Over the past few years Blizzard's success with its MMO World of Warcraft has tempted many developers into the genre, with mixed results, and now EA Mythic is trying its hand. Working with an established IP, that of the Games Workshop tabletop game, EA Mythic hopes to make waves with Warhammer Online. GamesIndustry.biz spoke to EA Mythic's senior designer, Josh Drescher, about developing MMOs in the aftermath of WoW, as well as discussing piracy, EA, and virtual black markets. Josh Drescher is senior designer at EA Mythic. Interview by James Lee. http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/warhammer-time Q: What challenges do you face in developing an MMO, especially in a post-WoW world? Josh Drescher: As a studio Mythic has actually been developing massively multiplayer games for over a decade, so they're not challenges that are surprises to us, we've been working and innovating around for well over a decade or so. In terms of operating in the post-WoW world, one of the core things to remember is that since WoW has launched the vast percentage of MMOs that launched after it have been successful. Obviously no one has eclipsed the 10million subscriber number, but there have been numerous titles that have come out on different platforms and multiple genres all over the world that have been far more successful than MMOs had been previously. The market is actually much larger now and as a result is much more tolerant of unique and interesting ideas, in the same way that a film industry that is dominated by blockbusters has a lot more room for independent films, documentaries, small foreign films and pictures of that sort. If you have a major industry leader that gets out there and gets attention it's actually much easier as a developer to then capture the additional attention from that audience. So the post-WoW world is a great world to be making MMOs in, you don't just have to target their subscriber base as your metric for success. Q: So you think there's room for you as well as WoW, or are you going to try and lure their subscribers to your game? Josh Drescher: It's an interesting idea that people have that it's either/or. You're either playing this game or that game. While we would certainly love to attract the attention of anybody who's playing any other games, we don't think that that - based off experience - it is a zero-sum experience. When we launched Dark Age of Camelot in 2001 the leading industry game at the time was EverQuest, they had about 400,000-500,000 subscribers, and we drew 250,000 subscribers to Camelot without it really impacting their population at all. So either there were 250,000 people that were just independently just floating around waiting for us to come around or there was some sort of a crossover where people would actually have time and energy for multiple titles. I think it's like any other hobby, MMOs are different than standard PC games because they represent more of a lifestyle game type - you commit a lot more energy and time to them and as a result you feel more connected to them. They have a much longer life span, they're not time limited in terms of the experience - you never actually finish them. It's like sports, people can watch football and also enjoy rugby and golf without ever feeling conflicted about spending too much time on golf and as a result can't ever watch a soccer match. MMOs are very much the same way. Q: How is working with EA compared to being independent? Josh Drescher: Compared to being an independent developer it's awesome. When we made Camelot in 2001, we knew we had a great product and it was really difficult to get attention from the media. There's a tendency to want to focus on proven quantities in the industry and as a result when you're kind of alone in the wilderness and no matter how good your product is it's really tough to get time and attention - so first and foremost it's a lot easier to be visible. Second, they've given us the resources to dramatically expand what we're doing with the game. When we were an independent studio we had a very rigid schedule of when we had to be out the door and it really didn't matter how far along we were, like the lights were going to be turned off if we didn't have the title out by a very certain point. The first thing they did when they came to us was they said: "Have some more money, have some more time, have more resources, have a larger staff and do everything that you want to do in the game," - and they've been very supportive. Q: Do you feel like you're still creatively independent? Josh Drescher: Absolutely, and a lot of that comes from John Riccitiello's vision for EA overall. Part of the games label is of returning that sense of individuality, it's the reason that we're presented as our individual studios. They wanted to return to that sensibility that said these are independent studios that were acquired for specific reason...They're not being brought into a large scale corporate collective. They're not being expected to develop in the same ways and they're not being expected to staff in the same ways. We operate in the way that's best for the type of development we do. Under John Riccitiello we have total creative freedom, we have a lot of independence in terms of development timeframe and funding. There's a real focus on quality, rather than getting a certain number of games out every quarter and I think that in the end that's going to pay dividends for the studio. Q: What type of subscriber base would you need in order to cover the development costs of a triple-A MMO? Josh Drescher: You don't need 10 million subscribers to be successful - Camelot remains very profitable today and at our peak we had about a quarter of a million players. We were extraordinarily profitable at that size. We still handle Ultima Online which is a ten year-old MMO property that's about 100,000 subscribers and is still wildly profitable. The life span of these games is very long, so you don't need to make it all back in Christmas weekend - you have a revenue stream that lasts for a very long time. You have a dedicated core base of players that will stay with you for years and years and years, and as long as you're providing a quality of service that's rewarding that loyalty you'll see a large population stick with you for a very long time. So you don't need 10 million subscribers to be successful...that doesn't mean that we wouldn't love 10 million subscribers, but we certainly don't need that many. Q: How do you plan for territorial and content expansions? Josh Drescher: We have always developed for an international mindset and again this goes back to our experience with Camelot. The vast majority of our success with Camelot came from Europe. The success that we had internationally is what made us a major player in the MMO sphere and that came from the fact that we were very mindful of always respecting foreign markets, always making sure that the game is tailored to different communities and from the very beginning. In terms of content expansions, we have the bootstrap of being able to continue to steal things from Games Workshop, which is a noble tradition in the MMO sphere but we're actually allowed to do it - and encouraged to do it - instead of having to surreptitiously borrow inspiration. So we actually have in mind all the things that we want to add to the game, again the structure of how we do geography in the world and the way that we do transportation and so forth make it extremely easy to expand into entire new continents. Every single part of the game has been built with the mindset that someday this needs to be bigger and someday there needs to be more. So all the under-the-hood numbers all actually scale through the next five years. We have actually five years' worth of numerology out in front of us in terms of all that. Under the hood you build all your systems with multiple years worth of content in mind, What you don't want is when you launch the game you've got 40 levels - and it takes however long it takes to get to level 40. You then launch an expansion and it now takes two weeks to get to level 40 because now we need everyone to spend six months to get from level 40 to 50. So you need to spec the game out in such a way that you actually have those progressions in mind for later - so you don't wind up trampling all over the earlier experiences every time you expand the game. And we learned the hard way with Camelot how not to do all sorts of things, and we learnt the right way with Camelot how to do a lot of things as well. We have a very firm expansion in mind. Josh Drescher is senior designer at EA Mythic. Interview by James Lee.