Warhammer MMO Q&A – Jack Emmert Wants an Accessible Game That Represents the IP with Care

This month, fans of massively multiplayer online games were treated to the announcements of a new The Lord of the Rings MMO and a new Warhammer MMO. While the former is in development at Amazon Game Studios Orange County (the team behind New World), the latter is being handled by a new Austin-based studio founded last year by Jack Emmert.

I had the chance to interview Emmert three years ago, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, when he was leading Dimensional Ink Games in the ongoing development of DC Universe Online as well as an unannounced project that didn’t end up going forward. That’s when he left Dimensional Ink Games and started Jackalope Games, now known as Jackalyptic Games, under the wing of NetEase Games.

Emmert has worked on many MMOs, including City of Heroes, Neverwinter, Star Trek Online, DC Universe Online, and a couple of canceled projects. Following this announcement, I reached out for a new interview. While he wasn’t ready to mention any specific game mechanics and features, Emmert talked about his main tenets, chiefly the evangelization of the Warhammer IP and delivering an accessible game. He also discussed the engine that will be used and shared his thoughts on combat systems, business models, and user-generated content.

Jack, tell me what you’ve been up to. You left Daybreak and founded this new studio that has just been rebranded, correct?

Yes, we decided to change the name from Jackalope Games to Jackalyptic Games. Jackalope was fairly generic. Here in Texas, you throw a stone and you hit a store with that name, it’s extremely common. We wanted to do something a little more memorable, a little more meaningful, and we ended up with Jackalyptic by combining two words: Jackalope and Cryptid, which is the word used to describe mythical animals. Only nobody could spell or even remember Jackalypt correctly, and our VP of HR kept saying Jackalyptic, which stuck. Of course, it sounds a little more ominous.

Interesting story. Does the studio consist of colleagues who worked with you, or is it brand new talent?

These people reached out to me after I left, so I’m very familiar with many, but we also have a good mix of new talent. You know, we are fortunate. One of the great things about Austin is there are so many experienced game developers. It’s a talent rich area.

I think Austin also has a fair amount of developers with MMO experience, right? For example, BioWare Austin did Star Wars The Old Republic.

Sure. Then you have anyone related to the heyday of Ultima Online, later NCSoft, and of course, more recently BioWare, but you also have the Wizard 101 folks over at King’s Isle. I think per square mile we have more MMO in this area than just about any other city.

That’s good for teams looking for new roles. I believe Jackalyptic is recruiting.

We absolutely are. We’ve got a website with open positions. However, we also do opportunity hires, good people that kind of come up and offer their expertise, we can make a space for them. We’re still very early in the process.

Do you have a set goal for roughly how many employees you’re going to have?

I think the game design will really determine that. Ideally, it would be less than 100, but once we have a better idea of what we’re making and how we’re making it, I think that will really determine what the ultimate studio size will be.

Did you already settle on an engine for the Warhammer MMO?

We’re pretty set on Unreal Engine 5. I think the days of creating our own engine are long over. We have wonderful options out there. You’ve got Unreal, you’ve got Unity… Both engines work obviously very well with online games such as ours.

Twenty years ago, that just wasn’t the case, so I think it was much more viable and, in fact, necessary to have your own game engine.

I don’t know if you’ve been following the latest Unreal Engine 5.2 release, which launched earlier this month. One of the main additions, the procedural content generation framework, could benefit your Warhammer MMO. 

We were actually just discussing Unreal Engine 5.2 in a meeting last week about when we are moving to it internally for development.

You may be interested in using those procedural tools to make your life easier.

Yeah, we’re definitely looking at all of it as an option.

Your most recent announcement was that your debut project would be a new Warhammer MMO.

So we haven’t identified which one, but it is definitely an IP belonging to Warhammer.

Just to be 100% clear. When you say that, you mean Warhammer fantasy, not 40K, right?

No, it could be anything. It’s not set yet. Or rather, it’s set, but we’re not announcing it right now.

It is somewhere within the brand of Warhammer, whether it be fantasy old world, Age of Sigmar, 40K, or something else. It’s something within the Warhammer umbrella.

So you are looking at a specific IP within Warhammer.

Yes, indeed.

Why did you settle on making a Warhammer MMO, on working on this particular universe?

My career has always been focused on making games about the hobbies that I love and trying to translate them into a new medium. With Neverwinter, it was D&D; with DC Universe Online, it was DC Comics, then there was Star Trek Online, and I’ve had a couple of goes at Marvel.

I’ve been playing Warhammer stuff or Games Workshop stuff for decades. I go back to the days when Judge Dredd was a Games Workshop license. I played Chainsaw Warrior way back when. I’ve been a fan of their IP, the Warhammer IP, both fantasy, 40K, and everything that includes, for quite a long time. And in fact, my entire garage is done over for miniature gaming purposes.

I’ve got a table, a painting station, and tons of storage for all my mini, and I play regularly, every week, with my boys.

