Interviews

Mythos, the Flagship Free MMO

Interview: Flagship's Max Schaefer grilled

Mythos, for the uninitiated, is a free-to-download, free-to-play fantasy MMO currently in development for PC at Flagship Studios. In the wake of a promising first look at the game earlier in the month, we fired some questions in the direction of Mythos overlord Max Schaefer...

We get the impression your trying to bridge a gap between the hardcore and casual markets with Mythos. How exactly are you tackling that?

Max Schaefer: That's correct. We see the casual market as an emerging business model, but there's no reason it can't have games with high production values and a good amount of depth. The demographic is a bit more 'casual' in that they don't want stat-heavy or burdensome games, but they still want quality entertainment.

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Is it tough dealing with the stigma that's attached to free MMOs that feature real-money transactions? Often it's the case that those willing to pay are the ones to access the best items in a game...

Schaefer: Only if you SELL the best items in a game! We intend to have all players find their items by adventuring and killing monsters, or by crafting them. The 'pay' players may have an easier time doing it, but the same items are available to all players. There is a stigma with 'free' MMOs, but there's also a much smaller barrier to entry, so we hope that we can convert the sceptics with direct evidence.

What's the one game feature you'd pick out that best encapsulates your vision and goals for Mythos?

Schaefer: I think it's our map system. It touches on several of our big points: community play in bite sized chunks; an ever-expanding world, flexibility; customizability; and the ability to adventure without painful travel times.

How regularly do you plan to update the game with new content, and will the new content be free too?

Schaefer: We intend to do major updates about every three months. We have no set schedule, though. And we plan to make any new areas, monsters or quests available to everyone.

We spoke last year and you said you think there's been a general lack of risk-taking from developers and publishers with the MMO genre. So what are the biggest risks you're taking with Mythos?

Schaefer: It has to be the business model. While it's the standard in Asia, it's still new to the USA and Europe. We're also working independently on this title, and there is no 'publisher' per-se. So we rely on word of mouth and PR rather than some elaborate marketing campaign to get the word out. So far we think we're on track.

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Do you think too many developers are leaping onboard the MMO bandwagon without truly understanding what the genre is?

Schaefer: Yes. There seems to be a lot of copy-cat games out there, all chasing the WoW glory. And a lot of developers have no idea how hard it is to really compete in this space. The technological requirements are enormous.

You have to build an entire infrastructure with tech ops, customer support, billing, and tons of components just to put up a game at all. And at least with RPGs, developers always tend to underestimate the labor necessary to make a good one.

That being said, there are a lot of clever, talented people out there. And when you least expect it, the next phenomena appears.

On a more general note, 'PC gaming is dying' has appeared in headlines following perceived poor sales performance of high-profile PC titles in 2007 - what's your reaction to that?

Schaefer: I think it's cyclical and transitional. PC gaming isn't going anywhere until people stop having PCs. It's up to developers and publishers to keep it fresh and keep bringing creative, entertaining games to market.

PC still is the only platform with decent chatting ability and people are by necessity in front of their PCs for many hours a day. We have a captive audience, we just need to do a better job of reaching out to them. We're trying this with Mythos and its free business model.

Do developers and publishers need to radically rethink their approach to PC games and gaming?

Schaefer: I don't think so. We need to be evolutionary instead of revolutionary. People know what kind of games they like, and instead of changing the target, we just need to extend the boundaries a little bit.

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