With a career spanning almost two decades, David Perry has experienced and dealt with the intricacies of game production across several platforms. He has developed 35 games, working as lead programmer on 24 of them, that include popular titles like the Earthworm Jim series, MDK, Messiah and two based on the The Matrix movies. In 2002, Perry sold the development studio which he founded in 1994, Shiny Entertainment, to Atari. When Atari announced its intent to sell Shiny in early 2006, Perry resigned as the company's president and went out on his own by starting an one-man consultancy.
Today, Perry is embarking on a new venture, an MMO game called 2Moons for the revitalized Acclaim. It is the first time he has developed for this genre, and he is doing so in collaboration with a Korean developer, GameHi. The company that now bears the Acclaim name intends to build its business around charging gamers nothing in order to play 2Moons. Acclaim is banking on making money with an in-game advertising model.
Will it work? Perry thinks so and explained why to Gamasutra. He also reflected on the differences between how Korean and North American gamers play, pitched why we should care about 2Moons in an already crowded MMO scene, and why it is that game developers, not publishers, who may be to blame for the current problems within the industry.
Gamasutra: Let's get right to the most obvious question: World of Warcraft. It's the current phenom in the MMO scene. Is Acclaim gunning for its audience, attempting to actually take on WoW, or will 2Moons focus on a different, under-served gamer?
David Perry: No way we're not gonna take on the 4,000 lb gorilla. 2Moons is not The Sims or Grand Theft Auto either! It's a completely different direction. I'm kinda hoping that if anything it gives WoW players something to do for a break. The game costs nothing; they can install it, have a go, and see if they have fun. For people that have never played an MMO before, it's a great introduction to the concepts [of the genre]. And for people that don't want to spend a bunch of time collecting flowers or cooking, but prefer to draw blood, then this is the quickest way to get there.
I'm a fan of all kinds of movies. I've been the same way though my game development career, doing every kind of game I can think of -- R/C helicopters, evil/satanic, worms, arcade games, Disney, Terminator, etc.. Recently, I've been watching far too many Lions Gate movies, like Hostel and Saw, so I'm inspired to make a violent MMO.
I can promise you the next game I make will be completely different again, and I'll be challenged all over again. That's what keeps me enjoying this industry so much, even 20+ years later.
GS: The market is getting flooded with MMOs, and, frankly, they're starting to mush together, and the setting of 2Moons is also fantasy-based. How will you set it apart from the pack? Tell us, why should we want to desperately play it?
DP: I'm predicting there's a bunch of players out there that just want to kick ass, and join up with friends to take down some beasts. People that maybe have never even played an MMO before. Everyone at work can log in and play for free without having to enter any serial codes, or buy the game to install. No credit cards for subscription even. Just install and go. We also are being super clear that this is an MMO with profanity and violence. So there's no phone calls from the ESRB later on down the road. Why am I working on it? Simply because if someone else offered this game for free, and the guys in the office were giving it a try, I know I'd play it!
GS: Could you describe how your collaboration with GameHi works? Which party came up with the intellectual property (you, GameHi, Acclaim)?
DP: GameHi made a successful MMORPG called Dekaron, and they continue to keep upgrading it, adding new classes, worlds, weapons, etcetera. The problem is they never released it in the USA. Then I showed up -- I suggested they consider making significant changes, and went as far as providing a long list, and flew out to Korea. So now they're trying to work out how some of the stuff I asked for could be possible in an MMO.
That's what I do: I challenge programmers and get great joy in seeing beads of sweat on their foreheads. If they say "no problem," then I've failed.
Whatever they pull off, we will test on our closed beta testers and get their feedback.
GS: What are some of the interesting things you've learned about what North American gamers like in an MMO verses their Korean counterparts? What works in a Korean MMO that you feel would absolutely not work over here?
DP: Wow, good question. It's interesting -- Korean developers talk about the "complexity" of American games. In their mind they see us as being into very complex games. I'm assuming that comes from WoW as it's pretty damn deep. On the other hand their hit games tend to be very simple, like Kart Rider. The motto I've learnt after many, many meetings with Koreans and Chinese is "easy to play, lifetime to master."
I've seen games with only four buttons being pressed. But when I get a demo from a staff member, I kid you not, you'd need to go into "bullet time" to see their fingers move; it's literally a blur. The speed their minds are working at is truly stunning. Then they turn to me, smile, and say, "Mr. Perry, you try!" So what does this mean? It means "let me just play," no manual needed, not "let me spend months or years getting this one skill mastered."
They just can't get enough [of Starcraft]. Now this is not your normal "playing" -- these people are mastering it! The speed and tactics are far beyond anything I'd seen in the past. Even after all these years, they are still trying to master it. So when you look at Chinese or Korean games, you'll see how this design mantra is in most of the hit games they have.
GS: 2Moons is going for a free-to-play business model. How is this set-plan affecting the way the gaming experience is being designed, built from the ground up? As one example, Acclaim says the player will be able to switch off the in-game advertising -- but will this affect the game play somehow? And will there be any elements within the game for which the player pays?
