Sigil: The Flipside, by Julie Whitefeather
May 31, 2007 12:46:39

Being a businesswoman myself, my feelings on layoffs has always been, "if you want to cut jobs - start with your own". This is why, when I heard about the shakeup at Sigil, my first impression was to string up Brad McQuaid. But there are two sides to every story, and this is it.

"The reality is we stepped in at the last second when Sigil couldn't get funding." - John Smedley

In the aftermath of Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) taking over Vanguard, both SOE, and their president, John Smedley (who made the above statement in a Shack News interview) come out smelling like roses. To be honest, at this point Mr. Smedley deserves quite a bit of "garden fresh smell". Here are two important statements Mr. Smedley made in the Shack News interview that leaped out of the page at me.

"Brad had decided that it was not right to have general forums. That was a decision that we changed pretty much immediately because we felt very strongly that our customers needed a place to give us feedback. Good, bad, ugly; whatever it is, they've got to be able to voice their opinions." - John Smedley

"There's not some sort of overriding "let's make it easier" mentality. Nothing like that. The team already has a long list of things they want to do, and they're going to talk to the community about it. So ultimately it's going to be the community that decides the future of Vangard's gameplay. And if most of the players want the game to be exactly the way it is now, you know..." - John Smedley

Right out of the gate, Mr. Smedley is taking steps to overcome the biggest marketing mistake that Brad McQuaid made - make your product fit the needs of the customer. SOE is not about to shove what they want down the community's throat. They are actually going to LISTEN - imagine that. So my hat's off to John Smedley at this point. He has it coming.

But there is another side of the story here. I was taught an important lesson once. Namely, find the good in everyone. Had Mr. McQuaid taken that attitude in business to begin with, there wouldn't have been a need for SOE to step in when they did.

Consider, however, what Brad McQuaid managed to do before everything went sour. What he did was convince the Microsoft Corporation, one of the largest corporations on the face of the planet to give him money and ALOT of it. Even if it was just a small corner of said company, he convinced these people to give him what has been reported as being $30 MILLION dollars. My friends, the Microsoft Corporation does not knowingly invest in dogs. They don't wake up one morning and say "I know, lets flush millions of venture capital dollars down the toilet." Now mind you, the whole point to venture capital is that the investor is willing to risk big dollars for a big return. That, perhaps, is why the entertainment industry calls such investors "angels" (although it has a whole other meaning in my field). The point is, anyone who is able to convince ANYONE to give them that kind of money to do ANYTHING is one charismatic person. So Brad does at least have something going for him. But charismatic does not making anyone a good leader.

But lest anyone still have the "throw the bum out" attitude toward SOE's decision to retain Brad McQuaid's services think about where they put him. SOE may have announced they kept Brad on as a "consultant" but consider John Smedley's words above. It is very obvious whose opinions they value most my friends - YOURS - not Brad's. Also consider the "other duties as assigned" Mr. McQuaid has been given. Answering posts in the forums. The same forums, I might add, that he refused to open in the first place. I think that Brad McQuaid is right were he belongs.

-Julie Whitefeather

Submitted by Brent on May 31, 2007 12:46:39 CST (comments: 12)


'Ouch' by Akely
Submitted on 2007-05-31 16:22:17 CST
"...The same forums, I might add, that he refused to open in the first place. I think that Brad McQuaid is right were he belongs."

I almost feel a tiny bit sorry for him. Erm... no I don't!

I really hope SOE stands by those words. In almost any case commubication is paramount and The Key to success. Or so I've been tought.

'Microsoft doesn't invest in dogs?' by Valentein
Submitted on 2007-05-31 23:05:47 CST
Acutally, I have to disagree with that. MS has so much money it invests in just about everything. They make or attempt plenty of things that turn out to be shit. Remember "Microsoft Bob"? Just one example.

Still, to get MS to put money into something that they don't control themselves is a decent feat.

'Once again, misguided' by scytale2
Submitted on 2007-06-01 04:44:06 CST
The last Julie Whitefeather post was dubious to say the least and this one, if anything, is even more about attacking one person than looking at the whole issue.

Firstly, Microsoft have had their fingers burnt on MMOs before. Asheron's Call was eons late and no great success when it actually launched either. It's hardly surprising that they would not want lightning to strike in the same place twice and obviously dropped this game more for political reasons than anything else.

Secondly, we have had discussions previously on the podcasts about whether forums are a good idea or not. On balance people prefer them, but there a great deal of people who think that they are counter-productive and Brad is one of them. You can't say that he owned this opinion, which perhaps 30% of people have.

Thirdly, how can you say that the game failed due to the lack of game forums? There were plenty of forums on the fan sites, who were giving back very specialist feedback. The fact there was not a "general forum" is irrelevant and misguided.

The post also contains loads of other misreadings, which simply aren't worth commenting on and I am somewhat concerned that our beloved VW site is working to bring together all the blame merchants together on one web-site.

