Tag Archives: Columbus Nova

Daybreak and All Their Sins Remembered

What a week it has been for Daybreak.

That eye should be crying after this week…

First they get caught in a pretty big lie.  And it was a lie nobody expected so when they said it people immediately questioned it.

There is absolutely no question they were lying, it is just a matter of what they were lying about.

Either Columbus Nova was part of the purchase of Daybreak back in 2015, or the company has been misrepresenting that material fact repeatedly for the last three years.  Either there was some financial benefit for them lying over and over for three years or they have chosen to start lying now as a measure of expediency due to sanctions against Russian oligarchs.

And honestly I can’t decide which is correct, mostly because I can’t figure out who they might have tricked by lying for three years.  (As a side note, somehow the same “mistake” was made with Harmonix back in 2010 when press releases announced Columbus Nova was purchasing them, but now they also say it was Jason Epstein all along.)

And Daybreak can’t manage to fully close the door even with its own definitive, we’ve said all were going to say statement posted to all of the forums.  Quoting for truth, since they’ve gone in to edit this statement already like it was on Wikipedia:

Dear Daybreak Community,

There has been some confusion concerning Daybreak’s ownership and rumors about the state of the company that have circulated from a few online game websites, and we want to set the record straight. We assure you that these rumors are entirely false and that there’s no impact on our business or games in any way whatsoever.

From the get-go, Daybreak has been primarily owned by Jason Epstein, a longtime investor who also has investments in a variety of media properties. Jason acquired Daybreak (formerly SOE) in February 2015 and has been the executive chairman and majority owner of the company since that time.

We’re well aware of prior statements from Daybreak indicating our company was acquired by Columbus Nova. We have since clarified that the company was acquired by Jason Epstein when he was a partner at Columbus Nova, which he left in 2017. We’ve also taken steps to clarify those facts on our website and on third-party internet sites to ensure that all of the information currently made available is consistent and accurate.

We apologize for the previous miscommunication and hope that this clears up any confusion. As always, we greatly appreciate your continued support for our games, and we’ll continue to work hard to bring the best experiences to you.

So that settles it, right?  Maybe.  I just trip over the first sentence of the second paragraph:

From the get-go, Daybreak has been primarily owned by Jason Epstein…

When you feel the need to throw in the word “primarily” it does suggest that there were other owners.  Maybe it was Columbus Nova!  Maybe that was the bit Sony held onto.  Maybe it was a couple old ladies from Sheboygan.  We don’t know and Daybreak doesn’t seem in a mood to offer anything beyond a lame understatement of their actions over the last three years.

By the way, after Daybreak edited their Wikipedia article to take out any mention of Columbus Nova, somebody went back and added this:

Evidently wanting to distance itself from Columbus Nova, Daybreak started claiming in April of 2018 that the original press release was in error and that Jason Epstein purchased the company personally. It is not clear when exactly Columbus Nova, Daybreak, and Jason Epstein severed ties.

So yeah, their efforts haven’t exactly born the fruit for which they were likely hoping.

And the kicker is that it probably doesn’t matter.  Lying to us is futile and, as you can see, even counter-productive.  A wasted effort.  If the FBI wants to know who bought them they’ll find out.  I am sure they can subpoena Sony to see who signed the check and where the funds came from.  So the lesson here is, if somebody asks you if you’re going to be affected by sanctions on Russia, just say, “No.”  Don’t use that moment to bring up a tale about how you’ve never been owned by the company you’ve been telling everybody was the owner for the last three years.  It clearly will not turn out well.

That was enough silliness on Tuesday and I figured once Daybreak got their story straight and stopped trying to gaslight the internet we’d all wander off to fret about lockboxes or whatever the next story of the moment turned out to be.

But then yesterday another blow landed as we found out that Daybreak had a significant layoff, with a reported 70 or more people being let go.  Sure, that probably had more to do with how the company has been doing rather than anything related to Russian sanctions, but could the timing be any worse?  We’ve never been owned by that Russian company, Russian sanctions won’t have any effect on us, but we’re laying off a huge chunk of our staff.

And MMORPG.com threw a bit more fuel on that fire with a rumor about Daybreak possibly being acquired by another company… at which point Jason Epstein would drop out of the picture… maybe… he might be there as well.  That story felt really thin, and given that the author also said that Daybreak acquired Standing Stone Games, I wouldn’t give it much credence.  After all, we know that it was Jason Epstein who acquired Standing Stone… erm… no… Daybreak got into a deal to be Standing Stone’s publisher, a deal that seemed to bring almost no benefit to Lord of the Rings Online or Dungeons & Dragons Online so far as I could tell.  But Daybreak didn’t buy them.  I don’t know who actually owns Standing Stone Games though.  It could be Jason Epstein though.  I wouldn’t cross him off the list.  He is a busy guy.

