Solve Vanguard's Problems: Just slap a gag on Brad
Apr 06, 2007 01:38:11

Once again, Brad McQuaid bumped his head while riding one of his dirt-bikes, had a few pints of Guiness and then slapped up another crazy forum post discussing the dodgy state of Vanguard. Many many many many many many many many many many bloggers decided to dissect his post. I'm sorry to have to say this but they're missing the mark. I will now dispense with the blunt (and bleak) intro and break into my tired old numbered-point methodology.

1. It isn't SOE's fault.
It sure is easy to point the finger at the big guy isn't it? Consider this: why doesn't anyone blame Vivendi when Blizzard mucks something up? Is it because they never muck it up? It is because Blizzard controls its own destiny despite being owned by Vivendi? It is because Rob Pardo is a snugly teddy bear that everyone loves? I'll offer up a "hell no" in response to those questions. Blizzard messes up plenty. Vivendi surely pulls the strings attached to Rob Pardo's arms to some extent and Pardo is just about as opposite of snugly as you can get, in fact, his personality seems to be a perfect cross between Agent Smith and Stewie. Somehow Blizzard overcomes all of these obstacles. Why can't Sigil?

The problem with Vanguard isn't the small annoying bugs that are in the game at launch. (Yes, they're both small and annoying, not large and game-breaking.) The problem with Vanguard isn't that SOE made them launch it too early. The problem with Vanguard isn't SOE's mismanagement of the launch or post-launch operations.

The problem with Vanguard is that Sigil spent 5 years building a game that came out 8 years ago. The problem with Vanguard is that the artists, devs and designers haven't learned enough over the past 8 years. The problem with Vanguard is that Brad McQuaid hired based on relationships before talent. And most of all the problem with Vanguard is:

2. Brad McQuaid won't shut the #$^% up.
I respect ALL of the work Brad has done and all accounts lead me to believe that he is a passionate young game enthusiast and developer. He has some considerable knowledge and talent. What he is NOT is a business-minded calculating veteran. Do you see the difference? If you cannot, I urge you to search the WoW forums for posts by Rob Pardo. Can you find some DAoC fansites with candid threads started by Mark Jacobs? When is the last time you saw a bleeding heart post from Gordon Walton, John Smedley or Richard Garriott? Sigil's biggest mistake thus far is the admission of guilt from its leader. Brad needs to keep quiet and focus on the game instead of trying to explain his way out of a corner every other week.

If Brad made the short journey over to Irvine, CA and spent a few hours climbing the 4000 steps to the top of Blizzard Mt, he would find Rob Pardo there, perched on a throne made of golden murloc skulls.
Once he caught his breath Brad would ask, "Rob, how have you been so successful? Is it your low system specs, your cartoony graphics or your low latency mouse support?"

Pardo would hit Brad with a steely gaze and slowly shake his head, "None of those things have made me a success, young developer. Look around you. What do you see?"

Brad would survey the pinnacle of Blizzard Mt. It is quiet. Peaceful. Devoid of life. "I see nothing, oh great one. You have no one here. You have no internet connection, not even a Blackberry or a cool dirtbike."

"Correct!" Pardo would shout. "Do you know why that is?"

"I do not," Brad would admit.

"It is because, from here, I can do no damage to my organization by flapping my lips foolishly when things do not go as I wish. But, if you care to look, you'll see my dirtbike is parked behind this murloc thone and it is 'teh leet'."
Everyone, including me, has criticized Blizzard for its (apparent) disdain for its players and the gaming press. They do not talk much, and when they do, the statements are precise,sterile and unwavering. Just the facts. No explanation. No whimpering. I call this "acting as if" and it is one of the most powerful business tools. Brad needs to "act as if" Vanguard is exactly what he wanted. He needs to show no sign of weakness. He needs a crazy militant PR manager to keep him buckled down. Admitting weakness to the trolls of the web is a surefire way to expose your own underbelly to some prodding.

3. Vanguard isn't blowing our doors off.
Five years of waiting has everyone expecting a payoff. At some point along the route Vanguard chose some un-fun game mechanics, some stale graphics and animation and some system specs that limited their audience to a tiny pool of players. Upon discovering such a thing, Blizzard would have either cancelled the entire project or scrapped it and started over. Sigil has done neither. I personally (this is true, seriously) like Vanguard plenty despite the fact that I've been spoiled by the polish of WoW, Guildwars and the current state of EQ2. I like it because of its flaws (is that weird), the quality of the game play, and its potential, but let's face it, much of the artwork is uninspired. Other high end titles nearing our doorsteps look positively amazing by comparison and it has nothing to do with the graphics engine and everything to do with the art direction.