Various reports say that the new Wembley Stadium cost between 3 and 8 times its original estimate, but we have it now, because the public sector and taxpayer have very deep pockets and people now they have something nice to look at aren't to bothered about how much ti cost. Private producers don't have this luxury and few funders will even fork out for "contingency" money, so it's vastly more difficult for them to get their projects off the ground, because they are not bankrolled. If you want to knock the entrepreneurs that really want to make a difference and sometimes come a cropper, then keep these Whitefeather-type posts flowing...

'poor marksman' by Julie
Submitted on 2007-06-01 07:37:22 CST
Normally, once the article is written, what I have to say has been said. As far as negative comments are concerned, I value constructive ones. As far as others are concerned, like Mae West once said, "You can say anything you want about me as long as you spell the name right."

Like a poor marksman who has missed the target, someone who thinks the point of the article was to say that Vanguard failed because of lack of a general forum, doesn't understand the article.

The first and major point of the article was to point out Brad McQuaid's good point. Namely being Charismatic. He sets up major companies and convinced someone to shell out $30 million or so for him to develop a product with. That is the major point. Giving him ALOT of credit for that.

The second point, and of which a lack of general forums is only INDICATIVE, is that for a product to be succussfully marketed it means making the product meet the needs of the customer. And that is just good business - and a comment based on 25 years in business and two masters degrees in the area.

Thank you all for your reader comments.

I value them

Julie Whitefeather

'2 points' by emyln
Submitted on 2007-06-01 14:18:50 CST
The first is Brad. I'll be honest, I think the current fallout and bad will towards Brad is only 30% attributed to Vanguard's failure. The talk about him working in a vaccume, lack of forums etc are all execuses.

Does anyone remember John Romero and Daikatana ? He had bad press but no where near the ill will Brad's getting. Why? I think its because John eventually owned up to his mistakes about Daikatana in direct interviews. And most importantly John didn't chicken out and disappear from his company completely leaving a stranger to tell his employees they were fired. Worse yet he actually said he was not there because he feared he would cry?!? I know it has nothing to do with Vanguard but gamers and programmers are human, and what Brad did just rubbed many people the wrong way. $30 million is a lot of money but we all expect at least half of the games released in a year to fail, Brads current infamy isn't about Vanguard failing, its about his actions after the game failed.

The second point is about MicroSoft. When you have a lot of money in the bank, in this case about $20 billion, a very good method of investment is to simply fund X number of new and potential ideas/companies no matter how wierd and dumb they sound. The result will be at least one of them hits it big which will more than make up for the other failures. Venture Captalists do it all the time. Heck, I think Brent covered this in his talk about how MMO's are funded. I know for a fact that Vanguard won't be the last MMO that MicroSoft will fund, from a business perspective you can't let past failures influence future investments.

'Brad at the right place and time' by Sente
Submitted on 2007-06-01 15:03:58 CST
Brad McQuaid was in an excellent position to get funding for a game from Microsoft. Given that Vanguard was in development for about 5 years, it seems reasonable that he managed to get the funding around 2002.
Everquest was the big MMOG in the western hemisphere, Brad used to be part of that development team. Other games being made or recently relased around that time include Anarchy Online, Earth&Beyond, Dark Ages of Camelot, EVE, Star Wars Galaxies.

EVE and Anarchy Online worked on by small, relatively unkown Nordic companies - probably not the first choice for a potential buyout by MS.
Mythic probably would not to be bought either and E&B and SWG were being made by big companies that MS likely could/would not buy.

If a dedicated person comes around with a track record from a quite successful game in the genre, it is not unreasonable that he would be considered a valid choice to invest some money in.

I do not doubt that Brad has a charismatic personality that helped, but he also had a good background and probably good timing for asking for money at that time as well.

'Brad is why Sony has to save Vanguard' by Earley
Submitted on 2007-06-01 16:49:10 CST
You know, I came to the vanguard beta with open eyes and a good attitude. Even though I'd played EQ and heard his name, I really didn't know anything about him at the time beyond the name. To me, he was a guy who was big in MUDs (not the ones I played, TrekMUSH 4tw!), went to EQ, stayed at Sony, left to form his own studio. This was about a year and a half ago.

Then the beta started, and I saw Brad McQuaid. I'll save you most of the gory details, but let's just say that Brad made it perfectly clear that doesn't care at all what anyone but he himself thinks, and if you don't agree with him you're pretty clueless. He flamed testers who made suggestions. His own brother-in-law was in the beta and they argued on the forums, with his BIL calling him out on being unreasonable quite a bit.

It became plain to me that that is the reason he doesn't care about forums is he really doesn't care what the users think. This flaw is cleverly hidden in his more generous moments by talk about theories about how fan sites build communities, and at first I gave them the benefit of the doubt and assumed that they were trying to save some money on CS, which is reasonable. Otherwise to me, Brad only seemed reasonable and soft when either someone was sucking up to him, or he needed something from someone. Do I need to mention the culture this example set for the community and players and how bad that is?

But obviously Blizzard and Sony and Cryptic and Turbine have proven that if you have good games, community sites will appear regardless.

