Fractured

It’s been quite a week…hasn’t it. Well, I’m about to let this whole SOE/Sigil thing go really soon as I only have about one or two more articles left in me before I end up exploding. Besides, it’s almost time just to leave the thing alone and let SOE get to work on VG.

Yesterday I posted an article from f13.net that had an interview from a former employee from Sigil. It was kind of an “inside scoop” kind of thing that gave you lots of information from one perspective. I’m going to point out some stuff that I found interesting in that piece with a few words of caution:
1)This person just got let go from his employer 24 hours before the interview. As such, we need to assume that there are bitter emotions mingled in with fact. I can’t tell which is which at this point…neither can you, so…well…moving on.

2) Of course, this is an editorial piece and should not be taken as fact. I’m a blogger, not Walter Cronkite. This is just one man’s take, you of course should form your own opinion.

So, with that in mind…here we go.

Ex-Sigil: There are a lot of people, Brad included who were certain it would be a short-lived game. Some, in fact, including Brad, never played it. WoW should have been the example of ‘look at what a good game can do!’ when instead it was often spoken of like a bad thing.

If this is the case then this gives solid evidence of my assumption that important people at Sigil did not understand the significance of WoW’s impact on MMOs. Anyone who reads me knows what WoW has done and I’m a bit tired of writing about it, so I’ll stop there. Suffice to say, this would have been a huge strategic mistake by Sigil to not incorporate lessons learned from WoW.

f13.net: Do you remember when the game was first shown publically? Surely it was while Microsoft was involved.

Ex-Sigil: I’m pretty sure the first time the game was seen in public, if I recall, was E3 2005. People were shown very small pieces (I was told a dungeon was shown over and over and over). Apparently, those pieces were specifically chosen to not show the glaring flaws. Now.. honestly, everyone does that. Nobody is going to parade around their problems. But the fact is, those problems were shoved under the carpet and ignored instead of being fixed before development moved forward.

f13.net: Was this a forced appearance?

Ex-Sigil: Yes.

f13.net: By Microsoft or Brad?

Ex-Sigil: Both I’d imagine… and that trend continued though for another year. What people don’t understand, is the game that went out the door was literally created in the last 15 months. Design worked 12-18 hour days for 9+ months. Coding and Art worked insane hours as well, all trying to actually get something playable out the door.

That last bit up there is one of the more disturbing pieces of information that I read (I’ll get to THE most disturbing in a minute). Apparently this game took 30+ million to make and 5 years to make it. According to this guy, they didn’t really start actually doing stuff until 15 months BEFORE release. Question of the year: What where they doing for the remaining 45 months before they actually started doing work? If I was an investor in this product and I saw that little piece of information, first I’d find out if it were true. If it was true, then I’d have some very tough questions for Sigil management on how money was spent for this product. I’m really surprised no one has picked up on what that last little bit can imply. This also ties in to why Microsoft did a cut-and-run maneuver on Sigil…red flags were going up they weren’t seeing any results for their investment.

f13.net: How was QA treated through the course of development?

Ex-Sigil: QA?

f13.net: QA.

Ex-Sigil: QA was one person up until about November… ONE.

f13.net: What.

Ex-Sigil: 100% serious.

f13.net: What? How? This is an MMOG.

Ex-Sigil: Vanguard had one internal tester for probably 95% of the design cycle.

This is THE most disturbing piece from my point of view. As a QA/Verification engineer for the last 12 years, this sends shivers down my spine. At the same time, it’s not all that surprising. When I logged into beta there was something obviously very, very wrong from the quality side. I’ve been in beta’s before, and usually by that time it’s just the “little” things that you’d encounter, i.e. missing art, incomplete or missing quests, stuttering etc. With the VG beta, everything beta-ish was there but amplified by a large factor….it was not in good shape. It was more of what you’d expect from an alpha. Now a project of this size would obviously need more than one QA person. You’d need at least a team of 5-8 people with a team lead…maybe even two teams of 5-8. That many would generate enough bug reports to keep designers busy and would have fixed a lot of issues. What was probably happening was that some designers were acting as testers as well…NEVER a good idea. There are three core teams that you want for any software project; design team, integration team and testing team. There are others, but those three are your engine. You want them well staffed, knowledgeable, independent and, you always want them talking to each other…always.

The interview also confirms that Brad was AFK for quite a bit of time. I’ve already addressed my feelings about this, so I won’t repeat myself. He does say that most in the office did not want Brad around anyway…bad sign when you’re supposed to be leading people.

f13.net: What was the speech you got?

Ex-Sigil: it was very emotionless. Very callous. “The deal is done, and basically you’re all fired so some of you can be re-hired by SOE.” Bill was there and actually made comments about how he was likely buying a house thanks to his stock.

f13.net: Wait, what? Did non-stock holders get severance?

Ex-Sigil: There was severance, yes… and they did say they’d help out any way they could with our job search.

f13.net: What was the fallout like?

Ex-Sigil: Well, worst of all.. at the end of Sigil, Brad wasn’t even there to look us in the eye and apologize.

Man….this all sounds very familiar. It’s like 2001 all over again isn’t it. I remember the day I was first laid off when the high-tech bubble went “pop”. We were all brought into a meeting room with a Mr.Burns/Napoleon like character giving us the news. Same thing…it was all very callous and done with no empathy at all, and in the back of your mind, you knew that someone else higher up was making some money out of you losing your job. Quoting Homer, “Urge to kill…rising….”. It’s very weird but what we’re actually witnessing is a mini dot-com bubble burst except in the MMO gaming industry. The similarities are just striking…aren’t they?

So that’s it until my next piece on this whole thing. I plan on moving on and covering what I think the future of Vanguard is under SOE.

Until then…

D out.

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