Iron Lore Entertainment

By Shamus
on Mar 4, 2008
Filed under:
Video Games

If you visit the website for Iron Lore Entertainment you’ll see they have two important announcements:

  1. Their latest offering, Titan Quest: Immortal Throne, just won Action RPG of the year at Gamebanshee. Also:
  2. They are going out of business, and in fact have already done so. Their doors closed Feb 19 2008.

iron_lore_rip.jpg
A couple of weeks ago I said, “I guess at some point enough PC developers will go under or get bought up and converted into console game developers. Once the herd is sufficiently thinned, the remaining ones might act on survival instinct and start looking for ways to stay in business[…]” which, looking back, might make it sound like I’m cheering the process on. Actually, it really does sting every time I see a PC developer bite the dust. This goes double for anyone kind enough to make RPGs for us PC gamers. (The fact that I’ve never played or heard of Titan Quest is entirely beside the point. The system specs are really reasonable. I might check it out.) An RPG is a niche product on what is increasingly (from a sales perspective) a niche platform and most developers could find greener pastures by pursuing other games aimed at other devices. It’s admirable when they hold their ground, and tragic when they go under while doing it.

In 2000, Looking Glass Studios went under. At the time the news sounded absurd to me. How could a company that did nothing but make incredible games go belly-up? Then I began to realize what should have been obvious, that making a great game is only one of many required steps towards solvency.

I’ve never heard a firm explanation of why LGS failed. Warren Spector isn’t talking. I’ve seen lots of guesses, but in the last eight years nobody has managed to come up with the goods. Maybe a lawsuit settlement is binding the related parties to silence. Still, it seems like we should have seen an anonymous leak by now. Eight years is a long time for the gossip machine to go hungry on a story like that one.

From my own perspective, I can’t help but suspect plain old fiscal indiscretion. They were based in Cambridge, MA. I lived near Boston (right here, actually) at the time and I remember being shocked that a game company would plant themselves in such a high-expense area. Boston ain’t cheap, and Cambridge is moreso. It would be easier to put a strip mall in the Vatican than obtain real estate in Cambridge during the dot-com bubble. I still wonder how much better they might have done if they’d put their office a half hour in just about any direction (excluding, of course, into the Atlantic Ocean, in which case the result would have been about the same) and hired a couple less MIT grads. That sort of thing might not have been what killed them, but they might have had the cash to survive whatever calamity took them out. Perhaps not. My speculation holds the same value as anyone elses. (Zero.) Still, being good with money is never a bad idea when you’re trying to run a business. (Sez the guy hauling half a year’s salary in various debts.)

The stories of Looking Glass Studios and Iron Lore Entertainment seem similar to me because both companies looked successful from the outside, just before they imploded for unexplained reasons.

Michael Fitch, Director of Creative Management at THQ (the company which published both Titan Quest titles) weighed in with his own opinions about what contributed to the ILE failure in this lengthy and interesting forum post. I’m going to talk more about that later. The problems he brings up nearly universal to the world of PC gaming, and I suspect this isn’t the last time we’ll see a PC developer that succeeds at making games and fails at staying in business.

I got the link via Brad Wardel. Which, now that I’m thinking of it, makes me wonder how Stardock is doing. Hey Brad, you guys ok over there?

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201225 comments. Neato.

From the Archives:

  1. Rob says:

    Ugh Titan Quest. I loved that game, my girl friend loved that game, my roommate loved that game, we really did we purchase three separate copies so that we could all play, until it crashed for the nth time and resulted in mine and my girlfriends character save files being corrupted and making the previous two weeks of playing null and void.

    When I went looking for information on the problem it turned out I wasn’t alone and it happened so often that someone wrote a program that could recover your data some of the time, it worked on one of my characters that I’d played for about two hours and lost to a crash but not to my main and not to my girlfriends. I never saw any response from the company about the problem, other than “This won’t happen after the next patch” and what amounted to “That’s to bad about your old games, just start over.” So I can’t say I’m sad to see them go.

