A simple comment on The Demise of TelonCast from Cyanbane of EQ2-Daily got me thinking. He just wrote that he believed that Vanguard had a future.
And why shouldn’t it have a future?
So let’s dismiss a few of the pundits and assume Gertrude Stein is wrong and that there is some “there” there in Vanguard. What options does Sigil have?
Stay The Course – Bite the bullet, control costs, try to power through and hope for an Echoes of Faydwer-like expansion success.
Pro: Already in progress, don’t have to change the story for the investors.
Con: The investment in the game probably requires a string of EoF-like expansion successes, or an unlikely Burning Crusade-like expansion success. Working on an expansion means time spent away from fixing the base game. The track record so far makes successful expansions a difficult proposition to sell.
Sell Out – Sell to SOE, sell to Vivendi, sell to CodeMasters, sell to NCSoft, sell to the next bus of Korean tourists that drive by, just get some money back out of the investment.
Pro: While little would change in the short term, in the long term a new company might make better choices. Sigil itself might be able to go back to the drawing board and do better with lessons learned.
Con: If Sigil isn’t the whole problem, then we just have a new company with a similar set of problems. Companies with the know-how might reasonably be expected to pass this offer up unless Vanguard was being sold at fire sale prices. While a bus load of Korean tourists could probably muster the cash, they are unlikely to understand the dynamics of massively multiplayer games in the US market.
Alternative: Replace senior management. Loses the “EQ History” cachet, but saves money on changing the letterhead.
Go Free – Anarchy Online model. Charge for the box, charge for any new content, make the base content free.
Pro: May retain a larger and more patient subscriber base
Con: Would have to spend a lot of time fixing and filling out the base game before Sigil could begin to charge for expansions. Sony, Sigil staff, and investors undoubtedly will still expect to get paid during this time.
Alternative: Get that new guy at SOE to figure out a micro transaction scheme for Vanguard to keep the game free.
Go Free Temporarily – Declare a six month billing amnesty for subscribers.
Pro: Preserves subscriber base for the duration. As a gesture, it would be worth a hundred Brad Mea Culpas.
Cons: Can Sigil afford it? Can Sigil do enough with the game in six months to not kill off the subscriber base when they resume billing?
Go Niche – Pick a game play segment, drop everything else, pursue that relentlessly. They would have hard choices to make. They could follow the hardcore vision and make Vanguard the raider’s paradise: No solo content after, say, level 20, no PvP, all grouping, all the time. They could refine their PvP rules and become the EvE Online of high fantasy. They could become the happy care bear quest realm. They would just have to pick a segment and focus.
Pros: No more dilution of effort. Ends the fantasy of being all things to all people. Allows the building of a better relationship with a core set of players.
Cons: Will have to cut staff, servers, and overhead to the bare bone to make this profitable in the short term. Will the Sony and the investors sign off on a niche game after being promised the world?
Find New Revenue Streams – Since their IP has no draw (does it?), they could try to find something that Sigil does better than most companies, something that they have nailed, and sell it as a service to other MMO companies. Sony does this with hosting. CodeMasters does this with disappointing Korean MMO ports.
Pro: More revenue will prolong the time Sigil has to fix Vanguard.
Con: Still does not address how to fix Vanguard, so may still require one of the above. Will dilute attention from Vanguard. Not clear that Sigil can do anything better than other companies.
Find New Investors – Easier to do before you’ve flopped on the market than after, but not impossible. Will probably require one of the other options to sell the idea to a new investor. Will undoubtedly require Sigil founders to give up control of the company.
Pro: Game would remain available.
Con: Even at a birthrate of one every minute, investors may not be plentiful enough.
That is what I could come up with in a rather short time based on my own experience at a couple of foundering start-up companies.
I personally feel that Brad, Jeff, and the rest of the crew could really make their mark on the world of gaming with the niche option. Unfortunately, they have sold the vision as mass market and have planned for success. It can be very hard to pull back from that when it is in motion, no matter what the alternative prospects are.
What else could they try?