DP: I agree -- advertising (in general) does suck today! The solution is not to ram advertising down a gamer's throat. I believe it's all about an exchange. We know that advertising pays the bills, but don't ruin my service over it. What I prefer is, if I don't want adverts and they truly annoy to me, then just let me turn them off. If I don't mind the adverts, then reward me. Then advertising could be a win/win.
Different people have their own opinions; we respect those opinions by giving choice. I expect many will just turn off the adverts. Some will choose the rewards. (In 2Moons you level up faster if the static advert is on.) I'm happy to work with the in-game advertising companies, to help them improve the relationship between their audience and their clients. I feel that making gamers watch adverts they frankly don't want to see is actually a disservice to their advertising clients.
These concepts seem a long way off for TV, but they can certainly work for games. So Acclaim will be the first company to deliver the promise of truly free games. For me this is interesting and could change how people think about funding games. If I fail, nothing changes. If I succeed, then in the future you'll end up reaching in your wallet a lot less.
GS: This is your first MMO you're developing. So why did you decide on an MMO for your current project? Have you found it to be much of a leap for you (creatively and or technically speaking) compared to the non-MMO titles you've developed throughout your career?
DP: I'm a novice in the world of MMO games. The truth is that if you don't jump in with both feet, you'll be left behind. If I wait until World of Warcraft 3 is out, I'm sure it's gonna be an almost vertical learning curve.
As for MMO games, many console gamers have never taken the time to fire one up, and I really urge them to try. The truth being that these games have an uncanny way of making time standstill, they are immensely immersive and the social aspects are truly fun. Especially when you're stuck, in grave danger, and need the help of others, and then they show up, that next five minutes of "payback time" is worth its weight in gold.
I believe it will be an MMO that breaks the current barriers our industry has. Meaning, what genre will be the first to get 50 million players? I bet it's going to be an MMO, and so that makes playing them required homework for any future game designer.
GS: How do you feel thus far about the next-generation consoles (i.e., Xbox 360, Wii and PS3)? Is there any particular one you want to develop a game on?
DP: The industry is stuck. If you read the book The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, you'll realize we're screwed as he demonstrates blockbusters are going away as choice increases. So we are at a crossroads.
So to answer this question, I'm entirely gauging my answer on who is trying to help the industry grow rapidly. Currently I see Nintendo as the one trying hardest. I think Sony have played it safe. Microsoft saw opportunity, and now they're turning on the heat, all guns blazing. The online support for the Xbox 360 is stunning. The fact they are letting indie developers easily develop for it, and the fact that they are immediately addressing key technologies like item sales, or fixing simple weakness like the lack of an HD-DVD drive, is impressing the heck out of me. So if I was to start a console game today, I would most likely knock on Microsoft's door first, because I'd be thinking about the PC market at the same time.
GS: Of all the games you've worked on, is there any one that stands out as your favorite, and why?
DP: Earthworm Jim was my favorite game to develop. It was the last game I ever personally programmed. Nobody was applying pressure; we were free to make the game we wanted and had a ton of fun doing it. The team was all hand-picked and contained nothing but passionate, talented people, so the focus was just all about the ideas.
This was 13 years ago. Back then things were cheaper. You could take more risks. I tried to carry that mantra forward for years through MDK, Messiah, Sacrifice. But as teams and costs grow, one mistake and you get eaten alive. It's even worse today, so that's why you see many developers, including veterans, looking at ways to change the model.
I got so frustrated with it. I started a new company called gameinvestors.com. I believe the problem is a business-to-business problem more than a creativity or publisher issue. Many developers contact me: "Can you help me get my game funded?" I get investors taking me to lunch to explain: "We don't play games, but we want to invest in them!" Frustrating and so easily fixed. Quite a few developers need an angel investor willing to put money down without a publishing deal yet. They need to not just meet a few investors -- they need to have a thousand of them look at their project. They also need to know how to pitch for money verses pitching a game -- two completely different things! That's exactly what I'm working on. I've not even officially announced [gameinvestors.com], so I guess I just did. It will launch at GDC 2007.
GS: Can you explain now why it is you left Shiny, and do you still have any intent to buy back the studio or return to it in some capacity?
DP: It's a long story, but Atari decided and later announced they wanted to sell all their internal studios. I've been doing this too long to find myself suddenly working for someone I don't even know! So I resigned and tried to help Atari pick a good partner. Atari, however, took a look at our projects and just kept on funding Shiny. Being an extremely impatient person, I lasted about two months and had then started my next thing. I'm still friends with everyone and they do stay in touch. Shiny was a chapter in my career that has now closed.
GS: What do you think of Atari's financial situation now and how they are conducting themselves?
DP: I really like [Atari CEO] Bruno Bonnell. The man has quite an amazing charisma that I've seen first-hand. He can walk into a room of people that don't know him, start talking, and in a short time have them all laughing and liking him. Secondly, he's a creative guy, a big thinker, and I also like that. The problem at Atari I think was just a production issue, far beyond his control.
I blame us damn developers mostly. After working so closely with Hollywood, I've had to rethink what a "producer" really is. It's an incredibly complex and detailed job. I think if Atari had some really killer "empowered" producers, the results would have been very different from what you see today. At any big company, the bigger it gets, the less empowered and more distracted the producers become, and the more time they spend doing housework than actually producing. I call that "washing the dishes" and producers do far too much of it.