June 23, 2023
Mark Long is CEO of Shrapnel. A former head of Xcloud at Microsoft and publishing at HBO Interactive, he is a 26-year game industry veteran who has produced over 32 titles on every platform from SEGA Genesis to Oculus Rift. Established across many media forms, Mark is also a member of the Producers Guild and a New York Times bestselling graphic novel author.
Julian:Hey everyone. Thank you so much for joining De Behind Company Lines podcast.Today we have Mark Long CEO of Shrapnel. Shrapnel is empowering the world toshare in playful collaboration at the intersection of gaming, creation and trueownership. Mark, I'm so excited to chat with you, not only because we have.
I don't, I thinkyou might be the first gaming kind of focused company, but really in thatintersection of how gaming and Web three is collaborating. I mentioned itbefore the show, it seems like the relationship is just gonna make sense for,for not only the short term, but the long term and the principles of Web threeand what gaming really means to the community it's building.
But before we getinto shrapnel and, and what's exciting about what you're building,
What were you doingbefore you started the company?
Mark: Iwas head of games at HBO or Head of Publishing games there, HBO and WarnerBrothers. And that's where the founding team came from at yeah, neon, which isthe publisher at Shrapnel.
Julian:Yeah. And, and when you think about like HBO and games, what kind of materialI, I, I was looking through it and you were, you were kind of testing differenttypes of media and content. What kind of experiments were you going throughand, and how are companies actually, kind of testing new things as, as peopleare getting kind of sick of what's, what's been around for, for so long andpeople are kind of itching for new experience?
Mark:Yeah. Well if you think about, if you loved hbo, like I have, I mean, HBO hasbeen. Defining the cultural conversation repeatedly, going all, going back allthe way to the Sopranos and all the way forward to Perry is like the latestshow that I'm, I'm crazy about. Yeah. Know one of the first things I wasexcited about in enjoying them is like, how do they do that?
Like, how, how doesthis group consistently do that? And I mean, they've been doing it for decadesand I, I learned a couple of things. One, They're auteur driven. There's thisidea, it's called auteur theory, and that's the great content or media is oftenmade by a, a single creator. And that creator, the auteur part is they have.
Creative controlover every single aspect of production. So for example, if I say, GuillermoToro or Quentin Tarantino, you instantly Yeah. Have an idea of, of what theycreate. And so, H B O had worked repeatedly with auteurs and they, they hadwithin the company the ability to take someone like Lena Dunham, who was 25years old when she started.
Girls and had zeroexperience. I mean, even writing, producing, or acting. And put a team aroundher that could support her vision for the project, but at the same time make itcompletely authentic. So I actually learned quite a bit about how to producegreat content while I was there.
Julian:Yeah. And, and how does somebody kind of balance the, wanting to have kind ofnot ownership or I guess control of each part of the project, but at leastoversight of it?
And. Somebody ontheir team who wants to offer some kind of insight or piece for it. Is it likebuilding a company where it's kind of more collaborative and everyone's towardsthe goal or how much of the ownership and kind of, that control do a lot ofthese creators have to relinquish and balance back and forth?
Cuz it seemschallenging if, if at the end goal it is kind of your stamp, your name Ooverall right? Rather than a group.
Mark:Yeah, I think it, that's a great question because it is a, a, a delicatebalance. Like, I don't wanna be told. Exactly what to do, but I'm also maybevery excited about working.
Yeah. With anauteur. And certainly we subscribe to AUR theory here in the studio, but Ithink here, Video games are so much more complex than, even a live actionproduction with lots of special effects. I mean, they, they involve almost everyscience and, and discipline. So it's almost impossible to be a complete auteurin this space.
Like I can't alsoprogram and voice act and, and do all of that. So I think. Within our sphere,we're working with our tourism in different vertical departments. Like a greatgame designer, a great animator, a great art director. Mm-hmm. But it is truethat you do need somebody that has a cre, a clear.
Create a vision forthe title because often, these productions are so long and so complicated.Yeah. Like I liken it to, like when you go to the eye doctor and they go, isthis better? Is that better? Is this better? Is that better? Like, I don'tfucking know anymore. Like, aren't you supposed to be the one that tells melike, the often your team comes to you, like, I, dude, I've may been working onthis thing too long, I can't see what's good or bad about it.
Yeah, and it'sreally great to have a, a, a producer on the project that goes, no, it's likethis, and you need to decrease the specularity in your color component. It istoo broad. You need to narrow it down. And as an artist, a prop artist, like,yes, that's exactly the kind of feedback I wanted.
it's, it's fascinating cuz I hadn't thoughtabout gaming, kind of taking on that kind of I don't know if it's a strategy orI guess kind of philosophy to have kind of this single ownership vision have,have.
