Topic: Looks like Brad's back home after all....

Brad wrote:

“SOE is in discussions with Sigil regarding the future of Vanguard and Sigil Games in Carlsbad. Talks are going well and first and foremost, our primary concern right now is what's best for Vanguard and its community. We want to ensure that this game and its community have a healthy future. The specifics that we work out over the coming days will all be with that single goal in mind.”

What does that mean? It means that right now Vanguard is doing decently but not as well as we hoped...So the bottom line is that SOE is going to be getting more involved with Sigil and Vanguard – our relationship is going to become even tighter – much tighter. At this point I can’t say much more than that.

Does this mean an acquisition? I can’t say at this point.

Does this mean more or less people at Sigil? I can’t say at this point.

Does this mean management changes at Sigil? I can’t say at this point.

I *can* say that regardless of the turn out, SOE knows that Sigil has the experience and vision necessary to run Vanguard and therefore a major change in that area is extremely unlikely and would be foolish on their part.

What it does mean at this point is that both companies agree that we need more of SOE’s involvement if Vanguard is going to continue to get the support it needs to both continue to be worked on and improved and debugged and optimized. When people start getting burned out of the Warcraft expansion (pardon the pun), we need to make sure that the game is more polished and will play on lower end machines. As people continue to level up, it means that we need additional higher level content, including raid content. If we are going to change our marketing message effectively to target those who played a lot of EverQuest but who have ‘grown up’ such that they have jobs, families, etc. that they cannot and will not play another EverQuest even though they enjoyed they game years ago. We’ve done studies and it’s not atypical of an old EQ player, when they hear about Vanguard, to assume that because many of the people involved in Vanguard’s development worked on EQ as well, that Vanguard must simply be an EQ 3. From that point they don’t even give Vanguard another look. They don’t do any more research on the game. They don’t go to the official sites. They don’t go to the affiliate sites. Instead they think to themselves, “ah well, were I younger and had my life not changed, I’d give it a shot, but I just don’t have the time for another EQ with better graphics right now.”

And that’s it – they don’t give Vanguard another thought EQ peaked in late 2001 at almost 500k subscribers. In its lifetime it’s sold over 2 million units. Putting EQ in a vacuum and that’s a lot of people who played and who aren’t playing anymore. And the total number of subscribers didn’t start going down until sometime 2002. I’m also pretty sure up until its peak that the average lifespan of a player was nearing 9-23 months. And as I mentioned in my last lengthy post, this group of people who played but don’t anymore could arguably be put into two sub-groups – those who look back fondly at those months and even years and those who don’t. I have read posts and received emails from people who claim to have played to max level and then quit very angry – the “I just played your game for 2 years and now I hate you” emails. But realistically how big is that group? Even if it was half (boggle) the other group is still pretty big. So ignoring all of the people who have quit or who are growing bored of their current MMOG (WoW, FFXI, DAoC, etc) that need to be reached (and in a very different way, especially the WoW player), both a word of mouth and a formal marketing campaign targeting these people clearly needs to launched. These people need to know that Vanguard does have the ‘EQ feel’ in many ways but that it is much more soloable than EQ was, especially the early EQ days. They need to know that you can play for short periods of time and advance. They need to know that the ‘end game’ is not all about raiding into the wee hours of the night. Some subset of these people will still feel burnt out of MMOGs period, but I think there’s a lot of people who haven’t been reached and our and others research supports that. False assumptions are being made by a lot of people. The reality is that Vanguard *is* the game most of these people are looking for – it has the good they remember, but has eliminated a lot of the tedium and necessary long hours that don’t fit into their lifestyle anymore.

Then there are the people who are growing weary of their current MMOG. Given how much larger the MMOG gamespace has grown since EQ’s zenith in 2001 (arguably 7 times as large worldwide, and at least 2-3 time as large in North America alone), we have to take advantage of this. At some point these people are going to want to start a new MMOG (especially after the WoW expansion newness has worn out, which for most of the non-hard-core would be when you really have to start raiding in the expansion). LoTR Online is an x-factor – reviews from beta testers seem to indicate that the game is more casual like WoW, a small game, and that it looks really good but can run on a lower end system much better than Vanguard (just as WoW can). So at least for a time the more casual bored WoW player may migrate to LoTR Online. How sticky (e.g. how long that game will hold onto players) is unknown, but I think it’s safe to say that a significant percentage of the more casual bored WoW player will head to LoTR – at least first, given the franchise around it. Conservatively this leaves the more hard core WoW player (which in Vanguard or EQ terms would be considered either a hard core or, more likely, a core gamer). That number, even just taking the North American and European gamer is still potentially a large one and needs to be targeted (given Vanguard’s high system specs, the time it will take to localize, and Blizzard’s name recognition and pre-existing proven marketing ability in Asia, I wouldn’t count that group, although a very significant one, until 2008 or so. Targeting that group is for a future discussion).

