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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Change of Direction Here

As I've started to blog, I've noticed that in the blogosphere, the blogs I enjoy most are the ones that are written from the perspective of the industry in general, then specifics within the industry, then about specific games. In that order.

So what I've decided to do is to follow my interests a little more broadly, and make sure that this blog isn't just going to be about Sigil, SOE, and Vanguard. I'd like for the blog to be read, although that isn't the only reason I write here. The process is cathartic for me as well.

Going forward, I'm hoping to comment on the industry in general, community relations, community management, and the "next generation" of games in the pipeline. I'm most interested to see what becomes of Warhammer Online, Age of Conan, and whatever the guys over at 38 Studios (formerly Green Monster Games) are up to.

Thanks to all of you who have put this extremely humble blog on the map, even if it's only a pin-sized mark so far. I hope to earn your interest and participation as we go along.

As an aside, I have had the opportunity to visit London this week on a business trip, and I had a little slack time to enjoy the city. If you haven't visited the UK, or London in particular, I can't recommend it highly enough. It's expensive (it makes Manhattan and Disney World seem like a bargain) but it's an amazing and vibrant city. Of the cities in the world that I have visited, it's horned it's way closest to my heart and I can't wait until my next visit.


Here is a picture I took today, just one of many but I thought this was beautiful. It's a crest that is on the gate at Buckingham Palace, the Queen's London residence. The city is full of amazing history and art. I'm starting to ramble, but if you ever get the chance, visit London and the UK.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

It's Deja Vu All Over Again

With all the crap hitting the fan over at SOEigil the other day a lot of old laundry is being dredged up. In light of some of the things I have heard from former Sigil employees (when they were still Sigil employees) some of the things that I had heard about in the past but dismissed now seem to be given added credence if not corroboration.

In this post from The Safehouse in 2001, some of the same or similar types of observations were made about Brad McQuaid's management "style" as are being made today. In particular, this quote caught my eye;

Things weren't coming up roses at 989/redeye/verant. Brad himself had basically done no work whatsoever since Everquest's release, and many (including Kelly Flock) think he didn't do anything *before* its release. Brad thought of himself as infallible, and Everquest's incredible success, his millions, and his ferrari were all proof of his greatness. Being crowned a "Game @#%$" by PC Gamer didn't help either. His self-aggrandizement cannibalized Verant's customer relations for its entire existance. He insisted on being the sole point of contact with the public to promote his own name, and he did a miserable job.


Overall, it's an interesting post-mortem about how Brad allegedly left Verant/989/SOE back in 2001. If you look at that and also look at the recent posts to f13 and here, I think you'll see some staggering similarities. Where I come from, if something happens once, it's a happening. If it happens more than once, it's a pattern.

I'll let you draw your own conclusions on this one but to me it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Brad McQuaid "Clears the air"

In this interview with f13, Brad McQuaid tap-dances around the reasons for his specacular failure, Sigil Games Online. He seems to lay a large part of the blame on Microsoft and it's "Zoo Tychoon" management team. Classic. Here is a little snippet where Brad justifies his decision-making on the story we broke here the other day;

f13.net: Right after the split and before the tragedy the other day, that's when people claim you started to be in the office... not quite as much. Can you explain why?

Brad McQuaid:: We need to back up a little bit. After we split from Microsoft - because obviously we couldn't ship the game in an unready state - we had to go out and do something. Find money to make the game that we could and all dreamed about. We cut a deal pretty quickly so that we could get into SOE's E3 kiosk. We ended up having to meet payroll and to pay the bills. We needed to raise money. We went out and found some people who specialized in venture capital and I worked with those people immediately following the deal coming together. I started working with them on putting a deal together to fund the game to completion and fund the company post-completion and to possibly start a second title. It was basically "get money that we needed." So I started working with these people, it was a learning experience - I'd never really been in the private investor/VC world - and we started that process. I was in and out of the office quite a bit. Demoing the game, showing it to potential investors and putting together the documentation. All sorts of stuff you have to do for that kind of money.

f13.net: So that time being out of the office was business?