These are the things that are wrong with Vanguard and none of them are immovable concrete objects such as SOE, unfixable bugs and nVidia 8800 cards. Have a little patience and a little faith. If you think the game play sucks, then it isn't for you. If you can't get over the graphics and the monster PC requirements, that is understandable.

Bloggers: Stop pointing fingers.
Brad: Hush up and hire a new art team.

Submitted by Brent on Apr 06, 2007 01:38:11 CST (comments: 24)


Comments:


'Perception' by Sente
Submitted on 2007-04-06 06:46:09 CST
You are quite right, at this point they would really need to gag Brad and get some real business and PR people in place to manage the situation. It is all about perception.

There is a time and an audience for candid talks and spilling your guts, but this isn't it.

The whole things makes me quite curious who Sigil's financial backers are/were, how did they get 30 million dollars, 5 years time to do something and get to this point without anyone saying "wait a minute..."?



'Once again...' by darrenl
Submitted on 2007-04-06 09:16:23 CST
You impress me Brent, I should hire you as an associate blogger for tcgamer (no benefits to start unfortunately)

:)

You and I are of the same mind, except you said it better.

I'm going to change my position a little based on what I read:
...I still think we should leave Brad alone, and he should hush up and hire a new art team.




'Oh Brad, Why?!?!' by Wilhelm2451
Submitted on 2007-04-06 10:58:12 CST
I feel like Mrs. Puff on SpongBob. "Oh SpongeBob, Why!?!?"

I just wince every time I see another post up from him. You can see what he is trying to do. You sympathize. You agonize. You groan out loud as you see the post turn into, "I'll help put this fire out by slowly pouring a gallon of lighter fluid on it." Please, Brad, stop! Talk about future vision. Talk about the good old days. Talk about the amazing synergy within the Sigil team. Just leave current issues to cranky, terse, PR flacks.

As for the "Lone SOE Gunman" theory of the world, at least Brad writes, yet again, that Sigil made date commitments back when they were with Microsoft (probably to the Sigil investors, though I still suspect there was a Vista launch title angle to the date at one point) and they had to go with that date to get some cash flow. SOE did not show up 4.5 years into a 5 year project and magically screw up the graphics, crank up the system requirements, and slip hallucinogens into the Sigil water cooler.



'Seriously?' by cyanbane
Submitted on 2007-04-06 12:42:32 CST
You guys are killing me. You don't want an honest answer from a director? For years everyone has been bitching about the fortresses that the business minded people sit behind and make decisions (not on the nerf monks level, but the big decisions) and then when someone comes along who is honest (brutally honest) everyone is all "someone shut his guy up he is ruining he company".

I never got a char above lvl 10 in VG and I don't see myself going back anytime soon, but I am all for the transparency Brad has with the community (the fans and non-fans). I assume he is relaying all this too people in his company Waaaaay before it reaches us via FOH or SV, but having McQaid or Hartsman or Shilling or ANYONE come onto a community board and give people the run down is 1000x better than 8 years ago when we didn't even have name or faces to go with the red names.

I for one welcome out new community interacting overlords, feel free to spill your guts.. I will read it anytime even if I don't play your game.






'Executive mute button' by Brent
Submitted on 2007-04-06 12:53:12 CST
Cyan makes a good point. is it nice to get the word out? Yeah, it is nice to hear the truth, but when it ends up blowing up in his face (which it always seems to) and shaking customer confidence it isn't worth it.

Word choice and self censorship is key for a business leader. Ever heard of a CLM? (Career limiting move.) Brad seems to make one on a monthly basis and I worry about the future of Vanguard and Sigil every time he does it. His posts generate doubt among the community. This doubt has an impact on the team at Sigil, and it cannot be a positive one.

What I'm saying is that there is a careful balance between inserting one's foot in one's mouth and being standoffish. Blizzard an NCSoft keep everyone at arms length. SOE, Mythic and Cryptic seem to have found a balance. Sigil needs to close the kimono a little. I don't need to see that much skin.



'I overheard Jan in the conference room...what a bia...' by cyanbane
Submitted on 2007-04-06 13:03:38 CST
This doubt has an impact on the team at Sigil, and it cannot be a positive one.

How do we know that?

I am sure this all is heard by them waay before it hits our ears, it could be a great motivator. I won't assume to know how they operate there.

