Exclusive Interview: Piranha's Bullock talks about the rocky road to rebooting MechWarrior

Rob Zacny at

I know that shortly after you released the trailer, an old issue in the Mechwarrior universe resurfaced regarding the Mech images you used.

RB: Yes. Well-known to MechWarrior fans, a lot of favorite mechs from the very beginning of the BattleTech universe. It revolves around a licensing issue with some designs that originally have ties to Robotech and are ultimately owned by a company called Harmony Gold. And our video had a Mech in it called the Warhammer. And the original likeness of the Warhammer was one of those Mechs, and that's owned by Harmony Gold. And we knew this going in, of course, and Jordan and everyone did. But we changed our Warhammer quite significantly from the original one. And we felt it would not conflict with those properties.

Harmony Gold saw the video, waw the interest being drummed up. And perhaps felt otherwise, and got involved.

But the truth is, Rob, that's really all that that was. It was really a non-issue because we didn't push the issue with Harmony Gold or anything like that. The fact was, we were just in the middle of strugging to get a publisher and we weren't getting one for our console product. So a lot of people, because of the silence, just kind of assumed that legal issue had a lot to do with the game being in trouble moving forward. And without any news to give people, there really wasn't a lot for us to say. I guess at the time, I guess it kind of served us fine, that people thought maybe that was the reason we weren't moving forward.

So, you were having all these problems finding a publishers. How do we get to MechWarrior Online?

RB: There we were. Things had been drug out for awhile. It was getting to the point where we had to basically cut bait or keep trying...

If I could interject, didn't Jordan's terms of licensing the properties from Microsoft, was there also a deadline involved with those?

RB: Deadline in which way?

I want to say he had a license through 2013 -

RB: OK. So, yeah, I'll get to that right now. Basically, we were at a point where we needed to make a decision as a company whether we would continue to spend time and energy and effort on this game that we loved, and Bryan and I were discussing that very topic one day. And it became clear to us that if we were going to try to push the issue further, in order to manage our risk, we needed to be at a point where we were in control of the brand. So in early 2011, I think it was February 2011, through some conversations with Smith and Tinker [Jordan Weisman's company], Piranha Games licensed all the MechWarrior rights from them. So as of Feb 2011, Piranha games is the rights-holder for the duration of the term.

And you're right, there is a limitation on the term. Without getting specific, because there's lots of variable at play that might come into effect that we can extend that term, but yes. There is a limit on the term. But Piranha Games is now the license holder since that time.

So now that we were in control of the brand, we could continue to spend some time and energy on it with a little less risk. So that's when the real interesting thing happened, of this option being presented to us. And I think we have to say that we were so focused on a console game for so long that when the opportunity first came to us, we didn't see it clearly.

What was the lightbulb moment, and where did the F2P idea come from?

RB: Let's just say it came from multiple angles. There was potential partners that all seemed to come at us at the same time. And this one of those things that you'll see in the gaming industry, and and that point say at GDC in very early 2011, obviously a lot of people in the games industry were coming to the same conclusions at the same time.

Probably in no small part due to products like Leage of Legends. They were showing that the F2P model could be very successful in North America. And that it didn't mean that you had to create a sub-par product. You could create a very high-quality, top-tier product, and ship it in a F2P model, and it could be very successful.

So I think the lightbulb was coming on for a lot of people at the same time. And we were just one of them.