Camelot Unchained and the Mark Jacobs Interview

As I wrote about the Lord British “most game designers really just suck” interview, there seems to come a point in Kickstarter campaigns where pledges start to slow down, where all the likely suspects are on board, and now the whole things needs a spark to get more attention.

One way to get attention is to give an interview with some juicy quotes that will generate some mild controversy.

So Lord British happily and knowingly pissed all over a bunch of people in the games industry in pursuit of that attention.  That he came back and rather unconvincingly claimed he was taken out of context was a clear indication that he went too far for that goal.

When I posted about the Camelot Unchained Kickstarter launching, I asked, in more of a poke at Lord British than in a serious expectation that it would occur, if we were going to an interview from Mark Jacobs where he insulted people.  He was kind enough to post a comment here that such behavior was not his style.  But I still wondered if an interview with a good, headline generating quote might not be in the offing for that time when the momentum started to slack.


Well, the time seems to have arrived.  After hitting the halfway point, the million dollar mark if you will, earlier this week, there has been a noticeable tapering off of pledges.  Time to stir the pot.  Time for Mark Jacobs to speak to the press.

And what headline we get?

Free-to-Play Headed Towards an “Apocalypse” in 3-5 Years Time

That was the money quote from an interview over at VG24/7.

Certainly that was a good quote.  It implies a disaster for what has become the MMO industry’s dominant business model.

And the interview certainly goes into some things that have been covered before.  The days of free-to-play being a differentiator are gone.  The first blush success of DDO and LOTRO going to the model has been replaced by the need to constantly escalate the pitch to get people to buy things from the cash shop.

And by saying that Camelot Unchained wants to focus on the people willing to put up the money to subscribe, he brings up by implication one of the more annoying bits about free-to-play.

Free-to-play games also focus on those willing to put up money… but that is usually through the inevitable cash shop.  And so games on that model have to keep coming up with the next big thing to push, and it becomes harder and harder not to just sell game impacting power.

As for the apocalypse of the quote, I think we are already on the cusp.  Games following that business model are already folding up, some before they even launch in North America and Europe.  It is no longer good enough just to be free-to-play.

What I think we will see in 3-5 years is an actual good understanding of what it takes to make a successful free-to-play game.  Knocking off WoW and bolting on a cash shop will no longer cut it.  We will understand when somebody says “free-to-play” what it really means, or at least what various flavors of the business model mean.

As for the purpose of the interview, bringing attention to the Camelot Unchained Kickstarter, do you think this is going to be enough?  Two million dollars is still a long march away.

13 thoughts on “Camelot Unchained and the Mark Jacobs Interview

  1. Azuriel

    Games following that business model are already folding up, some before they even launch in North America and Europe.

    Sure… but would they NOT have folded up under a subscription model? I think the underlying game has more to do with most MMO failures than the payment model, even if said model influences the design.


  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Azuriel – What I am saying is that there was a point when people were talking about free to play like that was all you really needed. The reality is that a game that was bad under the monthly subscription model is still bad under the free to play model.


  3. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    Well, there is no magic bullet that saves a crap game in the long run. I don’t think adding free-to-play to any old game is going to mean instant success.

    But, as a gamer and a dev, I like free-to-play (done well) better than I like the subscription model. I think DDO does it very well by blending the two, where you can subscribe and pretty much get everything you used to be able to get before. What free-to-play does in DDO is give you the opportunity to play without forking over money every month if you want.

    I disagree with Mark Jacobs in that I think a niche game absolutely should go free-to-play rather than subscription. I hope that CU does well enough that it can survive on subs, but I think it’d have a much better chance with a well-done free-to-play model. I’d love to have the opportunity to design such a model. :)


  4. bhagpuss

    When I read the Mark Jacobs quote the first thing that I took from it was “Yeah, an apocalypse for the F2P producers but a renaissance for F2P players”.

    Why should we as players, customers, consumers care if 50-75% of all the F2P shovelware houses fall down a deep, dark hole? Do we care whether dayglo generic whalefarm #24 prospers or fails? More solipsistically still, do we even really care if a bunch of quite decent F2P MMOs fold if their folding concentrates the minds of the remaining successful producers to focus on giving us what we actually want?

    Isn’t MJ just saying that competition is good and the best will survive?


  5. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Brian – Free-to-play done well is the trick, isn’t it. I’m not really fond of the path that several games I like/liked went down for that.

    I wish DDO was… well… a better game. Or at least a better put together game. Every time I try it, it reminds me that it is the game that came before LOTRO from Turbine and feels it.

    @Bhagpuss – But saying good will out doesn’t make for a very good headline, at least not compared to “F2P Apocalypse!” The point of the exercise was to attract attention.


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  7. Aufero

    A wild controversy appears!

