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Flagship Studios' Founder Discusses Its Demise

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the beware-financial-icebergs dept.

The Almighty Buck 117

1Up is running a lengthy interview with Bill Roper, founder of Flagship Studios. The game company, known primarily for its Hellgate: London and Mythos titles, announced massive layoffs last month, and is now simply winding down and taking care of a few final issues. Roper gives quite a bit of detail regarding the financial machinations of a game developer and the current status of the games' code. Co-founders Max Schaefer and Travis Baldree gave a related interview recently as well. "The subscription money we did get, we all poured directly into keeping the game online, keeping it up and running. But the development demands far outstripped the revenues. There just wasn't a good contemplation early on of how that would work. It wasn't like: This is the budget that comes in every month; we'll do whatever we can do with that. We just said [that] development will get done out of the revenues, and whoever pays for development, they get paid back out of the revenues. And there wasn't really enough revenues coming in to cover the expected and required development."

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release a crappy product (4, Insightful)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 5 years ago | (#24663833)

and you get a crappy return. From what I understand, there were a lot of bugs and problems with the game, to the point where it wasn't worth picking up. If those bugs had persisted, those already playing the game would have left (to varying degrees of course). In the end, they released a product that wasn't where it needed to be, and they lost out on their big opportunity to make a splash.

Re:release a crappy product (4, Informative)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664017)

Even with the bugs it was quite playable I found. The missing content was the annoying part to it, but you couldn't really find out about that until you bought it.

Initial release quality is important if you want to have an impact with game review magazines. Not everyone bases their buy decision off these magazines, but I think enough do for it to really hurt a game if they get a couple bad reviews. Especially in the PC game market where there are so many new games released every year, and where gamers are generally more literate (sorry xbox gamers, but it's true).

Re:release a crappy product (5, Funny)

not already in use (972294) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664237)

You're xbox gamr thing is just a sterotype, idio.t

Re:release a crappy product (0, Offtopic)

craash420 (884493) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664959)

Mod parent up, Score: +2, Missed sense of humor

Re:release a crappy product (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24665011)

Mod parent down. Score: -1, Overrated

Re:release a crappy product (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24669287)

Mod parent down, Score: -5, Trying to direct mods.

Re:release a crappy product (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24665039)

I think we have a winner for the Turing test. I can't tell if that was a real human responsible for the junk on that post or not.

Re:release a crappy product (0, Redundant)

dreamchaser (49529) | more than 5 years ago | (#24666607)

You're xbox gamr thing is just a sterotype, idio.t

Actually your response and lack of spelling, grammar, and punctuation usage ability underscores his point quite nicely.

Re:release a crappy product (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24666869)

facepalm.jpg

Re:release a crappy product (1)

beav007 (746004) | more than 5 years ago | (#24667281)

That's "Whoooooosh".

You must be new here...

Re:release a crappy product (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24670055)

Man, you're quite daft.

Re:release a crappy product (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24666911)

not a troll. +1 funny

Re:release a crappy product (1)

DMUTPeregrine (612791) | more than 5 years ago | (#24667455)

Mod parent funny. Flamebait? He pretends to be a trolling Xbox gamer, but misspells the words and uses horrible punctuation, thus re-enforcing the stereotype of illiterate Xbox gamers he is speaking against. Such irony is funny.

Re:release a crappy product (4, Interesting)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 5 years ago | (#24666269)

The missing content was the annoying part to it, but you couldn't really find out about that until you bought it.

Unless you're the kind who preorders or camp the store on release day, just because the hype sounds good, yes, you _could_ find out. The fact that there's no actual content for your subscription money, for example, was common knowledge within days.

Honestly, I wish that the meme that buyers are a bunch of isolated, gullible dolts, would just die already. Even the MPAA and RIAA discovered recently that, what do you know? People call or text each other to tell their friends stuff like, "man, this movie sucked, stay away from it" or "dude, it was great, you should really see it too."

I don't know exactly why would it be less true for games. And there's plenty of empyrical evidence that points at the fact that, say, more polished games sell more copies. Plenty of times contrary to what those review magazines were telling people. I still have a game on the shelf there which got good reviews and sold 800 copies IIRC. (That's a homeopathic quantity in that industry, btw.) Nobody knows why.

I mean, seriously, humans had a society and were telling each other things like "ugh, heap plenty antelopes that way" 100,000 years ago. We had whole spreads of technologies and civilization based on the fact that people were even taking the time to write a letter on a papyrus to cousin Bubba-ho-tep in Thebes to tell him about this new thing they tried. We're like the bees in that aspect.

Did anyone really expect that a few millions of years of evolution would just go away just because Mr Marketer snapped his fingers?

Now I'm not saying that marketing doesn't work at all. It does. But it's a lot less alpha and omega than those people sell themselves as.

Re:release a crappy product (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24668795)

Did anyone really expect that a few millions of years of evolution would just go away just because Mr Marketer snapped his fingers?

Those same few millions of years of evolution eventually lead to Mr. Marketer...

We would have been better of with Dinosaurs.

Re:release a crappy product (1)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664143)

beyond seconded. Mod up please.

First, the game was complete crap. Repetitive, moderately interesting, and horribly coded with crappy multiplayer policies. You were paying to multiplay for a free single player game. WTF? The game itself was creative looking, had a nice storyline and skill plan, but jesus there were some serious things wrong.

They made a crappy beyond all measure product that additionally ran like crap without DX10. Thank Nvidia for that fiasco.

What's the sad thing? If they opened up the source code and let people modify the hell out of it, enough people have downloaded it/have interest that it would probably live on in a modified and popular form.

