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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sigil and Shipping Early

There's a lot of howling out in the Blogoshpere about how we are being forced to play a beta of Vanguard. The basic premise of that is nonsense, since this is a game, and no one is making you play it. That aside, there are some reasonably cogent points that are being made that I would like to counterpoint.

The foremost among those is the one that asserts that we are de facto financiers for Sigil, since they have said that basically they would have preferred to ship the game later but lacked that option due to some financial realities. So let's review a few things;

1. Everyone loves to hate on Sony, and for some good reasons. I've opined on these pages that there are much worse options than Sony out there to help you with a game. On the other hand, let's just say I don't own any Sony stock, either. That aside all the "$OE" hatebois out there instantly ascribed all sorts of sinister motives from Sony for "forcing" Sigil to ship early. I'm not privy to all the financial inner workings of the Microsoft/Sony/Sigil deal. I do know a couple of things more than most. I'll get to that in a minute. Suffice to say that I don't believe Sony pushed this out the door, at least not for selfish reasons.

2. We all want deep, detailed, developed and polished games to play. We don't seem to want anyone to pay to make them though. Here's the reality of the situation; It takes 10's to 100's of millions of dollars to make a first class MMO. If it's your first one, even more. I'm not sure if or how much personal money Brad McQuaid has at risk here, but assuming it's a (relatively) modest amount someone needs to be financing this. As a community, there are a certain number of us who don't want to pay for anything other than exactly what we want. That leaves it to the Sony's and the Microsoft's of the world to capitalize these studios and get them up and running. When these companies try to recover their investments, we often characterize them as "greedy" or "only in it for the money." I don't know about you guys. I like my job, but if there isn't any money in it' I'm not going in tomorrow.

Problem is, MMO's always cost more to make and take longer than the investors are told. This may or may not be on purpose. The point is, Microsoft lost it's corporate patience, and when Sigil said they couldn't ship July 2006, Microsoft started looking for ways to divest itself. It found that way in early May.

Here's the deal... Name an MMO with a chance to ship completely developed and with a chance to survive, and one of a handful of very well heeled companies is behind them. Warhammer? EA. Conan? Microsoft. Tabula Rasa? NCSoft. I could go on, but you get the point. And who is the ownership behind Sigil and Vanguard? Sigil is. I believe they found some "Angel" venture financing for the deal (outside of one of these major companies,) allowing them to keep ownership and only having to contract with Sony for the parts that they lacked core competency to handle. It's a deal that makes sense, and the crux of it is that they are now in the position of needing to generate cash flow. If all that requires is the game shipping early, I think it's a relatively good price to pay. At least now, they don't have one of the 800 pound gorillas in the room. Granted, there is one in the next room, but all in all I think it was a good trade.