Is there, a companyor another game out there that kind of. Pioneered this, this versus having acollaborative team where you all kind of go through and map it together versushaving kind of this one creator ownership to, to have almost like it, it seemsthat games are becoming more cinematic and have a really cohesive storyline,whether you like it or not, but it, at least you can see it play through.
When did that kindof come all about? Rather than just have, some, some interactions and, somestimulation versus like, like a whole experience is, is just, it's, it's crazywhat, what it's come to.
Mark:Right? Well, I've been in the game industry long enough that I can remembergoing to the first game developers conference and there were guys walkingaround with those with t-shirts and throw in the back, said Lone Wolf.
And I was like,asked other dudes like, what does lone Wolf mean? Like, oh dude, that's an oldschool. Video de game designer, he, that means he did everything. Like he, hedesigned the game and program and he did the art, everything. But that's, backwhen, games were just, pixels. But I think you can draw a line all the way fromthere to like Kajima, right?
Like a true AUR whoexerts as control over every aspect of the production. Even though he doesn'tdo everything, he knows how to direct a large team and Regardless of what youthink about Kajima and, and its titles, you, you can, like Tarantino, you couldjust say, well, that's a Kajima title. I don't even need to be told that.
How much are peopleactually relying or, or familiar with? Now art tours of certain games are, isit becoming, or has it, has it always been, at least, in fp like first personshooters, has it always been kind of understood, the artur of, of this whole experience?Is that common or, or is it, is it now coming into fold with more of thesetypes of games?
Mark:No, I think you can just ask yourself, like you and I could probably sit herefor two minutes and just rattle off. Film directors, even producers that wehave, right? Yeah. And, and we would stop ourselves and still have more if wegive ourselves two minutes to name every famous game designer.
And this is one ofmy bitches about the industry and, and how it's still treated. We'd probablyget to five each and go, I don't know, dude, I don't know. I can't name anymore than that. And yet, The game industry is literally multiple times biggerthan film. It's actually bigger than film, music. Yeah.
Television all puttogether and still we kind of don't get the respect that we deserve. I'm not, Ido, I sound bitter about that. But you know, I, I think, and I often havewondered about that, but I think part of the problem is, There's no real glamorin our kind of production. We're like animated features.
They're made by anarmy of people. Yeah. And often there's like one director in charge, but youknow, they're, they're not a glamorous director. Like Yeah. Chris Macquarie orChristopher Nolan, that kind of thing. They're, yeah. Nerds. Nerds and knuckleheadslike me.
when do you think, that kind of. Overall kindacinematic gaming experience really took a level up. And I'm thinking about, I,I'm not a big gamer, so I've only had, kind of an arm length relationship withit because a lot of my friends can, game and, and just thinking about, the.Call of Duty, the modern warfare, the the, the Battlefronts.
All these reallypopular, games that were on console and on PC now had these crazy storylinesand impressive historical factoids think, and also Assassin's Creed as well,who was really pushing for like this. Hugely cinematic experience. When did youthink, wow, like gaming has really took, taken a step up and offered a, a totaldifferent experience.
Can, can you thinkof a game or two that really set the tone recently or I guess earlier when,when it kind of all became popular?
Mark:Well, for me, it's another great question. The whole reason I love first personshooters is because a large part of the goal of the design. Is to make you feelpresent, right?
Yeah. You weretrying to create authenticity and a sense of urgency and danger and all ofthat. So they were kind of the first, I mean, literally they were the first 3Dgames like Doom. Wasn't true 3d. It was, it uses something called raycasting.But that was the first game that really got me excited.
I mean, thatliterally launched my career playing Doom two for the first time. And I thinkthen you can identify certain milestones where there was a sense of emergenceor, or presence again or immersion that just was a leap above everything else.Like maybe missed, I'm dating myself, but that, that game is another game thatjust kind of blew my mind.
How immersive itfelt and it had deeper storylines. Earlier video games were guilty of prettythin plot lines and, kind of the bud of jokes of, of, of the other media. Butat this point now, in, in, certainly in first person, but in story drivengames, which I really loved, single person story driven games that level ofimmersion and, and story now is much deeper and.
Yeah, the, thedifference I find like in a cinematic experience in a a game experience issimply in the choice that you're get to make in the game. And I liken it tolike, if you go to a murder mystery thriller, if everybody does their job, thewriter, the director, the actors, they're trying to work towards a point wherethe audience could, could guess, you know who the killer is at differentpoints.
