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Postmortem: Mythic Entertainment's Dark Age of Camelot
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Postmortem: Mythic Entertainment's Dark Age of Camelot

February 13, 2002 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

What Went Right

1. Community management/ beta program. From the beginning of the project, we knew we had precious few dollars available for marketing, and that our best chance to capture public attention would be to have a big presence on the various role-playing fan sites around the Internet. One, the Vault Network, provided us with some message board space, a news page, and a couple of moderators, and we were off and running.

We devoted a lot of time over the year and a half that Dark Age of Camelot was in development to interacting with the future fans of the game. We hired a community relations manager whose sole job was to read different message boards and report back to us what was happening in the community. From the beginning, we took our fans seriously and made many tweaks and additions to the game based on their commentary and ideas.

2. No bureaucracy. Since the founding of Mythic, we have striven to have little bureaucracy. We have no levels, no directors, and few managers. We have a president, a vice president, and a producer. That's it for management, although for Camelot we did have to assign a lead world developer and art co-leads, just to streamline the day-to-day processes of the project.
Because of this simple command chain, we experienced no power struggles. We feel this is the best way to make a solid, cohesive game - a small group controls what the game is and how it is presented to the user. Because of this approach, decisions are made quickly, and features can be implemented without an endless line of approvals and politics.

3. Smart business decisions. Our close relationship with Abandon Entertainment was a critical factor in the success of the game. Abandon's purchase of a minority interest in Mythic ensured that we had enough money to fund the game from start to completion. Abandon's management was smart enough to realize that we knew more about game development than they, so they largely left us to make game-related decisions ourselves. They were involved in the project, of course - some Abandon employees even became avid beta players of the game, even though most had never played an RPG before. Abandon's investment meant that we did not have to rely on any outside influence in designing or creating the game, which means that Camelot is wholly ours.

It was essential to provide players with plenty of player-versus-environment conflict, such as with the forest giant seen here.

With Abandon teaming with us, Mark Jacobs, our president, decided to take a big chance and wait until the game was almost complete before looking for a distributor. In most cases, game companies seek out publishers, which typically have a hand in the design and production of the game and then distribute the game to the retail chain. With Mark's gamble, we produced the game ourselves (with critical financial help from Abandon and business advice from our business development person, Eugene Evans) and then looked only for a retail distributor. This gamble could have placed us at the end of the project with a great game but no way to get it into the hands of our customers. It all worked out in the end, of course, with Vivendi Universal stepping in and distributing - but on our terms.

4. Sweet serendipity. The Camelot project was helped immensely by factors completely out of our control - in other words, blind luck. Several high-profile online RPGs that were slated to launch at about the same time as Camelot were either pushed off (Shadowbane) or canceled outright (Dark Zion, Fallen Age). Also, the week we launched was originally scheduled to be the same week as the launch of Warcraft III, which will almost certainly be a huge seller. That project was also delayed, which ensured that Camelot launched as the only large-scale game, and the only online RPG, when it debuted on October 9, 2001. This little bit of good fortune gave the game a big initial boost, as there was little direct competition from other new products.

5. The joys of open source software and stability. Long ago, during the development of our early titles, we decided to use Linux wherever possible as our server back-end OS, and we kept to this same practice when creating Dark Age of Camelot. We have extensive Linux experience in-house, and it made sense for us to stay with a platform that we knew could handle the task and also was, well, free.

Because running Camelot would require a considerable amount of data management, we initially planned on using Oracle to store account and character information. However, Oracle's quoted license fee of more than $900,000 quickly removed them from contention. Once we got over our shock and amusement at Oracle's pricing, we turned to a Linux-based freeware solution, MySQL, to manage Camelot's data storage, which so far has worked admirably.

In addition to designing Camelot's many outdoor areas, Mythic's world development team had to populate those areas with interesting encounters and dynamic quests - no small task, considering they had not one but three distinct Realms to accommodate, as well as a finite amount of creatures available to them. Work on this content is ongoing, with new updates added to the game on a regular basis.

Everyone developing games should at least investigate open source solutions for their servers. It's saved us a pile of money and has been stable and reliable. In fact, prior to Camelot's launch, it was axiomatic that MMORPGs were unstable and prone to crashing during their first month or so. From the outset, we were determined to buck this trend. We co-located our servers directly at UUNET, on the network backbone, which ensured a wide network pipe to the Internet. With this Internet connection, we can increase our band-
width with just a few hours' notice to UUNET.

With the combination of reliable server code and a stable Internet connection- all running on open source software - Camelot went live on October 9, 2001, with virtually no problems. That first night, the game went down for about an hour and a half due to a database configuration problem, but since then, the game has been remarkably solid and stable. As of this writing, it hasn't been down due to server error for more than a few minutes ever since the first night.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

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