He isn't airing dirty laundry about who is sleeping with who at the office, he is describing the problems with the game and how they are gonna attack it. Some people might not like it as in he is stating a weakness, but on a personal level at least I know where he is going AND you also got to remember VG has gotten a metric shitload more discussion/ news this week because of it. I honestly don't think he is taking the "any news is good news" approach but it IS having that effect regardless. I still think it is great that we have "Brad's Diary".







'Well...no.' by darrenl
Submitted on 2007-04-06 13:13:35 CST
I for one, know from experience that CEOs should not talk about negative aspects of their product...ever. If Brad where a senior designer or a CM, then yeah Cyan, I'd agree with you...but he's not. He is the CEO of Sigil, and as such, anything that he says can and does have a direct impact on the organization as a whole...end of story.

Yes, it's nice to have the access. Yes it's nice to hear his thoughts...but its not appropriate after launch. Example, if there is a problem with an AT&T service, I've not expecting David Dorman to address it on some forum somewhere. Gamers, just because we're gamers, should not expect that kind of access.



'on Access..... ' by cyanbane
Submitted on 2007-04-06 13:20:06 CST
I'm not expecting anything. I am just glad to have it as a consumer.

If Joe Smith from game X came on to his forums next week and said "Our game rocks now, we did a , b, and c and it is awesome! come back and check it out" I wouldn't give it a second thought.

After reading McQuaid's posts, if in six months he posts saying "The game is where I wanted it, it kicks ass" I certainly will be checking into it.

McQuaid (by his posts) single handidly eliminated the marketing bullshit level. As a consumer/gamer, I love it.



'meh' by Brent
Submitted on 2007-04-06 13:47:11 CST
I completely understand where you're coming from, Cyan. Honestly, I do and I respect the idea - in fact I love the idea because it would be nice if everyone would just hug Brad and say, "Thanks for being honest - go get 'em kid". But I fear this is:

1. Wishful thinking.
and/or
2. A bunch of hippy loving crap.



'here here!' by Cuppycake
Submitted on 2007-04-06 13:58:58 CST
Brent, you said beautifully what I wanted to say. I agree with every single point. That's what I was trying to say in my last post at cuppycake.org (Say It Ain't SOE). You deserve a cookie or two. =)


'Bleeding Heart Gamers....' by cyanbane
Submitted on 2007-04-06 14:04:43 CST
Don't get me wrong, he has his work cut out for him.

This entire conversation in the forums/blogosphere is not exactly, but very similar toa conversation I have heard before about 2 1/2 years ago, but it was another conversation about a game I hold dear to my heart (and podcast about). MMO players are a very forgivable lot of gamers, especially when expansions are announced.

I have a feeling in about 2 years there will be more people playing Vanguard than there is now. Take that as you will. Pop some new char models, and get the the visual experience smooth for players and VG could be a stellar game. The diplomacy system alone I know has kept people playing beyond the abysmal frame rates.

Also just as a note, I don't play VG and don't expect to so I am not VG or McQuaid fanboi ranting, just saying that there is a diamond there and it will show itself eventually and I think that McQuaid is giving us a standard "just gimmie some time" response, but when that time does roll around I will belive him a lot more than other random CEO's dropping into their forums saying "our game rocks!"



'fear?' by redavni
Submitted on 2007-04-06 15:26:58 CST
Brad's post has elicited a response from just about every MMO commentator in existence, and so it serves as a very good way to compare the commentators.

Most people have criticized Brad for showing weakness when I think his honestly speaks volumes about his strength. As a developer myself, I know the number one cause of failure in a software project is management not being able to communicate effectively with developers. One major cause of communication dysfunction is overblown ego's on the part of management. Brad is the rare CEO that doesn't have that stick up his ass, and in the long term Vanguard is really going to shine because of it.

I think that berating Brad for his honesty does everyone playing Vanguard a disservice. I really don't want Brad to stop talking openly about Vanguard, because a bunch of wannabe game critics think that honesty is a bad marketing strategy. The only reason people think honesty is bad for marketing is because marketing is dominated by women =)

I really don't get your wishful thinking comment though. Do you fear your own expectations, or are you fearing someone else may have overly high expectations? If so, who?

As far as the hippie comment goes, as probably your only hippie listener I feel the need to tell you that you can stick it in your ear.

Lovin you!



'hehe' by darrenl
Submitted on 2007-04-06 17:45:56 CST
Come on Red...make love, not ear-war

;)



'This wont fix Vanguard' by QforQ
Submitted on 2007-04-06 18:09:48 CST
Telling Brad to stop posting on some messageboards won't fix Vanguard at all. Ultimately *most* gamers don't use forums or visit fansites. Most don't read blogs or listen to podcasts..that's atleast what I've noticed over the past couple of years.

