Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sympathy for the Developer

Hellgate: London was not a good game, and I stand by any and all of the various less-than-kind things I've said about it in the past. Like the blog says in the tagline, Developers make content and Players decide whether to use it. I'm a player, it's my limited time and money that's being spent, and I'm not going to cut very much slack to a game that wastes either. That said, via Broken Toys we get the other side of the story. Flagship founder Bill Roper, former Diablo II mastermind, has given a lengthy and impressively candid interview on the end of Flagship Studios.

What have I learned?

- It is really clear that they did their best to take care of people when things went south. The servers are up and running, and former subscribers get all of their account perks for free for the time being. Employees were kept on until the Board of Directors actually had to pay the staff out of pocket for a month. They didn't have to do these things, it might have made more financial sense to just pull the plug, but they did the right thing anyway, and I respect them for that.

- It kind of sounds like they simply didn't have much of a conception of budgeting. They added feature after feature (e.g. the Vista client, and localization into 17 different languages) and then didn't have the money to finish anything. They did impressive things in terms of game engine design and network protocols but didn't have the time to add more diverse gameplay (Roper mentions the idea of more single player content). Some of these things are an unfortunate consequence of being a start-up. If you're trying to get someone outside your organization to give you money to make something, you have to make it sound like it's going to be a great product, worth their investment. Problem is, that's potentially a lot of promises to put on the table before you know what you can deliver. Big companies like Blizzard have the cash to simply sit on their major announcements until they're confident that all of the big picture issues are doable.

In short, Flagship's flaw was that they tried and failed to deliver an incredible game, when they perhaps could have produced a less ambitious product that would still have been above average. You have to respect trying to make the game the best it can be, even when the results didn't turn out so well.


Morrigdu said...

Flagship's problems were twofold in my opinion:

1) a shotgun approach to developing a game (let's throw everything at the wall and see what sticks).

2) no business sense whatsoever. Seriously a big WTF at that subscription/payment model. Given their track record of actual content pushed out for subscribers, it should've been all free, or everyone subscribes.

I think they had a bunch of good elements to it, but like a stew with too many ingredients, it never got the chance to blend into one good thing. Just a weird concoction where there were the occasional good tastes, but overall not satisfying.

Green Armadillo said...

Bill Roper agrees with you on both counts. He admits that they had actually figured out that the hybrid subscriber model had serious flaws before launch, it was just too late to retool the game in a way that would have justified the "everyone subscribes".

Morrigdu said...

Well good to know he has the self-insight to identify failings.

I think, more than anything, Hellgate and Flagship itself proves what happens when developers have all the say, and don't have the business managers to reign them in.

Moranin said...

Game Developers, like Engineers, should never be left entirely to their own devices... :P