  2. MintSkittle says:

    I read Michael Fitch’s rant over on the Sins of a Solar Empire forum where someone copy/pasted it. His percentages seem blown out of proportions to me, but what do I know.

    On a side note, Sins is a pretty good game. It has some flaws, but over all quite enjoyable.

  3. Phlux says:

    I think Stardock is probably doing OK. I read some of Brad Wardell’s stuff on occassion, and while he may be a bit altruistic, he seems to have solid business sense.

    Stardock makes most of its money off of its commercial software business, and although I personally am not interested in a product like Window Blinds, I gather that a lot of people use it. It’s kind of the gold standard program for turning your desktop into an LCARS interface or something.

    As long as their games remain profitable, I think Brad will keep making them because he loves it.

    I must say I think they’re going to lose their backsides on this “Society” nonsense, though. They seem really gung-ho on making an MMO that does dismally every time they poll their fans for interest. Everyone just wants GalCiv3.

  4. IncredibleGeek says:

    LGS’s death really hit home with me. I grew up with Ultima and Thief, and even Flight Unlimited. When PC game companies die, a little part of me goes with it.

    I also wish more good RPGs would get sequels. Arx Fatalis, while basically Ultima Underworld 3, could have an amazing sequel. But Arx is a niche game in a niche genre on an “increasingly niche” system.

    *sigh*

  5. Martin says:

    I thought the tombstone was for Gary Gygax

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Gygax

  6. TitanQuest is basically Diablo II all over again with an Ancient World theme pasted on it. This isn’t to say that it’s not a fun game, it IS fun, it’s just ALSO exactly the same as Diablo II. If you like Diablo II, you’ll probably like Titan Quest.

    I have not experienced the crash/corruption issues, and I play a lot via a LAN with two friends, and my computer (well, the motherboard and processor, anyway) is nearly 4 years old at this point. I’m not saying they don’t happen, just that it’s not a universal problem as far as I can tell.

    It’s sad to see that Iron Lore is going out of business, though, but it was probably predictable considering that the one game they seem to have produced was a total knockoff.

  7. Tango says:

    What a way to go though…

    (Maybe they should have thought of name similar to “Final Fantasy” or “Dead or Alive”… apparently naming what you expect to be your company’s final game appropriately saves your company…)

  8. P.S. Shamus, I ran across another article you might find interesting. http://www.wired.com/techbiz/media/magazine/16-03/mf_netflix

    If you don’t know about Paul Hsieh’s blog Geekpress (http://geekpress.com), you may want to check it out, it seems like it’d be your thing.

  9. Kleedrac says:

    As much as I hate to speak ill of the dead. IRE didn’t make a good RPG. Bioware makes good RPG’s. IRE made a greek-themed Diablo-clone. Now there’s nothing wrong with Diablo-clones and this was definately the second-best (next to Fate but as that comes from WildTangent, web-driver and all I don’t know if you’re a fan). That said there’s a reason this game didn’t sell as well as it could have. I know far too many people who steer clear of Diablo-clones. They claim they’ve played Diablo I & II to death and have no need nor want to rehash past glories. I’m the opposite. My wife and I still play Diablo II on the LAN. And I tend to dive head-first into any game I can both pause (ie – non-MMO) and find randomized loot at least once every two minutes. That’s probably why I still play Nethack.

  10. Just a Guy... says:

    I’ve heard a good bit about the closing of Looking Glass, and what it sounds like is that LGS were the producers of the best games that nobody ever played. What appears to have finally done them in is a combination of delayed payments for Thief II combined with general poor sales of their games for some time.

    http://ttlg.com/articles/lgsclosing.asp

  11. Pederson says:

    Not sure what to make of the Fitch rant. His piracy numbers seem inflated–I’m sure there piracy is a huge problem, but I can’t help but think that the PC is a shrinking market. Consoles are absurdly easier to deal with from the consumer end: you pop in the disc, and you play. (Well, they used to be: seems like all the current-gen consoles have a ten-ton dashboard in the middle of things, but it’s not a huge problem, either.)

