Q&A: Mythic boss Mark Jacobs

Electronic Arts bolsters its foundation with the acquisition of MMO specialists Mythic Entertainment. We talk to the company's CEO, and the EA exec who cut the deal.

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How far will men in tights get you? For Mark Jacobs (shown, right) and the team at Mythic Entertainment--developers of the stalwart MMORPG Dark Age of Camelot, as well as the upcoming Warhammer Online--it means cashing out to the tune of millions.

Yesterday, the 9-year-old Mythic was acquired by opportunistic Electronic Arts. As was the case with EA's acquisition of mobile game publisher Jamdat, the purchase of Mythic gives it instant credibility in the online space, an area where it has sputtered and underwhelmed (apart from the breakthrough Ultima Online).

With a recent track record that includes the underperforming Sims Online, the canceled Earth and Beyond, and the forgotten Motor City Online, a theory of acquisition rather than organic growth makes it look as if the die to acquire was cast some years ago.

GameSpot spoke with Jacobs, and biz dev exec Owen Mahoney from EA shortly after the news was announced.

GS: Does Electronic Arts pick up Mythic's entire back catalog, including Dark Age of Camelot?

MJ: Absolutely. As part of the deal, obviously, EA looks at Camelot and goes 'this is a historically important franchise, one that is still a very popular one' and they are excited about the prospect of seeing what can be done with it going forward.

GS: Have you given up on being an independent game developer?

MJ: My dreams never revolved round being independent...my dreams revolved around making great games. It was always about making great games. At the beginning, nobody wanted us, nobody wanted Camelot. But our dream [at Mythic] has been, and remains, to simply make great games.

GS: And this deal...

MJ: ...is an opportunity to fulfill my dreams in a way that, frankly, wasn't possible as an independent.

GS: From the perspective of managing risk in a sector that takes a lot of money to compete, how was Mythic approaching the future as an indie shop?

MJ: What would make it difficult for Mythic, or any independent [developer] going forward is the competition. You have companies like Vivendi, which have made a lot of money with WOW and are committed to going big in the online space. And you have Sony, which is also one of the pioneers in online games, and still a big believer in the online space. And you have other companies looking at this market hard, and rather greedily, and seeing that they want a piece of it. So as an independent, my path to compete with those guys was going to get harder, not easier. Not only over the next two years, but over the next five years.

So we were faced with a choice. We could stay independent, and that had some risk. Or we could go with EA, and that also had some risk. What made the choice simple at the end was that EA said we were going to have the opportunity to not only make Warhammer the best game we could make it, but going forward, other games as well. That was pretty tough for us to turn down.

GS: What current EA brands would you personally love to see made into an MMO?

MJ: Certainly EA has a lot of interesting IP out there. [But] the last thing I want to do is give any of the competition information as to what we are looking at. But the key for us is looking at what EA [owns], looking at what else we'd be interested in, and whether it's owned by EA currently or is out and available.

What's going to make the best MMO?

EA has said that they are driven to make great games. And to create as well [as leverage] their own IP. What's going to happen over the next weeks, and next few months, and over the next few years is that Mythic and EA are going to sit down and start, and then continue, a dialogue about what are going to be the strongest products that Mythic as well as EA can do in this space.

We're certainly going to be pushing hard for Mythic to be the guys to do it.

GS: How do you compete with World of Warcraft?

Owen Mahoney, EA SVP of corporate development: It's not 'how do you compete with WOW?' It's 'do you believe in the MMO market or not?'

GS: And?

OM: We really believe in the MMO market as a rapidly growing segment and instrumental to our worldwide growth in North America, Asia, and Europe. We feel very strongly about the segment.

GS: Were there other developers you considered acquiring?

OM: Candidly, we looked around the industry and talked to a lot of people and came to the conclusion that the executives at Mythic, and the team they put together, are among the very best in the industry. So it came to a pretty clear conclusion in our heads that this was the right deal to do.

GS: How many studios did you consider?

OM: Several. I can't help you out much more on that. As EA, we get approached by a lot of people and we talk to a lot of people.

GS: Are there lessons still discussed from the previous MMO products from EA, specifically, The Sims Online, Motor City Online, and Earth & Beyond?

OM: The number one lesson is the number one lesson out of the games business in general, and that's: Gameplay is the most important thing that we do. And you need to focus on that first and last.

GS: Will Warhammer be one of the first MMO titles to test the waters of the online console space?

MJ: I can say this much: As you know, we showed a console version of Warhammer at E3, running the entire time while the PC version was running. We look forward to talking to the other guys at EA of course, with Microsoft and Sony, and any console maker, about doing a console-based version of Warhammer. We have those rights...they were acquired by Mythic and were acquired by EA. It's safe to say we are going to be looking at all possibilities for the Warhammer franchise. Whether we are going to be the first...first doesn't matter, best does.

GS: Thanks Mark and Owen.

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