The Direction of Daybreak: Our Interview With John Smedley and Laura Naviaux
Daybreak Game Company's got a new identity, a new logo, and a new level of freedom, thanks to its split from Sony earlier this year. The transition to Columbus Nova hasn't been without its share of pain, though, as well as plenty of speculation from gamers about the company's direction.
On Monday, MMOBomb got the chance to participate in a roundtable discussion with Daybreak President John Smedley (JS) and Senior VP of Global Marketing and Sales Laura Naviaux (LN), who addressed our questions and offered insight as to where the company's been and where it's going. Here are my questions, followed by an addendum briefly mentioning the questions asked by other reporters and Smedley's abridged responses.
This first section isn't actually a question, but how Naviaux and Smedley started the call, by explaining the company's new branding and identity and life under the Columbus Nova banner, as opposed to Sony.
LN: Having the opportunity to create a brand identity that actually reflects who we are was huge. We chose the name Daybreak because it speaks to the opportunities that each new day presents and our renewed spirit each and every day to continue to move online gaming forward and do what we do best.
When it came to the logo, we wanted something that had a little power behind it, and that's why we chose the color red. We chose the owl eye because it really speaks to the nocturnal nature of gamers, and there's the gear inside it, which is meant to represent technology.
JS: For the last two years at Sony, we were exploring other companies to talk to, looking for a good place for what was then SOE. Sony was looking to get down to its core, and PC games were never something they were super big on. The opportunity to go out and get investors like Columbus Nova, that think about things for the long haul was a big deal to us.
But I'll be honest, we didn't know what life was going to be like after Sony. What I can say is that it's a lot more fun. We're now free to do stuff on Xbox, on mobile... [Columbus Nova] have not interfered at all in any game-related things. It's exactly the opposite. In fact, what they've done is supported us and given us the kind of money that we need to invest further in some of our new stuff.
We're not changing who we are as a company. Our core is still going to be PC gaming. The console stuff, we're adding a bunch of that because we want more people to be able to play the games that we make.
How long was the Columbus Nova acquisition in the works? Can you give us an idea of the time frame on something like this?
JS: The actual deal itself closed in about a month. Finding the right partner, that took a few years. We kissed a whole lot of frogs... we kissed some of the worst frogs in the industry. We talked to a lot of companies, and honestly, none of them were a good fit. It was kind of like Goldilocks. There was a good vibe [with Columbus Nova]. They got us, they understood. They weren't talking about shutting down our key titles. Columbus Nova feels that EverQuest is the thing that built this company and they want to see it run forever.
LN: We definitely feel like we ended up with the right partner. It feels like a startup, a lot of that sort of mentality and a renewed sort of vigor, but none of the heartaches of a startup. We have pre-existing revenue, IPs, player base, all of these things that really help us to move much more quickly toward growth and new opportunities, too.
Obviously, online games never develop as quickly as people want, even when they're live, but do you think people can still be patient with Early Access titles and their rate of development? On the one hand, developers can say, “Hey, stuff's going to be broken, if you can't deal with that, don't buy in.” But is that a realistic expectation, or do you have to assume that they're going to treat it like something akin to a launched game, especially when they're paying for it?
JS: It's fair to say that Early Access is not perfect, because what you just described is absolutely true. There are some people who buy in in the spirit that it's intended, which is to help us develop, there are some people who buy in because they heard it's a good game, and they come in with an expectation that it's a finished game, even though we can't tell them enough times that it's not.
We're really happy with how it's worked out with H1Z1. Bottom line is, no matter what it says regarding Early Access or whatever, people are buying a game. They need to have fun, period. Now, what people's expectation levels are regarding bugs, that's a different story.
What you're talking about is a problem, and the only solution to it is to look toward the company and the track record they have. We're in this for the long haul. The games that we start in Early Access will be released.
Now that you've got Landmark and H1Z1 out in Early Access, what is the biggest lesson you've learned in approaching Early Access or what would you do differently?
JS: What would I do differently? The answer is, “nothing.” I feel like we approached it the right way from the beginning. That's not to say that we have not made mistakes. Here's a great example: Our users got upset about airdrops in H1Z1, even though we told them that they were coming for six months, including what was going to be in them.
If there's something I would change a little bit, it would be thinking through the monetization and making sure we telegraph that even more than we already are, just to make sure people understand that. I think we've done a good job on that, but it seems to be the most controversial point.
A lot's been said of all the people you've lost since the Columbus Nova acquisition, the most recent being Jimmy Whisenhunt announcing his departure this morning. Naturally, a lot of your fans are worried how this will impact your games, both live and in development. What would you say to the people who are all, “EverQuest Next is vaporware,” “H1Z1 will never get finished,” that sort of talk?
JS: In terms of departures, people come and go at game companies. Most of the people at this company, they've been here a really long time, which is why, frankly, the layoff was very difficult for us. These are not just employees, they're our friends, our colleagues, people that we've seen grow up with the company.
I don't know what to say about H1Z1 never being finished. Let's put it this way: I know when we want to release it. I know our plans.
Care to share it with us? :)
JS: I would be happy to, except I can't yet...
LN: Also, I have a gun to his back right now. Just kidding!
JS: We are not some indie company that's using this to fund our payroll. We're focused on the long haul. EverQuest Next is in great shape, it continues to be developed, and when we are ready to show it, I think you guys are going to be blown away by a combination of what we've done and what our users have done. The Landmark workshops that we've done, getting all the shapes and buildings ready, is really working well. We're working on Qeynos right now, as a matter of fact. It's going to be the most awesome thing for you guys to see when you first see it, purely because we're using so much stuff from our players. If there are people who say it's vaporware, my answer to that is, “whatever.”
Finally, a few other questions that came up, and Smedley's brief answers:
Why is there no Fan Faire this year? There was just “too much to do.”
Will it be back? “Yes.”
Will they move other titles to Xbox One? “Absolutely. You can expect all of our major titles to end up over there.”
About the Author
Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.
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