And then there'susually the, the reveal or, or the reverse reveal, oh, I didn't know it wasgonna be them. But think about how empowering that feeling is if you actuallyguess ahead of time. Like, oh fuck, I know who did it. Yeah. And you're,you're, oh, don't tell me. Cuz I want have that. Experience too.
It's really it's a,it's the, it's the great moment in, in those kind of films, but you can onlyhave it one time in two hours versus, I don't know, a game. This is a littlebit dated, but Fire Watch is one of my favorite kind of deep story games. It'sfirst person. Mm-hmm. And you navigate a large space, but had this great kindof very original storyline.
Where you play. Aguy in one of those fire watch towers in the Western United States in theNational Park. But you've never done this before because you have abandonedyour girlfriend who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I. And you're apiece of shit, for doing this. And, and you learn it, in the dialogue and thestory, and you're just have run away from her and the world and, and you'reisolated up in this tower and then they set you off on an interestingadventure.
So right awayyou're not a traditional hero character on a Yeah. Hero's quest. You're, you'rea character. You kind of like, I don't know how I feel about the guy that I'mplaying, man, but that. Those choices, that sense of immersion and that storyis just so much more fulfilling to me than, than feature films ever can be.
that's fascinating.It's like the I mean it's like, grant theft, dodo, the anti-hero quest is, islike, it's a exhilarating because you're not, in, in reality, right? There'slike this moralistic, I, I guess friction that you have, but also, beinginvolved in that and those choices that really kind of, it take, it takes youaway and extracts you into this whole different kind of experience and, and,and it's so exciting seeing how it's becoming that much more popular.
And, and, and it'sreally across so many different demographics that I don't think there's onetype of gamer anymore. And so many people are, I mean, describe, what's beensurprising maybe to you or maybe you predicted it about. How many people andhow many different types of people are getting involved in games and, and whatare some, I guess, interesting preferences that you see certain demographicshaving with, with certain types of games?
If, if, if you haveany anecdotes.
Mark:No, we have an expression once, a gamer, always a gamer now. So we, we arecouple, a generation or two back. We've all become, yeah. Gamers, you start asa kid. And it used to be, yeah, well game, console Nintendos for kids and yougrow up and you, why would you, yeah. Keep playing.
That's not trueanymore. And you're right about gamers having different personas. But we also,as a gamer, I have separate, in individual personas, like I'm a mobile gamerand I like match three games and then as a console gamer I have a differentexperience cuz typically I'm playing with my.
Sun's on the sofa.So it's a more social experience. Yeah. And then PC gaming. I tend to be on pc.I'm a competitive gamer and, I'm leaning into my monitor with on, and, andthat's a, a singular experience. So I don't think there's any one type of gameranymore.
Julian:Yeah. And it's, it's awesome. Thinking about, you know what, I guess one, onequestion I have is who pioneered the, the really like in, in maximizing thecompetitiveness? Obviously there's a bunch of online tournaments and there's abunch of, online arenas that you can go through, but really making it like theEA sports and what that's become and that whole experience is just blowing mymind, EV.
And, and, andrealizing how much just adoption across the world, certain games can have, whoreally kind of took that tournament style competitiveness and made it extremelyaccessible. And what tech, was there a technology that allowed it to do that?Was it cloud, was it, a certain type of, server?
What in particularkind of really I guess I guess multiplied and exponentially the, the adoptionof, of gaming and, and the competitiveness of it.
Mark:Well, I think when you say competitive gaming, then you're competing with otherplayers. Right. So it was really Yeah. Multiplayer that, that created that.
And that kind ofstarted in the quake on Unreal tournament area. Mm-hmm. And then emerged in, haHalo was the first console, first person shooter. Not the first, but the onethat succeeded. Yeah, it was a great multiplayer game. And then that hasexpanded into, it's just kind of insane now that more people watch certaintournaments like the Doda tournament than we'll watch the nhl hockeychampionship.
So we've gotten tohuge numbers and also there's this kind of counterintuitive idea that gamerswatch. More people playing games than they actually play in terms of hours andnon-gamers. Can't figure that one out at all. But if you're a gamer, like oftenyou're watching other gamers to get tips to learn or I, I, that game looksinteresting, but I don't think I'm gonna play it.
But I'd love toexperience it with somebody else watching somebody play and then livestreaming. You, we enjoy people that entertain us while they're playing ourfavorite Yeah. Game. They're making comments and, and things like that.