So stopping acouple message board posts won't make the game more of a success, fix the bugs that are in the game, or get it more subscriptions.

What will fix the game? I'm not sure, but they are working their asses off trying to fix and implement things...and that's about all we can ask from the development staff. I'd like to see SOE's marketing staff step up to the plate and market Vanguard better. More people need to hear about the game...because right now when I mention it people say "Vanguard What?". We're only in the first two months of the game being live and there is still room to grow, market, etc.

But ultimately..a forum post that incites a few obscure bloggers into a flurry of posts won't do jack.



'Snowball effect' by Brent
Submitted on 2007-04-06 18:30:13 CST
Get more subscribers.... that's the trick isn't it? By most standards, Vanguard has plenty of subscribers, but is it enough to make $30 million? Over the long run, it probably is.

The small percentage of people who read and write forum/blog posts can't directly impact the sales of a game, but indirectly all of this contributes to a general "feeling" about the game and that does trickle around the web. Remnants of these feelings end up on the lips of GameStop employees, PC Gamer editors and ultimately the kid sitting across from you in class.

Redavni attempted to reinforce Cyan's point about the merits of the openess and honesty Brad McQuaid demonstrates, and as I said clearly before: It's a nice idea, but the trolls of the web are justing looking for reasons to tear titles apart at any sign of weakness - any title and any weakness. The depths of the internet aren't heavy populated with "hold hands and smile on your brother" types. Sad, but true. This means that Brad is best to not hang it out there as bait.

To the point about fixing bugs: How is fixing bugs going to sell boxes? I guess it'll sell boxes in the same viral way that I previously described, but bear in mind that a bug fix doesn't generate the kind of passionate responses that we're seeing on this thread right now. "Whoo hoo! They fixed PvP dots and helmets!" Nope, that doesn't get viral at all, but this conversation does, because it gets people riled up and shouting loud - in a negative way usually.

Is marketing the solution? Probably. But part of marketing is getting GOOD PR going and again, this kind of occurrence tends to get negative PR going. Ultimately, a forum post that incites a few obscure bloggers into a flurry of posts will do more than you think.



'Access vs. Message' by Wilhelm2451
Submitted on 2007-04-06 18:42:59 CST
I don't think anybody can make the case for less information from game companies.

On the other hand, if you put out a post about your product to a gaming forum with some weak or counter-productive statements, guess what, a bunch of people take you to task.

For example, performance. I am sorry, but six months isn't going to solve Vanguard's issues there.

Low server populations. First, whoops, we just told the world we can't even hit 4K people per server. Second, the fix isn't another LFG tool that most people will ignore (and which will take time away from making the game work). The fix is to bite the bullet and merge some servers for now.

And, the classic, Brad says that some MMO players "simply assumed" (his words) that Vanguard would be too hard core. Well, that was the way you were spinning it up until about 9 months ago Brad.

And if you do not think that these sorts of posts and the reactions they cause do not matter, then why is Brad out there posting? Why have forums? (oops, sorry Brad) Why have community relations? Why have community summits?

Because, it turns out that companies with experience in this area (like SOE) believe that communicating with your user base does matter. It just works out better for you if you don't stick your foot in your mouth when you do it.

(And in the name of full disclosure, I actually bought Vanguard this morning. It was down to $29.99.)



'I resent that' by darrenl
Submitted on 2007-04-06 18:53:36 CST
...I'm not obscure...I'm fringe and irrelevant...biiiiig difference

:)

...holy carp Wil, $29.99 already?!?



'Access vs. Message' by Brent
Submitted on 2007-04-06 19:54:46 CST
Oh, you nailed it there Wilhelm, that the key difference.

Anyone care to point out the demons that usually broker the two into a solid package? Ah yes, there they are: the PR dept.

I'm guessin Brad doesn't consult them on these forum posts, and I doubt he sleep on those posts before releasing them either.



'Good Point' by QforQ
Submitted on 2007-04-07 00:42:34 CST
Good point about the community summits and what not. That does have a trickle down effect..I didn't think about that.

Honestly I'm not sure what to think about in regards to Brad's posts. I like that the's doing it, but if people don't like it and think it has a negative effect..then I'd rather he not do it. Personally I don't see what's so bad about people telling it like it is...but then again I'm just starting to learn about the industry and maybe I've missed something :P Always willing to learn!

Ultimately I'm glad that he's willing to be upfront with us, along with all the other developers(Like Nino). It's too bad that people take it so negatively and make such a big deal about it.