Anyway, it was enough to make a long time fan of the Norrath feel more than a bit defeated.

I mean, I am used to having the weight of SOE and then Daybreak’s foibles drag me down.  To be a fan of theirs is to suffer.  So instead of posting a piece I already had written about the EverQuest Agnarr server launching the Planes of Power expansion and how that is the centerpiece of their locked-in-time plans for this retro server, I am spewing out text about yet another bad turn in the life of this company and its games.

What is going to happen?  What does the future hold?

My gut says that there is value in the EverQuest franchise and that, run properly, EQ and EQII could be a nice little niche money spinners wherever they end up.  I had been feeling that Norrath was doing better than anybody had a right to expect under Daybreak, with yearly expansions and content updates in between.  But with layoffs is that at an end?

I guess DC Universe Online is safe, being that it is said to bring in a reliable revenue stream.  But PlanetSide 2 has been troublesome in the past and H1Z1… or whatever name it has now… was looking pretty good, right up until the point that it got trampled in the fight between PUBG and Fortnite over the battle royale space.  Now it is going onto the PS4, but will they bother bringing it to China?  And it feels like Just Survive just won’t.

And this one-two punch of lies and layoffs has brought up all the old resentments and recriminations in the rather close knit world of MMORPG gamers.  So it seems to be the time for some to replay every grievance from the past, from the NGE and the fall of SWG to the false hopes of The Agency to the replay of false hopes and the faked demos of EverQuest Next to the early death of Landmark and every foible big and small in between.

There is a lot of resentment and feelings of betrayal when you look back down the road the company has traveled.  Every game shut down, every bad decision they had to reverse on after announcing, every upbeat demo or announcement followed by months of silence, every update that didn’t meet expectations, every bug that lingers for year after year, every nutty side project that ate up dev time only to be abandoned… it all adds up.  Also, that ProSieben thing.  How could I forget that?

Games don’t last forever.  Mistakes happen.  Bad decisions get made.  Every feature, no matter how bad, is somebody’s favorite.  You’re always going to piss somebody off no matter what you do.  But Daybreak over the years feels like it has done more than its share of all of that, and it isn’t a big company like EA or Blizzard where they can piss people off and get past it by launching another Battlefront title or WoW expansion that will sell millions of copies.

It feels like we’re getting to the end of the story of SOE and Daybreak.  Maybe not today, or even this year, but things are headed in that direction.  They’re maintaining the old titles, but the only hope from the new was H1Z1 and it seems to have fallen by the wayside in the genre it helped spark.  There might be a new title in the works, but having to lay off so many people is going to impact something.

What do you do?  Do you cut back on supporting the old base?  No more expansions for EQ and EQII?  That brings in money and keeps the old base there.  But if you don’t work on something new then the future is set as an ever dwindling player base will lead to an every smaller staff and an eventual shut down.

Not a good week to be a fan of any of Daybreak’s remaining products.

Maybe I’ll feel better about all of this tomorrow and put up that Agnarr post.

Other coverage:

Daybreak Has Always Been Owned by Eastasia

In a bit of a futile effort somebody at Daybreak Game Company is attempting to either edit history or cover up a serious mistake.

That eye is, and always has been, Jason Epstein’s

As we know, back in 2015 Sony Online Entertainment was purchased by an investment group called Columbus Nova.  We know this because that is exactly what SOE told us, both in press releases as well in messages to the community.  Both John Smedley and Jason Epstein specifically mention Columbus Nova and having SOE join their portfolio.

People dug into just who the hell Columbus Nova was, finding out that it was owned by Renova, which in turn was owned by Russian Viktor Vekselberg.

This comes into play, as reported over at Massively OP, because of sanctions being imposed on certain key Russians, Viktor included.

So the question came up as to what happens to Daybreak.  Since Daybreak is setup as an LLC, probably nothing in the short term, no matter who owns it.  If the government seizes it they will likely resell it.

Daybreak seems to have gone paranoid on the question though.  When asked for a statement by Massively, Daybreak said:

Daybreak Game Company has no affiliation with Columbus Nova. Jason Epstein, former member of Columbus Nova, is and has always been the primary owner and executive chairman of Daybreak Game Company (formerly Sony Online Entertainment) which he acquired from Sony in February 2015.

When prodded about the fact that this flew in the face of everything we knew up until now, Daybreak followed up again stating that everything that they said about Columbus Nova in the past was wrong and that Jason Epstein himself bought SOE and has owned it himself ever since.

Meanwhile, somebody at Daybreak has been trying to clean up, fixing their Wikipedia article to correct an error with a very specific notation, “Removing inaccuracies. The company has no affiliation to Columbus Nova. Jason Epstein is and has always been the primary owner and executive of Daybreak Game Company.”  This started on April 6, 2018, more than three years after the acquisition.

