Top Secret: David Perry Interview

David Perry and Acclaim continue to experiment with community-driven game development. Announced last year, Top Secret is a project where fans collaborate on the design of an MMO and then independent studios compete to develop it. From the design pool, one hard worker will be selected to direct their own MMO, while Acclaim will also cover up to $1 million in licensing fees to the winners so that the independent development teams can use whatever engines and packages needed to produce their game.

The design phase has largely wrapped up. It had over 62,000 participants and Perry mentioned that, barring a last minute upset, he already has an idea of who the directorship may go to.

The game revolves around beast racing as an MMO. Players ride a variety of creatures in competitive online races as they advance their characters. It is a rather unique but scalable idea, which is good for a small MMO. At times, Perry mentioned, the design would just get too big, and they had to work hard to make sure the community stuck to the core themes.

Originally, they had simply hoped to hire a development team to produce the final design document, but the idea became so unique that they felt it just wouldn’t work.

To date, they’ve had 20 teams show an interest in the development of the game, which includes everything from 3-D graphics to game mechanics. Each team is free to use whatever engine – from Unreal all the way down – they want to get it done. That’s why Acclaim put forward the $1 million. It is one thing for a loose group of hobbyists to make a game, but in this modern era, licensing fees are so prohibitive that people cannot afford to use the very best technology. Acclaim doesn’t want that barrier to exist, so they’ve encouraged their teams to go wild and use whatever they want. If a game meets their expectations and is selected, they’ll secure the necessary licenses and ensure the game can be marketed legally.

Of the 20 teams that have showed an interest, Perry believes only five continue to actively pursue the project seriously. The development of an MMO is obviously no small task, and all these people need to pay their bills with regular jobs.

While Perry was pleased with the design process and how open and collaborative it was, he is somewhat worried that the development phase has become too competitive. He mentioned that the teams really are hesitant to share anything. In effect, they see each other as competitors for a prize and it has become a kind of Cold War arms race to the finish. Perry regrets this and has noted it as something to address in the future.

Ultimately, should one of the games meet their standards, they’ll have a winner, but the possibility also exists that none will. This is all new ground for Acclaim and Perry, and while they’re excited to see what people do, they have not bet the farm on the contest. If all five projects are completed and none meet the quality of an Acclaim release, nor can be salvaged, Perry said that they’ll go out and hire a professional studio to make sure that the Top Secret game gets the treatment it deserves.

The entire project continues to be a big experiment for Perry and Acclaim, but one they feel strongly about. “I don’t know if this is the right time and the right place,” Perry said. Nonetheless, they are ready and eager to find out.

Acclaim hopes to have some kind of game this year.

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