Re:release a crappy product (4, Insightful)

lgw (121541) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664239)

Six months after release, the technical quality of the game was fine (it was still lacking in content). Flagship was forced to ship 6 months before they were ready, because they had so mismanaged the business side that they lost control. This game didn't fail because of poor developers, but poor business management (including not hiring enough content developers to go with the software developers).

Re:release a crappy product (1)

spire3661 (1038968) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664525)

You cant start a studio without knowing first and foremost its a business. Their subscription model was horribly flawed and very few wanted to pay for it, especially when it was like $10 a month.

Re:release a crappy product (1)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 5 years ago | (#24665313)

see spire's response to you. I agree with him. It wasn't poor business management dude, it was just a shitty game. Technical quality was horrible (DX10 issues much?) It was like 30FPS difference from DX9 at release, IIRC.

Really you can have the most wonderful business management in the world but a 10 pound bag of shit is still a 10 pound bag of shit.

Re:release a crappy product (2, Insightful)

lgw (121541) | more than 5 years ago | (#24666545)

The game had many technical issues at release (hell, you often couldn't see the members of your group, the multiplayer code was so half-baked), but not very many six months later at the date the studio wanted to release in the first place. When the head of the studio can't control the release date, that's bad business management, not poor engineering.

Also, how much can you blame the *game* that Vista's peformance blows goats? But that's a topic for a differnt forum.

Re:release a crappy product (1)

Walkingshark (711886) | more than 5 years ago | (#24667531)

Unless you're a farmer, then it's a 10 pound bag of fertilizer!

Unless you're a gold farmer, then it's what you use for a mattress!

Re:release a crappy product (1)

The Taco Prophet (538981) | more than 5 years ago | (#24665665)

That was pretty much my experience. I was so excited about Hellgate that I couldn't see straight. I hit their site all the time, had a few of their backgrounds in my wallpaper rotation, read every bit of info I could get on it.

I got tapped for their last round of testing right before they released. I was excited as hell at first, but I guess it wasn't that big a deal in retrospect... seems like everybody I know got in on it.

Anyway, I played the game in beta, and hated it. I know it was a beta product, but with only a few days until release, I expected something a lot more polished and a lot less buggy.

I thought for a while I'd probably just hold off and pick it up when the price came down a bit, but the more time went by, the less interested I was.

Sad to see them go, because I was so excited about what they were doing... but considering how they delivered, I guess that's how it goes.

Well, it's even worse (1)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 5 years ago | (#24666435)

Well, actually it's even funnier than that.

1. As the summary says, they were counting on lots of monthly subscriptions to keep development going. It was pretty much the MMO model, but...

2. in a game which, honestly, did't offer much reason to fork over cash monthly.

And I say that as a guy who's currently paying 3 subscriptions to 3 different MMOs. I don't have a problem with paying monthly, in a game where I feel I'm getting the content or gaming experience worth that money. Hellgate just offered no good reason. Pay just so I can play a shoot-em-up online? Why? To it,

A) they promised extra content for the people who subscribe. That content evolved from being literally non-existent to being ridiculously little.

B) usually the motivation for going online is to play with other people. But the vicious circle was that their subscription had kept most people from even trying it online. (And again, the subscriber content that might have defused it, was just not there.)

C) the bugs also didn't help. There was a limited player base to start with, and the subscription culled off most of those.

So it's not as much just the bugs, as such. For a SP game, it wasn't too horrible. It was just mediocre.

It's that they based their whole model on getting a money money-printing license, like WoW or Everquest back in the day. But they apparently thought it would just happen by itself.

Even if you don't like Hellgate, it's a shame (4, Insightful)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 5 years ago | (#24663857)

It's a shame when a studio that is at least trying something different goes under. It was a shame that Hellgate was basically a beta product until only recently. If you release a finished product at the start then you don't have to pay for developers from your monthly revenue.

Re:Even if you don't like Hellgate, it's a shame (5, Interesting)

kungfugleek (1314949) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664093)

Except that developers need to get paid in order to develop. Without a release, there's no revenue (other than start-up capital) to pay developers.

It's a difficult situation. And if you're trying to start a new development house, it must be very difficult to accurately estimate how much money you'll need to get you all the way to a finished product. I wonder if they just ran out of money and had to publish something in order to keep going at all...

Re:Even if you don't like Hellgate, it's a shame (2, Insightful)

WhatAmIDoingHere (742870) | more than 5 years ago | (#24665009)

All they had to do was go to some investors and go "This is the guy who was a driving force for Diablo, Diablo 2, Starcraft, and Warcraft." and you'll have money thrown at you.

Re:Even if you don't like Hellgate, it's a shame (2, Insightful)

Talgrath (1061686) | more than 5 years ago | (#24667755)

That obviously wasn't the case, otherwise they wouldn't have been forced to release (at least) 6 months early, now would they?

Re:Even if you don't like Hellgate, it's a shame (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#24665181)

It sounded as if all the money was going into development just to keep the thing going.
A properly released product would allow a large portion of the revenue to go to new development.

Different how? (1)

Channard (693317) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664195)

It's a Diablo clone set in a post apocalyptic future. It's hardly innovative.

Re:Different how? (2, Interesting)

Arccot (1115809) | more than 5 years ago | (#24665029)

It's a Diablo clone set in a post apocalyptic future. It's hardly innovative.

It's first person. It completely changes the feel of the game compared to a Diablo clone, so that was pretty innovative. And it had some pretty unique weapons for a Diablo clone, my favorite being a napalm launcher.

