Interview with Matt Firor

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So an announcement went out today about our new sister division, ZeniMax Online Studios. I thought it might be nice to find out a little bit about the newest member of the family and ‘that guy I’ve seen in the cafeteria from time to time.’ Matt was nice enough to answer some questions, while deftly evading others (curses!).

Is it pronounced Fire-or, or Fire-er, or…?

More like Fire-roar. Or, you can just call me Matt. Much easier.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

Most of my game industry career was spent at Mythic Entertainment, where I was the Producer of Dark Age of Camelot, an MMO that launched in 2001. Prior to that I was Producer and/or a designer of 12 other online games including Aliens Online, Silent Death Online, and Magestorm. I was at Mythic from 1995-2006. Prior to that I was a founder of a multi-user BBS game development company with some friends that eventually became one of the two companies that merged to form Mythic. I go back a long way in multi-user gaming; our first project was in 1987, when I was in college.

Hit the jump for the rest of the interview….

What was the best part of making Dark Age of Camelot?

The best part was showing that a great idea and a great small team can accomplish things that no one else would think possible. For a relatively small budget we made an MMO that for its time was consdered one of the top MMOs on the market. That was an accomplishment that I will always be proud of.

Why did you decide to leave Mythic?

In the early summer of 2006, a grand confluence of events happened that basically made the decision easy. My wife and I had just adopted two children, and EA acquired Mythic. Faced with a decent amount of stock-sale money and the chance to take a year off to be with my new kids, I made the easy choice. It couldn’t have been more perfect timing.

What have you been working on since then?

I’ve spent a lot of time at home with the kids and did some MMO consulting work on the side. Just by the fact that I’ve been in the online game business since 1995 meant that I had a lot of knowledge that I could use to help out other companies.

What compelled you to give that up to start Zenimax Online Studios?

Even though consulting is fun, I really missed the chance to create games. At heart I’m a game developer, not an industry businessman, and ZeniMax has given me the chance to make great online games in an evironment that I feel comfortable in. They are setting up a new studio (ZeniMax Online Studios) in Hunt Valley, Maryland, and are doing everything that is needed to be able to create quality MMOs.

So it’s probably safe to say that you’re hiring?

Very safe. Right now I’m concentrating on hiring the core team members that will be leaders throughout our first project, and hopefully longer. Over the course of the next 18 months I’ll be staffing up an entire MMO-sized team. You can find out more about what jobs we have available at www.zenimaxonline.com.

Name three great things about Hunt Valley, MD

First and foremost is location. It’s close to Baltimore and Washington, yet is in an easily-affordable area close to Maryland horse country and rural Pennsylvania. You can hike in Loch Raven Reservoir in the afternoon and drive downtown to see a show at the trendy 8×10 club in Federal Hill, Baltimore in the evening. Second is the game development and sci-fi/fantasy history of the area. Microprose was founded in Hunt Valley and many of the studios in the area are offshoots from that major early industry player. The Balticon Science Fiction and Fantasy convention is an annual rite for many Baltimore-area game developers, which has been held in Hunt Valley for years – the first Balticon was way back in 1967. Third, it’s the future home of ZeniMax Online Studios!

What projects/games are you going to be working on?

We’re way too early in the process to be talking about any concrete plans we have, except to point out the obvious that we develop MMOs.

PC-based? Consoles?

Sorry, no hints.

Do you think we’re going to see a bigger move to console MMOs over the next five years, or is everyone gonna keep chasing WoW on PC?

Personally? I think that independent developers are generally going to stick with PC-based MMOs so they don’t have to negotiate with the console manufacturers (i.e. share revenues) to get the games published. Added to that, the lucrative Asian MMO market is entirely PC based. That said, a good console MMO eventually will be done but probably not by an independent.

Outside of Dark Age, what MMOs have you played the most, and why?

A close tie between the original EverQuest and World of Warcraft. EverQuest is easy – it was the genre-defning MMO. Ultima Online introduced the mainstream gameplaying world to the MMO concept, but it was EverQuest that broke it wide open. I could still navigate around Freeport and environs easily, and it’s been six years since I’ve logged in (I wonder if I ever remembered to cancel my subscription….?). I play World of Warcraft currently for the simple reason that I find it fun to play. It’s as simple as that.

What games are you playing lately?

I’m a huge soccer fan in general, and I love the FIFA soccer line of games. My favorite right now is FIFA 07 for the PSP, which I’m into my 9th season right now as a manager. I play WoW casually (four/five hours a week).

Ok, time for the lightning round…
Last great book you read?

I read all the time; this is a tough one. Probably William Manchester’s first volume of Winston Churchill’s biography, which I finished a month or so ago.

Best movie of the summer, so far?

Simpsons!

Last game that made you laugh out loud?

WoW – the quest where you have to collect some silk cloth for a guy, only to find that he’s in an outhouse and needs it for obvious reasons.

Game you’d take to a desert island if you had to stay there for a year?

FIFA 07 PSP – good mix of strategy and action.

Best dessert to take to a desert island?

Carrot cake.

Thanks to Matt for taking the time to answer a few questions.

Reader Comments

  1. I’d love to work in this field. Especially online media in the mmo sense, but have no experience, or idea of HOW to get such experience.

    Great interview though, and good to see Zenimax expanding.

  2. Welcome…nice to see a former EQ fan although in 6 years it has become a very different game. Looking forward to see what things you’ll be working on and releasing in the next few years.

  3. Nice interview job.
    I think Matt’s got nice life-path into the video game world.
    I Like the perspective to achieve a goal you input.
    I believe so as well. Its not the amount of people you have, but how each of these people work into the game and what each individuals powers are to get the game to become a product that people will remember for years.

    I’d like to share some new ideas, concepts I have for new era MMO with Matt.

    Good luck with zenimax online

  4. Matt is one of the best guys they could have possibly hired. I was a beta tester and Team Lead for Dark Age of Camelot in the original beta and amongst the many things Matt had to do, one of them was dealing with the beta testers on a day-to-day basis. I’d be surprised if he has any hair left, I know I personally made him pull some out :) He’s creative, has great attention to detail, has steel skin but mile-long patience, he’s flexible and *is* open to listening to new ideas and if he agrees, he’ll go with it (Matt, if you read this, I’m talking about the Eir vs Idunna goddess for healer classes thing :))

    If Zenimax/Bethesda is going to put out an MMO and Matt is in charge of it, I’m willing to bet money because of Matt that it will rock, and I’ll certainly play it. By the way Matt, M says hello :) Pete, if you can, please make Matt look at this hehe.

  5. I’ve played Onlines since 1996 (Meridian59). I got into that after playing Daggerfall. Daoc was probably my favorite MMORPG. The thought that someone is making something that was involved in both is awesome. If you ever need a beta tester, let me know! Great the have a person like you in charge!

    Goodluck!!

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