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Outsized Personalities

So now that I’m home and can look up from wikis and playtests, some reflection on part of today’s news.

It’s probably no secret that Mark Jacobs and I have had our differences in the past – in particular, after some of my more critical writings about Mythic and Warhammer, it’s safe to say I’m not on his holiday card list. After a day of following various commentary on Mark’s departure around the darker corners of the Intarwebs, though, I think some things need to be noted publicly.

To say that Mark was an outsized personality does an injustice to outsized personalities. When I started at Mythic, I got an inkling of what I was in for when Mark grilled me over the phone – for three hours – before I started over an intemperate forum posting on my old site in a post about gay rights, to make sure that the newest addition to the Mythic family wasn’t an intolerant gay-basher. (Mythic was heads and tails above the gaming industry in hiring diversity, something I never appreciated enough until I left.)

In case I hadn’t gotten the message, it was reinforced when a week later, after I spent a night in a DAOC IRC channel enjoying the ego boost of being ‘a developah’, he showed up at my desk with a detailed, annotated chat log of the multitude of mistakes made, with the unspoken message that the new guy who was third tools programmer from the left probably didn’t have a lot of business doing community relations, no matter how much of an Internet badass he thought he was.

One of the most irritating mistakes the media makes when covering games is treating games as the personal project of their most visible namesake – World of Warcraft coming from Rob Pardo or Jeff Kaplan, Assassin’s Creed coming from Jade Raymond, or, in this entirely too risible snippet Old Man Murray found on IGN once upon a time:

“There’s a tendency among the press to attribute the creation of a game to a single person,” says Warren Spector, creator of Thief and Deus Ex.

Except that in Mythic’s early days, it wouldn’t have been too far off. Mark wasn’t just a visible figurehead – in many ways Mythic was his. Mark wasn’t intimately involved in DAOC’s design or production (although I do remember him whiteboarding crafting systems a lot) but for him, Mythic was his family. He was immensely proud of how none of the original Mythic staffers had left for years. When Dark Age of Camelot shipped and was a commercial success, the ensuing bonuses (which I had just made it under the wire to qualify for) were generous – in my case a significant portion of my salary, and carried over long after DAOC was no longer as profitable. Because he saw them as his family.

It was a family he was very protective of, as I found out when I joined the merry band, and that aspect changed little over the years. Unfortunately, Mythic rapidly grew beyond the 25 or so that shipped DAOC, and as that family atmosphere changed, it was easy to see that Mark wasn’t happy about it. He would occasionally drop into my office and others as the years passed, either to trade insights on the industry or on entertainment in general (and for him, a Joss Whedon MMO would probably have been the perfect storm).

Then there was Imperator. Imperator was very much Mark’s project – he came up with the backstory, was deeply involved with the design, and was far more hands on in its production than I had seen him in years. Unfortunately, it didn’t work (something I later came to be very sympathetic with) and as the company smoothly shifted gears from Imperator to Warhammer, he took great pride in how almost everyone was able to keep their jobs in the process. Mythic was still his family, even if it was too large for him to actually know them all any more.

By that time, though, it was a family I didn’t want a part of any more. When I posted my initial farewell, I noted that my motivation for leaving was to move to Texas from northern Virginia. That was certainly true – I’m currently typing this from the living room of my house, and making that statement true in NoVA would have cost me about a half a million more than it did here. But it wasn’t the entire truth – Mythic had, by that time, grown to the point where it was no longer a family, but a company, and a company with the usual office politics, mismanagement, and frustrated career paths. In retrospect, if I worked for me, I would have fired me; as it was, Mythic was good enough to let me find my way out the door (even after, in one memorable Homer Simpsonesque moment, I arrived back to work from a job interview to find out someone at the company I interviewed at IMed a producer to ask what I was doing there. Whoops.)

And on my last day, after I was ordered to leave the building early – by Mark – I was asked to come back to talk – by Mark. He wanted to know why a family member was leaving. And so I told him, and mentioned in passing, given the then in-progress EA buyout to watch his back, that there were people there who did not have his best interests at heart.

Those people are still there. Mark isn’t. And while I wouldn’t work with them again – and most likely would have significant issues working with the lead designer of Warhammer and Imperator – the Mark of the DAOC launch team, I would have taken a bullet for. I’m pretty sure everyone involved feels the same.

But given the outsized personality that Mark is, I’m 100% sure that we have not heard the last of him, either in the near term (he does have a blog he seems to have forgotten about – and he certainly has more qualifications for drive-by pontification than nearly anyone else, including myself) or in the long term.

And I would hazard a guess that the Mark of Dragon’s Gate will be a far happier guy then the Mark of EA Mythic. And that’s what counts among family members.