Julian:Yeah. It's, I mean, it's no different from the phenomenon of sports, right?
It's like, whywatch so many, professional athletes compete when you can, pick up a ball andgo to the neighborhood court, and experience it yourself. It's, there's somethingyou learn from it, something you learn about. Somebody doing it better thatit's like that, that that you kind of, that the out of body experience thatyou, you, you get through that and super, and it, it doesn't seem that muchdifferent than other things.
It just seems likeone that's injected by new technology, a virtual experience, but, nothing nnecessarily new. Just, a newer, newer way to, I guess maybe experience it or,collaborate or, or your relationship with it. But thinking about, this wholeweb three and, and this, the involvement of what the technology really ma meansto gaming, obviously.
I think when itfirst, when it really started becoming adopted, a lot of gamers were using it,the tokens to actually transact and, and then obviously the world kind ofexpanded, but. Where do you see Web three in its evolution and, and in gamingand the relationship with the community, and how much more is it just gonna beingrained as games continue to, evolve and, and start to adopt Web Is every, isevery game gonna be web three native or, or or are we gonna see a split?
Mark: Isee a lot of recapitulation in web three. To free to play. And, we, I need toacknowledge right up front a lot of web, two players, regular players, evenfree to play players really are up in arms against web three and they have somelegitimate beefs, right? So the first is they're being told.
Things that you buyin this game, I could use, I could take into another game. So maybe I buy aJohn Wick skin for my game and now I wanna be John Wick in this other game.That's not a thing. You can't, you can't do that in any game, and nobody'slike, why as a game publisher, why would I pay, pay the cost to integrate yourJohn Wicks again into my game?
You bought it overthere. Not. In my game. And then second I think how about we don't fry theplanet, mining for proof of work your, yeah. Token. So that's one reason we'reon the avalanche chain. Avalanche is the only chain that's completely carbonneutral. Wow. And and then I think the examples of existing web three gamesare, they're actually terrible.
Like, they're noteven really good games. They're. Ponzi schemes where players are grinding toearn and the experience isn't that great. But as I first got exposed to thisover two years ago, I just had this epiphany, like, it's all about digitalownership and governance. Yeah. Over the game that you play.
And when I saydigital ownership, I like to, I like to use this anecdote, when. Years ago whenI would go to GameStop and then we had a couple of PlayStation games I was donewith, I would trade those in for like maybe $15, right? And then they wouldturn around and sell 'em for 20 bucks each.
But I didn't careabout that. I, I got value out of the game that I traded in, and then I appliedit to a new game. But in the last about 10 years where free to play has reallytaken off and in-app or in-game purchases have become major source of revenuefor the game industry. You don't really own anything you buy.
And indeed, the guythat founded Ethereum, part of his motivation was he had this World Warcraftcharacter that got nerfed by the publisher. And it really pissed him off thathe didn't have governance control over his own character that he grind onforever. And then, it inspired him to to create a, a chain that allowed fordigital ownership.
And I think thoseare the key. Principles that I believe are gonna make Web three in ininevitable. I, it is just going to happen if you, if you had two games that areexactly the same and one you just have in-app purchase like today, and two, Iget to own anything I I buy in the game. You're gonna play this one.
And I believewhat'll happen is something similar to my game stop example. Like in our game alot of things or practically everything in the game it's is minted or an N F T.And so it has value that you can exchange. Yeah. And we're an extraction.Shooter, an extraction shooter is different from battle royale in that I don'twin by murdering you and everybody else and being the last one alive.
I win by gettingout alive with the most loop. And some of that loop could come from you. If Ikill you, I could take some of the stuff that you wagered when you, you cameinto the game and that has real world value that I can then just exchange. Ican take. What I've won and convert it back into money and go do something elsewith it.
Yeah. But chancesare I'm going to buy more stuff in the game, just like you do in, in a regularfree to play game. And I also like to point out that like, the reaction to webthree games web two players beginning of free to play it came out of like EOand the, the far east China and those kind of regions.
And you looked atthose games like, I don't care that they're free, man, there's just kind ofcrappy versions and I'd rather pay and play a better version. Then the gamesgot really good, right? Yeah. And then that, that didn't matter anymore. And sowe haven't come to that tipping point with Web three, but I feel like thereaction of players is the same, like.
I think they also,I should just, I'm sorry to go on. This is a long, terrible answer, but No,you're good. I think, I think also players are, they feel like publishers areguilty of overreach, so I bought a premium game and now we give you DLC, downloadablecontent. So if I wanna play with my friends, I have to also buy that.
