of customer service tools. We really tried to avoid the customer service
problems that are characteristic of some recently launched online games.
One of the most important factors in keeping customer service reasonably
effective was a smooth launch. Obviously, giving players fewer problems
results in fewer calls to customer support. We did an excellent job with
the launch - it went very smoothly. However, we could have better foreseen
other parts of our customer service plans.
First, we had a lot more players in the first week after Camelot went
live than we ever could have forecast - 51,000 boxes were sold in the
first four days alone. Our forecast numbers called for a much smaller
number, and we hired our customer service staff based on this smaller
number. Also, we put off creating customer service tools until much too
late in the development cycle - some had yet to be developed when the
game went live. These missing tools really hurt the customer service staff
and added to the time it took to help each player with in-game problems.
Eventually, wait times became much too long, and customer support as a
whole suffered because of it. As I write, we still are trying to work
ourselves out of this hole.
2. Lack of a cohesive marketing plan. We went into the Camelot
project with a lot of experience in developing software, but no real experience
in creating a marketing plan. We got a lot of help with advertising from
Abandon Entertainment, but there was no overall project plan. Basically,
we took out ads in magazines that we thought were important and tried
to keep on top of the Internet community. We didn't regularly issue press
releases nor attempt to do a press tour or invite reporters to the Mythic
offices to show off the game.
It's difficult to gauge just how much this hurt us. Our focus on Internet
marketing gave us strong support among fans of the genre, but our lack
of commercial marketing kept our company profile low, and we never received
much mainstream media coverage because of it. Fortunately, we made up
for our slow start, and then some, by our successful presence at E3. Abandon
funded, designed, and staffed a large booth for us at the show, complete
with medieval motif and lots of giveaways.
3. O Dungeons and Cities, where art thou? The first major update
we made to Camelot's graphics engine to differentiate it from Spellbinder
was to put in the rolling terrain system that makes the world so lifelike.
We spent a long time making the outdoor areas of the game beautiful and
well stocked with monster encounters. The ease with which we did this
gave us a false sense of security when it came to developing our dungeon/city
These areas in the game required a large number of models and characters
in a much smaller space than the outdoor terrain, so creating dungeons
and cities proved to be a much more difficult job than we thought. Because
we put off doing the technical designs for the interior spaces for so
long, in the end we simply didn't get enough of them done. The game launched
with only three capital cities (one per Realm) and about 15 dungeons.
4. We have a great game but no servers! In a great "Why didn't
they tell us about this in college?" situation, we went into the
final months of the project with no credit rating. Mythic Entertainment
has been around for a long time, but we simply hadn't ever borrowed any
money, and so we didn't have a credit history. This turned out to be a
problem when we went out to lease our servers from Dell and were flatly
denied. We pointed out that we had plenty of money in the bank, but to
no avail. Dell simply wouldn't lease us the computers until we had a credit
history. In the end, we were forced to purchase the servers outright from
Dell, which obviously had a much greater impact on our bottom line.
5. Postrelease fan communication. As good as our communication
with Camelot's fan base was during the game's design and beta periods,
it began to suffer soon after the game's release. The community simply
grew too large to communicate with in the manner we had during beta, when
we simply went out to Internet message boards and posted our thoughts
and plans. With the game live, it was obvious we needed a much more coherent
way to communicate with our fans, one that would not send them to numerous
different fan sites to sift through literally thousands of messages.
This situation grew into a big problem when players became extremely frustrated
by what they perceived as a lack of communication from us. About six weeks
after release, we realized that we needed to create our own web site to
publish information about the game: release notes, plan files, server
status, Realm War status, and many other little things that we knew but
our players didn't. This web site, dubbed "Camelot Herald,"
launched the following week and so far has been a great success. Fans
of the game can now go to one web site to get all the information about
the game in one place and with no interference.
For the Ages
It was a great pleasure to create Dark Age of Camelot, as it is
the first big title that Mythic Entertainment has ever worked on. It was
a wonderful thrill to see our names on top of the best-seller lists for
those couple of weeks in October 2001, and we hope to be working on the
game for a long time to come. As long as players are interested in playing
the game, we'll be there adding content and updating it.