Re:Different how? (0, Troll)

afabbro (33948) | more than 5 years ago | (#24665691)

Ah, so it's a NetHack/Angband derivative...

Re:Different how? (1)

Arccot (1115809) | more than 5 years ago | (#24668231)

Ah, so it's a NetHack/Angband derivative...

Sure, if you consider a FPS with loot to be a roguelike.

But that's like calling Super Mario Bros a Pac-Man derivative. They're different enough to not really be comparable.

Re:Different how? (1)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 5 years ago | (#24665851)

How is a napalm launcher all that unique? What about that gun that pees out swarms of bees?

Re:Different how? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24666641)

Beetlebore is a swarm pistol. Firing two at once is like shooting someone in the face with a double-barreled sawn-off shotgun.

But don't forget the other fun things, like the Electric Eel Ejector, Tentacle pistol, Wasp Hive, Cinderspike and Nova Guns.

Re:Different how? (1)

Arccot (1115809) | more than 5 years ago | (#24668181)

You haven't played the game, have you?

Lay down a blanket of fire on the ground, then switch to a explosive bolt launcher to finish off your enemies. THEN tell me how ho-hum it is.

you haven't play the game game, have you? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24668377)

seriously, it's like you've never even played this game. Did your friend let you play on his computer for 10 minutes at least?

Re:Different how? (1)

grahamd0 (1129971) | more than 5 years ago | (#24667545)

It's first person. It completely changes the feel of the game compared to a Diablo clone, so that was pretty innovative.

A first-person game where you shoot guns?! I don't know if an idea that innovative could ever catch on.

Now, if they added space marines, they might just be on to something.

Re:Different how? (2, Insightful)

Arccot (1115809) | more than 5 years ago | (#24668261)

It's first person. It completely changes the feel of the game compared to a Diablo clone, so that was pretty innovative.

A first-person game where you shoot guns?! I don't know if an idea that innovative could ever catch on.

That's kind of like saying Deus Ex is just another FPS with some RPG elements. A game is more than just the genre it belongs to. Just because you want to categorize it doesn't mean it doesn't bring something new to the table.

Re:Different how? (1)

grahamd0 (1129971) | more than 5 years ago | (#24668337)

I own both Deus Ex and Hellgate. I didn't find either to be terribly impressive, though I'll grant that Deus Ex was innovative.

As for Hellgate, the shooter aspect didn't add much to Diablo, and the Diablo aspect didn't add much to a shooter. Either way it was pretty lame.

Re:Different how? (1)

grahamd0 (1129971) | more than 5 years ago | (#24668423)

Sorry to reply again, but I think my post was incomplete.

If you want to see an innovative shooter/RPG look at Mass Effect. It's both a purer shooter than Hellgate and a better RPG. Granted, there's no multiplayer, but I've never been impressed with muhmorpergers as RPGs.

Re:Even if you don't like Hellgate, it's a shame (2, Insightful)

blahplusplus (757119) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664373)

"It's a shame when a studio that is at least trying something different goes under."'

I'd like to deal with this statement, because it implies "If only games were different (i.e. creative), then somehow this implies difference is awesome".

I don't buy a word of it, the problem with hellgate was that it was a diablo rip off in 3D, and a poor one at that. It copied many aspects of diablo but lost the experience of diablo.

The whole point of hellgate was "spiritual diablo clone", it was all over the gaming news when they left, everyone was thinking they were going to make a 3D diablo that was awesome. The fact was the gameplay didn't cross over into 3D. There have been many games that have suffered such fates. Blizzard got it right by NOT following hellgates (full 3D interaction) path and that is why Diablo 3 will most likely sell more and turn out more favorable reviews then hellgate, just because you have the skills to develop a game, does not mean you know how to develop a gaming experience.

There are developers that know how to develop entertaining gaming experience, and their are dev's that just know how to make games without a decent ability to judge whether or not what they are developing is exciting, interesting and entertaining and doesn't suck.

This is a big problem in the industry as far as I'm concerned, there is just too many clueless people (pub's and developers) about how to build entertainment. I think the biggest problem is still the technology. There is so much time and money consuming technical engineering that it overtakes the money and time needed to develop the entertainment aspect. Too much on art and engines, not enough on developing interesting things and connecting them with skill.

Striking a balance is hard, I agree, but that's the business you're really in: Entertainment. Game developers have to be good at knowing entertainment as well as engineering. It's hard, no doubt... and sometimes you just want to keep trying just doing your own thing (which is also valid) but if you want to do your own thing, you got to go back to small time games and understand what aspects of both the art, and the interaction of the objects, makes the game. Some indie game developers know this, they know what is wrong with the industry.

And this is why... (4, Insightful)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 5 years ago | (#24663867)

And this is why, ladies and gents, if you want to make a go of a business, you'd better understand the business end of things as well as the sales and product ends. And if you don't fully understand the business end, you hire someone who does.

And people wonder why VC firms are so obsessed about the cash flow of startups (after learning their lessons of the 90s).

Re:And this is why... (5, Insightful)

lgw (121541) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664005)

This is exactly right. Bill Roper and company knew how to write a game - Diablo is evidence enough of that - but in a story that seems to endlessly repeat, a bunch of engineers who knew little about the business side decided to go into business for themselves, and failed horribly through no lack of engineering skill. You *have* to understand the money side to make the business work.

And Flagship made every stupid newb mistake they could. They gave away too much contol, and were forced to ship early by other corporations. They tried to do too many things at once, because there was no business manager to put his foot down and force them to focus on the core game, and made sure that resources got allocated to content, not just technology. They didn't have an "after we launch" plan to ensure things would be profitable either, which ensured their demise.

