Jack Emmert on Dimensional Ink’s ‘Total Independence’ and What’s Next for the DCUO Team
Daybreak Games, formerly Sony Online Entertainment, recently splintered its three main studios in dedicated franchise teams. One is Dimensional Ink Games, the team behind DC Universe Online; then there's Darkpaw Games, dedicated to the EverQuest franchise, while Rogue Planet Games will take care of PlanetSide.
There is more to that, though, as per the official Daybreak FAQ the new studios are now operating as 'individual franchise business units'. What does that mean, exactly? We were able to discuss this with Jack Emmert, CEO of Dimensional Ink Games, alongside the studio's top secret next-generation action MMORPG and the future of DC Universe Online. Enjoy!
Jack, how long have you been with Daybreak (now Dimensional Ink)?
I was hired in May of 2016.
All right. So it's been almost four years now.
Yeah, almost four great years.
How would you say this kind of rebrand worked out for the studio in terms of what changed for you in the day to day operations?
For us, it's really total independence. We coordinate with Daybreak in terms of publishing our games. But other than that, each studio controls every aspect of its business, in terms of hiring, in terms of game development. And, ultimately, you know, they have the accountability for the future of their franchises.
So, basically, it's a risk versus reward kind of situation, in that you have more control over your future, for better or worse.
Yeah, yeah. Yes, exactly right.
That's interesting, but you'll always have Daybreak as the publisher, right?
Daybreak is the publisher for dimensional ink for its DC Universe Online, we have a new MMO under development. But whether Daybreak is the publisher or not, we don't know yet. We want to choose the best partner for the game. What's going to make that franchise succeed? And when we come to that point where we need investment, we're going to take a good hard look at all of our opportunities.
Is crowdfunding an option for you as well or are you going with the more traditional models?
At this moment, I wouldn't eliminate any possibilities. You know, it's, again, whatever we think is best for the game in its development.
Okay. And I know you can't say much about the new game yet but in the press release, it says that development is starting this year. Is that correct?
Yes. We've started working on it previously, in concept days, but we're really hard at it at this moment. In fact, right outside my door, there are people making basically a prototype at the moment.
Is it fair to say it will take maybe a couple of years before we learn something concrete about it?
Well, hopefully, you'll know something before then. But we're definitely a few years away from seeing anything live.
Ah, okay. That's fair enough. You've said you have named your studio Dimensional Ink because of your passion for comic books, right?
Does that mean the game is going to be comic book-based like DC Universe Online, or could it be about something else?
Well, you know, the first part of our name - Dimensional - refers to the fact that our games take people anywhere they can imagine, other dimensions. So it's possible it can be comic books, but it's equally possible it could be something else. the studio's origin started with Star Wars, and then they did DC Universe Online second. And for our next game, you know, really, anything is possible.
Can you share whether the game will be based on a licensed IP like DC Universe Online or an original IP instead?
I'm afraid I can't share that information at the moment but I am super excited to share it when I can.
Again, fair enough. The press release made it clear Dimensional Ink was working on a 'next-generation' game.
Certainly we are targeting platforms of the future, as well as looking at gameplay and systems that make better sense for the future, rather than what MMOs might have been like five or ten years ago.
Does that mean you are, in general, looking at enhanced AI, physics, stuff like that?
Oh, yeah, yeah. And we're looking at the emergence of streaming services like Google Stadia and others, which unlock the ability to do a whole lot of stuff in the cloud, and really heighten what's possible for a game. On the flip side, there's still the next generation of consoles. There's the PlayStation 5, there's the Xbox Series X on the way. Those, of course, will raise the bar for consoles. And that's something else that we are going to focus on heavily.
Do you think something like the built-in SSD or the much more powerful Ryzen based CPUs will be very important for next-generation MMO games?
Especially for MMOs, because we have large areas, we have plenty of critters with AI, and a lot of players and all of that is important to be able to create a much more enriching experience than what players might have had years ago.
Yeah, that's for sure. You've been in the genre for quite a while now. Where do you see it heading? There seems to be a bit of a resurgence of sandbox games, or at least sandbox elements.
Well, certainly that there are a lot of single or multiplayer open world games that have had a tremendous amount of success. And really, it's a matter of creating that magic and adding what happens when you get more than three or four players at the time, and that's what we're focused on. At the same point, games with instances queues are extremely popular. I was just playing Red Dead Online, for example, the other night and that's not something that we're going to ignore. So, it's that special magic that an MMO brings with persistent worlds and hundreds of players but at the same time, we can't forget the fact that Destiny and other games have introduced incredibly popular gameplay, with instance queues.