Lastly, there’s the very real issue of Vanguard’s system specs, even for the core and hard core gamer in North America and Europe. For a variety of reasons and mistakes on our part that I won’t get into right now, Vanguard was released with system spec requirements that were too high for January 2007. Continued optimization will help to a degree, but the game’s big hope here is simply Moore’s Law and that by the second half of 2007, and certainly by the end of the year, the system spec issue will have been greatly diminished. The big problem that remains is that you still pretty much need a new system as opposed to, say, simply a new graphics card. But eventually, gamers do replace their systems. Given what Vista (especially the Ultimate edition) takes to really run, combined with other games that come out by the end of the year that really push technology, many people will be compelled to buy new systems. Unlike EQ, which was one of the first hardware only games, Vanguard needs not only a fast graphics card, but also a system with pci-express, fast memory, a fast FSB, etc. With EQ, you just needed to buy a Voodoo 1 or Voodoo 2 – the rest of your system is fine. With Vanguard, however, just plugging the fastest AGP card into your 2-3 year old system doesn’t cut it. In fact, Vanguard runs pretty well on a 2 GB system with a decent pci-express video card and fast memory in a 2.6 GHz Pentium; conversely, run the game on an older AGP system, the fastest AGP card you can buy, and a 3.2 GHz CPU and you’ll have framerate issues. The game is simply not CPU bound, nor just graphics card bound, but rather mostly bound by the data that it needs to constantly move from the CPU to main memory to the graphics card, and then all the way back again. It’s all about the various bus speeds and caches – moving data around efficiently is arguably more important than processing that data on the CPU or GPU. The only fix here, again, is time. Vista (especially the Ultimate edition, which is what’s being pushed to gamers) wants fast components. Direct X 10 hardware and software will help a lot, especially when there is a DX10 version of Vanguard. A native 64bit client of Vanguard will eventually help a lot too. Bottom line: by the end of 2007, a lot more people should have upgraded, especially if Microsoft succeeds with Vista and native DX 10 games. And if they really push Gaming for Windows like they did, say, the Xbox 360, the end of 2007 and beginning of 2008 should be a very different landscape for PC games in general and Vanguard specifically. Was the Vanguard tech ahead of its time? Yes, and there has been a price to pay for that short term. But MMOGs ideally never end and if you’ve architected your engine to both push the limits of existing and near future technology as well as easily employ future technologies, then you have a game that doesn’t look dated one, two, even three plus years down the road. And that’s what we did with Vanguard – so we feel some pain now, but if we can keep the momentum going, this decision pays off in the long run (big time).

In summary, there are arguably a lot of people who by mid to end of this year in the MMOG gamespace for whom Vanguard could potentially be very attractive. What the game needs is a re-launch of sorts, including targeted marketing campaigns, an all-around successful move by gamers to the next generation of hardware, continued good word of mouth ‘viral’ marketing by those who are already playing, enjoying, and re-subscribing. And all of this could and should ramp up by the end of the year, all the while the Vanguard team is putting in more content, the live team filling out high level content as well as adding to areas of the game’s vast seamless world which are a bit empty. Then a re-launch towards the end of the year that includes the first expansion, one that would add RTS style city building, ship to ship combat, jousting, and a second ‘half’ of the Kojanese Archipelago that makes ship travel meaningful – and by meaningful I mean not tedious, rewarding exploration, with lots of new areas (both in the existing world and in the extension of the archipelago). And I’m talking about some re-use of existing art, combined with new art that fits into the existing continents, and then finally some all out new stuff – different styles of terrain (islands) and ocean to look at while making your journey to found a new player city while constantly being attacked by exotic sea creatures, leviathans, and other traditional members of fantasy and crypto-zoology. Not to mention pirates with canons, or other players and their ships on the PvP servers. And who knows, could be first expansion or second, but eventually you need to pull from Mesoamerican mythology, encounter empires based on Greco-roman architecture... it goes on and on, it’s all planned out, and Vanguard can do all of it given sufficient time. The tools have matured, both in terms of art and design, and the art process orders of magnitude more efficient because of years of Maya scripting, an in-house terrain generator that creates what you want as opposed to spitting out algorithmically generated hills and valleys, and an art team that has this process down pat – for example, they were able to re-create Tursh and Leth Nurae in a fraction of time it took them to create the original, smaller, and much less interesting ‘versions’.

“SOE is in discussions with Sigil regarding the future of Vanguard and Sigil Games in Carlsbad. Talks are going well and first and foremost, our primary concern right now is what's best for Vanguard and its community. We want to ensure that this game and its community have a healthy future. The specifics that we work out over the coming days will all be with that single goal in mind.”

So what does that mean again? Again, I apologize for not being able to go into details and it’s the details that need to be worked out. But I think it’s safe to say that both Sigil and SOE see the potential of a mind blowing game by the end of the year. What’s needed, bottom line, is some time, and how to get that time is what’s being worked out. And so I still see a 500k+ game, I was just off by a year for a variety of reasons, some under my control, many not. And I think SOE sees this as well. To pull it off however, requires a funded and supported Sigil and a well marketed Vanguard with these different target audiences identified and solid plan on how to reach them all, and then a solid execution of said plan, hitting them hard, pushing these ‘WoW everywhere’ point of purchase materials from the front to the very back.. In the meantime, the Vanguard that was launched in early 2007 continues to move forward, with much of what I’ve talked about patched in over time, and the rest in the first expansion (or re-launch, or whatever we all agree upon in terms of product and service placement). Bottom line, Vanguard continues to march forward, a solid and fun game today, and an even better one tomorrow. More ‘state of the game’ posts by me, a regularly updated ‘In the Works’ . And whatever kind of increased partnership between Sigil and SOE is necessary to make this vision a reality. And again, as for what that means exactly, more on that later ™.