It's a damn shame, too - it was a decent enough game idea, that might have turned out well if they had spent enough time on it, and focused more on world design and content than technological infrastructure.

Re:And this is why... (4, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664885)

The theory is rather easy, in practise it's rather hard. Ship too early and you're bugzilla, ship too late and you're "outdated" or worse. Why do you give away control? Well, because those you give up control to are usually the ones funding you. If the VCs pull out, usually the whole thing fizzles. The core game usually means things that have been done before, so you need something creative and different and it better be good. A lot of it just does not work out, so it feels like you've spent far too much money on things you shouldn't but otherwise you probably wouldn't have found the killer features either. A working engine with little content is a poor game, good content with poor engine is no game at all. The answer is of course that you need money for both, which leads to more VC money, which leads to less control... "After we launch" is something you can have in MMORPGs and whatnot to prevent churn, in most other ganres and even in MMORPGs you're toast if the game isn't flying high already from launch. If you just got off the runway and the plane is on fire, no follow-up plan will save you.

Re:And this is why... (4, Interesting)

Verble (1116757) | more than 5 years ago | (#24665307)

They gave away too much contol, and were forced to ship early by other corporations. They tried to do too many things at once...

It's a damn shame, too - it was a decent enough game idea, that might have turned out well if they had spent enough time on it, and focused more on world design and content than technological infrastructure.

I can attest to that. My roommate got hired at EA to work on Hellgate last August, and nearly everyday he'd come home saying something like "This game is going to suck. It could be awesome, but EA wants it out by Halloween and it won't be good if we do that." One of his big sticking points was that in all of their marketing they were touting the multiplayer stuff, but the dev side hadn't even started working on the multiplayer aspect as of Mid-September, and the game was supposed to release a month later? Their solution was "We'll patch it in later."

So who's to blame? (1)

anomnomnomymous (1321267) | more than 5 years ago | (#24663879)

So are we blaming it on piracy this time, or are we're going to be honest and say that Hellgate: London sucked balls?

The game had quite a good atmosphere and the quantity and quality of monsters and loot were very high. But with its repetitive combat and generic levels, this game was bound to be a bad selling one.
Maybe piracy did help a bit there, because people could see that it wasn't even worth it to buy a real copy, as to use it for the multiplayer part (which was shit too).

Re:So who's to blame? (1, Troll)

Smidge207 (1278042) | more than 5 years ago | (#24663939)

When you reply to anomnomnomymous do you check the post anonymous box yourself?

=Smidge=

Re:So who's to blame? (1)

iamhigh (1252742) | more than 5 years ago | (#24665123)

Why are you a troll? I admit it wasn't that funny, but it wasn't troll/flamebait!!

Classic Story (4, Interesting)

maz2331 (1104901) | more than 5 years ago | (#24663899)

This happens in a lot of businesses where development plus operations costs are greater than the revenues generated. Without enough incoming cash to go around, the development effort fails. Without a good development effort, the revenue increases fail. It becomes a really nasty Catch-22.

It's actually similar to building a consulting business to the point that office and sales staff is necessary. It's very difficult to grow fast enough to pay the overhead.

In a lot of businesses, it's necessary to either be very small and lean, or huge enough that the overhead is minimal in proportion to "productive" and "billable" efforts.

Being in the middle is the most dangerous place of all.

Re:Classic Story (3, Insightful)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664451)

This happens in a lot of businesses where development plus operations costs are greater than the revenues generated. Without enough incoming cash to go around, the development effort fails. Without a good development effort, the revenue increases fail. It becomes a really nasty Catch-22.

The problem is that revenues should not cover development plus operations. Revenues should cover amortisation on the development costs, plus your overhead and cost of goods sold.

The problem is that most software business are heavy on the development costs early on, so *cash flow* is the issue, not profitability. This can be overcome by owner investment, outside investment (VC)... to overcome the cash flow problem by reducing development is just shooting yourself in the foot.

Of course, if you're going to sink money into a venture, you want to make sure that the future has a good likelihood of paying off well... and you can be damn sure that VCs want to be assured of that as well. Like he said in TFA, they didn't have a post-release plan or budget, and they never bothered to figure out if they'd be cash-positive, or even if they'd be profitable.

BTW, the same is true for your consulting business example -- this is especially true for hiring a sales force. Admin overhead is scalable (part-time help, etc), but good sales staff are *expensive* and less scalable -- and the results aren't immediately shown in the cash stream. This is why most successful small consulting businesses are dependent on the owner making most of the sales, and are owned by good salespeople (along with other talents).

Re:Classic Story (2, Informative)

eln (21727) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664951)

Like he said in TFA, they didn't have a post-release plan or budget, and they never bothered to figure out if they'd be cash-positive, or even if they'd be profitable.

Which is really stupid, because if they had spent just a few weeks or months putting together a solid business plan, they could have come up with the financial statements necessary to either a.) show considerable growth potential and attract VC funding or b.) convince themselves the idea was unworkable and quit while they were ahead.

With the combination of their previous resumes at Blizzard and a solid business plan, they would have been fighting off VCs with a stick. Unfortunately, they did none of that, and ended up having to rely on loans using the keys to the kingdom (IP for the games) as collateral. This means that once the loan holders decided to call in the collateral, they were utterly hosed and had nowhere else to go.

I could see this story showing up in an Entrepreneurial Management course as a case study in how not to start a company.

Re:Classic Story (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24665471)

and attract VC funding

The Vietcong are into funding video games now? I guess that's better than what they used to do.

