There is a guest blog entry over on VirginWorlds that really brings home some emotion for me.
Titled “Questions without Answer,” it looks at Vanguard: Saga of Heroes and wonders at how the group that put it together over five years could have been blind to what was happening in the world of MMOs during that time. How could they have thought Vanguard could be a hit?
The funny thing is that I know for a fact that they were not blind to events in that MMO space over the last five years. I know they were completely aware of World or Warcraft, of its mechanics and success. I have heard Jeff Butler say that, not only does he have a level 60 character in WoW, he has MANY level 60 characters in WoW.
Sigil studied the competition. They just came to the wrong conclusions.
And they almost had to come to the conclusion they did, because the lens through which they saw the MMO world, the vision that drove the creation of the company, demanded it.
You may wonder how reasonable, intelligent, experienced people can let themselves be blinded by vision. It is difficult to explain. You really have to be part of such a team and have the vision fail so spectacularly that you are able to see the failure.
And even then, you may not find any problem with the vision itself.
I know this because I have worked at such a company.
In the early 90s I was part of a start-up in Silicon Valley that did very well. A matter of timing, connections, and good luck vaulted our company from mild obscurity in our segment to the market leader. In our market, we were the EverQuest. Not the first, maybe not the best in all regards, but we had just the right mix at just the right time.
As these things happen, we had not planned for success. There were rough times handling demand and expansion. One of the founders, the man with the vision who made success possible, ended up getting sidelined in the press to bring the company public and cash in. He made his money, but ended up leaving the company shortly after the IPO.
A driven man, a man of vision, the founder was determined to repeat success.
The old company did well, but spent its time defending its current market. Its attempts at expansion all lost money.
Meanwhile, the man of vision had formulated a plan. He founded a new company. He invited some of his favorites over and showed them his vision. I was part of that group, and like most of the group, I bought into the vision.
So I left the old company to join the new start up.
The vision was compelling. The founder was the sort of person who could really motivate people, who could really make you believe in the vision.
Even when key external factors of the vision failed to come to pass, we believed.
Even when we ran out of money, we believed.
Even when most of us could no longer work for free and had to move on to other jobs, we believed.
Now, years later, the company is just a memory. When some of us get together for a couple of drinks, we still mourn the failure of the vision to come to pass. We still believe in it and we blame bad luck, bad timing, bad execution, and the rest of the world for its demise. We end up sounding a bit like Brad McQuaid. Things did not go right, but the vision was still valid.
And this may all seem silly, this talk of vision. But that is the problem with a vision, you either buy into it or you do not. If you do buy in, if you do believe, if you are party to real vision (and not the corporate nonsense “vision statements”) driven by somebody who can really make you believe, the truth of that vision becomes part of your world view.
So when you look at the foibles of Vanguard and think, “Well, I could have told them that was a bad idea!” I would have to disagree. You might have told them, but you probably could not have convinced them. Sigil quite clearly started with a vision, and one of the things vision does is help you keep on track through all the noise and interference that the world generates.
The problem is that while your vision can usually accommodate input from the real world, the real world is under no obligation to accommodate your vision.
Our little company did not have an out when reality ground us down. Will Sigil have an out? Somebody thinks so.