    I’m sure Mark Jacobs thinks of himself as well-meaning, (I know he’s got a good reputation among people who worked for him in the early days of DAoC, which argues that he’s a decent person to work for) but he’s definitely taken the occasional public shot at other developers. He probably thought of that as firing back, because other developers have taken a good few potshots at him over the years.

    He’s no stranger to controversy, so I was pretty sure this campaign would involve some entertaining bits. Too bad the game doesn’t sound like something I’d be interested in. (I like to have at least a bit of PvE to go with my PvP.)


  8. Imakulata

    The way Mark Jacobs talks about Camelot Unchained, I think it wasn’t said only for the controversy to bring attention on him and his game. It feels as if “nicheness” is a defining quality of the game the way “having a subscription” isn’t. However, everybody’s talking about his F2P quote and few people are likely to ask a question about the size and whether he trusts his ability to make a good game if he aims low. (Although I personally find aiming high in the MMO market risky or even unreasonable, not everyone has to share my opinion.)


  9. HarbingerZero

    What F2P titles have folded recently – CoX obviously, but beyond that, I’m not sure? And CoX was not a product of failing monetarily as I understand it as a matter of focus and “hitting the reset button.”

    If survival of the fittest F2P is what is coming as Bhagpuss says, then we had better brace for lockboxes becoming the norm, because PW is making money hand over fist.

    I said as earlier as two years ago though that I wondered what would happen when the pendulum was fully swung towards F2P – before money was the limiting factor, now its time. Even with shallow games you can’t reasonably play more than a couple at a time, even if you aren’t giving them a dime.


  10. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @HZ – Everything about the CoX story stinks. The latest interview says that the game was making more money as F2P, but would even NCsoft dump a title that was providing a good return on investment? Especially when the dev group was completely separate, so that removing them from CoX means that they have to lay them off as opposed to moving them to a new project? I have no idea what the real story is and NCsoft didn’t do themselves any favors with their lack of communication.

    Anyway, just flipping through Massively headlines I see Dungeon Fighter Online closed. Rift in Korea is shutting down, where it is free to play. Meanwhile Grimlands seemed to be the latest F2P title to fail to make it to market, though I understand they are going to try a Kickstarter now. And Vanguard, after a flurry of activity is down to one server and has devs moving off of it to other projects, including Brad McQuaid. SOE won’t close Vanguard, but it feels like it is headed back to a state of slow bug fixes and benign neglect.

    And do you want to count Facebook stuff, EA just said they are pulling the plug on a range of stuff, or is that another category?

    What is PW?

    Yeah, the lockbox thing and its similar ilk grates on me. While the argument is always that I don’t have to get involved with them if I do not want, the concept of them annoys me and they inevitably become the focus of player oriented communications from the company. Bleh.


  11. HarbingerZero

    Ah, I missed the DFO closing. I’m not surprised that Rift got squeezed out, particularly since Trion is publiching ArcheAge Online here – would seem to be an open conflict for them to run Rift in AA’s backyard as a F2P competitor to a sub game.

    PW = Perfect World.

    I understand better now the frustrations players have with lockboxes, after some conversations with other gamers, so I’m not entirely unsympathetic. (-: In particular, I understand that with a limited development staff, there is a question of how much development is going into lockboxes rather than game content.

    I figured that was the reason for CoX closure – they felt losing a small profit was not worth the loss of potential profit in other areas. But I’m probably giving NCSoft too much credit.


  12. João Carlos

    Well, you put a good list of cases where F2P or B2P model not make the things a lot better. But… and the cases where B2P is a sucess? Mr. Arcturus, have you a blind spot, something you refuse to see?

    With relation to NCsoft, for some unknow reason closed CoX. My guess: some contractual problem, like the contractual problem that closed SWG… super-hero and super-villains are too much easy to get legal problems with Marvel and DC and look who just launched a super-hero MMO before CoX get closed. Maybe DC sent some lawyers to NCsoft to talk about some players making toons that are look alike some DC super-heroes and villains?

    Anyway, NCsoft appear be doing a nice quantity of money with GW2, that is B2P. And everyone know that Anet aparently don’t want our money coming from TP, just look what they are selling there: mostly cosmetics and some items are not very good cosmetics; aparently the cosmetic they sell more is the quagan backpack (rflol !!!); one or other buff, but not big thing and certainly it is not “pay to win” as some people say without play the game. However, if you know how to make gold coins in game you can buy all that things without use any real money.

    So, where are Anet making its (and NCsoft) money? From GW2 box salles? Be warned, maybe WildStar will too be B2P… ; )

    Let me bet that Camelot Unchained will go B2P 6 months to one year after launch… and that Lord British will need eat his “space cadet” helm.



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