I did promise to give the brief version of “what happened” at the last gig. Let’s see if I can manage “brief” for the first time in my life.
Unfortunately for my more gossip-oriented readers, there aren’t really any really juicy details worth sharing. It came down to bad planning, inexperience, and bad luck.
Here are some general things that apply to lots of companies.
- If I’m going to be one of the most experienced people on the team, and the investors don’t think they need to meet with me before I’m hired, and after I’m hired they don’t ask what I think of the budget or the schedule, I’m going to need to know what their background in games is.
- No, really, “played lots of games” is not an asset in any role except design, and even then, it’s an asset, not a sine qua non.
- You’d think I’d know this one by now, being as it has now bitten me in the unspeakables four times, but… if anyone tells me that I’m not allowed to talk to the Extremely Sensitive [major figure], there are shenanigans afoot and it’s going to end in tears. My tears.
- Third party tools are for prototyping and demo building. Not MMO production. Anyone claiming otherwise needs to show me a shipped product or an entire team of programmers. Preferably both.
- Hard work isn’t enough unless it’s focused by an experienced project manager with solid goals and a long range view.
Odds and ends specific to the gig in question: Some key hires (project manager, server programmer) were just made too late in the game to make the kind of progress we needed to make in order to get something playable in front of… anyone, really.
(Not that hiring the project manager earlier would have been a guarantee. A project manager with ten years of experience herding MMO cats and an empty suit who’s been failing upwards for ten years? They look exactly the same from the outside. You just can’t know which is which until you’ve stood in knee deep, er, mud with one of them. I say with gratitude and pride that at my last gig, I got to work with one of the best MMO leaders ever…who was never officially announced due to coming on just a few months before the end. Someday I will be able to thank this person publicly, with trumpets and bells.)
The concept was awesome enough that if we could have gotten something playable in front of y’all, I think we could have generated enough excitement to land more investment. As it was, though, we never managed to get the (third party) patcher to work, on top of other ground-level issues.
Finally, quite aside from the other issues, luck played a role. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Everything that worked wonderfully on the internal server would just fall apart when exposed to air. A working patch would stop working at the exact moment when we needed things to go smoothly. I’d be literally mid-sentence announcing something that had been stable for hours when it would crash. Man, I started taking that shit personally after awhile.
But I’d say, at the end of the day, what we mainly needed was more experience (and more willingness to leverage the experience we had, as opposed to wheel-inventing strategies). People point to Mythic as an example of a bunch of crazy kids making a dream come true, but as the saying goes, Mythic was an overnight success that was years in the making.
I came to that party relatively late, in mid-2001. The existing company had already made something like half a dozen games, one of which formed some of the underlying structure of DAOC. The team might not have had any AAA MMO experience (mainly because back then the only AAA MMOs were UO, AC, and EQ) but they had plenty of experience making multiplayer games for the PC. Mythic had some lucky breaks, some good timing, my guild leaders, and a market new enough that we were setting some of the expectations as opposed to the modern problem of trying to meet expectations…but even with all that, success had a lot to do with the team’s leadership and experience.
I believe the concept of Dominus was brilliant, and some of the people I was working with were truly gifted. No team could have tried harder, either. The support of the community was amazing to see and feel, and I think the ideas the community brought to the table would have augmented the design in a way that would have created one of the most phenomenal MMO experiences yet.
I guess that’s the worst of it, for me. The community really kicked ass. Even my ever-so-slightly cranky people were major contributors to a degree I have only rarely seen before. I knew, KNEW that the game was going to scratch a major itch for my favorite kind of player. It’s never fun to see a dream die, but this one was the hardest to let go.
May we all eventually meet again. Again.