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California-based MMO developer Red 5, founded by notables from Blizzard's World Of Warcraft team, has opened a new Shanghai office, and Gamasutra caught up with CEO Mark Kern to discuss Western games in Asia, WoW's shadow, and targeting the

October 23, 2007

6 Min Read

Author: by Patrick Murphy, Staff

Red 5 was founded in 2005 in Southern California by former World of Warcraft team leader Mark Kern and former art director William Petras. Earlier this year, when we spoke to Kern, the company had just announced an $18.5 million investment from Benchmark Capital and Sierra Ventures. In addition, the firm has signed a deal with Korean-headquartered publisher Webzen for the exclusive worldwide rights to publish and distribute the company's as yet unnamed MMO. Gamasutra caught up with CEO Kern for another chat about the studio's recently-opened Shanghai office, internationalizing games, and his thoughts on an MMO market in WoW's shadow. What role will the Shanghai office play in the development of Red 5 games? Shanghai is our co-headquarters and our launching pad for our games in China and the rest of Asia. We will have teams of programmers and artists helping to create our first game. We think it’s important to be on the ground floor of the world’s largest MMO market and to develop local expertise that will help us succeed overseas. While Gamasutra met up with developers during the last TGS, a common topic was that of creating games which have international appeal; what perspective do you have on the challenges of developing globally? One of our founders and former co-founder of Blizzard Korea, Taewon Yun, recently gave a talk on the subject at GDC China. My big pet peeve is when companies try to “Asianify” their games by changing their art style or gameplay. I don’t think this is the right approach. Take manga, for example. Would it be as successful in the US markets today if the publisher had said “we should draw our characters like Spiderman and Wolverine and make our stories about superheroes?” You have to play to your strengths, and pick games that are compatible with Asia -- online is a good start. Then, there are a thousand little nuances, not any single trick, to getting your game to be accepted. That’s an area where we’ve had considerable experience, having done it for a number of games prior to Red 5. How would you describe the MMO market at this time, and has it changed much since you first established Red 5 Studios? Unfortunately, no. Everyone is playing it safe in WoW’s shadow. Everyone is creating a WoW clone. Even Tabula Rasa is not substantially different from WoW. Everyone is trying for that colorful WoW art style and copying the WoW [user interface], and nobody yet is doing it anywhere as good as WoW. So if you aren’t offering anything new, and just trying to ape the leader, then you are doing the market and gamers a great disservice. There is so much untapped potential in MMOs that aren’t like WoW. This is where we need to head as an industry. Could you tell us a little bit about the development tools that Red 5 works with, and how they affect the flow of production? How important is rapid, interactive prototyping in your studio? Tools are absolutely the most important, critical path to getting a good MMO together. You need tons of easily implemented iteration, and you need to create vast amounts of content efficiently. We’ve developed our own in-house tools based on our work on previous games that we feel will be the best way we can create these games. Bearing in mind that you're not looking to "be the next WoW," as some are, what sort of target audience do you hope to develop titles for? A more casual player, perhaps? No, we aren’t targeting the casual player. There’s a ton of companies doing that, and I’m sure they will do well. But what people are forgetting is that MMOs are only 15 percent of the core gamer market. After WoW, that entire core segment understands the value that a persistent world and thousands of players can bring to a game. They just need experiences that cater towards other genres of play style, instead of fantasy-based RPGs. What thoughts do you have on the difference between large, open, dynamic games that receive expansion packs, versus smaller, tighter, scripted games that receive episodic content? We have to solve production issues before we can reliably deliver episodic content. Gamers won’t really feel like it’s episodic unless we deliver substantial new content every month, as a minimum. Anything else is indistinguishable from an expansion pack. Does Red 5 have any desire to develop titles for networked next-gen consoles like the 360 and PS3, or do you feel that PC will be the most flexible and enduring platform for your aims? PCs still make the most sense for MMOs. That said, we really like where consoles are headed with their online components. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this in the next generation of consoles. While seeking the best and the brightest to fill out Red 5's crew, what have you been keeping your existing employees up to in the meantime? We’re focusing on four main areas: Prototyping our PvE and PvP gameplay, getting our tool chain to be comprehensive and easy for artists and designers to get content into the game, honing our new art style to feel distinct and inviting, and getting together some key technologies for our unique technology approach to MMOs. What are your thoughts and feelings on the value of community-building - both as a CEO who is forming a production team, and as a game developer who will be the host and steward of online experiences for players? MMOs are nothing but community. On this new game we’re making, guilds have been a huge focus. How do we make being part of a guild fun again? How do we make it feel less like a job? How do we give you even cooler things to do when you are part of a guild? We’ve got some interesting answers here! In addition to the in-game community, we’re also looking for a really great community manager: someone who will help us build a community even before the game is announced or launched. We feel that this work happens well before the game ships, and we’re looking at a number of novel approaches. Is there anything that you see in the gaming marketplace right now and on the immediate horizon, that you would love to see more developers doing? I love BioShock, and I hope that it spurs more FPS developers to think about new mechanics and new ways to tell a story. I think FPSs are about as stale as MMOs right now, and I really like the way they shook things up. I might be biased though, as I was a huge fan of System Shock.

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