That’s great. I know Warhammer fans pay close attention to the adaptations and want them to be close to the source material.

Yeah. There’s no greater fan than me, so I am going to be a zealot to make sure that we represent the IP appropriately.

Henry Cavill is making and starring in a Warhammer 40 Cinematic Universe produced by Amazon.

There have actually been several Warhammer games in recent years, though there was only one Warhammer MMO, Mythic’s ill-fated Age of Reckoning. Of course, it’s been a long time since that game, and I know you won’t be able to share a lot today, but what is your high-level vision for this Warhammer MMO project?

I can certainly talk about a few generalities. Number one, I don’t think the rich lore of Warhammer is widely known. I mean, there are fanboys like me who read the books, play the games, and so forth. But it’s sort of like Marvel in the late seventies or early eighties, where you had a core audience that absolutely loved Marvel to death, but the mass market really didn’t know about it.

And I think Warhammer finds itself in a very similar way. Now there’s going to be a series with Henry Cavill and hopefully my game and hopefully Space Marine 2, which is coming out soon.

They’re bringing back the fantasy Old World miniatures game. And there are games for Warhammer fantasy, like Total War. They are bringing the message out about what the IP is and my goal, with whichever Warhammer IP I’m working on, is to help teach people about it and unveiling in much the same way the MCU has done for Marvel Comics, where it’s taken this vast amount of lore and distilled it and presented it so that people can slowly but surely learn about it. That’s one area of focus that I had.

Another area of focus that is related to that is accessibility, making sure that anybody can sit down and play. That’s been a consistent theme through much of my career, trying – sometimes poorly – to make sure that I’m allowing the game to be enjoyed by the greatest number of people.

At the end of the day, I view any game that I make as a chance for someone to escape, for an hour or two hours a day, to dive into another world. I don’t want to overwhelm anyone with game mechanics and requirements. I just want them to sit down and enjoy themselves. So I think that that’s another area of focus.

Regarding accessibility, your studio is fully funded by NetEase, correct?

In fact, we are part of NetEase. They’re not just funding us; we are wholly owned by NetEase.

But you’re still operating independently, right?

Yes. NetEase is an absolutely incredible organization and employer to give creators like me the freedom to be able to do the things that we really dream of doing.

Most games made or published by NetEase games end up on mobile. Is that the case for this Warhammer MMO as well, or will it be only for PC and consoles?

The mobile market is not one that I know. It’s very hard, it’s very difficult. I am by no means an expert in it. But I will say that the great thing about working with NetEase is that they’re more interested in what I want to create than in the platforms that I want to create it on.

And they’re good with whatever we choose, provided that it makes financial sense, of course, but there’s never been any pressure or suggestion that we should have to do mobile, no top-down commandments like that.

Something else I should ask about is whether you can speak to the nature of combat in your game. For example, the last time we talked about that unannounced game (which I believe was the Marvel MMO that got canceled), you told me that next-generation action combat would be a big focus. Is it fair to assume the same to be true for this new Warhammer MMO?

I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to doing a more traditional MMO. Maybe one day I will, but I don’t think so. After the games that I’ve done, from Neverwinter to DC Universe Online and, of course, that canceled project, I’ve focused mainly on games with more fluid combat than what I created when I first entered the industry years ago.

Another recurring feature in your previous games was that they enabled user-generated content (UGC). Neverwinter and Star Trek Online both had the Foundry. Is that something we may find again in this new Warhammer MMO?

User-generated content is something which, every time I’ve done it, I think I’ve done it badly and those systems ended up being pruned out or eliminated or heavily augmented.

I’m constantly trying to learn from the industry how to do user-generated content because clearly, I don’t know how. It’s a tremendous challenge and of course, I look at many games like Minecraft and awe of how with such simple tools, they’ve empowered people to do some pretty amazing things. I think that’s sort of the key. If the system is to really engage players, it’s gotta be easy for anybody to do. Alternatively, you can make it super difficult so that a handful of people are creating really great stuff. Those are my thoughts without speaking to this game in particular.

Fair enough. Do you have any thoughts on the most widespread business models in the genre?

Several years ago, I would have thought that free-to-play was the best option. I think the success of a game like New World has demonstrated that you can do straight up by to play.

I do think that there’s room for subscription-like systems like Fortnite has done with the Battle Pass, while I’m not sure whether a traditional monthly fee would be as successful today.

But there are options available that I didn’t think were possible up until New World launched. I wasn’t entirely sure that one could successfully just sell a box and really make enough revenue. Obviously, that one did quite well.

How long do you think it’s going to be until we get something concrete like a teaser trailer or more details about this Warhammer MMO project?

I couldn’t tell you. I’m still hard at work in the investigation phase, let’s put it that way. So, unfortunately, I can’t give any details like that.

I guess it’s going to be a while. Well, thanks for speaking with me, and let me know when you’re ready to share more.

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