Brad McQuaid: It was a bummer. Even going back to SOE, I want to make games. The executive producer side of things is more fun than the CEO business side of things. But it had to be done, right? So it was a bummer leaving a lot of that behind and it simply had to be done.


So I guess the only other thing I have to ask Brad is; When did it stop being you out of the office drumming up non-existent financing and start to become "a bummer?"

I guess my personal feelings about this whole thing are getting the better of me, but my bullshit detector was going off all through that story. What do you guys think?



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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Other Shoe Drops at Sigil

Today the other shoe dropped at Sigil. According to John Smedley,

"Today I would like to formally announce that SOE has acquired the assets of Sigil Games Online, including Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. As a part of this acquisition, we are bringing on approx 50 people from Sigil in order to insure [sic] that Vanguard continues to grow. SOE is dedicated to making sure that Vanguard is well taken care of and that we provide the same level of service we do for our other titles. In the near future we will come out with a publishing plan that will largely be driven by the strong player community that Vanguard has already built up. We plan on supporting Vanguard for many years to come, and you can expect many content updates as part of your subscription. Down the line we will of course be coming out with new expansion packs, but right now the focus is on making sure Vanguard is running the way it should be.

"We are also officially opening up forums. In the past, our deal with Sigil didn't allow for this, but as with our other games we feel this is an important part of communicating with the playerbase. You can expect a strong presence from our community team as well as the development team members. While we realize that Sigil had said they wouldn't open up general forums, at SOE we feel this hampers our efforts to communicate effectively with the players. We will continue to support the fansites in a big way, and will be contacting many of them directly to discuss what this change means. By no means do we want to lose the strong fansite support by making this change, but we do think it's important to have a forum for players to communicate directly with SOE.

"A few other items I wanted to mention:

1. Brad McQuaid will be consultant to SOE as a creative advisor for Vanguard. Dave Gilbertson will be the person directly responsible for the day-to-day management of both the Sigil Carlsbad office as well as Vanguard.

2. We do not plan on making any major changes to Vanguard. Any changes are going to come from the team itself. We aren't mandating any big changes to the game. We've learned a thing or two with our experiences with the NGE and don't plan on repeating mistakes from the past and not listening to the players.

3. We do plan on spending a lot of time cleaning up legacy issues with Vanguard and making sure the game's performance improves.

"By way of comparison, this team is approx. the same size as the EQ2 team and I feel like that team has done an amazing job improving EQ2 since its launch. We intend to do the same thing for Vanguard and it is our hope that the players feel like we're doing right by them."

Just for clarity, the Sigil team was near 100 before these actions were taken.

As far as the central forums are concerned, let them have them. They are already a festering sewer, and will only get worse. The funniest things I've seen through all this was one of the SOE forum slaves over there proclaiming "This is the place to come for answers!"

Yeah, good luck with that.

I have some seriously mixed emotions about this. First of all, some people that I know and care about lost their jobs. Some good people stayed. As the site admin for Vanguard Crafters, I can tell you that the crafting team was in a no-win position. They were going to cut the team in half, and there was no easy choice I'm sure as the crafting team was strong, in my opinion. Salim Grant and Justin Deebs ended up staying, and they are both exceptional in what they do. Losing Kurt Wagner and Daniel "Steve" Newman hurts though, as both of those guys had some skills that won't easily be replaced.

According to my sources at Sigil, some of the people who originally acted as boat anchors to the project remain, and they have less optimism about the ability of Vanguard to recover quickly as they would have had if some of the "disruptive forces" would have been removed at this opportunity. SOE is bound to make some mistakes as they sort out who they should have on the team and who should go.

Overall, I think the businesslike approach that Sony is going to bring, and the needed structure will help get the Sigil team back on track. As I have alluded to before, I don't think it's the working people at Sigil that got Vanguard all balled up, but the leadership or lack thereof. SOE's leadership should help the new smaller team get some things done.