So I have to keeppaying to be able to play the game already paid for. And then Ubisoft doessomething like, Hey, we're adding NFTs to our games. Here's a pair of pants thatyou can buy if you grind for 60 or 80 hours, I forget. And they were like, whatthe fuck, man? Yeah, yeah. What are you guys trying to do to me?
I'm just a fan ofyour game. I thought this was a web three is a good thing. And that's how theyturned off a lot of these players. So we. We feel like shrapnel, our game, partof our mission is to, first of all, just be a fun game. How about that? Yeah.Yeah. How about just be fun to play? And then after that, if I'm enjoying itand I'm winning a bunch of NFTs from you, then I could decide later that Iwanna play web three style.
and also what whatI found brilliant was the whole kind of creator network that you're building aswell, and, and giving the opportunity to make the game expansive, which I know,there's, there's been games who have said a precedent before, but in, in, inresponse to how I think it, it's really.
I think it, it'sreally advantageous when you think about the mechanics of web three as well,because, as you continue to add to the network, it expands and, and youessentially gain in value. And what are some predictions and, and what's someof the momentum you're seeing on that end? And do you kind of envision itreally kind of taking off and, and becoming kind of a main driver of the gameeventually?
Mark:Yeah, this is something I'm particularly passionate about and a thing that I'mresponsible for contributing to the design of the game. The idea. That you canmake the game your own by moding it, creating your own maps. And this goes backto, years ago, me and the studio, even though I'm developing our own gamesduring the day, I would come home and I would love to mod, the games of, of theera halflife to America's army.
And even today,grant theft Auto. Yeah. It's just kind of fun to make a game. That you loveyour own version. And I would be thrilled if, first of all, if I got it to workat all because you're, they weren't, weren't designed to be modded. And secondof all, if like even 11 people played my, my map, I would be happy with that.
So that, that kindof, I, there's something to the joy of that experience that I want to wanted tobring. To shrapnel. So we're enabling it across the board. Like, so the firstbig thing that you'll be able to do is the map that we give you. You'll be ableto, we're gonna release a, a map editor for Shrapnel.
You'll be able toopen it up and remix it and change it, and improve it in any way. That youwant, but you'll also be able to do things like create your own gamer tag and,and Mint and nfp it. You'll be able, right now we're just rolling out theability to make decals so you can put 'em on your character and weapon andother things in the game.
Eventually you beable to make your own character. Yeah. And you can also make your own 3Dobjects and, theoretically you can make a completely different game. I I partof our, our thesis was, We're watching this, the last two generations of gamersgrowing up with Minecraft, learning to craft and, and make their own worldsright.
At a, at a reallyprimitive, simple level. And then they age into Roblox, which is kind of likethe Legos of game creation. Yeah. You get a, a kit that you could make a racinggame out of or whatever. And then as you become a, a tween or a teen, youbecome more competitive and you start playing pub G or, or Fortnite.
Right. And nowFortnite has its own creative mode and 50% of the playtime in Fortnite iscreated by other players at this point. Yeah. But when you turn 18 to 35, whatwe call the core demographic, like when you graduate from school and you have ajob and you have your first real money, there's nothing.
For players to ageinto and yeah, we think that you players aren't just gonna suddenly go, oh, Idon't wanna make games anymore like I used to. I think it's the opposite. Ithink they're ready to, to use the same professional tools we do. And make,make the game their own, as I said.
And make it moresubstantial. Right. And I mean, I, I don't know, have you seen the movieGrandma's Boy? Oh yeah. Have you seen Yeah, yeah. Or my, I, I love that movieone. It's, it, I think it's funny, but maybe it's outta taste or maybe it'soutta touch now, but it, it was fascinating thinking about the, what.
Possibilities cancome of, come out of individuals really having ownership of creating their ownworlds and their own maps and, and the different possibilities that really comefrom this creative network. It's like you're betting on the fact that peopleare gonna continue doing what they've always been doing, which is creatingunique ways and, and, and, and of things that they already like and we thinkabout.
We can think aboutfan fiction being one right. Of, of different example and an adjacent industryand how popularized that is and, and became a whole movie series in terms oftwilight, right? Mm-hmm. And that, that came out of something else. And so,it's, it's amazing to think about also how much investment as a founder and asa team that you, you worked on that.
Particularly partof the business. Was it so core to what you were building? Did you really takethe time and attention and, and how, how much of that did you think about interms of its impact overall in the business? Was it just like core to thethesis overall?
