I interviewed Daniel James for a Comm 112 assignment.


First of all, I just saw the announcement of the publishing deal with Ubisoft (and the follow-up slashdot post). Congratulations on that. How do you feel about that? What do you think retail box sales might be able to do for Puzzle Pirates?

Hopefully bring us a LOT more subscribers. All but one of the MMORPGs on the market have benefitted tremendously from a retail release.

Background Information

What sort of degree is "Computing and Philosophy"? Where are its foci?

It was a strange degree largely the result of a couple of professors being split between two departments. I ended up doing a lot of Logic, which I don't like very much, along with classes in Computer Science and Philosophy.

What things have you learned in your academic career that have been insightful in your business career?

Relationships and mentoring are tremendously important. My relationships with my goood teachers were definitely the most valuable part of academia.

Do you plan on going for a graduate degree?

That's the plan. I need that PhD to be a professor.

How much did you focus on grades/marks?

Before going to University I was a triple-A student. Later I realised that I could get top marks without such ludicrous over-work.

What courses, looking back, do you regret taking? Not taking?

I wish I'd taken less Logic and more Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology, Biology and other varied courses more related to making games.

When did the realization hit that you wanted to be working with virtual worlds/muds?

I realised this when I was around 13 years old, after I made Wizard on Essex MUD (the first of its kind) and started making my own. I re-confirmed this realisation again at 18, 23 and 30.

What importance do you see in the field?

I think virtual worlds are, to paraphrase Mr Arthur C. Clarke, going to 'eat television alive'. I view this as a good, good thing. I believe that they have a pivotal role in our future evolution to becoming a better human race.

What first caused you to get involved more in the business side of virtual worlds/muds?

Starting my own with a partner, Avalon, in 1989.

What types of investment have you raised? How have you built the credit? Any good war stories?

I've raised only fairly small amounts of money from investors for ooo. Mostly we funded it ourselves. I don't have any great stories save that I wear my pirate hat when I do investor presentations and never take myself too seriously.

The shutting down of Yosemite Entertainment and it's Middle Earth Online was watched by many on the Internet. On theCan.org you list some of the reasons why it failed. Were there any particular lessons you learned from this failed project? Other failed projects?

Lots. Big companies are disasters. Large teams are unwieldly and hard to manage. Both breed poor performance from people, and foster people who really shouldn't be around. Some of the mates on the middle-earth team refused to read the books -- they might 'listen to them on CD'. That said mostly it was just bad management.

If you had the choice: Lead a development company or just develop?

Choice made. Lead.

Three Rings

When you hire for a smaller company like Three Rings, what are some the criteria you feel are particularly important when examining candidates?

Very smart and get stuff done.

Do you prefer a smaller team? If so, how do you plan to limit its growth?

Yes. A game should only have ~10-12 people on it, tops (not including OMs).

Where do you see Three Rings going in the near future? Where would you like to see it go in the long term?

More subscribers for PP. Long term, more games. Longer term, a real challenge to the current publishers in the online space.

Just out of curiosity, was there any particular reason the company was located in San Francisco?

Throw a network card and hit an engineer. SF attracts smart geeky people who are a bit wacky. That fits us.

Puzzle Pirates

Was there a particular insight that Puzzle Pirates came from? Was the idea of combining puzzles and Pirates a stroke of lightning or a process?

Strong of lightning. I'd wanted to make a PIrate MMORPG, then the Puzzle thing just fell from the sky and hit me. After that it was obvious.

Just out of curiosity, is Puzzle Pirates yet profitably self-sustaining?

Nearly. We have more developers than we should, but we have been momentarily profitable, and hope to be so again. If we had a skeleton staff it would be quite profitable.

In designing the game, how concerned were you with encouraging grouping over soloing?

Quite concerned. I think socialisation is the heart of these games.

Several VW/MMO*/MU* designers have expressed annoyance with fan suggestions and design discussions. What are your feelings on this? You appear to encourage these suggestions and discussions, and you and your team seem to post fairly often in the "Game Design" forum. What value do you see in this?

I love the players and often they have great insights that we as developers just can't have. I wish I had more time to listen to them. Sometimes they can be annoying, but mostly that is a few tarters, and that's to be expected.

Thus far, how "sticky" has the game been? (How long do players typically stay?) What have you done to encourage long time players?

This is confidential. Around a year.

How long do you see the game lasting? How long would you like to see the game last?

Forever. I think that people will be playing in at least ~20 years. Maybe not many, but a few. These things have a way of lasting, people still play Avalon over 15 years later.

Where do you see the game going in the short term? Long term?

More stuff, more players. Then more platforms (e.g. phones).

Any idea yet on the sort of game you see trying to do next?

We have some ideas. Nothing decided.

Puzzle Pirates Economics

There are several instances of markets trading virtual currencies (such as EverQuest gold, SWG credits) outside of the games, and often back and forth with US dollars. Many developers are outright annoyed by these markets and hope to shut them down. Others, such as Jullian Dibbell believe in fighting for the "virtual property rights" to help make this all the more legitimate. As far as I can tell, Puzzle Pirates poe has yet to be traded for cash outside of the game, but as the game grows larger the possibility of such a thing increases. What are your feelings on this? Would you encourage or discourage such activities?

See the Doubloons threads and FAQS etc. recently announced. In short I'm not going to try to turn back the tide, but rather make a fine boat and float on it.

The two major tendencies of an economy is stagnation and/or inflation. What sort of steps have you made to combat these ills? How active of an involvement do you take in the economy?

We track it closely. PP PoE inflation is pretty low, we're almost too good at sucking money out.

Puzzle Pirates Politics

Just like the economy, politics seems to have a tendency towards stagnation or chaos. What sort of steps to you take to combat these extremes?

We need to shake things up more.

What do think of the Notorious Fandango's attempts to shake up the ocean? Appropriately piratey or just annoying?


Puzzle Pirates Technical

What sort of difficulties has using Java made? How has using Java affected development time? Code readability?

Massively improved both. Difficulties are just as you'd find with any platform, bugs etc.

The possibility has been mentioned of open sourcing Puzzle Pirates. What sort of time frame do you think would be good for such a release? Would you release the client and/or server code? Do you plan to compete with user-run Oceans or wait until Puzzle Pirates is older and less of an income source?

We won't open-source PP as such, but will provide some of our tools for making small games. Announcement coming soon.

Thanks again for your time. I hope I haven't been too much of a bother. I'm sorry if I've deluged too many questions on you. :-) Let me know if you have any questions.

Sorry if this is late. I tried! Been very busy.