Re:Classic Story (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24665845)

Which is really stupid, because if they had spent just a few weeks or months putting together a solid business plan, they could have come up with the financial statements necessary to either a.) show considerable growth potential and attract VC funding or b.) convince themselves the idea was unworkable and quit while they were ahead.

What's really stupid is the fact that any number you would come up with would be fiction by nature, based on popularity.

I could see this story showing up in an Entrepreneurial Management course as a case study in how not to start a company.

You might want to take one of those courses before commenting. This was precisely a failure of engineering. Planning and estimation is all part of engineering. They knew early on that it was not going to be ready in the timeframes they were selling.

Business without Business Plan Fails (2, Funny)

liquiddark (719647) | more than 5 years ago | (#24663947)

News at Never o'clock.

steal underpants (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24664553)

PROFIT!

Missing the obvious (3, Insightful)

philspear (1142299) | more than 5 years ago | (#24663975)

http://www.metacritic.com/games/platforms/pc/hellgatelondon [metacritic.com]

Pretty much all the reviews point out that while it's a nice enough game, it's competitors are similar if not better, are cheaper, and were already out there. Hellgate was well polished but dull is what it sounds like, and there were better products out there.

There was no money coming in because your product wasn't competitive.

While I hate to see people lose their jobs, and sincerely hope all the people who created the game get hired again quickly at studios with better guidance, it's somewhat of a relief to me that creative financial management couldn't be used to make a bad game into a success. There are a glut of games on the wii especially but consoles in general that aren't worth a dime because they're bankrupt in the innovation and creativity department. It would be nice if those games weren't made.

I personally prefer games that aren't as polished graphically but have great concepts. They're more fun to play as well as being cheaper. It's nice when they're both, but the old adage about a horse built by comittee is a camel rings true. A small group of individuals can often come up with a better, riskier idea for a game than you'll get coming out of a big studio, at the small price of not having overdone graphics.

Here's to hoping that EA will suffer the same fate.

Re:Missing the obvious (3, Insightful)

arth1 (260657) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664173)

Here's to hoping that EA will suffer the same fate.

As long as there are people out there that are willing to paint their beer bellies in bright colours and grunt "Mad-den" loudly as means of communication, there's no chance that EA will ever fail.

Having worked for the gaming industry, I will say that it is going the way of the music industry. That is, they don't want to risk anything on something really new, so they repeat the old formula, with more bling.
The problem is that a game costs so much more than an album, so a game failing just a little has as big impact as if a hundred albums all flopped. You have to gamble. And you'd think that games producers would be interested in a gamble too -- after all, that's what games are. But no, they won't. They'd rather play it safe, which in all cases (except EA and their license to print money) is dooming yourself. You might survive your first "OK but boring" flop, and the second one too, but you won't make money either, and will eventually have to fold.

Where are the new innovative games? Have there been any innovative games since Populous and Elite? Perhaps, but very few. Hellgate: London most certainly wasn't one.

Re:Missing the obvious (1)

philspear (1142299) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664295)

Thank god for exceptions. Yes, there have been innovative games.

Like I was saying, indie gaming with digital distribution is very promising, so it's not all doom and gloom. Braid is of course the buzz word on the interwebs right now. Big studio releases are indeed lacking in the innovations, but there are enough conterexamples to not despair yet for the big industry.

Valve, or whoever was responsible for Portal, earns major points for portal. That was a very unique game, plus it had all the advantages you see with big studio releases. It was well put together, had great production, good graphics, slick.

Almost everything that manages to make it over here from Japan is golden. I'm aware that there's a filter keeping a lot of the crap games from making the jump, but there's still great games from over there.

I do think square-enix has sold out a bit in recent years, but even so they're willing to shake up their final fantasy cash cow, risking a dud like final fantasy 9. They're not making FF 2009 like EA is.

Nintendo too has yet to dissapoint me.

Re:Missing the obvious (2, Insightful)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 5 years ago | (#24665051)

Almost everything that manages to make it over here from Japan is golden. I'm aware that there's a filter keeping a lot of the crap games from making the jump, but there's still great games from over there.

I'll eat some negative moderations to laugh publicly at your "nearly all Japanese games sold in America (presumably where you live) are fantastically innovative" theory.

Ha.

Who will find me first, the unreasonably anti-Japanese mods or the Nintendog-fan mods? Go!

Re:Missing the obvious (1)

philspear (1142299) | more than 5 years ago | (#24665235)

I DID mention that there was a filter keeping the crap off my radar. That wasn't a qualified enough statement for you? How about the one I was replying to "Where are the new innovative games? Have there been any innovative games since Populous and Elite? "

THAT isn't an overstatement?!?

I'll allow that I was thinking of final fantasy (innovative for such a cash cow, compare to madden) Katamari damancy, elebits, nintendo's stuff.

Oh, and don't forget their arcade games. I saw a virtual "dog walking" game. A treadmill with a leash. That might cross the line from "innovative" to "bizzare." They had musical instrument games years before "Guitar hero."

There's definitely some franchises that seriously lack inovation, I've never, for example, found anything interesting about the street fighter series. Katamari has also been turned into dead-horse-beating. I wasn't saying the japanese are magic "innovation" faries. Far from it, they're a society of followers. Just saying that for whatever reason, there are a lot of titles that make the jump that would be considered way to risky, not to mention wierd, for an american company to make.

Re:Missing the obvious (1)

p0tat03 (985078) | more than 5 years ago | (#24665893)

Where are the new innovative games? Have there been any innovative games since Populous and Elite? Perhaps, but very few. Hellgate: London most certainly wasn't one.

