Coming In from the Cold: An Interview with Red 5 CEO Mark Kern
February 6, 2007 Page 2 of 3
MK: Well, as they've said all through discussions, they don't have any opinion on the game itself. They're really banking on the team and our experience and they're leaving the creative part up to us so, it’s been a really great relationship so far where they have a lot of input on the operational side of things. You know Sierra has a... I don't know if you know this, they have a tremendous background in databases and networking technologies. And Jeff Loomans actually has tremendous operational experience. We're really finding his presence very helpful, because these games are so intensive on the back-end, it’s nice someone like Jeff and Sierra on board. And for Benchmark, Bill [Gurley] is really plugged into the consumers phase, and it’s obviously probably one of the most important VCs about MMOs and online games. He had a lot of input for our future stuff, and a lot of ideas, and we have healthy banter back and forth.
Gamasutra: Have you found that using the words “World of Warcraft” is helping you get recognition?
MK: Well, I don't know. We've been kind of stealth up until now. So you guys and this round of PR is our first kind of coming out for the company to the developers and public as a whole. Obviously, I think it will help - I think it gives us a real advantage in that we have a track record and we've been there before. We've had that long, hard education of how to make an MMO, which very few people know how to do, and until you've been through a trial by fire like that, I don't think you really know what you're in for - so yeah, we do benefit from that.
Gamasutra: I was more talking about that in terms of venture capital people who often don't know about games at all.
MK: I think there are probably two camps. There were those that felt like this was a great opportunity to make WoW 2. Which is not what we wanted. And others like Benchmark and Sierra that realized that this is part of a broader phenomenon that we wanted to help create, and those are probably the venture capitalists that we responded to the best.
Gamasutra: This is a bit in the past, but what prompted the group of you to leave Blizzard?
MK: Well, originally I left, and I left in April of last year, and I did it because it was six months after the WoW launch when the beta for China was underway and I needed just to take a break from the really rigorous development schedule of WoW and the amount of work it took to get that thing off the ground, and to be with some family. I had a new son. I spent some time with my family to reflect on what we had done and what Blizzard had done, and what I wanted to do and the lessons I took from that.
It really just turned out that I felt like there was this immense opportunity as a game maker. This is truly the ultimate gaming platform. And I don't mean from the standpoint of a business model or anything like that. I mean what you have here is something way more powerful than a PC, way more powerful than PlayStation in terms of pure computing power on the backend, right?
World of Warcraft
MK: So everyone says that this round of consoles is ruled by graphics; after that, gameplay is going to rule, and what we can do with cycles on the CPU with things like AI and emerging story, and simulating entire worlds and giving people virtually an alternate life and experiences that are tailored around them maybe even on the fly. These are the potential things that I wanted to explore at Red 5 and that we're using the funding to research here.
Gamasutra: How do you feel about that alternate life kind of thing? Because some people really seem to - some people I know in fact - seem to really have a lot invested in, and perhaps too much sometimes.
MK: I think it's an individual choice, right? I think with anything you can take it too far. Everything should be done in moderation.
Gamasutra: But yet, it seems to me a game like WoW is designed to keep you playing as much as possible.
MK: Actually it’s designed to provide you with, how should I put this - bite-sized entertainment. You can get a lot of entertainment out of WoW in just an hour or two of game play. That wasn't true of games like EverQuest before. You could often put an entire evening into it and see nothing for it except an endless night of corpse runs. So I think that it's ironic that a game which has tried to narrow and focus the entertainment experience has such a powerful grip on people. I think that it is really not so much the game, but the individual who is looking for more and more of those experiences.
Gamasutra: That is interesting. How many Blizzard team members wound up coming with you?
MK: Eight or nine.
Gamasutra: And you've been staffing up as well?
MK: Yeah. During the pre-production phase, we haven't really been staffing that aggressively. We're up to about 30 people now. Now we're transitioning to production, so we are really trying to get the word out and let people know we are creating this creative Mecca and we would like them to be a part of it.
Gamasutra: Do you have a desire to beat World of Warcraft, or is that not in your scope?
MK: No. I don't think it's necessary to beat World of Warcraft. We're not going head to head with WoW. We're not doing a WoW 2, like I said earlier. We're actually more interested in expanding the genre now that WoW has kind of opened up gamers’ eyes everywhere, and across genres, gamers can see why a game like WoW would be cool to play with a persistent world and a live team that’s continually adding content. We're really trying to make games that appeal to different parts of that gaming audience.
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