Find the Jackal

Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.

Before I get into the interview with Brad I want to tell you a little story. In my town here we have a city councilor who is extremely verbose. You ask him a question about, I don’t know, potholes down Carling Avenue and he’ll give you a 5 minute answer that will cover everything but the potholes in Carling Avenue. He’s very good at saying a lot but saying absolutely nothing. Those people eventually drive me up the frackin wall to the point where I want to throw poop at them. Brad is now at that point…and a bit beyond.

Initially I was quite impressed with Brad. His first post, and maybe his second gave me a signal that the CEO was watching and was concerned with the current state of Vanguard. Then I started to “hear” things from sources and that made me analyze things in a different sort of way. These weren’t posts from a guy who was concerned…these were posts from a guy who was scared shitless and this was his way of trying to put a Dora band aide on a severed artery.

On to the interview then…because this is where it gets very interesting. Again, I’m going to give you my take on these statements…please do not mistake them for yours. What did that do with the game?

Brad McQuaid:: It slowed down development significantly. Managing the game from their perspective, well… We tried to explain how MMO development is different from Zoo Tycoon and that explanation just wasn’t being agreed with or understood – one of the two, I’m not sure. They wanted detailed schedules going out for months that were fairly inflexible. The more artistic a project is, the less schedulable it is down to the long term. I’m all for scheduling – but you have to be flexible. What if a technology doesn’t work out? What if you find a better way to do something? You have to be flexible. Especially in pre-production. They wanted everything systematically and that it would take exactly this amount of time, this amount of art assets, and this amount of people to make, say, a dungeon. Are we talking about a premiere dungeon? A level 30 dungeon? A raid dungeon? A dungeon for core gamers? A dungeon where we can reuse certain art assets? Are we talking one where new art is used? There are a lot of variables there. There’s not a lot of flexibility there. Our interpretation of that early on is that they don’t understand MMO development. Later on, we determined that the decision was made that this is how the studio would be run regardless of the game.

From the above it is quite obvious that Brad either had very little understanding of product management or he never had a product management team to begin with. I mean, what the hell does artistic level of a project have to do with timelines?? Vanguard wasn’t anymore artistic than EQ2 or WoW or LoTRO and yet they were somehow able to deliver within a “detailed schedule”. I’m sorry, but in order to deliver a software product, or any product for that matter, you need to map it out. You need milestones. You need deliverables for those milestones. Sure, nobody realistically hits those milestones all of the time, but you should be close. Without a detailed map of the project, you’ll just keep going on and on and the deadly “feature creep” will bite your ass off. Art, good sir, has nothing to do with anything.

He then goes on about Zoo Tycoon and pokes Microsoft in the eye a bit. He does mention that there was a management change within Microsoft and he thinks that had a significant impact to the VG project. He says that Microsoft become quite “hands on” after this change in management. My take? I think this is when Microsoft started seeing red flags and started to tighten the leash. Right after the split and before the tragedy the other day, that’s when people claim you started to be in the office… not quite as much. Can you explain why?

Brad McQuaid:: We need to back up a little bit. After we split from Microsoft – because obviously we couldn’t ship the game in an unready state – we had to go out and do something. Find money to make the game that we could and all dreamed about. We cut a deal pretty quickly so that we could get into SOE’s E3 kiosk. We ended up having to meet payroll and to pay the bills. We needed to raise money. We went out and found some people who specialized in venture capital and I worked with those people immediately following the deal coming together. I started working with them on putting a deal together to fund the game to completion and fund the company post-completion and to possibly start a second title. It was basically “get money that we needed.” So I started working with these people, it was a learning experience – I’d never really been in the private investor/VC world – and we started that process. I was in and out of the office quite a bit. Demoing the game, showing it to potential investors and putting together the documentation. All sorts of stuff you have to do for that kind of money. So that time being out of the office was business?

Brad McQuaid: It was a bummer. Even going back to SOE, I want to make games. The executive producer side of things is more fun than the CEO business side of things. But it had to be done, right? So it was a bummer leaving a lot of that behind and it simply had to be done.

Now there is something that is just not fitting with the two interviews (his, and the one of the ex-employees). According the the ex-employee, Brad played a lot though Beta 2 and then just vanished from the office. That would place Brad going AWOL between Beta 2 and Beta 3. The date of the beta 2 was 12-15-2005 and beta 3 was 08-11-2006…give or take on both dates. Assuming those are correct and that Brad was not there for the firings on 05-15-2007, that puts him as out of the office anywhere from 9 to 17 months doing demos and documentation. I’m sorry, but I’m calling bullshit. Something is not right with both accounts. The truth is of course, somewhere in the middle or maybe the truth is actually somewhere deep in left field. Regardless, one of these two guys is pulling our chains…and I don’t like it. And the next party… god, I am a fucking cynic. Why weren’t you at the firing party?

Brad McQuaid: Well, this is going to sound corny but it’s true. I would have broken down in tears.

…and related to that at the end of the interview…

…I’m sorry that I wasn’t there the day that people were let go. But honestly, these months have been very, very heartbreaking for me. Emotionally I couldn’t have handled it. I would’ve been sitting there bawling my head off. You can ask anybody who knows me about the heartache I’ve felt because things didn’t work out for the company. I do believe Sony will do a great job. I know they will.

Sorry Brad, but that just doesn’t cut it. This is another example of poor leadership and also shows that Brad is the type who loves the perks but none of the responsibility of being a leader. Sure Brad, the buck stops with you but apparently you also think the hard stuff stops before you. You couldn’t handle it emotionally? Are you fucking kidding me!! People lost their jobs and you couldn’t go down there, look them in the eye and tell them in person because you couldn’t handle it? Then you shouldn’t have become a CEO and you should not be a leader in any capacity until you can take the real responsibility of the position. You knew, somewhere in that head of yours that this was a possibility. You knew that you’d have to make tough decisions that would effect people’s jobs. If you didn’t, then you’re either extremely naive or incredibly stupid…I’m going to guess the former because I don’t think you’re the later.

We are all given tough events in our lives that are a true test of character. It’s those little curve balls that are tough to hit but you need to because others are counting on you. Mine was when my daughter was 15 months and had DDH. That included 6 surgeries, 1 month in a hospital, and 10 months in a half-body cast in which she needed to be carried everywhere. As tempting as it was, I didn’t go run and hide because it was heartbreaking watching my daughter cry my name as she was wheeled off into constructive surgery for the 4th time. You take the punches, you assume your role as a leader and you don’t bail out. Your decision to not be there was unacceptable…don’t let it happen again please.

Balancing this whole thing out we’ve got Jeff Butler to talk about who is not blameless in this whole thing. Everything I said above also applies to him as well. A good point to this part of the story is here. I can’t say it better than that.

So I’m hoping that this is the last interview by…because those boys are keeping me busy. I’m hoping my next piece will be the future of Vanguard with SOE, but new stuff like this will likely keep coming out. I know at least one reader wants to know what “success” means in the context of VG and SOE…so I’ve got that angle to figure out too. So, no shortage of stuff to talk about.

As a reminder…please, please remember to take all of this stuff as with a grain of salt…including what you read on this site. My opinion on this will probably change as more information comes to me…except for Brad not being there for the firings, that one will probably never change.

D out.

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