Honestly, EA has done a very good job redefining themselves. They're resurrecting old, popular franchises, and actually doing them justice. Command and Conquer and Red Alert 3 actually go back to their predecessors' FMV roots. This is a far cry from the lame cash grab that was Generals.

Upcoming games... Dead Space - a new franchise that's supposed to be Silent Hill in space. The recent Battlefield Bad Company (a sitcom + FPS?)... and Mirror's Edge all look VERY VERY good. Spore is also a no brainer.

They're certainly not going to stop making Madden, or horrible Harry Potter games, but EA is getting back into the innovation game, and I for one am very happy.

Re:Missing the obvious (5, Insightful)

MooseMuffin (799896) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664177)

It wasn't even all that well polished. I think the real problem was, and this is mentioned in the interview, is that Blizzard had several superhits under its belt and that creates a very different environment. Blizzard could basically take as long as they needed on their games, because their track record gave investors confidence that it would pay off for them. Flagship had no such luxury and they had to release the game far sooner than they would have liked because there was no more money for more time.

Re:Missing the obvious (1)

gnarlyhotep (872433) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664623)

The issue with hellgate was, in my opinion, that they used a strategy that is analogous to taking far too many ingredients and trying to make a stew out of it. It never blends into one satisfying concoction, what you get is something that tastes weird because there are too many competing flavors. You might run across the spot of excellent taste, but overall you're eating something your palate doesn't know how to process.

I didn't find hellgate to be annoyingly buggy (there were bugs, but none gamebreaking or unusaly from normal multiplayeronline games) and it wasn't highly polished. It was polished, but not enough. It just had way too many people trying to do way too many different things and a distributor that forced them to release before they were satisfied with the end product. It was a recipie for disaster, and a prime example of why you don't let the creative end run amok without any competant business oversight. The subscription model and it's lack of profitability proved that with crystal clarity.

Re:Missing the obvious (1)

radish (98371) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664697)

The thing that some people seem to not have noticed is that recently EA have actually become one of the better labels when it comes to innovation and quality gameplay. Examples - Mirror's Edge, Dead Space, Mass Effect, Portal, TF2, Skate, Spore - I could go on. Sure there's a lot of sports games as always, but EA also has a lot of the more interesting games out there.

If you want someone to hate on, Activition is the new EA [sarcasticgamer.com] .

Re:Missing the obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24666073)

Mirror's Edge, yet another FPS.

Dead Space, yet another third person shooter.

Mass Effect is Bioware, or more appropriately was Bioware. EA has ruined enough promising companies that Bioware is probably going to be a shadow of its former self in no time.

Portal, TF2 is Valve Software who is just using EA because EA can publish. EA in no way developed the game.

Re:Missing the obvious (1)

Raenex (947668) | more than 5 years ago | (#24668083)

Mirror's Edge, yet another FPS.

You're full of it. It's more like a first-person Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2N1TJP1cxmo&fmt=6 [youtube.com]

Also, from Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] :

"Although the player character can hold weapons, O'Brien stressed that "this is an action adventure. We're not positioning this as a shooter - the focus isn't on the gun, it's on the person." Gameplay in Mirror's Edge will focus on finding the best route through the game's environments while combat takes a secondary role.[5] Consequently, guns may be obtained by disarming an enemy, but when the magazine is empty, it will need to be discarded.[11] Additionally, carrying a weapon slows Faith down and the heavier the gun, the more it hinders her movement, which introduces an element of strategy in determining when to trade agility for short-term firepower.[5][12] Despite this, the developers claim it is possible to go through the entire game without firing a weapon (the player earns an Achievement for doing so)."

Re:Missing the obvious (1)

snorb (109422) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664779)

well polished but dull is what it sounds like,

This couldn't be more wrong. It's a hybrid of established genres (FPS and action RPG), sure, but there's nothing else out there that's the same mixture. The problem is the game was very poorly polished, with tons of bugs and many ambitious features falling short of expectations. For example, there are random 3d levels, but they're very bland. There are a few unique quests, like a pseudo-RTS or a capture-the-flag style game, but they're poorly executed.

Re:Missing the obvious (1)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664993)

Agree with this.

The game had some really cool ideas, but it desperately needed another 6 months of polishing before release -- and Blizzard probably would have given it another 18.

They cut a bad demo for the game, and the originally available content also wasn't great, overall, although small parts of it were. There's no second chance at that first impression, and I'm sure a ton of people either played the demo and gave the game a pass entirely or tried it out and decided not to subscribe.

Re:Missing the obvious (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 5 years ago | (#24671589)

Business wise, creativity isn't always a good thing [wordpress.com] . What you need is not creativity, it's simply the ability to make what people really want instead of making what you want and say they should want. That doesn't necessarily mean sequels, it does mean innovation where innovation is needed but it also means no innovation where it isn't needed and, most importantly, innovating in a way that the customer actually wants. The designer is not the customer. The vocal minorities on the internet are very few customers. The problem is the silent majority and what that majority wants is usually seen only once the sales numbers are in. Artsy, super-innovative games often fail to sell. Seems the people who don't bother posting on online messageboards don't want those. Madden sells, seems the silent majority wants to experience playing their favourite sport, same goes for PES.

Mythos (2, Informative)

JCSoRocks (1142053) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664063)

My understanding is that Mythos was free to play... Maybe developing a free game at the same time as you're trying to develop a for-profit game was an issue. It seems like you'd want to spend your money making the profitable game and then make freebies once you've got a revenue stream going that covers your costs...