So it's gonna be a mix of both maybe.
It would be safe to say that we're looking at all the different systems that really worked for today's games.
DC Universe Online is famous because it was one of the first MMO games designed with the controller in mind. Is it fair to imagine the same will be true for the next-generation game you're making?
I would say that for the next game we really need to keep the console mind. We can't design a product which requires, you know, tons of keys and deep UI with mouse controls because that eliminates a potential platform in terms of the consoles. But again, if we feel that's what's going to make the best game, certainly we'll go down that path. But it's a pretty mighty big market right now for consoles.
Yeah. And, you know, maybe it's too early, but DC Universe Online is free to play. Did you think already about the business model of Dimensional Ink's next-generation game? Or is it just too early to say?
Right now it's too early to say but certainly, I personally am a big believer in the free to play model, both as a player and as a developer. From my perspective, every single day with DC Universe Online I need to come up with ways to engage players and to deliver them something that they want to buy. I can't depend on a one time purchase of $60. I need them coming back day in and day out. That keeps us on our toes as developers and makes us focus on our players and what they want.
Can you let us know a ballpark of how many developers you have at Dimensional Ink right now?
We have a good amount. I mean, between both games. We're hiring like crazy, so we've got plenty of open spots, but I can't say the exact numbers. But what I can tell you is that DC Universe Online just celebrated its ninth year, and the development team has not changed one wit in the time I've been here. We're continuing its size and defying a lot of MMO trends of decline. And we still have a great team working on content day in and day out.
So you're planning to support the game for years to come still, right?
Oh, yeah! Hey, look. Everquest celebrated its 20th birthday, I want DC Universe to do it too!
With the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X coming out later in 2020, I'm wondering if you are considering to take advantage of the hardware to improve how the game is going to look and run on these new consoles.
With the new platforms coming out, I would be lying if I said we weren't thinking about these things.
Okay. Something else about DCUO, the game features crossplay but only between PC and PlayStation 4, while Xbox One and Nintendo Switch servers are separate. Still, now several games have started merging all these communities together. Is that a possibility?
Ultimately, I think that's best for the players and I understand the different needs of the platforms. But ultimately, yes, if I had anything to do about it everybody in DC Universe Online would be playing together and we will probably work towards that. It's just gonna take some time as there's a whole lot of people involved.
Can you share whether the game's player base is growing or stable?
I can tell you that basically the game is as big today as it was when I arrived. Now, whether that means revenue or player count I'm not allowed to share, but I can tell you that we have had an astonishing run the past four years. And like I said, we have not changed the size of our development team one bit.
And you've also been doing these events that are linked to DC's film releases, correct?
What we do around the films that DC does is we tend to feature characters in our game with new content that happened to be in the movie, but we don't use the movies' costumes and storylines. So for example, with the Birds of Prey movie opening, we also are going to have Birds of Prey content in April. Our content is based on the comic books, not on the movie, but it's still Birds of Prey. It's still Harley Quinn and Black Canary and the others.
Right. Something else I've been wondering is, since you are going to support the game for years to come still, whether you might be upgrading the engine to Unreal Engine 4. It is something not many games have done, but a couple did. Is that a consideration at Dimensional Ink?
That's certainly a consideration. And another consideration is just updating what we have with Unreal Engine 3, as Batman Arkham certainly showed that you can do amazing things on Unreal Engine 3, so it's really weighing the time, the cost and what we could get out of it. But definitely we would love to continue to invest in DC Universe Online. Like I said, we want it around for 20 years.
Is there something you can say about what's coming after the Birds of Prey update to DC Universe Online?
I think I can at least hint to the fact that we are certainly going to be doing a lot of fan service. There's a whole lot of things that fans have been asking for in the game that we haven't done yet and we are looking to that right now.
Okay. Is there anything else you'd like to add about Dimensional Ink?
Basically, if you're a fan of any of the games I've done, DC Universe Online, City of Heroes, Champions Online, Star Trek Online, or Neverwinter, come on and apply. We literally are hiring like mad for this new game, and I wish I could share it with you, but it's super exciting so come join our team at Dimensional Ink!
It's all based in Austin, right?
All based in beautiful, scenic Austin!
All right. Thank you for your time and good luck with the game you've got in development.