So, somehow for the last three years nobody at Daybreak bothered to correct this mistaken belief that they had been acquired by Columbus Nova, even when opportunities arose, like when Russel Shanks left and Ji Ham of Columbus Nova took over the reigns as president of the company.  Then, suddenly, when sanctions might be an issue the company suddenly remembers that Columbus Nova was never even part of the deal, as though a company and the person they claimed purchased it would make such an error of material fact and neither notice nor correct it for more than three years?

Sounds like horse shit to me,

Anyway, I thought I ought to put a pin on the date that Daybreak inadvertently started drawing attention to itself by coming up with an odd retroactive tale about its acquisition.

Meanwhile Massively OP continues to update the story as new facts hove into view.

Others now talking about this:

A New Broom at Daybreak?

This past weekend I started the process of building up the usual end of year posts.  Those are less like the random creative writing assignments I churn out daily as they require some data collection.  The easiest of the lot is the review of my annual predictions.  You can find the 2016 batch here.

I was going down the list zeroing out the ones that were clearly wrong… start with the easy stuff… which included the fifth entry on the list.

5 – Daybreak will get a new head honcho who will be selected from another company and will have little or no experience with the fantasy MMORPG genre that has kept the team in San Diego funded for most of its existence.  Expect this person’s past experience to be the hammer and any Daybreak problem to be a nail.  They’ll be just like that VP we once hired from Oracle, for whom every solution required a database.  So if, for example, they have a history with first person shooters on the XBox, you’ll know what to expect.

I marked that as a miss.  I hadn’t seen any news pop up to indicate that long time SOE/Daybreak guy Russell Shanks wasn’t still running the show.  I mean, when Smed “left” there were stories everywhere.  No change meant no points for that prediction.  Daybreak abides.

It follows you as you move about the room!

The angry eye of Daybreak Game Company

A bit later I was looking for something else and hit the Wikipedia page for Daybreak and noticed that the summary side bar did not list Mr. Shanks as a key person.  So I ran down the article and found this buried in the lower text:

In October 2016, Russell Shanks left Daybreak. Ji Ham is the current acting president.

Oh ho, there was a change!  Maybe I was right in that prediction after all?

It also seemed I didn’t miss any headline articles about it in the gaming press as the supporting attribution for this was Russell Shank’s profile on LinkedIn.  You can go find it if you like, but this is the key item.

Long time COO of SOE and Daybreak

Long time COO of SOE and Daybreak

So Mr. Shanks was out in October, which leads us to the next question; who the hell is Ji Ham and where did he come from?  Well, I was already on LinkedIn for the first bit, might as well continue there.

As it turns out, Ji Ham is a Columbus Nova Prime operative and his profile lists him as being “Co-President” of Daybreak since the date of Smed’s departure.  From his profile.

Principal and Co-President

Principal and Co-President

Odd that we haven’t heard of him before.  Did I miss that somewhere along the line?  Has he been actively involved with Daybreak up to this point or has he been more behind the scenes?

And, of course, the bigger question is, what does it mean now that Russell Shanks is out and Ji Ham is in?  The Wikipedia article says he is the “current acting president,” which sounds temporary, but the article also has no source to back that up.  And given that Ji Ham is listed as having been Co-President since July 2015, it would not be a stretch to assume he has simply taken over the role rather than keeping the seat warm for some new hire.

So what does it mean to have Ji Ham in charge?  Googling him puts him with the Special Opportunities fund at Columbus Nova.  His Bloomberg profile says that he was head of Columbus Nova’s renewable fuels group at one point, which seems to connect into the Russian Renova Group.  Is Columbus Nova Prime now poised to frack Daybreak hard?

Or is Ji Ham just the watcher for Columbus Nova Prime, the on site enforcer, there to keep an eye on whoever they put in charge?  And, if so, can we expect a new leader with video game industry experience?

And, finally, how do I score my prediction?  Russell Shanks is out, so I don’t feel this is a complete miss, but is Ji Ham really a new head honcho?  He is certainly from a company different that Daybreak.  I’m allowed partial credit, so what should it be?  8 points?  2 points?

You can probably expect the prediction scoring post next week.

Addendum: And naturally the edits over a Wikipedia that I saw were done by Feldon of EQ2Wire.  It is a small world.

Addendum: Daybreak confirmed the essential elements of this post without adding any additional details.

Quote of the Day – The End of Smed?

Daybreak Games confirms that John Smedley will be taking some time off from the company for the near-term and transitioning to a different role to be determined. Upon finalization of his plans, further communication will be provided.

