t all that clear if you’re not familiar with DAOC. I think the 3 big selling points are RvR, building, and crafting.

      CU has no PvE progression. When you load up the game for the first time, you will select a faction. Everyone in that faction is your ally and you’re at war with the other 2 factions. You can kill them, take their land, burn their buildings, etc. That’s basically RvR, in a nutshell. Other games have done this, so its not that unique by now.

      What really makes it interesting to me, is that buildings are player created, Minecraft style. Once you build something cool, you can take a blueprint of it if you so like. The blueprint allows you to rebuild it, should it be destroyed, or it allows you to mass produce them for other players.

      And equipment/economy is player-driven. There’s no killing a boss in order to earn the next purple weapon, it all comes from specialized player crafters.

      To me, it sounds like medieval Planetside with a very robust crafting/building system added in.

  4. Dermott says:

    Well the 48h Reminder for all “Remind me” clicker is close. I think there is a huge bunch on people who used that button. I for myself use it often too. I think they will get the missing 300k in the next 24h.

    But i am still not sure if should pledge. I dunno why but something lets me think great to have something like this back but on the other hand there are so many other mmos at the moment trying to be different and i already backed 3 of them :-)

  5. aliksy says:

    Meh. Subscription goes directly into the “Nope” pile. Don’t even have to evaluate my mixed feelings on MMOs.

  6. InternetBatman says:

    I think MMOs are a harder sell on Kickstarter because you don’t own anything from them even if they’re successful. When you buy a DD game there’s a feeling of ownership because it sits on your hard-drive; even if you are leasing or whatever else the terrible ToS says.

    When you kickstart an MMO you get a couple of months access “free,” and then you have to pay again. That’s a harder sell. It’s a testament to the potential of the game that they’re doing so well.

  7. vakabiel says:

    If you enjoyed the open world PVP in any of the following games: Dark Age of Camelot, Warhammer Online, Guild Wars 2, Star Wars the Old Republic, Rift, etc then you would like this game.

    Mark Jacobs is the guy who basically invented RvR, WvWvW, and open world PVP in a MMO environment. If you like to craft and be useful in the RvR environment this game is for you. If you like to build structures and burn others to the ground, this is for you. If you want to be part of battles that are hundreds against hundreds (maybe even thousands) this is your game.

    At a $25 pledge to get a copy of the game it’s a sound investment to try something out.

  8. CutieKnucklePie says:

    Another PvP-oriented game… and with a subscription? No thanks. Next project please. The setting is cool though, too bad.

  9. Cosian says:

    For me, the Foundation Principles are what hooked me …

    http://camelotunchained.com/en/category/foundationalprinciple/?orderby=date&order=asc

    It is full on Realm versus Realm versus Realm PvP without all the trappings and silly mechanics of your standard theme park MMO. For example, in GW2, I like to play the large scale WvW PvP content. But I still need to run PvE content to gear. I would rather stick a large spike in my eye than run GW2 Fractals :) or run dailies to get Laurels. Anyway, everything in this game is about the PvP or Building/Crafting to support your Realm.

  10. Sergius64 says:

    The pitch didn’t really draw me in. Yeah I liked DAoC, but I’m not sure I would like this one, the sideways “progression” doesn’t sound like a whole lot of a reward for playing your character and other then that it sounds like some kind of sandcastle building simulator. Except you have to defend your sandcastle after building it, no thanks.

  11. iainl says:

    Isn’t that the Quake logo behind those trees? Why?

  12. lomaxgnome says:

    I’m still staggered by the per backer average of this project ($160 currently). That’s almost three times the average of Torment. It shows the absolute fervor of the fans of this project, but also shows how limited the interest is. I personally find it hard to believe that they will be able to make a worthwhile MMO with five million dollars, but it’s hard not to hope for a niche project like this to succeed.

    • Mr Coot says:

      Yer, the per head amount is interesting. I wondered if it was a reflection of the demographic that played and enjoyed DAoC now being established and having quite a bit of disposable income – but Planetscape: Torment is about the same vintage.

      Sigh. What do? Don’t want to hand over my CC dets but would happily drop some bucks on it via Paypal. Am watching closely as they count down.

  13. Gaff says:

    Two things are preventing me from having more interest in this and possibly donating:

    (1) Subscription model. I just think Mark Jacobs is wrong with his talk of a coming free-to-play meltdown. It is the direction that the industry is clearly moving in, and if you need evidence just look at every triple-A MMORPG that has launched with a subscription model in the past year or so. The Secret World launched with a sub in July 2012 and had dropped it by Christmas. The Old Republic launched with a sub in December 2011 and it was gone within a year.

    Really, the last high-budget MMO that launched with a sub and has kept it is Rift. Not sure how Trion are pulling that off (it’s a good game, which I’m sure helps) but still, that seem to be the exception and not the rule.

    (2) No PvE content. I’m all for putting a big emphasis on PvP / RvR / XvX (whatever you feel like calling it this week), but no PvE whatsoever? In essence you are taking a really big gamble on there being enough people playing your game for everyone to have something to do, because if your population drops without any PvE content…yeah, you’re going to have problems.

    I like Mark Jacobs as a person and think he has some cool and interesting ideas, but at the same time I remember WAR and how launch features were cut, with some never to return (other capital cities, for example). I have no doubt EA’s sticky fingers contributed to the problems, but at the end of the day it was Mark’s game and it was his rep on the line.

    Maybe I’ll jump in at $25, but I’ll have to think about it some more.

  14. Mr Coot says:

    They made their goal, so Paypal is now open. WD them! 12 hrs to go if anyone else was waiting for the PP option.