Warhammer MMO lead developer says “PvP is not a focus”

Warhammer MMO lead developer Jack Emmert explains his vision for the future of the MMO genre, in part three of his interview with Wargamer.

Warhammer MMO lead developer Jack Emmert running a game of Horus Heresy at a company off-site event - colleagues are also playing

Warhammer MMO lead developer Jack Emmert says “PvP is not and will never be a focus of mine, probably for the rest of my career”. Emmert’s new studio Jackalyptic Games announced in May it was working on a new MMO, set in an as-yet undisclosed Warhammer IP.

This is the third part of Wargamer’s interview with Emmert; in part one he gives an overview of his 35 year love affair with the worlds of Warhammer, and in part two he recaps his career to date and why he’s confident Publisher NetEase is the perfect home for this project.

Warhammer MMO lead developer Jack Emmert running a game of Horus Heresy at a company off-site event

Emmert’s first hit was as the lead developer of City of Heroes at Cryptic Studios. Until early 2022 he worked at Daybreak Interactive, managing DC Universe Online; but as he explains, that role had its frustrations –

What new design opportunities do you have at Jackalyptic?

At Daybreak I never shipped a new game. I was overseeing three games and I had a game in development, but we never got out of pre production for a whole variety of different reasons.

The team has ideas, you want to create something, you want to share it with the world, and when it doesn’t happen it’s frustrating.

What was behind that?

There’s the saying, “Failure has many parents”. I’m sure that I’m as much to blame as anyone else, but it just didn’t come together. I’ve certainly taken a lot of lessons from that, and hopefully put them into action now with the current project.

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What scope is there to create MMOs in 2023?

After World of Warcraft, people tried to copy World of Warcraft, and in doing so they tried to compete with World of Warcraft: which meant investing a lot of money, which then required a lot of profit. It required a massive success, bigger than Warcraft.

And when they didn’t achieve that – because of course they didn’t, World of Warcraft was one of a kind – most of the major publishers gave up MMOs. To this day we live in a world where in the West there are very few MMOs.

So from the perspective of the genre I would say there’s still a demand. New World came out and quadrillions of copies were sold – well above 10 million, which is amazing. Which tells me that there are people who want to play an MMO, but there is nobody making them.

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What defines an MMO for you?

An MMO is a game that you can play with other people, and you can always progress. There’s no end point. No matter how small, it’s a game that you can make progress in any given night, week, or month. By progress, I mean ‘make your character more powerful’.

What possibilities can you see with modern tech?

I would love to see a world where we can create a truly dynamic, interconnected setting, so that you just roll it out and players’ interactions with it create random events.

So for example if there’s an Orc tribe in the hills and players kill a bunch of them, because the farmers gave them a quest to do it, there’s no more Orcs. Unfortunately, the Orcs were the only thing that were keeping in place the Dark Elves in the Caverns underneath, so then all of a sudden, the Dark Elves come out.

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10 years ago that would have been an impossible thing to create. Famously EverQuest Next wanted to do some of this stuff, but EverQuest Next was cancelled precisely because it’s just impossible – but I think we can get there.

And we can effectively create a true world where you have PvE entities, factions, individuals, each operating with their own goals and agendas that affect each other, and the players, depending upon player reactions.

Isn’t there a tension between procedural design where the world pushes back, and the classic MMO progression loop?

I mean, the goal is to have both, right? But that’s extremely difficult. And I’m not even sure the tech is even there yet. Right now the solution is to have designers create millions of quests and script everything and have these gigantic worlds, huge, big budget games rather than rely on AI to do it. But certainly, you could wed the two together. Absolutely. But it’s gonna take time.

Warhammer MMO lead developer Jack Emmert's model collection

What do you feel about PvP and PvE?

I have never emphasised PvP. God bless all the games that depend on it, I don’t know how to do it. If I play a PvP game and I lose several times in a row, I don’t want to play anymore, right? Like, getting your head beaten isn’t necessarily fun. And so you end up winnowing down your population

Clearly Overwatch has figured it out. But I don’t have any burst of invention or ingenuity to figure out something new. PvP is not and will never be a focus of mine probably for the rest of my career.

Come back tomorrow for the final part of our interview, in which Emmert sets out his vision for Jackalyptic’s Warhammer MMO.

If you’re an MMO fan but you’ve never really gotten into Warhammer before, we have guides to the best digital Warhammer fantasy games and Warhammer 40k games, which are great ways to start exploring the settings.