    I’m not at all surprised by the imbalance between Bioshock’s sales on PC vs. console: console players didn’t have to worry about DRM, and were probably more wowed by a game that was, gameplay-wise, pretty pedestrian. (I bought and played it on PC, and was impressed, but not by the gameplay.)

    CoD4 bothers me a bit more, but I haven’t touched that one myself. Yet. Even then, I’m inclined to believe the numbers are still somewhat inflated. I wonder how the player bases for the PC and console versions compare. Shouldn’t be that hard to get a rough handle on the number of pirated copies are out there that represent actual lost revenue that way, too.

  12. Michael says:

    I just bought the Titan Quest games recently and was having fun with them (Diablo clone? Yes. Fun? Yes!) Of course, I mainly bought them because I thought the graphics were superb and as an artist in this industry, it’s good for me to take notice of such things and learn from them as applicable. But it did take me by surprise to hear of Iron Lore’s going belly up. Too bad. Some very talented people.

  13. Taellosse says:

    Yeah, I bought Titan Quest a few months back in a desperate attempt to find a playable game for my PC. It’s exactly what others are calling it–Diablo in Greece, only without a story that really has anything compelling about it. I played it for a week or two then lost interest.

    Kleedrac is right–if this is what IRE made, they didn’t make good RPGs, they made decent knockoffs. It’s a good Diablo clone, don’t get me wrong, but it’s still just a Diablo clone, and I’m one of those people that gets bored with doing the same thing all over again. Actually, that’s why I never finished Diablo 2–I can only point and click over and over for so long before I realize this is not even an interesting waste of time anymore. The only thing that can keep me involved in a game like that is a really compelling story. Diablo delivered that, and Diablo 2 almost did, for me, but wasn’t quite enough to get me through to the end. I’ve tried to pick it back up a few times, but I always lose interest.

    Mass Effect, now–that’s a good RPG. I don’t know what the system requirements are going to be, Shamus, but if your machine meets them, I’d highly recommend you get that one when it drops for PC (as it will! It’s been announced). Hell, if it doesn’t, I’d go so far as to say it’s worth upgrading for that game. I couldn’t stop playing Mass Effect on Xbox, and I’m really hoping that Bioware gets to make the later installments (it was intended to be a trilogy) without interference from their new corporate masters.

  14. Macguffin says:

    Shamus – while a lot of money can be spent on facilities, especially in Boston, usually the lion’s share of the money ends up going to developer salaries. And while going outside of town can help that, most companies still stay near the large metro areas in order to attract talent.

    Granted, that’s been changing in the last ten years or so. It used to be you couldn’t find a game job outside of LA, Seattle/Redmond, and Austin. The Boston market is still small enough that you had best make sure you never burn a bridge if you don’t want to move across the country for your next job.

  15. Tryss says:

    Titan Guest is fun. But, it was very much a Diablo rip-off and shouldn’t be taken seriously except as a momentary walk down memory lane.

    My current obsession is The Witcher:
    http://www.thewitcher.com/intro.asp

  16. Anonymous says:

    I am a THQ employee and was privy to the knowledge of their closing several weeks ago. It’s very sad that they have to shut down for now, but the founders were optimistic about starting up operations again if they can gather some funding. In the meantime they intend to do what they can to get by and develop some new IPs in their free time.

    In other news, though, Gary Gygax just died:

    http://games.slashdot.org/games/08/03/04/1750206.shtml

  17. Nilus says:

    Titans Quest isn’t a Diablo Clone

    It’s a very buggy Diablo Clone. At least it was when I played it.

  18. Strangeite says:

    I am sad that the Great DM in the Sky didn’t let Gygax fudge his last saving throw.

    A moment of silence as the d20 rolls across the table.

  19. Al Shiney says:

    I’ve been watching since I found out, waiting for Shamus to make a new post. I’m so bummed out right now about Gary that I can’t even put my feelings into words, so I’m sure Shamus is struggling too.