Mark:Yeah, absolutely. Core because when you had web change, web three to thiscomponent, then you, we can share revenue with the players.
So it's not justthat you get to make cool shit and other people play it. We, you can actuallyget revenue from other people's playing it. And that doesn't apply just to, Imade a map or I, I made a character or weapon. It can also apply, so we wantedto embrace blockchain completely. To me, I'm less enamored with the technologyand more interested in the novel game experiences that you could create forplayers that we haven't done before.
So less interestedin obvious stuff and more interested in stuff like, a problem with Roblox forexample, is they got like 850 million da, monthly players, and there's millionsof games created by kids on the platform, and yet almost 99% of the playersplay one of the top 10 games.
And that's notbecause there isn't other great games out there, it's because it's very hard todiscover the, a great game. So we, for example, can use, you can use the theShrapnel tokens to stake a map or content. And by that I mean you're curatingand saying, Hey, I'm gonna put my money where I mouth this.
This is a reallygreat map, and I'm gonna get Julian and Mike Yeah. And all these others to getbehind me. And then we promoted this map, and then the map became super popularand other people began joining to mod it. And that's where, yeah, I thinkyou'll get a really exciting effect of crowdsourcing.
Like, I thinkgiving the map that we're gonna create to the community, giving 'em an editor,they're gonna turn around and an army of creators are gonna make a much betterversion of the map. Yeah. And you can also imagine. The idea that they couldeven create a brand new genre, which isn't, a crazy idea like Daisy was createdby one guy.
And I would argue,even though that was a really flawed game, it probably began Pub G. Right. Andyou have examples like Gary's mod, like, these things created by one. Personwent on and created entire other games and, and genres. So I think it, if yougave players these tools, it'd be possible for 'em.
And then it's justthat blockchain incentivizes them economically. Like you can actually makemoney doing this just like regular game developers do. Yeah.
Julian:How does it also just like impact the mechanics of how you operate yourcompany?
Mark:Well, yeah, that's a great, great question because normally we don't have tothink about anything except the players' experience, right?
Right. Everythingis kind of behind the magic curtain. We, for example, have to think about howcan make the players most successful. If we give them this map and they open itup in the editor, we have to think about, now we have to think, well, it reallyshould. The Legos is a good example. It should have this.
Kind of atomicstructure that's uniform so that it's easy to snap things together and it kindof works no matter, what you try to make it do. And that's nothing at all, likewe, we normally do as a developer. We're just all about our own efficiency. Sowe have to think about that for example.
What would you say are some of the biggestrisks that the company faces today?
Mark:Well, it's pretty bold of us to go up against the first person shoe to Market,right? You know that that's the one of the toughest genres, if not the toughestgenre. But nobody, the, these other publisher developers, they can't.
For a lot ofreasons. Microsoft can't own crypto right now. They just can't legally do thatas a, as a publicly held company. And so that created a ocean of opportunity.Sometimes it's called Blue Ocean opportunity if you're gonna do this. We, wethought, oh man, we are way out of the head of what everybody else can do.
We shouldn't screwaround. We should like go for it. We should either do an RPG or an F Ps and a,a lot of the team is like passionate FPS players and designers. So that's whatwe went for. But I, we all have to acknowledge that we're up against reallygreat games and we have to produce that good a game experience.
Fortunately for us,we don't have to create 40 hours of single player experience like the next Callof Duty does. We only have to produce a single. Extraction map that players arethen gonna mod.
Julian:Yeah. Yeah. And thinking about,
if everything goeswell, what's the long term vision for the company?
Mark:Well, w what's really exciting about a U G C design is what will happen whenyou give these tools over to the player community cuz it's just ununpredictable. What are they gonna create and how big could this thing be?Maybe it's bolded me to compare. Us to Roblox, but look at how Roblox startedYeah.
And how primitivethat experience was and how small it is now. It's just absolutely giant. Imean, it's literally kind of a rite of passage for kids to, to go fromMinecraft in, into Roblox. So I'm hoping that we're building a platform that awhole generation of core competitive players are going to.
Be able to build onall their experiences I described earlier and make something like at a professionallevel that looks like absolutely, like a AAA team developed it. That's, thatwould be my dream. Yeah. If that happened.
Julian:Yeah. I like this next section. I call it my founder faq. So I'm gonna hit youwith some rapid fire questions and we'll see where we get.
First question Ialways like to ask is, what's particularly hard about your job day to day?