I must say for a fact that I am not a big fan of SOE, but I think it's the best thing to happen to Vanguard that they took over, because clearly Smedley really does care what the users think, even if they've made a lot of mistakes in the past. Do you see SOE abandoning their Games? No. They may screw them up but they don't run away, and even adopt homeless children like MxO and VG.

'no problem here' by Brent
Submitted on 2007-06-01 20:22:48 CST
Interesting thoughts from all, especially on a post I felt was rather cut and dried with a central theme that can be summed up by:

"SOE is not about to shove what they want down the community's throat."

Other arguments made against various points in this article seem to be reading past this point. That being said, I'm as guilty of deconstructionism from time to time and it has its place, however here I think the objective is clear and well stated.

SOE has learned its lessons regarding not listening to the community or acting on internal ideas alone (SWG, NGE, Raph Koster). John Smedley has very plainly stated that those actions were mistakes - he isn't about to make them again.

And for anyone wondering what I'm talking about here:

'Reconstruction' by scytale2
Submitted on 2007-06-02 03:28:27 CST
The problem with the post (and other's follow-ups) is the implication that Brad/Sigil did not:
a) Listen to the community and respond
b) That Sigil had made the same mistake as SOE and had not learnt from it
c) That Sigil\'s demise was directly related to Brad's personal decision not to have general forums, but to rely on feedback from the fan-sites.
Others have gone on to say that he didn't listen to his brother-in-law and that he was a very arrogant chap and clearly this resulted in him not liking to be told things on the general forums.

The root of the problem with the game is that too few players have PCs to play it, full stop. Now, this is to a large extent Brad's fault, as his vision needed better graphics, long distance viewing etc. But this podcast has also said that Vanguard's graphics are no better than EQ2, so someone has made a major technical blunder, if indeed the game needs a higher technical spec than EQ2. I believe even 8800 players are experiencing stutters in VG. Brad knew this and spent his entire time (so he says) looking for funding so that Sigil had more time to deliver and iron out these technical glitches.
Ok, the rest of the game is incomplete and rather buggy (due to lack of QA), but it is a fine game, with great creative content, beautiful areas, logical and fun combat and unique diplomacy and crafting. Compare it to LOTRO which has just the beautiful areas and none of the others and you can see what happens when you can release a game "when it's ready".
Remember it was launched forcibly, so bugs/lack of enough content is down to this, not Brad. If you want to whinge at him for not having the bottle to turn up to the last day, go ahead. But this had nothing to do with Sigil's demise either.

'Opinions Facts' by Akely
Submitted on 2007-06-02 05:36:08 CST
My opinions is that many of you seem to have a hard time accepting other peoples opinions. Sure, one may at times state ones opinion like that opinion is fact. But in reality it is not facts. Just opinions based on the part of reality one percieves.

Trying to figure out exactly why Sigil failed and fell over is impossible. Sometimes things in life happen for complex reasons. Reasons that can not easily be tracked down, becouse perception of matters and facts differ. Trying to answer complex matters with a simple catch-all phrase is not understanding the complexity itself.

I think this is one such complex situation.

And now, before I'm going completely philosophic, I'll go and grab a beer.

'RE: Akely' by scytale2
Submitted on 2007-06-03 16:43:39 CST
You have a fair point...

However, merely voicing an alternative opinion for balance, does not mean that one does not concede/consider elements of the opposing view as probable...

'no forums? really?' by hallower
Submitted on 2007-06-15 00:18:04 CST
I followed Vanguard before it was even announced. How did I do that? Sigil talked game philosophy and techniques with fans a year before they even announced that first game.

For 2 years after that, I had design discussions with Brad and others of the Sigil team on their game forums ( -- it's still there, archived). Most of the time, it was Brad talking with us...and I mean "with" us, not "to" us. There was even a time or two when he said something to the effect of, "hey, that's a good idea, we might use that" (search for the "campfire" suggestion on the forums; i think that was one of those times). Like any experienced designer, he had fixed ideas on some things, but he didn't seem closed to everything.

So when I read that Brad didn't want "general forums", I'm inclined to think either that was something that developed late in beta / after release, or the key word there is "general" (as in... no general feedback; specific feedback only).

I quit following Vanguard early in its beta when I realized that I was more interested in the design discussions and theories than in the actual game. But in that time, I never got the impression that Brad was disinterested in others' ideas, nor did most of the other people on those forums (or, at least, they didn't say so). Brad even posted on the fansites fairly often.

I don't know what happened in the months between early beta (when I stop following the game and Sigil's discussions) and release, but I was greatly surprised by the recent news and interviews. Maybe it was just clever PR I watched for years on those forums, but I doubt it. I can't help but think there's a lot more to this story than is being publicized, and some of that redemptive of Brad.

Personally, I don't think it was wise to open public forums to fans as early as Sigil did. But I probably wouldn't have become serious about game design and started my own blog if it wasn't for the design discussions Brad and the rest of the great Sigil folks had with people like me. So I can't see the guy as all bad.

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