Re: Looks like Brad's back home after all....

Hardly a surprise

Re: Looks like Brad's back home after all....

LMFAO  saw that coming from day One.

4 (edited by Letto 15-05-2007 13:02:28)

Re: Looks like Brad's back home after all....

The story continues....

The axe finally fell. It was only a matter of time, I suppose. And while many of you may try to spin this to make SOE look bad, apparently this wasn't really their doing. You see, SOE doesn't own Sigil. It doesn't own Sigil now and they won't own them tomorrow. But they do own Vanguard. What fate awaits that game? I don't know. Don't particularly care either.

But I do know that at approximately 4:30PM today, Sigil employees were told to meet outside. At which point they were terminated. On the spot. By whom? Doesn't seem to have been Brad McQuaid, if it was, nobody is talking. But that doesn't seem like something he'd do. But I suppose the executioner is irrelevant since most folks secretly want it to be SOE and it wasn't. As it stands, people were told to come back tomorrow to do their paperwork and some may get hired by SOE.

I contacted SOE since I'm not in the business of burning bridges or spinning news and they had this to say:

" announcement is forthcoming tomorrow."

Update: There's some debate over this being ALL employees or just some of them. Obviously, it's not ALL of them - after all, someone had to do the firing. Let's just say that - from what I've heard - they don't have enough employees left to update a casual game... like Snood.

And now that the cat is almost out of the bag this little gem popped out into the Interweb. It's rather long so i'll just quote a short sample of it...

I was able to get confirmation on this tonight from a couple of very reliable sources. So the company has now officially been driven into the ground. Here is what most people don't know, outside of Sigil.

Brad McQuaid has been an absentee manager at Sigil for months. Not only has there been a leadership vacuum at Sigil, with the employees there left twisting in the wind, but I have been able to confirm that Brad hasn't even bothered to be at the office.

Since last year.

I wonder whether SoE is going to put Gallenite on the VG revamp team now that they're officially in charge and they're the ones losing marbles over this. He did do an incredible work on EQ2.

5 (edited by Meta 15-05-2007 15:23:57)

Re: Looks like Brad's back home after all....

Sigil deserve this imo. They've done a horrendous job with VG. Marketting non existent and launching an unfinished game - what did they expect?

Sony started slowly with EQ2 but now it's a top top quality MMO and firing on all cylinders. If they can inject some of that into VG it would be a wonderful thing.

The thing that baffles me the most is..... Launch a game marketted almost purely on heresay and gossip within the hardcore raiding community - with NO RAIDING CONTENT ready. It's brainless idiotic nonsense... If people have lost their jobs because of fundamental brainlessness like this then well, they deserve it.

Re: Looks like Brad's back home after all....

An interview of a Sigil developer.... I have to admit it really baffles me.

Re: Looks like Brad's back home after all....

The "no scripting tool" part which is indeed a problem huh tongue

For the others parts, my english skill doesnt really allow me to decide if it sound like the whinning of a kicked out employee or not ? big_smile

8 (edited by Meta 17-05-2007 12:14:47)

Re: Looks like Brad's back home after all....

The guy sounds really disappointed. More like his dreams have been shattered than caring about being fired. I'm not suprised by his story, it's very believable. The fact is, passion and ideas only get you so far. Gifted or at least competent and experienced managers are absolutely integral to a project like this. Without leadership, direction, cohesion and decision making you can achieve precisely F.A.

I'm glad SOE have taken over, they have vast experience and their transformation of EQ2 shows they're getting ideas right and know what makes a solid MMO.

I expect a huge amount of change in VG though - which is half disappointing and half exciting. The classes are great imo - apart from no song twisting for the bard and the warrior being intensely dull to play. The disciple is the most exciting class I've played in an MMO, and I loved my assassin in EQ2. But I expect SOE will be actively looking to balance the classes - which means no more invicible healers that can solo anything and tank better than a warrior.

People have their reservations about SOE mainly because of CS... But if the game works and good ideas are implemented competently and successfully, there's less need for CS. VG requires a lot of CS at the moment because of a really poorly made game. When SOE get their teeth into this and patch the massive gaping holes in the game (and the zone walls hehe), expect that need to reduce dramatically.

Just to add about the CS thing. I should explain to non-EQ2 players... Well, during my time playing EQ2 I think I needed to petition about... twice. Yes.. twice in about 2.5 - 3 years. Why? Because the game works. If I hadn't set my expectations so high and run myself physically and mentally into the ground leading FB, I'd still be playing EQ2 - it beats the crap out of anything else on the market.

Re: Looks like Brad's back home after all....

Brad being interviewed on Sigil and VG. This guy has to be the biggest hypocrite ever.

Zoo Tycoon and XBOX360 killed VG.