A Mythic Career
GameDaily BIZ: With Electronic Arts recently having announced the acquisition of Mythic Entertainment, why have you decided to leave the company?
Matt Firor: It's one of those situations where several things have happened to make me re-evaluate what I'm doing professionally and personally. First, my wife and I have just adopted two children from Russia; they've been home about a month now. Second, I had been commuting from my home in Carroll County, Maryland to Mythic's HQ in Fairfax, Virginia, which is a hell of a long way by anyone's standards (about 60 miles each way around the DC Beltway). Third, the EA acquisition of Mythic has given me some cash; not enough to retire, but enough to take some time off. So this is exactly what I'm doing - I'm taking this once-in-a-lifetime chance to take some months off, not sit in my car for 3+ hours every day, enjoy my new children (and teach them English!) and think about what's coming next in my professional life.
BIZ: So your leaving has nothing to do with EA?
MF: Only in the sense that the change in ownership makes a good breaking point with Mythic. That, of course, and since I was a minor shareholder in Mythic, I've gotten enough money out of the deal to make me leaving feasible.
BIZ: What project/accomplishment are you most proud of while at Mythic?
MF: I was at Mythic for over ten years, and it's hard to say what I'm most proud of. Of course there was Dark Age of Camelot, of which I was Producer and on the design team. But there were many games before that - about a dozen - each of which I produced and each kept Mythic at the forefront of online game development. Just being in online game development in 1996 was an accomplishment. The fact that Mythic stuck in there, remained on its feet, and was able to produce a fantastic product like Dark Age of Camelot is really phenomenal. It just doesn't happen very often.
The story of Mythic's success is a story that should be told at some point. It's remarkable that a couple of guys in Fairfax VA, far out of the gaming mainstream kept it together long enough to make one of the most successful - financially, critically, etc. - independent titles of all time. It really goes to show how a small, well-knit team can accomplish more in a shorter period of time than a far larger group that hasn't been together for long. Dark Age of Camelot was far from perfect when it launched, but it was done with a team of about 25 developers in 18 months. THAT is something to be proud of.
BIZ: Why do you think EA went after Mythic? What will Mythic bring to EA?
MF: EA and Mythic are almost perfectly suited for one another. EA is a huge company that has had a string of well-publicized problems getting into the online space. Mythic is a small, independent company with perhaps the best online development pedigree of any company out there, but it lacks the financial clout to get on the radar of publishers; especially those of next-generation consoles. EA needs Mythic, and Mythic needs EA - simple as that. I think that they will do great things together.
BIZ: What will it take to create the "next World of Warcraft"? Are the resources of EA combined with the talent Mythic brings enough to pull it off?
MF: Obviously a company as talented as Mythic, combined with the endless resources of EA makes an imposing team that could well produce games as successful as WoW. It's a tricky business, though - chemistry is the most important part of a project that is ambitious enough to aim at WoW. As for what it will take to make the WoW killer, I think developers just need to make good games, and not worry so much about WoW. If their game is good enough, people will play it.
BIZ: What are your thoughts on the current MMO business? What are the main challenges and opportunities?
MF: The MMO business is booming.
The main challenge is going to be making enough noise to be heard amongst all the titles competing for mindshare right now. There are dozens and dozens of games in development now; and obviously, not all of them are going to be successful. Really, to be successful, a MMO title must be perceived as successful when it launches. If it is not seen as a major contender, and have buzz and excitement among its community the day before it opens, it will almost certainly fail. It's a situation unique to MMOs in the gaming industry. MMOs that have the perception of being good, solid, exciting games games during beta are the ones that will succeed. As for opportunities, they are boundless right now. Even the U.S. market is virtually untapped right now, compared to the number of gamers just now experiencing online interaction for the first time via Xbox 360 Live.
BIZ: Will North America's MMO market always lag behind Asia's?
MF: Asians, for whatever reason, have taken to immersive online gaming much faster than those in Western nations. Added to that the vast quantities of gamers, especially in China, means that China is going to be the dominant market for the foreseeable future. Even so, there's lots of opportunity outside of Asia. As a game like Dark Age of Camelot showed, titles with "small" subscriber numbers on the order of 250,000-300,000 can still be enormously profitable, given the right business model.
BIZ: What needs to be done to make MMOs more appealing to a mainstream audience?
MF: I think WoW showed what needed to be done - simplification, wonderful interface, and easy-to-understand and fun early levels. Now all that has to be done is to build on that title's lessons and find ways to appeal to people who have not yet played MMOs. And, of course, there are now literally millions of WoW players who are going to eventually be looking for other titles to play. Players of MMOs are always the most important evangelists of the genre.
BIZ: MMOs are still very PC-oriented. With Xbox Live and the upcoming PlayStation Network, do you think we'll start seeing more MMOs on consoles? Does the business model need to change for the console audience vs. the PC audience?
MF: In fact, I'm giving a presentation on this very topic at the GCDC in Leipzig next month. The way things stand today, I don't understand why third-party developer is considering making MMOs for consoles (except maybe as a cross-platform option to a PC title). I firmly believe that MMOs will be centered on PCs for the foreseeable future. Worldwide, especially in Asia, consoles (except in Japan) are essentially nonexistent. Any MMO made for that market must be PC-based.
Let's assume for a moment that you have solved the technical problems (no keyboards, voice chatting breaking immersion, etc.), and still business reasons abound for developing MMOs for PCs instead of consoles. PC MMO developers and publishers can set up their own service on the Internet - and keep all the profits. To publish on a console, you must split the revenue with the console maker, as well as possibly with a publisher as well. It just doesn't make sense to me under the current console paradigm. The console manufacturers - and rightly so - have a very strict update policy, which gets in the way of weekly patches for MMOs, or even episodic content.
That being said, I'm not "down" on consoles in general - I just don't think they are the right platform for MMOs right now. Judging from the amount of FIFA Soccer I play on my 360, PS2, and PSP, consoles are doing just fine. Also, plans for PS3 online publishing are still a bit hazy to me, so maybe they will make things a bit easier for developers of MMOs. Time will tell.
BIZ: So now that you're leaving Mythic, what's next for you?
MF: My eventual goal is find the right development opportunity for me. I'm looking for the right situation in the right location - closer to home.