RadarX, EverQuest II forums

l go away for a few days and this happens.  While I was down at Pismo Beach watching the beach bunnies and avoiding the horde of German tourists… seriously, they were everywhere… only to come back home and find that Smed is out as the boss at Daybreak.

I will cut you

The Daybreak era Smed

There is plenty of speculation about why he is out, where he will end up, and how it may or may not relates to his run-in with Lizard Squad and the deletion of his Twitter account.

Smed was, of course, a pillar of the MMO development community who helped make EverQuest possible.  He was also a staple of “Quote of the Day” posts here and not universally loved, having run SOE and Daybreak through various controversial periods including the NGE, the transition to free to play, the current era of early access sales, and the sale of SOE to Columbus Nova Prime.  While he has fans both inside and out of Daybreak, not everybody will be sad to see him step down.

But that just brings us to the next question; who will replace him at the helm?

Smed was at least a gamer through and through.  Russel Shanks, another long time member of the Daybreak team is stepping up for now, but it is not clear to me if that is a permanent move of not.  So the next person running Daybreak may not be cut from the same gamer mold.  And while Smed stepping down may have had something to do with his online conflict coming home to roost at Daybreak, it could be about something else as well… something like money even.

Having worked for a company that was acquired by an investment group in the past, I can tell you that I was often reminded of that scene from Goodfellas:

Now the guy’s got Paulie as a partner. Any problems, he goes to Paulie. Trouble with the bill? He can go to Paulie. Trouble with the cops, deliveries, Tommy, he can call Paulie. But now the guy’s gotta come up with Paulie’s money every week, no matter what. Business bad? Fuck you, pay me. Oh, you had a fire? Fuck you, pay me. Place got hit by lightning, huh? Fuck you, pay me.

This may be simply the first round of, “Fuck you, pay me.”  Or it could be something else.

What will Daybreak be without John Smedley?

 

Quote of the Day – Skepticism Blooms

“Sony Online Entertainment, newly rebranded as Daybreak, is a great addition to our existing portfolio of technology, media and entertainment focused companies. We see tremendous opportunities for growth with the expansion of the company’s game portfolio through multi-platform offerings as well as an exciting portfolio of new quality games coming up, including the recently launched H1Z1 and the highly anticipated EverQuest Next to be released in the near future,”

Jason Epstein, a senior partner at Columbus Nova

EverQuest Next is to be released in the “near future?”

[Emphasis in the quote was mine]

Okay, now I know they are yanking my chain.

Has Jason Epstein already been briefed on the usage of the word “soon” at old SOE?  Is this an attempt to avoid that word and its baggage or the beginning of a new empty phrase for the house that EverQuest built?

"Soon" Defined

“Soon” Defined

I ask because I cannot see EverQuest Next being released during any period of time I would judge to be the “near future,” unless we start measuring against scales of time beyond the span of my life.  The foundation for EverQuest Next is in Landmark, and that has yet to be released or have a release date or even a date when they might be able to announce a release date.  So consider my eyebrow arched significantly at the idea of the “near future” in conjunction with EverQuest Next. (Also, Jason, a new name for that please?)

Of course, Mr. Epstein might not know any better at this point.  There has been a whole acquisition dance going on for a while now.  These things do not happen over night, they are months in the making.  And I am sure a bunch of people at the company formerly known as SOE are realizing that this was why Smed was gone at some point or why a bunch of strangers were camped in one of the conference rooms for a week or why that “interview candidate” who looked like a lawyer was being given a detailed tour of the build system. (That last one actually happened to me at one company.)

And while nobody is suppose to overtly lie about material facts during that dance, like any mating ritual, things do tend to be presented in the optimum setting.  The lights are dimmed, blemishes are glossed over, makeup is applied, guts are sucked in, promises are whispered in a moment of passion, all to make each partner more alluring.

Now though, we are at the morning after.  The harsh light of Daybreak is shining through the window, lipstick is smeared, promises are forgotten, and somebody clearly can only describe their belt buckle from memory once it is wrapped about what could be their waist, but only because that is where their pants end.

All pretense is at an end and all the bullshit is revealed.  It is time to get to work and actually deal with reality.  It might be only at this point that the actual idea of “near future” is being revealed and that all those nifty demos of the game do not make a whole.

Then again, there might be a simple answer to this nested in the very same sentence.  Mr. Epstein refers to H1Z1 as “recently launched.”  Perhaps his view of the world aligns with some of us on the outside of the company, that once you start taking money in exchange for your game it is effectively launched and all of this “early access” and “beta” talk is just posturing bullshit.

Anyway, we shall see just how “near” the “near future” really is and what being released really means to this newly “independent” Daybreak.

Also, can we just go with “DGC” when referring to Daybreak Game Company?  Writing “Daybreak” just feels odd still.