Re:Mythos (1)

lgw (121541) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664293)

Additionally, Flagship really needed to hire more content developers, and less software deveoplers for their budget. Developing two games at once, when the released game has no real content? Bad business decision!

Re:Mythos (1)

zwei2stein (782480) | more than 5 years ago | (#24669565)

Mythos was not supposed to be free-as-idea or free-as-beer. It was supposed to follow Guild Wars and Diablo style:

Buy it once, play online forever for free. Then you buy expansions.

Model is quite profitable, and Ex-blizzard developer favorite one.

Re:Mythos (1)

742Evergreen (208020) | more than 5 years ago | (#24669909)

I don't think this is quite right. Last I heard, it would be free-to-play too.

There would be the normal gold that you could get by grinding, and a Real Money (RM) currency. Some items could only be bought with the RM, things like experience-bonus potions and other consumables.

The nice thing would be that the RM could also be freely traded, so that someone who didn't want to buy the RM could trade found items for the RM.

Hopefully Mythos will get picked up by another studio, because I enjoyed the beta quite a lot.

Good idea but (1)

omfglearntoplay (1163771) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664099)

From my impression, these guys had potential to make a great game. But what happened is what never happens to Blizzard. Apparently they had to release the game before it was done.

This means they fell for the trap that is affecting a huge amount of software devs and software companies out there. The MS effect. Make a product that "promises" to be bigger and better than the competition, and then lose your ability to create a simple product that is codeable in a short amount of time... and turns into unpolished bloatware. That kind of software is always crap to everybody but the bleeding edge types or the devs themselves. From their perspective, it's an inch away from being perfect. In reality, it's never going to be right.

Translation (1)

jayhawk88 (160512) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664113)

- We're pretty good at making games, but don't really know dick about running a company
- Turns out there were some other people there at Blizzard that knew what they were doing, and we didn't know how good they were until we didn't have them
- WoW and it's 11 million subscribers means you have to really bring something special to the table if you expect to get any of the scraps left over, and we didn't do that

Go back to Blizzard, Bill. I'm sure they could use someone to help get Warcraft 4 off the ground.

Re:Translation (1)

i.of.the.storm (907783) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664971)

Seriously, I hope a Warcraft 4 is at least in the planning stages because I would much rather play a new Warcraft RTS than more WoW. At least SC2 will fill in the RTS genre for some time but SC and WC3 are really different and I don't think SC2 will be more like WC3.

Re:Translation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24665757)

Fanboy detected.

The last half-decent game Blizzard made was Lost Vikings. Prove me wrong.

Daikatana (3, Interesting)

dunezone (899268) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664161)

So is this the Ion Storm of the 2000s?

Re:Daikatana (5, Interesting)

john57 (988099) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664323)

Not exactly. At least, they did not sink any other company with them. I still feel bad about Looking Glass...

Re:Daikatana (1)

random256 (676708) | more than 5 years ago | (#24666139)

Actually, they did, they sunk Flagship-Seattle, which were the guys working on Mythos. But they've bounced back and started a new company at least.

Bland.. (1)

spire3661 (1038968) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664431)

I had high hopes from the 'Diablo' team. They over-reached, and tried to introduce a crappy subscription system that no one wanted. Add to that the repetitive nature of the game and the EXTREMELY boring environments. They should have made a decent single player game, no subscription, end of story. They got greedy looking at Blizz and saying "oooo me too me too"

Re:Bland.. (2, Insightful)

Bieeanda (961632) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664607)

That subscription system is probably what killed the whole thing, too. The sponsor companies (of which there were at least half a dozen, not including advertisers) were promised a continuous revenue stream. The hardest-core fans bought in at basically a year's worth of fees for a lifetime subscription, which probably looked fantastic on the spreadsheets for the first month post-launch, but nowhere near so good when that huge burst of cash dwindled to a trickle.

On the other hand, they probably wouldn't have gone anywhere without the promise of subscription revenue. Clearly, they had the same problem that Cyan did with its Uru Live product: not enough income to pay enough designers and coders to actually produce anything new on a month-to-month basis... which is what the subscribers were promised. The sponsors wouldn't have given a damn for yet another 3D dungeon crawler, and probably would have laughed Roper out of the room at the suggestion that they bankroll a Battle.net analogue.

While the free service was a joke, it was popular enough to fracture the player-base even further than the Normal/Elite/Hardcore/Hardcore Elite split did.

I enjoyed this game but... (1)

djtriv (463132) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664497)

This is too bad. I really enjoyed Hellgate: London.

But I suppose any game that has its own "Spinning Wheel of Death" issues is bound to fail. I have a couple of friends who wanted to play but were never able to connect. And at the time (around May of this year) there were hundreds if not thousands of threads on the forums from people with the same problems and never made it past the spinning wheel on multiplayer.

I love the /. posters (1)

gaspyy (514539) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664505)

Reading the posts, you'd say that each and every one is a successful business[man|woman].

Well, guess what, until you try to develop a commercial product, you won't know how tricky it is, especially subscription-based.

For version-based products that ship in a box or are downloaded, you invest some money (yours or loaned), work and release Version 1.0. If it's successful enough (e.g. you get some profit), you gather feedback and use some of the profit to make version 2.

With subscription-based services, you need to guess: how many potential subscribers? what's the optimal fee to maximize profit? How many will cancel after one month?

In the end, as much as we hate to say it, luck plays a major role. There are so many products out there and one a few "sell by themselves" to to brand recognition (WoW, anything LoTR or Star Wars/Trek).