Mark:Oh, that I have to shift gears constantly. I can't just be one kind of manageror leader. All kinds of personalities come into your office. The, there's kindof a fundamental difference between an artist and and engineer.
Engineers just likeit's very cut and dry and they want it straightforward. When we createsomething art artistically, we're a little sensitive. About that. Yeah. So Ican't tell somebody that's terrible. You've gotta go kill yourself. I have to,I have to say, oh my God, that's a, what is this?
You're showing me?No I have to, I have you, you have to change your sensitivities. And then also,this is a, a big AAA game with the AAA budget. So I have investors to. Manageand all their expectations. I have to, speak publicly like this and you'd besurprised to know I'm complete introvert and I can't stand doing things likethis, but I've trained myself to, to be able to do it.
And, and when I getinterviewed by somebody that's as generous and friendly as you easier, but Iguess that. That's what's hard about my job.
Julian:Yeah. I, I appreciate I was, I was gonna say, I hope I made the experience alittle bit a little bit more digestible. No, but, but I appreciate obviouslyyour time and just thinking about obviously like, where the business, growsand, and the expansion and what it, what it can become.
What kind of othercompanies are out there doing something similarly or, or that you're kind of afan of, whether they're a competitor or not. Or, or just whether than theindustry, who are you, kind of, particularly keeping an eye on, on how they'redoing things and the way they're going about it and, kind of, I wouldn't saymodeling yourself after, but really, I guess, taking inspiration from.
Mark:Well, I, I wouldn't take inspiration, but there are two other, in our category,web three first person shooters that I'm excited to play.
One is by MidnightSociety and their creative director is doctor Disrespect, and they're doing avery novel battle Royal style that's vertical. It's like you fight in abuilding up up to the top. Yeah. Feels a little bit like the movie The Raid. Ifyou, if you know that. And then there's off the grid and their creator directoris Neil Bcap, the film director who made Elysium and district Nine.
And yeah, the artdirection in that title looks super exciting, and all three of us are makingweb, web three shooters. I, I've never been JY Gil not guilty, but jealous ofmy competition. It's really hard to make video games and, and yeah, and at, atour scale. When you're making products of this scale and duration you neverknow if it's gonna find an audience or, or, or not.
You just know whatyou're passionate about. Yeah. What it is that you wanna make. So I, I wisheverybody good luck.
How much, how much do you think, how much areyou betting on the, most, if not all, people have some kind of virtual gamingexperience. No matter, no matter what the medium is, in the future, whetherthey're experiencing a movie and there's some kind of.
Choice based systembuilt into that, somewhere as, as we're thinking about how VR is really cominginto light, is there kind of any future of science, science fiction, butpossible predictions that you're particularly, thinking, or, or might be, mightbe thinking is possible or, or might be the actual experience we go through.
Mark:Yeah, we haven't said this term yet, but it's generative ai, right? Yeah, yeah.We're, I think you're like me. You're just kind of blown away at what you canjust type in and get an image or a text back at you. What we are seeing in thegame industry, that thing that we, we haven't seen a good version of yet, butit's getting really close, is what I would call text to mesh or text to 3d.
Yeah, so imagine inour game, for example, you could just type in I don't know, I won a giant Nomewith an assault rifle as a character. And then you get this incredible 3D modelthat you can kind of tweak, like give him a Santa Claus beard or whatever. Andthen without having to know anything about 3D modeling and learn blender andall of that, you're able to create assets.
It even looks likethey're going to be. Well, I've seen examples of people that are programminggames just by typing in prompts, and they're, they're simple games like Py Birdkind of style games. But that's kind of mind blowing. Blowing. And a year ago Iwould've never predicted that would be possible.
So, wow. Talk aboutdemocratizing gain development. I, and that is, is happening so fast. It'salmost hard to over predict. Yeah, what you're gonna have, right? So who knowswhat, what we'll be talking about a year from now.
Julian:Yeah. Yeah. I always like to ask, founders this question. Cause I love,anything that they ingest, you think about early in your career or now,
what books orpeople have had a lasting impact on you as a, as a founder, as a professional.
Mark:Oh, I'm really fortunate in that when we left HBO. Neil Stevenson, the authorof Snow Crash and, and so many other great sci-fi books came to us and said,Hey snow Crash has been set up at HBO for a series and I really wanna make avideo game. And we were like, oh man, we're just walking out the door door tostart our own studio.
Would you come.Work with us and Neil's got to know us and he's like, sure, I'll, I'll workwith you. So I got the chance to work with Neil on on that design and thenbecame, subsequently became friends, and now I'm in Neil Stevenson's book club.So just last night, it's a, and it's a history book club and it's got fuckingamazing members in it.
