City Of Heroes: GDC 2007: Jack Emmert Interview

JR Sutich spoke to Cryptic Studios CCO Jack Emmert at GDC after his talk on MMO communities. The article begins with a summary of key themes from the panel and then flows into a straight-forward Q&A.

GDC 2007: Jack Emmert Interview
Interview/panel with Cryptic CCO
Article by JR Sutich

I sat in on one of the more interesting panels at GDC last week, this one concerning the importance of community and socializing in MMORPGs. A topic that as a KAES Bartle type, I was surprised to find that I thought there were some good points made. Not surprising is that these points were being made by Jack Emmert, Creative Director of Cryptic Studios. And boy, was he getting creative.

He started out by stating that the number one reason that most players leave an MMO is because their friends left or no longer play. I can attest to this, as it was the reason I left many games myself. He went on to explain that for all that MMOs are said to be social in nature, that there wasn’t any real way to advance levels by merely socializing. Emmert showed a creative theory when he posed the question, “Why not consider giving XP for every word you type?” Of course, it was brought up that this would be easily exploitable, but he responded, “Players are already exploiting the killing of monsters, any system can be exploited.”

Jack then pointed out who he thought the most important people in MMOs were and those are the players who organize and run guilds. These are the people who set up in game social networks. In time these in game networks become out of game networks, the Meta Guild. If you can attract the leader of a Meta Guild to your game, you have just added (leader+x) players to your subscriptions. Emmert brought to light that despite this, the guild leader’s in game activities of organization and communication were largely unrewarded by game mechanics.

I think the point he was trying to make is that we really need more design elements within MMOs to encourage and reward social interaction between players, and making mobs so hard to kill or quests so hard to complete that it forces grouping isn’t a fresh or correct idea. As an example, Emmert mentioned a popular social game that recently introduced a “plague” to some players, and gave the “cure” to others. These groups were chosen randomly, but it was something that encouraged players to communicate, sometimes with people they would normally have never met. He said that this would bring an interesting dynamic in that this type of event would never be able to be spoiled or catalogued on a database, because the players with the cure aren’t static NPCs.

The short presentation did bring up some interesting questions, and sparked some good discussion immediately afterwards. Sadly, the room needed to be cleared, but I did get a chance to talk with Jack a bit more at the Cryptic Studios booth, where it was clearly evident they are hiring. Here’s our discussion about CoX, Marvel Universe Online, and that which has no name (yet):

JR: Issue 9 is coming out soon for CoX, and I got the demo from NCsoft yesterday and it looks really impressive.

Jack Emmert: Obviously very exciting bringing the Invention System into the game and I fully intend it to be something for us to do to add more with every Issue to support it. It’s now like Combat, or Villains or Zones, we’ll always be adding something to it.

JR: I think what it may do is reinvigorate the game for players who have done all they could because their experience has stagnated.

Jack Emmert: It’s cool because it reinvigorated my interest. Now it’s “oooh I want this and that”. I got on and some of our players have hacked the files a bit and are trying to get numbers to plug into a spreadsheet. I use one of them and I should credit that guy. He wrote a spreadsheet to Min/Max and I was like “Woo! Let’s see what Enhancements are best for my character.” [Ed note – Here’s to you nameless Min/Max spreadsheet guy. I forgot to ask who you were]

JR: How is Marvel Universe Online coming along?

Jack Emmert: Really great. The most exciting thing right now is we’ve really got a lot of great people that we’re hiring right now. We’re growing like a weed, constantly bringing people in. But, I’m just so impressed with the talent level of the candidates that are coming through the door and getting hired. The success of City of Heroes and the Marvel game has piqued people’s interest in Cryptic more and we’re not an unknown quantity. They know who we are and what we do and the type of company we are. I’m just so proud of all our design teams on all of our projects right now.

JR: How close are you to actually coming out and showing something?

Jack Emmert: Ahh, you’re gonna have to wait and see. But I’m very excited about the progress in meetings everyday. I’m very excited about the direction of the game and really I can’t wait to play it.

JR: You also have the other thing you don’t talk about, and the only thing I got out of you at AGC was “giant monsters”.

Jack Emmert: Well, “giant monsters” was kind of a buzzword we used around the office. It’s actually a joke about “giant monster” is a piece of technology that we wanted to get into City of Heroes but it’s really hard. Basically interlocking parts so I can blow off a guy’s arm or his head or whatever. It’s become this mantra of “Giant monsters! We gotta have em”. This next game will definitely have that. But monsters in general I’m a big fan of so you can guarantee you’ll see some of them too. We’ve got some concept art up at our website you should be able to make an educated guess. I hope to let the cat out of the bag sometime in the near future.

JR: Are we talking about the “classic horror” type monsters?

Jack Emmert: Mum’s the word. I can tell you it’s probably not, we at Cryptic aren’t going to stick to standard genres. And frankly there’s a great straight up horror game already coming out from CCP with World of Darkness. Thumbs up and I can’t wait. I’m a huge fan of White Wolf and everything they’ve done so I’m not going to step on their toes in any way, shape or form. We’re gonna be doing our own Cryptic thing.

Hopefully, one thing that I project is that we do things differently at Cryptic. We have a design process and a way of thinking about things that people who apply and get hired by us will always be challenged and pushed to think outside of the box. We like to remember what our goal is here. Sometimes I get the feeling that people just throw game design elements in just because it’s what’s been done. “Oh we have to have character classes”. Yes, but “Why?” It’s a very simple question. There are other ways of solving those very same goals.

JR: Who’s your favorite NBC Hero from the show Heroes?

Jack Emmert: Hiro. He seems the best of the bunch, the most kind-hearted, most what I’d like to see in characters.

I’d like to thank Jack Emmert for his time and for opening me up to a few new concepts concerning the social aspect of MMOs and how it should be considered as part of the overall game design.

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