    Seems silly to mourn someone you’ve never met, especially when he’s been sick for some time, but Gygax was at least partially responsible for almost everything that is tabletop RPG or video game based and was a major influence in my leisure time pursuits for the past 25+ years.

    Rest in peace, oh great Dungeon Master.

  20. Nilus says:

    I met Gary a few times and he was an extremely laid back nice guy. He will be missed greatly. :(

  21. Epizootic says:

    I never encountered any problems with Titan quest, though I must admit it was diablo 2.5. I always thought they could have done more with the greek mythology themes. They could have replicated the Trojan War or Odysseus’s journey, or put in occurances of the gods meddling in mortal affairs, rather than the ‘generic’ magic approach they took.

  22. I thought the stone was for Gary too. He left a lasting impact.

  23. Dan says:

    Wowie. I must be sleep deprived, or else this is the most schizophrenic thread in twentysided history. Which is saying something.

  24. […] the closing of Iron Lore Entertainment to vent his frustrations with PC game-dev (link found via Shamus Young).   Mssr. Fitch’s frustrations are the standard laundry list of PC […]

  25. Strangeite says:

    Dan: You are right, this is a schizophrenic thread; but, I think it is because people want to express their gratitude to Gygax and (like it or not Shamus) this blog has become a community for all things RPG.

  26. Matis says:

    ………………………………………………..
    [moment of silence]

  27. Mordaedil says:

    I can pretty much assure you that you won’t like Titan’s Quest, unless you really like Diablo 2.

    It’s the same rehashed in a Greek-setting.

  28. JayBee says:

    Admittedly I wasn’t much a roleplayer, more a gamer, but I still remember vividly the first time being introduced to the d20 system of D&D through Neverwinter Nights (having had the ignominy of owning a half-decent PC way after Baldur’s Gate was released)…

    Suffice to say that it changed the way I saw roleplaying games, and it saddens me to hear the co-creater who helped make it all happen has passed on to the giant die in the sky…

    As an aside, I thoroughly enjoyed System Shock, though I found Titan’s Quest to be quite…well…generic to be honest. “Diablo with a Greek twist” was the nicest thing anyone I knew said about it.

    Witcher is currently occupying my time – I love how the pivotal points in the plot, where the protagonist has to make a decision, leave no clear idea of the potential consequences….so much more realistic, though Geralt’s (the main character’s name) philandering ways is kinda on the opposite end of the reality scale =P

  29. Brother None says:

    “GameBanshee”, Shamus, not Gamebanshe :D

    Needless to say we really liked Titan Quest. Diablo brought forth an army of mediocre clones and while Titan Quest won’t wow your pants off, it’s kind of “the pick of the litter”. The best Diablo clone out there. Still just a Diablo clone, but especially with the expansion, it’s the best.

    Shame to see them go under. Shame to see THQ won’t recognize the actual culprits (publishers) and tries to blame it all on pirates and consumers.

  30. Mark says:

    Stardock isn’t just a gaming house though, so I have to figure that their other products would keep them afloat if they had some gaming crisis. Indeed, their other products (windows customization stuff, etc…) aren’t like games in many ways and probably provide a more steady revenue stream.
    I’d imagine that a gaming company has lots of issues when they’re between games. Old games don’t sell real well, so they’ve got to be self-sufficient during their development cycles. This is probably easier for Stardock, which is able to supplement their revenue with other products. On the other hand, all their games _seem_ to sell reasonably well, so who knows?

  31. guy says:

    indeed, despite the only copy protection being a serial number they will replace if you forget. before anyone jumps on the point against DRM at all that can be made, i would like to point out that it used to have no copy protection at all, but they had to add that because of piracy.

One Trackback

  1. By joeindie.com » Just Some Comments on Tue Mar 4, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    […] the closing of Iron Lore Entertainment to vent his frustrations with PC game-dev (link found via Shamus Young).   Mssr. Fitch’s frustrations are the standard laundry list of PC […]

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