Like Al Ray Smith,the guy that is basically the grandfather of 3D graphics who. Founded Pixar.And so he's in the club. George Dyson Freeman Dyson's son is in the club. Sothese really guys with, brains as big as a planet are, and we read the kind ofnerdiest books that every month and, and it's always history books.
Like we don't readanything else. Except history, so I can love good history.
Julian:Is it like a politic fiction or is it more like, nonfiction? Is it a narrative?Yeah, I'm curious.
Mark:Yeah. It's all nonfiction, but these guys are so arrogant I, and read so manyYeah. Books that I, I, I find myself reading books that are really challengingthat I probably would've gone, ah, I don't know about that.
And then ended upenjoying it so I could go on for another couple of minutes about all the greatbooks that. Yeah. I, I've read in that book club.
Thinking about obviously, anecdotes or anyexperientials or quotes or anything like that, is there, is there anything likethat last thing from any of, the books or the people that, that have kind ofmaybe created some philosophy to you as a founder that any, any, anything thatother founders could, could use for, for themselves?
Mark:Yeah, I think, we, as, as founders, we get wrapped up in, it's kind of amachine that you get tossed into, you start with your original idea and theteam that you wanna work with, and then the first thing you've gotta do is getmoney. And then as soon as you've got money, you're burning through money.
You've got to getto this, to this finish line kind of as fast as possible. And it, it allhappens so fast that you get kind of drawn up into that experience. And maybeyou also feel. Like you're competing with others or sometimes literally are,are competing with them. And I've been doing this long enough that I, I'velearned, I mean, I know this is cliche, but it's really about the journey, notthe destination.
It's really lovingcoming to work every day because I love to work with, I'd love the experience Ihave to work creatively and solve problems with yeah. People in this space andalso something, one of the. Producers in the studio has taught me is happypeople make happy shit. They make good stuff.
And so if you'vegot a happy studio, then you know you're going, chances are something good isgonna come out of that. Chances are the opposite. If people are unhappy and,they, they feel like you're, I don't know, like the game industry has beenguilty, much less so now than in the past. Of, of, of what I call death marchesor what people call the crunch.
Just working tillyou drop dead to get the game done and out the door. We're a lot smarter aboutthat now, but that still exists to some degree. Yeah. And those are unhappyteams. So, part of our philosophy in the studio is just, bring your authenticself. To this studio. Don't pretend like, I don't know, the TV show severance,that there's a work version of you and a home Yeah.
Version of you. We,we embrace the idea that we're a whole person and we don't pretend that youdon't have, have a family at home that you need to, leave early and, and getkids to a recital. Or whatever. And that's made me really happy because I, Ican tell you with very, with a lot of certainty that people are very happyworking here.
And that in theend, that makes me more proud than any kind of rating or success we get on agame. Just that I, we created a space where people could buy houses and getmarried and. Yeah, I would be ha happy with their family and their, and at thesame time be creatively fulfilled. I get paid to be as creative as I possiblycan on a daily basis.
I should be happyabout it.
Julian:Yeah. Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I lo I love that. I love that. Well said. And I,I think that's a great book, Mark for, for the end of the show last little bit.Is there anything that, any question that I didn't ask you that I should have?Anything that we left on the table here today, Mark?
Mark:No, you've been terrific. I really enjoyed our conversation.
Julian:Awesome, man. I, I really appreciate that. And last little bit is where can wefind and support you? Give us your Twitters, your LinkedIns. Where can we asfounders, as listeners from this podcast, go out and seek out, you and, and bea fan and supporter?
Mark:Well, first of all, we're at shrapnel.com for the game. So if you wanna checkthat out. And then my Twitter handle is Mark lengthy at Twitter and lengthythat came from a bad Chinese translation where, which translated back intoEnglish instead of Mark Long. I'm Mark Lengthy. I love That's
Julian:Well, Mark, it's been such a pleasure chatting with you, not only learningabout your early. Experience, but really, uncovering not only where gaming kindof evolved from, but where it is now and, and the really exciting advancementsand, and ways people can actually collaborate with each other to, to reallyaccelerate the growth of, of, an industry and experience. A lot of people aresharing, across different demographics across different countries.
So exciting to seeyou being a part of that and you know how you're involving Web three and howthat can really accelerate the experience. So thank you so much for being onBehind, Company Lines. I hope you enjoyed yourself today.
Mark:Thank you, Julian. I really did.