Gamemaker Acclaim Betting on its Brand

Acclaim CEO Howard Marks, the same man that helped restore Activision in 1991, hopes to bring the Acclaim name back to glory

GameDaily BIZ: So why pick up the rights to the Acclaim name? Why not use a new company name?

Howard Marks: Well, it's pretty simple. When I started Activision, and when I bought it the company was virtually bankrupt, I decided that the Activision brand was very important because it had a lot of emotional value to millions of players. At that time, a lot of people had the same question. "Why did you do that? Why not just start from scratch?"

I think history was pretty clear that brands don't die. In fact, what happens is brands go through cycles. The first cycle is maybe a good cycle and then it maybe ends up going down... but then you can revive a brand and make it better than it was before. So with Acclaim it's the same thing. It's a fabulous brand. Over 200 million people have played games that Acclaim has produced over the years, and my feeling was very strong that people have an emotional attachment to their experiences from when they were playing Acclaim games and they'll find it equally as fun if not better with our new online games. And our view is to make the brand even better than it was before.

BIZ: So what is the new Acclaim's approach to the video games business? What direction are you hoping to take the company in?

HM: The new Acclaim is basically positioned for online games and the reason we're going in that direction is that our real focus at the company is taking care of the gamer. We want to give the most enjoyment, the most fun possible to the gamer and really not make arbitrary decisions about the kinds of games we want to make based on what we want but what we think gamers want. And we realized a while ago that online gaming is really what people want to do; they want to play with others. I mean, one of the first video games Pong was a multiplayer game... and we think multiplayer games is what people want today.

So that's why we're going to be focusing on that, and the other model is that we believe downloadable games makes a lot of sense because people want to play for free, play the game, enjoy it, and if they enjoy it and there are some other things they can buy for it — items or they can just buy a subscription when they've gotten into the game deep enough — we think this is a model that really lends itself to mass market and a lot of people to play our games.

BIZ: What did you learn from your experience at Activision that you can apply (or are already applying) to the new Acclaim?

HM: Well the first thing I've learned from the Activision experience is that you've got to take care of the brand. The brand is very important, so what we're doing with Acclaim is we're only going to publish very high quality games. That's what we did with Activision; we went for quality and we also went for new technology, which was the CD-ROM at the time. In 1991 if you think about it CD-ROMs were just a peripheral. So what we're doing is the same thing. We're taking a brand, we're going to take care of that brand with high quality games, and the new technology we're going for [this time], the new revolution, is the online game. And that's what we think gamers will be spending most of their time with, playing with others and with characters that they care about.

BIZ: What kind of business model enables you to provide gamers with free games? Is it mostly in-game advertising?

HM: There are several models. Online games of high quality, triple-A titles, if they are offered for free, they have to be paid for somehow. So we believe that in-game advertising makes sense if it's done in a way that doesn't intrude on the gameplay, but we think that's fair because the gamer will realize that if they get the game for free, advertising is a logical way to pay for it, in the same way as television. We're not in agreement [with the model] where if you have a game you've paid for, paid $50 or $60, and now you end up with ads, that just doesn't make sense. So that's why we've picked that model.

And then the second model is that we believe people like to collect things, so we're going to be offering a lot of virtual items that people are going to be able to buy in the game and then once they've had them and used them, they can then trade them, or trade them to a friend or sell them or do whatever they want.

BIZ: The MMO market is a fast growing sector of the video game industry. What will Acclaim do to differentiate itself?

HM: I think we're going to have a very specific focus that we find interesting to us. For example, our first MMO game is 9Dragons. Now, 9Dragons is a martial arts game; it's the kind of game where if you saw the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you would feel very good about it because it's Ming Dynasty and it's very interesting. We're different because we're not going after the European medieval games, which are more prevalent out there, including World of Warcraft. We're finding a niche on our own, so we really want to provide the gamers with a different vision. We think there's something more than having orcs or types of European based mythology characters. Let's go for something new; that's why we picked 9Dragons.

BIZ: 9Dragons was originally developed in Korea. What first attracted you to the game and do you believe it will be successful here? Does it need to be adapted to this market? The Asian MMO market is very different from North America...

HM: Well we agree with you that it does need to be adapted for a different MMO market, so 9Dragons is going to be adapted to North American and European markets in a way that we think is going to please the gamers because we're going to keep the theme and beauty of the game; in fact, some of the artwork has been presented at the show today... at the gallery, because it's beautiful. It's a beautiful game that has a lot of atmosphere to it, but yet we need to make the gameplay much more familiar for what people are playing today that's very much typical of World of Warcraft, so if you can imagine that type of gameplay that's what we're going to have.

BIZ: Will MMOs ever be as popular here as they are in Asia? Where do you see the market going in the next 5 or so years?

HM: I've spent a lot of time in Asia looking at the MMO market and we feel that the United States has absolutely the same kind of opportunity to have a very big success [in this market]. If you look at MMOs in Asia, they're very successful but primarily because it's a digital model, and I think that taking away the box, making it a download game, making it possible to really trade the items that you've paid for or you've earned will create a lot more interest, a lot more excitement, and a lot more accessibility to more people.

The notion of MMOs in Asia is not just one type of game; it's many different types of games, including games for kids, games for teenagers, games for adults... there's all sorts of variety that we're not seeing here. So we think that as the market here expands and people see financial opportunity you'll find the same kind of drive of new games and new opportunities, which will drive the [MMO sector] to a bigger market.

BIZ: Is Acclaim looking at developing on consoles at some point or is it strictly going to be a PC games business?

HM: The Acclaim strategy that we have today is that we're agnostic about the platform. In fact, we love the Xbox 360. We think that Microsoft has done a terrific job taking the concept to the next level, so we're going to be putting our games on the Xbox 360 and then we hope that the PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Revolution will do the same thing of allowing people to download games, to purchase items online and we think that's a model that's going to be very successful.

BIZ: Thanks for your time, Howard.

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