'Telling it right' by Sente
Submitted on 2007-04-07 03:02:11 CST
It is just fine that someone from Sigil posts information about the state of the game and they should be truthful.

But they should really think about their audience. One part of their audience just love them for speaking, regardless of the message. Another part is just waiting to scrutinize every word and make a spin of that.
Most of the audience will likely not have read it directly, but through other commentaries, game sites and other sources of information.

I would not be surprised if some of the things Brad says is just "thinking out loud" and may not be a policy or target etc set in stone at Sigil. But people outside does not know that and it may end up having unnecessarily bad impact.

And the internet "never" forgets - one will have to live with the statements made for a long time in various locations, in particular if you are a prominent representative for your company.



'Noone listens' by Sanctified
Submitted on 2007-04-07 09:07:20 CST
If you look at how many people actually look at MMO bloggers and those who dont youll see that its not Brad thats ruining Vanguard....its Vanguard.

The vast majority of people who played Vanguard probably dont even know who Brad McQuaid is. Hell, I cant count the people I know in EQ2 who couldnt name one person who works for SOE and some dont even know about game updates until someone else tells them.



'Wow this thread is long !' by Dathmar
Submitted on 2007-04-07 10:39:14 CST
I personally think Brad is using this form of communication (Forums) to -
a) Give out news (bad mainly) / expectations of his software.
b) To tell Joe Public that its not all his fault that VG is not doing as well as it should..perhaps in some way trying to point the finger at other people ? not really sure who ?
I do find one thing interesting - that he is now saying that they "overshot" with the performance vs average PC - which gave me the impression that he expected gamers to buy new hardware to resolve the performance issues rather than these being "ironed" out by Sigil.

However about 6 weeks ago they had a statement on the Official Vangaurd Webiste entitled - State of the Game - by Ryan Elam, Director of Technology

in which it said -
3. Why is my client performance so bad?

...... "We certainly don't run
at the same frame rates as some MMOGs that have 1/16th the graphics to
render that we do, but with a few more weeks we should be able to run on most machines fairly well.

I can promise you, we will continue to optimize the client. You will see
frame rates improve over time, and at the same time you'll be exposed to
less and less expensive hardware to run the game. If you are seeing
Vanguard in low performance, do yourself a favor and look at the game on a
system that runs it in Highest Quality. THAT is where we think people will
be in another year, and we want the graphics environment of Vanguard to be your home for many years to come "

I admit it did say that you will probably need new hardware - but also said that in the next few weeks Vangaurd would run on most machines fairly well.
I don't think that is going to happen....from what I have heard....and now read.
I think Brad is using this forum thread to give out a bit of bad news to all the people that didn't want to spend £1000+ / $2000 on a new PC....basically because he was looking to the future for Vanguard and not the present.

Strangely (perhaps due to my searching skills) the article is no longer on the Official Vanguard site.
:-0



'Problems' by Sente
Submitted on 2007-04-07 11:58:53 CST
Sanctified, of course Vanguard's problems starts with Vanguard itself.

Whether people have heard of Brad McQuaid or know who he is does not really matter. But I would say it is likely that somehow information originating from him will trickle down to people interesting in game news about Vanguard.

For people that don't care about such gaming news and either play or not play the game regardless, then it will not matter if and what he says. They might be in the majority possibly and the whole issue is pretty irrelevant in that case.



'Cyan's Post' by scytale2
Submitted on 2007-04-07 13:50:33 CST
I am definitely with Cyan on this. It's rather irritating to have people damned if they do and damned if they don't communicate.

As far as CEOs and communication. Well I can assure you that there are plenty of CEOs who can stand up and apologise for problems. If some CEOs love to pass things to their PR Department, well I don't see why they should get any respect for it.

There are also far too many people making judgements based on what other game companies do (Read Blizzard) rather than taking a view of the situation - unique as it is - and deciding whether the Vanguard CEO was right to post.

Your comment about a game that is 8 years old in concept - I presume you are referring to the appallingly repetitive Everquest - then I refer you to the mobile phone, which is perhaps a little older. It's basically the same product, but it does a whole lot more things, just Vanguard does.

Lastly, if truth be known, I spit feathers when I (rarely) play Vanguard. I was on yesterday and within 2 mins it had crashed my PC (again), due to a chunk going down. Now these are "game breaking" bugs tbh, not minor things, as Brent suggested. I am genuinely pleased that the CEO is putting his hand up and saying there are problems and that he intends to fix them. This actually keeps me with a Vanguard account, as I look forward to the frequent significant patches that come through and gradually improvement comes. If the boring MMO industry wants to whinge at him, then they are not representing the players.




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