Re:I love the /. posters (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#24665373)

"With subscription-based services, you need to guess: how many potential subscribers? what's the optimal fee to maximize profit? How many will cancel after one month?"

All those numbers can be estimated.
It costs a lot to start a business, and if you skimp on the actual product, your competitors will eat you for lunch.

Yes it's hard, yes it's expensive. But releasing a product worse then your competitors will cause you to fail, every time.
Luck has very little to do with it.

Re:I love the /. posters (1)

grahamd0 (1129971) | more than 5 years ago | (#24667689)

Your point seems to be that running a business is hard. It is.

That's why a bunch of gamers/programmers need to hire someone who actually knows how to do it. Don't make excuses for them because they thought they didn't need to bother with those aspects and could just ride Blizzard's coat tails into super-stardom.

I bought and played Hellgate. It's a terrible game, plain and simple. I doubt even a savvy businesscritter could have made that turd into a success.

Either way you look at it, they engineered their own demise, luck has nothing to do with it.

Don't blame me for Flagship's demise (0)

j0nb0y (107699) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664821)

I bought the HG:L CE + lifetime subscription.

I could never really get into the game though. Part of it was that I was busy with other stuff at the time, but part of it was just that the game didn't really draw me in like other games have.

I hope (2, Insightful)

G00F (241765) | more than 5 years ago | (#24664875)

I so hope they release a patch so people can play multi-player with out them. Or even a stand alone server.

Not that I expect to play that much as I lost interest around level 20. Personally, they made the game require to much hardware for most my friends to buy it, and not being able to play LAN makes it less fun.

Re:I hope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24666011)

I believe a Korean company now has control of the game and it is picking up popularity in Korea. Online play is likely to continue.

Re:I hope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24670575)

I so hope they release a patch so people can play multi-player with out them. Or even a stand alone server.

Not that I expect to play that much as I lost interest around level 20. Personally, they made the game require to much hardware for most my friends to buy it, and not being able to play LAN makes it less fun.

So, you are not interested, it's not even fun to you, but hey, you DO want developers to spend cash and time on building a multiplayer version? Do you have the slightest idea what an effort that is?

Also startling to see this getting rated "insightful"..

A pity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24665091)

I rather liked the gameplay of Hellgate (minus the bugs, of course), but the lack of content really killed it.

It was *that* close to being a great game. It just didn't cut it and I'm back to D2.

Change of tune? (1)

SupremoMan (912191) | more than 5 years ago | (#24665371)

Wasn't there a story a few months back where some Flagship nutjob, well I can call him that now since he was crazy obviously, claimed they were doing just fine? And that they had no problems what so ever. I knew it was corporate spin back then, but it seems delicious now.

Almost the same story as the Troika Guys (1)

greymond (539980) | more than 5 years ago | (#24665741)

Really, you can have some of the best designers or game writers in the industry, but if you ship products (let alone your flagship product) with significant game play issues and bugs, well guess what...you probably will not recover from the bad publicity, even if your next products are better.

These guys have a lot of talent, I just wish they could have planned things better.

One of the best games I've ever played (1)

Miszou72 (927439) | more than 5 years ago | (#24666193)

...really.

Playing Hellgate in Hardcore Elite mode (one life - when you're dead, you're dead. Lose all your stuff and start again) is one of the most intense gaming experiences you will ever have.

If you've never felt your heart pounding in your chest *before you've even seen the boss monster*. Or had your hands shaking and your palms are sweating after a particularly intense battle, you haven't really played it. I've walked away from the computer and been *scared* to continue playing...

The repetetive tilesets, shallow quests and daft NPC's don't matter a toss at the end of the day. When you stand to lose *weeks* of levelling a character through one silly mistake, you're going to play as though your life depends on it...

It's impossible to explain to someone that's never played hardcore, but HG:L is at the top of it's class for full-on, in-your-face, adrenalin-pumping, non-stop 3D demon-slaying.

Here's a short video made by one of our guild members: Burn in Hell [blip.tv] . There are a couple of other vids on that page too.

It's a damn shame that such a great game just didn't make it, but I'll be playing until I see "server not found" when I try to log in...

Re:One of the best games I've ever played (1)

Raenex (947668) | more than 5 years ago | (#24668169)

Funny vid :)

I had fun... (1)

CFBMoo1 (157453) | more than 5 years ago | (#24666663)

playing Hellgate as a single player. I picked up a sniper and went to town with that guy. It was like a cross between Doom and Diablo for me and I really enjoyed that.

So Now We Know He Lied (1)

Kestrell69 (1302307) | more than 5 years ago | (#24668993)

Remember when this story first broke how he and the management at Flagship said that the stories of their demise was bullshit? Now we know he was lying through his teeth.

Sexy CGI girls (2, Insightful)

theolein (316044) | more than 5 years ago | (#24669579)

When I first read about Hellgate London, I saw the teaser trailers which had an interesting, dark, backs to the wall kind of story, and plenty of bad-ass sexy CGI girls shooting stuff.

The game, when I saw the youtube in-game shots, was just another shoot-em up, with nothing like the gritty details of the pre-rendered videos.

I don't know how many games I've seen that do this; use some trick to capture people's attention, but present nothing in the real game itself.

I contrast this with UT3, which, while having really good graphics, makes no pretences about being anything else than a shoot-em up, or with WoW (which I've never played) which has an open ended player controlled story, or with games like Warhammer, which has a massive background (if somewhat juvenile) backstory.

Translation: (1)

pdusen (1146399) | more than 5 years ago | (#24672397)

Hellgate: London sucked and therefore they didn't make any money.
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