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Game Veteran Mark Long Leaves Zombie Studios for HAWKEN Publisher Meteor Entertainment

G4Staff
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Posted February 27, 2012 - By G4 Staff


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HAWKEN

Buzz continues to build for developer Adhesive Games new Unreal Engine 3 game, HAWKEN. Set in a post-apocalyptic, Earth-like world, the free-to-play multiplayer sci-fi Mech game has now attracted Benchmark Capital and FirstMark Capital, the same backers behind Riot Games’ successful free-to-play League of Legends. This time the investors have helped fund Seattle-based Meteor Entertainment, a hybrid-cloud publishing company that will publish HAWKEN.

Mark Long, who founded and served as co-CEO of Seattle-based developer Zombie Studios, which itself is working on multiple free-to-play games like the first-person shooter Blacklight Retribution, has left his studio to serve as CEO of Meteor. Long is working closely with Mitch Lasky, general partner at Benchmark, and Rick Heitzmann, founder and managing director of FirstMark. Long is also utilizing his development skills, and experience with Unreal technology, to complement Khang Le, co-founder and creative director of Adhesive Games. Long talks about why HAWKEN is a game that will have a big impact in the burgeoning free-to-play space in this exclusive interview.

How did you get involved with this new game publisher?

Mark Long: Mitch Lasky contacted me July of last year and asked if I’d be interested in running a new free-to-play publishing company that he was thinking about financing. When I heard that the game was HAWKEN, I was excited to become involved. I’d seen the HAWKEN YouTube video and was just blown away by how advanced it was visually. Khang Le invested 18 months of development into that game and it really shows. Before even talking to Mitch, I had contacted Le at Adhesive and told him I was a huge fan of the game and I knew that they were a young start-up and if there was any advice I could ever give them, I told him to contact me. I ended up becoming friends with him, and we talk very frequently. Everyone from Microsoft to EA was chasing them after that video hit, but it was finally Mitch that convinced them that the way to go was free-to-play. I joined them shortly after they committed. 

How has your experience developing games and running a studio helped with HAWKEN?

I think it helps on the one hand that I’ve done this before, so I know how to put together a team and the more mundane task of getting this company up and running, its infrastructure, hiring, and negotiating all the contracts you need for support. I’ve also been a huge proponent of free-to-play for almost six years now. At Zombie have a free-to-play game coming out with Perfect World called Blacklight Retribution. I know the new paradigm of free-to-play and that item sales have to be not tacked on to the design, but has to be a core component of the design.

What are your thoughts on the free-to-play boom?

Something I don’t think most independent developers know about looking at free-to-play is that it truly is a paradigm shift. It is not the normal packaged goods business that we’re used to, where we develop a title in secret, then release it after a short amount of marketing, and then move on to the next thing after it’s been patched once or twice or maybe you release some DLC. Free-to-play is really more like the Internet service approach. You don’t do a gold master for a title; you go into open beta, and the game’s never done.

You are engaging with the players at a more fundamental level. They’re basically telling you what they like and don’t like, and you’re designing around their input after the title goes into open beta. At DICE someone said “Free-to-play is the MP3 of the game industry.” In other words, it’s so disruptive that the old guard is in huge danger if they don’t jump over to this new model quickly.

What are the challenges in this emerging market?

Succeeding at free-to-play requires a new design paradigm, a new marketing approach, and a new relationship between developers and customers that has more to do with Internet commerce than the traditional games business. It also requires significant financial investment and Meteor’s investors have a proven track record in free-to-play, a highly disruptive publisher business. Meteor has raised over $10 million, which will allow HAWKEN to be completed without compromise and will ensure that it is free to everyone.

Hawken: Mech Combat From The Outside In

Where do you see your funding going?

HAWKEN is well financed, and is already well along the way. The rest of the money is going into what I call this weapon-grade hybrid cloud server architecture we’re building. Benchmark has invested in cloud gaming companies, including Gaikai. Gaikai is now showing Web browsing, which is virtualized and it’s fashioned on an iPad where it has four millisecond latency. It’s just insane. I think this cloud computing is going to change everything, and that’s where the majority of our financing is going.

What impresses you about HAWKEN?

What’s unique about HAWKEN is just how advanced visually it is. There’s nothing out there that looks like it. It’s the same team that created Project Offset. When I go look at the game, technically, looked at how they were constructing it, I was really impressed by their knowledge. They pulled every little trick out of the book that I know as a game developer to make this game run efficiently on a low-end piece of hardware. One of the things that made me happiest was that HAWKEN will run on practically everything. That’s important in free-to-play, because a lot of your players are in emerging markets. You’d be surprised to know that some of the fastest growing free-to-play markets are Brazil and Turkey.

Hawken Release Date Announced, Will Be Free-To-Play

What is the roll out plan for the game?

You can sign up right now on PlayHawken.com to play in the closed beta. If you sign up three other friends, you can reserve your Gamer Tag. The game has its open beta on December 12, 2012, but we haven’t announced the closed beta date yet. We just don’t know what it is yet. As soon as we do know, we’ll let all the players know.

Will Meteor publish additional free-to-play games moving forward?

Yes, we’re going to publish other titles. We’ll announce those later in the year. Right now, we’re focused completely on HAWKEN. We’re not going to put out anything until HAWKEN is out and it’s been a successful launch.

Can you explain your server technology?

The kind of secret sauce here that’s less obvious, but really important, is that for a long time the publishers haven’t really cared about the server side of gaming. That’s something players ran on their own; they just did peer-to-peer. With free-to-play, because you’re dealing with real money with some of the players, you have to have dedicated servers to protect their financial information like credit cards. You need to have dedicated servers with big grade security around them. Because almost all of your players are playing the game completely for free, those dedicated servers are a huge loss to you. You can kind become a victim of your own success, a little bit like the League of Legend guys are. If you played the first couple of months, it was very difficult to get a lobby populated, because there were so many people wanting to get online and play.

What’s your solution to this for HAWKEN?

We’re building a hybrid cloud environment. If you think about some of the investments that Benchmark has made, like in Gaikai, you will see that they have an understanding of where cloud gaming is going. We’re going to be able to for the first time publish directly to the consumer globally. By that, I mean we won’t have to go through third-party publishers and other territories like Korea and these emerging territories like Brazil. We’ll be using EC2 (Elastic Cloud Computing) paradigm to do this. That’s running your servers on a virtual server architecture, and being able to run it from one office in Seattle to all over the world. That’s a hugely powerful concept that as more companies adopt free-player, are going to be interested in using it. Indeed, we hope to make our platform available to independent developers to publish their own games.

 

Game Veteran Mark Long Leaves Zombie Studios for HAWKEN Publisher Meteor Entertainment
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