This should be the extent of the drama for now. As the new smaller team gets settled in and the community gets it's feet back under it, we'll see what happens next. For now, we've lost some friends at Sigil. Here's to hoping that they find something better soon.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Brad McQuaid Abandoned Vanguard, Sigil

This is the blog post that I hoped I would never write. I recently became aware of some "things" about the internal goings-on at Sigil, but for the sake of the people that I know that work there I've kept them to myself. Or should I say "worked" there. According to f13.net, "at approximately 4:30PM today, Sigil employees were told to meet outside. At which point they were terminated. On the spot." You can see the article at www.f13.net.

I was able to get confirmation on this tonight from a couple of very reliable sources. So the company has now officially been driven into the ground. Here is what most people don't know, outside of Sigil.

Brad McQuaid has been an absentee manager at Sigil for months. Not only has there been a leadership vacuum at Sigil, with the employees there left twisting in the wind, but I have been able to confirm that Brad hasn't even bothered to be at the office.

Since last year.

Reliable sources confirmed to me that Brad hasn't been at the Sigil offices save a couple of brief visits since December of last year. Whether or not he was supposed to be the creative force behind the game as we were lead to believe, he was the leader of Sigil and at a time when the game was under a deadline and his people (many of whom left promising or lucrative positions elsewhere to hitch their wagons to his star) were left to fend for themselves. That's right. When the shit was hitting the fan, and the game was under crunch, Brad went all Brian Wilson on his people. I'm not sure what the psychology of that was, or whether the producers there didn't want him around. Whatever the case, he wasn't able to show the leadership to rally the troops, or even to keep them up out of the dirt. To their credit, the people working at Sigil remained professional even in the face of the lack of professionalism from the top.

As a fansite operator, I can testify that Brad wasn't around for us either. As a matter of fact, Brad never showed support for the affiliate program. Whether you believe that the Affiliate Program was a good idea or not, the CEO of the company should probably support it. When we challenged Brad on his record of (lack of) support for the program, he let us know that he thought it was better spending his time posting on sites like FOH and MMORPG.COM, to evangelize the program. Evidently that took a lot of time, or it just wasn't possible to cut into his Hero-Clix schedule.

It would be amusing how fast the denizens of FOH are throwing dirt on Sigil's grave were it not so tragic for the lives and careers he's irreparably harmed. Irony at it's finest.

The bottom line for me is this;

I can't believe that the CEO of the company can't make an appearance at his own company for 4 or 5 months if to do nothing more than lend moral support. I have heard that Brad is worthless for anything important, and a lot of people probably found him an irritant. I know that most of my later interaction with Brad wasn't positive. His fansite presentation at E3 2006 left me cold. Jeff Butler had a ton of energy and told us a lot about his vision for the game, but Brad couldn't have looked less interested in being there. On one of my visits to Sigil, Brad was overheard telling someone in a customer/community position not to give an answer to a question, and if someone asked why, just to "tell them I'm eccentric." The best he had to contribute was dismissive. So Mr. Eccentric, how does it feel to have a mud-hole stomped in you by effing Turbine?

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I'm pissed that I wasted 2 years on developing a community at my site for a game that is nothing more than a steaming pile of shit. I'm pissed that the good people (and good developers) that I care about at Sigil are now in the street, and Brad still has millions and Jeff Butler a job. I'm also pissed that the game was so badly mismanaged and allowed to get to this point. I'm also pissed that the good people at my site have dedicated so much time to help each other only to see this happen.

I truly hope that all my friends at Sigil will land on their feet. I also sincerely hope that no one ever gives Brad another cent to make a game or to start a company and put other's livelihoods at risk. It's evident that Brad lacks the skills, dedication, or maturity to handle that situation.

In the end, this game may someday be good. Tomorrow, when this news is announced a lot of the SOE haters will just jump ship, whether SOE had anything to do with this game failing or not. Fact is, it has (failed.) And fact is, it's not SOE's fault. The blame for this one falls squarely at the desk where the buck should stop. The CEO's office. The empty one in the corner.