Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse
John Derek in Knock on Any Door (1949)
Well, I cannot speak to whether or not 38 Studios lived fast, and six years can be a long time in technology, so you can argue that the company did not die young.
But they left a good looking, if sparse, corpse in the form of a three pictures and a less than two minute fly through video of their planned virtual world.
Somewhere in Copernicus
Legends have been created out of less.
And now nobody will ever say that Copernicus, their as yet unnamed flagship game, to which the main effort of the company had been devoted for almost six year, sucks.
Nobody will complain about unbalanced classes or broken game mechanics or servers being down or sever queues being too long or any of the thousand other things that we find to pick on when it comes to MMOs.
Copernicus is pristine, a blurry mirage doomed to ever been in the distance, on which some will overlay their hopes and dreams for the future of MMO gaming. I’ve seen it already, with some bloggers mourning not just the fact that we will now never see this game come into full bloom, but that it somehow represented our last, best hope to return greatness to the genre. Some future games will find themselves compared to Copernicus that might have been. It was to be the holy grail game that brought joy back to fantasy MMOs.
Which is a tune I have heard before.
It was the sort of thing some of our guild members were saying about Vanguard in 2005 when we were playing EverQuest II and it had fully sunk in that the game really wasn’t a sequel to the EverQuest experience. And so Vanguard became the dream, the game destined to be the true successor to EverQuest.
And, well… we know how that turned out. Sigil Games, facing their own financial woes, opted to go to market early with a game clearly not ready for prime time.
In one of those twists of timing, it was just five years ago this month that Sigil folded up shop with the now infamous parking lot layoff, sans Brad McQuaid. But we got the word from Smed that SOE was swooping in to save the day. SOE was a hero for the moment, but I wondered how long they would remain a hero. Not very long, it seemed, as soon all the problems with Vanguard became SOE’s problems, and SOE’s fault for not fixing them fast enough.
It makes me wonder what image Vanguard would have ended up with had Brad opted to run out of money before launching the game.
Alas, there will be no SOE white knight to rescue Copernicus. Those days are clearly done. Back when SOE was under Sony Pictures, which I am convinced really didn’t know, and didn’t care, what was going on in San Diego so long as the money was coming in, was able to collect orphaned MMOs like Vanguard and The Matrix Online. Now though, under the PlayStation people, who clearly want to hear about things that sell PlayStation hardware when they aren’t being evil, things have been trimmed back substantially.
There was an estimate that the assets of 38 Studios might be worth up to $20 million, though that sort of talk denies the reality of software development. If you buy a software company with no people, you have pretty much bought nothing. The people who write the software, they are the assets. Without them you have some source code, which can be interesting, but is tough to make your own. You can bring in your own people to try. I’ve been down that path. If you just want to be able to build the software and maybe make some small fixes, it can even be viable. But if you want to own the software and be able to use it to its full, you have to know it well, which is hard work. And the first thing that will happen is the devs will start saying that it is easier to rewrite some section of code from scratch than figure out what is really going on, and that way lies madness and repetition of the same mistakes to gain the same knowledge as the original authors of the code.
And then there is the outside influence of Star Wars: The Old Republic which, according to analyst Michael Pachter, has killed off interest in investing in MMO projects. To quote the money line:
Nobody is buying MMOs after Star Wars fizzled
So yeah, we can blame SWTOR! Because if EA can’t get MMOs right, then it is clearly some sort of once-in-a-lifetime black art not worth exploring.
Life in the big money lane.
I feel a bit sorry for Curt Schilling for not getting to live out his dream of creating a great MMO. But only a bit. I mean the guy had fame, fortune, and three world series wins coming into this deal, all while deliberately and maliciously being younger than me. He can go back to that. Maybe he can be a champion for small studios that reflect some of the things he was trying to bring to MMOs.
But I identify more with the team at 38 Studios, the worker bees who have to scramble to find another gig to pay the mortgage. I’ve been down that path a few times. The joy of Silicon Valley start ups, here today, gone tomorrow. I worked for eight different companies in the 90s, and only one still exists. I was there twice for the “everybody go home” company meeting. It doesn’t get easier with repetition.
I do want to throw out a minor “screw you” to 38 Studios for buying and shutting down the Azeroth Advisor. Grudge holding… we have that here at TAGN.
But other than that, I am sorry to see things turn out as they did. We won’t ever see Copernicus now, and so I will be denied the privilege of playing it while complaining about insignificant details that annoy me.
Addendum: And then there is the industry insider view of this debacle from the newly returned to blogging Lum and how it is killing the very concept of massively multiplayer online gaming.
Further Addendum: And there are always methods to make a bad situation worse.
R. A. Salvatore says Copernicus was awesome, but can’t actually back that up. He was right on one thing in that comment, he shouldn’t be commenting. More for the myth and legend department.
Steve Danuser puts the blame on the governor of Rhode Island.
It looks like 38 Studios may have screwed some employees worse than others. Was that the governor of Rhode Island’s fault as well?
Everybody wants to know where the money went.
Of course, there is Curt.
And then Derek Smart chimes in with a dump truck load of reality. Refreshing to see him poking at a subject that needs it.